Fylde author’s motorbike epic round Lake Victoria

St Annes author Alan Whelan with Barak Obama's grandmother Mamma Sarah
St Annes author Alan Whelan with Barak Obama's grandmother Mamma Sarah
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A Fylde coast author got to meet Barack Obama’s grandmother in her Kenyan village on an epic motorbike ride around Lake Victoria.

Alan Whelan, who has completed three road trips in Africa, is heading for Kenya again to take supplies to a village school he came across on his ride.

And the St Annes based author is taking a garage load of stationery, children’s football shirts, and other school equipment to help the children at the school where there are no desks or chairs.

Alan’s new book Empire Road, the third of his African travel series, charts his journey around Africa’s largest lake, the size of Ireland, and was inspired by the journeys of discovery made by the great Victorian explorers.

Alan said he was inspired by the friendliness and humility of the people he met he met in Irovo a western Kenyan village he came across while looking for another village of the same name for a friend who had a project there.

The school was run by a pastor called Vitalis who told him it might not have been the right village, but it was the one he was looking for.

Alan said: “He was a wise man! It was inspiring. We came back and asked friends and colleagues for donations and half filled our garage.

“Some people gave money and we have enough to buy the school and a bit of land for a playground and we will hire a local carpenter to make chairs and desks.”

Alan flew to Nairobi in Kenya walked out into the street and got the help of Henry, a boda boda rider (a motorcycle taxi) to buy a suitable bike.

“Wonderfully, six weeks later I rode back into Nairobi and I found Henry, just one of 10,000 riders in the city, and he said he could not believe I had gone to all the places I said I was going to go. And he bought the bike off me.”

Alan rode to Western Kenya and went to the village where US President Barack Obama’s family originate.

He met Mamma Sarah, Barack’s reclusive grandmother and spent an hour in her company.

He said: “She was a little bit like a crotchety grandma. She gets a lot of people coming to visit her, a lot of African American’s obviously.

“She does not speak English so we needed a Swahili translator. She was kind enough though, sort of like humouring a pesky grandchild, and she gave us a bag on mangoes to take away.”

Alan travelled from Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and back to Kenya using roads which run roughly around the great lake.

“The thing that strikes you is the great diversity of Africa. There are 54 countries in Africa and they are all different, much more diverse than Europe.

“The book is called Empire Road because I was inspired by the journeys the British explorers made.

“They were amazing people, individuals going to a place they knew nothing about. The astronauts going to the moon knew more about the place they were going to than the Victorian explorers heading to the interior of Africa.”

Alan’s book is available at local bookshops and online.