Just the other day we looked at our lengthy Excel sheet, that contains every day of our Bike4WesternSahara campaign, and noticed that we had reached day 500 of our tour without even realizing it. We have been so busy with lectures, both here in Japan and online with activists and academia all over the world, our many media interviews and biking many kilometers up and down, that we lost our perception of time.

Reaching this important mile stone, we wanted to share our reflections of our tour so far and what impact this campaign has had on our lives.


We stop next to a seasoned Korean man wearing sunglasses with pointed ends and a slick outfit that confirms how much faster he is riding than our one hundred kilo bike caravan. He is pointing to the flags that are whipping though the wind, strapped to each of the young trees we found in the forest just days ago. We are trying not to look annoyed but this is the tenth time today that someone has incorrectly yelled out the name of an occupying, fascist state instead of the biggest remaining colony in the world.

”Have you ever heard about Western Sahara?” One of us asks on autopilot as the other prepares to show the news article in Korean. ”Yes” he answers and as usual mistakes the non-self governing territory for the famous desert. ”Did you know that it is a country that is still colonized?”. This is the moment when all of them usually start looking confused and the seventy year old man is no different. We hand him our phone and as he squints to read about a fifty year old occupation, media blockade and settler colony that most people in the world have forgotten or never learnt about, we are ready with our solidarity pitch. ”Did you know that Sahrawi families are separated by the world’s longest active wall with hundreds of thousands of Moroccan soldiers and millions of landmines surrounding it? People have been separated for decades, just like the Koreans”. The man makes loud ”O”s and ”A”s as he finishes the last sentence of the only media interview in Korean history about Western Sahara.

Repeating the obvious

This is our life now. Everyday for 500 days we have been repeating what should have been taught by school teachers and newspapers long ago. In Taiwan at an international research conference about decolonization we ask a room of thirty people whether they have heard about Western Sahara only to receive yet more confused looks and head shakes. In a meeting with the human rights commission of the German parliament we ask the same question only to be met with a similar response. In conversations with so called Africa-specialists, Middle East-experts, members of the biggest international human rights organisations of the world, yet again the same reaction.

As we ride through the world aiming to form new solidarity groups for Western Sahara in each country, we realize that it is the personal relationships we form that matter the most. Almost a year after we have left Albania behind us we are still getting messages from Mattias, an Argentinian vagabond that we met at a farm open to travellers in need of hosting. He and his partner had been traveling aimlessly for over six years, hitchhiking and doing odd jobs just to see the world. But he told us that he was lost. ”When I saw your post on CouchSurfing about coming here, I just knew I had to meet you. I want to know what it’s like to ride for solidarity? Is your activism working?”.

Solidarity rising

For two nights we spent hours talking with him and other travellers about how our solidarity work adds meaning to our lives. It makes the tough moments of biking 48 000 km easier because we are doing it for something other than ourselves. As usual we share the story of Western Sahara and the heartbreaking reality that made us decide to dedicate every waking hour for over two years to talking about it.

Fast forward a year after meeting him, and Mattias is regularly sending us messages about wanting to do something. Now he is helping to map the solidarity movement for Western Sahara in Latin America. Not because he read an article or social media post somewhere but because we met in person and maybe our passionate speeches and determination stayed with him. Maybe our newly formed friendship too.

The Bosnian photographer, Jasmin, who told us horrific stories of how he had been identifying victims of mass graves for sixteen years, sometimes finding generations of people laying next to each other from the World War II to the 90’s genocide, wrote us recently about how he had been talking about Western Sahara to a group of friends. This is ten months after we traversed through the country whose houses still are covered by bullet holes and have victims and perpetrators passing each other on the way to the supermarket.

In Japan, where we are writing from now, we are lucky to meet the most efficient support group for Western Sahara we’ve come across so far in the seventeen countries we’ve biked through. Thanks to them we manage to speak at many universities. After each lecture we ask the students to leave us their impressions on notes of paper. Interestingly, many of them share that they are not only chocked to learn about Africa’s last colony but also about the realization that you can dedicate your life to activism. ”I was afraid before but now I also want to become an activist” some of them write. It is in these personal encounters that new possible identities are being formed.

This is our life now. Everyday for 500 days we have been repeating what should have been taught by school teachers and newspapers long ago.

The Japanese support group tell us ”We never thought that a bike tour would catch peoples’ interest. But suddenly we find that people that we never met, without any knowledge of Western Sahara start organizing to find you a place to sleep or do an event and suddenly they are a part of your campaign. The subscribers to our email list has tripled since you came here”. In Machida city we stay with a woman, a friend of someone’s friend, who invites all of her neighbors to come and listen to us speak about Western Sahara. With a projector enlarging our photos against the living room wall, showing them the map, flag and people of Western Sahara. Later, she also invites us to her regular Zoom call with her family and we find ourselves showing the same photos to a virtual dinner table.

From Yamakita to Kamakura we are joined by eight members of a local bicycle club. As we climb the asphalted hills, one of them, Yasu, tells us that this is his first time biking after a terrible accident one year ago that left his body and mind broken. ”I cried when I read about your tour and decided to dare to start biking again”. We chitchat about Western Sahara between breaks for ice cream and bike adjustments and wave to everyone staring at our flags. A few months later Yasu is helping us find journalists to speak to in the Tohoku region and we discuss the idea of organizing an annual bike tour in Japan to raise money and awareness about Western Sahara.

In Tokyo we find ourselves running from meeting to meeting with parliamentarians that will possibly be part of a parliamentarian friendship group for Western Sahara, with a fair-trade shop that could start selling products to finance the Polisario’s diplomatic work, with the biggest trade unions of Japan about starting an international platform of unions for Western Sahara, with the Tibetan representation and the Kurdish association of Japan about the occupations and how we can show intersectional solidarity.

Time, sacrifice, personal relationships

We find that our bike tour combines three things that are needed to do solidarity work more efficiently. One is a lot of concentrated time, in our case two and a half years of full time thinking, strategizing and executing ideas for Western Sahara. Two, a shocking, thought-provoking campaign which clearly shows the amount of sacrifice you as an activist put in, in our case biking around the world and in others massive hunger strikes, human blockades etc, that will open doors that otherwise weren’t opened. Three, personal relationships and meetings with others that can add to the movement. And among those relationships are most importantly all of the Sahrawi activists that entrusted us with their experiences, wisdom and needs.

We hope that all of the people we met on the way joins in and that together we can create a culture of solidarity that stay in the hearts and minds of generations to come.

Our activism gives us a meaning that is indescribable. It shapes how we form relationships to ourselves, others and to earth. The people we meet from the movement are these rare individuals, the minor percentages of their population that decided to dare fight against the oppressive systems despite their overwhelming power. They share a compassion for people and planet that is beautiful, humbling and inspiring. To be part of solidarity work means that we get the privilege to meet and make friends with them. To really know them. To learn about the world in a way that history books and news reports never can come close to.

Our search for intersectional solidarity

From Yodgor, the Uzbek poet we met in Austria, who had fled several assassination attempts by the KGB, losing everything including the shoes on his feet, who read his forbidden poems to us in his tiny living room in Graz. Elmo, the Hong Kong activist we met at an art studio in Vienna who made us laugh so hard with his witty accounts from the student movement’s tactics at the 2019 protests. Fahrudin, who told us the chilling account of how he miraculously survived walking 48 hours straight through a mine field in a war struck Bosnia in the search for his brother, even surviving a lightning strike that melted his necklace onto his skin. To Chikako, a 86-year old Japanese grand-mother and activist who opened her home for years to Palestinian and Timorese activists and fought against greedy companies that sent the police after her and her son. We laughed until we cried when she told us how the police man, holding her computer in his hands, asked her to show him the trash, meaning the erased files on her computer and she confusingly brought the trash can from her kitchen.

Every heart-wrenching account of oppression just fuels our search for intersectional solidarity even more. We are convinced that it will take a life-time of building relationships within each movement before we can even start properly building them in-between. To give a face to a name, a story to a country.

As we are riding over mountains and along the sea we know that our solidarity ride will continue long after we reach Western Sahara. We hope that all of the people we met on the way joins in and that together we can create a culture of solidarity that stay in the hearts and minds of generations to come.