Faith in Africa: the Splashgirls
posted: July 23, 2007
The Splashgirls...
I had just turned off the tape recorder after interviewing Stacy, the first female bike messenger I'd ever met. There are only about 15 of them out of thousands of male bike messengers in New York, and she was destined for  Overlooked New York, my series of portraits and interviews with impassioned New Yorkers. We were sitting on the stoop in front of my building, just a few blocks north of the East Village, and she was about to pose for photographs that I'd use later to paint her portrait.

She started telling me about the Splashgirls, an all-girls bike messenger company made up of AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe. I flipped. All girls; African AIDS orphans—what a story!

"What do you mean? How did a group of AIDS orphans start a bike messenger company? And all girls? How can I get in touch with them?"

She didn't have any answers, but she gave me the phone number of another bike messenger, Jillian, who was coordinating the fund raising to try to bring them here for the Cycle Messenger Olympics being held later that month.

After taking the photos, I ran upstairs, breathless with excitement. I imagined the Splashgirls as a story of optimism and triumph, of African girls left without protection in a world of poverty and despair, banding together to earn the money to support what remained of their families, swooping around on 10-speed bikes through the dusty streets of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In New York, a female bike messenger is a bold and rebellious soul who chooses to break gender roles and play hard with the boys. I imagined that the same was true of these girls in Zimbabwe – that they were not going to be beaten and subdued by what the world had handed them. The Splashgirls, I thought, was salvation from a terrible nightmare for these girls, a story about the power of the human spirit triumphing over crippling adversities.

Eventually I was put in touch with Faith, who worked as one of the Splashgirls; through her, I would soon find out how far astray my imagination had led me.
Faith, in the red helmet...
Stacy, the New York City bike messenger who first told me about the Splashgirls...