Listen Up! Or, Guess What Happened on the Way to My Lecture

Text by Linda Smith

‘Spilled Ink’ is all about communicating through reading and writing and, not least, attentive listening. Guest Essayist Linda Smith of the NGO Filters for Families admits that she didn’t listen to her bicycle one day. Big mistake! Here’s her story.

This bicycle is not traveling today, it said in a low voice. 

The morning was beautiful, blue sky with warm sunshine after a damp, cold night. The sun was appreciated after five days of thick fog hiding Nawalparasi district in a mirage of grey mist. I awoke early to ready myself to teach a class at Pahli Multi-Campus College on the dangers of arsenic in the drinking water. Loaded down with my computer and electrical paraphernalia, I slung my right leg over the bar of my old Atlas bicycle and started the 20 minute journey.

Mistake #1—The back tire seemed low, so checking it while riding, I drifted off the road. Then the pedal broke, and I ended up on my knees in the ditch. Now the tire was truly flat. After that, I slowly pedaled along one-footed, with one pedal. 

It’s hard to go anywhere on a flat tire. I passed one closed shop after another, until I saw bicycle tires hanging from a tree. At that shop, the old man added air and I was off again.

Mistake #2—I should have had him add a new pedal.

Nonetheless, and a little bedraggled, I continued on my way to the campus.
Soon, I took what I thought was a short cut. Wrong. It went west instead of south, which I didn’t realize till ten minutes later. Then, while chatting with a couple who were out for a morning ride, I lost control going over a speed bump, caught my heel on the bracket of the missing pedal, and landed on my back with my left foot caught in the spokes, computer bag wrapped around the handlebars and my neck, and bike on top of me. Pain!

The couple stopped and ran to my aid. Pulling the bag off hurt my shoulder and lifting the bike uphurt my leg. And my mobile was ringing. I knew it was Shrawan Kumar, the campus head, so while I was sorting myself out, I gave the phone to the young man and asked him to explain that I was in a bike accident.

Mistake #3—Why didn’t I ask the campus head to come get me by motorbike?

Meanwhile, my knee was bloody, part of my suruwal near the ankle was ripped, and my left breast had taken a pounding against the ground and the computer bag.Untangling myself took a bit of time. I felt nauseated, so I hobbled slowly over to sit in front of a shop until my tummy calmed down. 

Riding any farther was out of the question, so I started walking. I was hurting, my sweater was a mess from the dirty ditch, I was limping, and the locals certainly thought it all looked a bit odd. The young man volunteered to bike ahead to ask Shrawan Kumar to come get me. When he arrived, I thanked the couple, then very slowly lifted my leg over the back of the motorcycle seat and rode on to give my lecture.

I spoketo a room full of very attentive and inquisitive college students, after which we tested the campus water pump for arsenic. As we were finishing the test, my filter technicians Sumai and Sachin arrived by rickshaw, bringing a filter to install and demonstrate in the school. 

Afterward, Sachin rode the broken bike back to our office, while I happily, and quietly, hitched a ride on the motorbike.

At the office I felt miserable, and as it was still early, only 11:15 a.m., I took a moment to reflect on all that had happened. That’s when I realized—

Mistake #4—I hadn’t listened to my bicycle: ‘Not traveling today’, it had said.

Our guest essayist, Dr. Linda Smith, an American geologist, founded the NGO Filters for Families (FFF) in 2002. FFF operates out of an office in Nawalparasi, a district with the highest incidence of arsenic contaminated ground water in Nepal. FFF has distributed over 3,000 water filters for home and institutional use, and is the sole distributor of SONO filters in Nepal. A local women’s group provides arsenic awareness workshops to communities, and women in local NGOs have been trained and paid to assemble the filters. FFF is associated with the international Safe Drinking Water Foundation. You can contact Linda Smith at; and see (P.S. That’s not Linda Smith in the illustration.)