Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's Another 6 Years?

The other day I saw a post on a friend's page on Facebook.  

"Today marks my 15-year Anniversary at the ......! I am officially *half way* to retirement!! I feel elated for the awesome 15 years of employment. XXXX is one of THE BEST organizations to work. Yet I feel conflicted that groundhog day is going to continue for another 15 years...180 months...3,120 work days...31,120 work hours. haha"

That comment was enough for me, for someone who has only had a "real" job four years out of her working life.  There were 62 "Likes" and 10 "Comments" when I caught comment #10:

"The closer you get the harder it gets sorry, Every year you will say why should I wait, I wanna retire this year.  Then you remind yourself you have done it this long, whats another 6 years.  I am happy for you congrats on retirement in 15 years."

*Disclosure...not corrected for grammar and spelling as those of you know I'm a grammar/spelling FREAK

"Whats another 6 years."

WHAT'S ANOTHER 6 YEARS????  Do we even need to ask that question people?  Have we become so mired in mediocrity, just crossing off the days until we die?  Or in this case, retire, which will be about the same time.

31,120 hours....just another 31,120 hours?  What could you do with another 6 years?

You could fill a passport...TWICE...

You could go to the Olympics, watch an athlete you have trained, loved and nurtured carry in his country's flag.

You could ride a motorcycle through Africa riding alongside a herd of elephant or giraffe. 

You could travel to some of the most beautiful places on earth to countries most people will never be allowed to enter.

You could be part of developing a sport in a country where it never existed before.

You could watch people feed their families, educate their children and siblings through participating in this sport.

You could give people hope.

You could give a young woman the chance to leave her mud hut in her village to race with the best in the world in Switzerland.

You could help people achieve their dreams and in so doing feel more gratified and content than most people in the world.

You could stand feet from endangered mountain gorillas in a rainforest.

You could stare for hours at two rhinos grazing on a savanna knowing if things don't change, if the poachers don't stop killing, that those hours could be priceless some day.

You could be part of winning a race which truly inspired a nation.

You could give hundreds of poor school children bikes to travel the many kilometers back and forth to school safely.

You could see a malnourished, neglected little baby grow up to become a dynamic, bilingual, bike riding machine.

You could have a little newborn girl named after you because of the place of honor and respect you hold within a family.

You could have met such amazing people who have traveled and lived all over the world, with stories and lives which will never speak to that "conflicted groundhog day" mentality.  

You could be part of the Tour de France, walk down the Champs d'Elysees with the first American to ever race in the Tour.

You could meet a President of one of greatest comeback countries in the world, Rwanda.  You could stand there as he says, "You've earned our support".

"But, Kim, I could never do what you do?"

"Kim, how did you do it?"

"I could never imagine leaving my home, selling my stuff, having new and scary experiences."

Then stay doing what you're doing....what's another 6 years?

Just a lifetime in my world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Everyone Leaves

"Everyone leaves," Jock Boyer said during my first month in Rwanda.  

"Get used to it."

"Five years ago this May"....this is what Johnny Muzungu typed as we were chatting on FB the other day.  Johnny left five years ago.  He's in Ohio now, married a good woman who had a son.  His life couldn't be more far removed from Rwanda.  My first birthday in Rwanda, June 2009, he was the one who hung with me, who celebrated with me.  Just Johnny and I and some wicked banana whiskey.  Johnny was a realist about Rwanda, that's why we got along so well.  Simply no Kumbaya, heart for Rwanda, between us two.  

Some people leave when their scheduled time is up, some leave because they simply get burnt out or burnt, some leave because they have to....something we do not talk about.  Johnny left because he had to.  I still miss his big ass laughter and how he was never afraid to make fun of himself, this place, what we do.  

Everyone leaves...

When Johnny was here so was Jan and Molly.  Jan came as the Head Veterinarian for MGVP (Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project).  Her contract was for two years and she stayed for 2+.  Molly was also working with MGVP at the time.  I miss these two women.  A friend who does work in Rwanda but does not live here full time stopped by the other day at our compound and remarked, "Everyone is gone, how do you do it?"

If I had a dollar for everyone who said that to me.  

Molly has a great new job in the US, a man, Boots the Rwandan dog she rescued.  Life is good, we've seen each other several times in the US but it's not the same as riding bikes yelling at kids to "BACK OFF" as we traverse the back roads of Rwanda.
(Andrea (volunteer for MGVP who left), Molly & Jan)

Jan came back two years after she left.  She came back in the same position she left, Head Vet at MGVP.  A year later she left, a year short of her two year contract.  She had to leave....we'll just leave it at that.

Early on there was this quirky Brit who I adored.  Suzanne.  Suzanne left after her friend David Pluth died in a tragic event in Nyungwe Forest.  I had only been here a month, had only known David a week.  They both left May 2009.  

Team Rwanda's first full fledged mechanic was Max. Max came the month after I did, speaking little to zero English, me speaking ZERO French.  Jock was our go between, unless Max and I were angry at each other which happened often.  Then we communicated quite well by yelling at each other in our respective languages.

Max hit burnout three years later.  Serious burnout.  I don't think he's dealt with things yet.  Max was a "had to leave", ordered to leave.  For Mr. AM and I that was by far one of the hardest "leaves" for us, full of anger, disappointment, frustration, and love.

When Max departed, Jimmy arrived.  Jimmy always made me laugh.  I remember Jimmy at the 2013 Cape Epic, 6:00am in the morning, him riding a bike racing around the start line with a 40# pack of tools on his back, jumping over the start gate chute fence to fix someone's flat.  He was insane.  Never give Jimmy coffee...EVER.  Jimmy left in 2013, came back for a bit and then left for good.  We used to do these "selfies" in the car during races when our team was derailing and we could do nothing about it, watching the carnage unfold, we made the best of it.  We laughed and regrouped.

Volunteers and short term staff have come and gone.  That's just the way it is at Team Rwanda.  They were never expected to stay long term, to stay forever like Mr. AM and I.  Some I miss terribly, others...well, I hope they are happy.  I truly do.  Rwanda, long term, is not for the faint of heart, although it is MUCH easier now than it was in the beginning.  Rwanda causes you to strip away all the distractions.  You must face your worst self, your best self and sometimes that can be a road people are not ready to walk down.  Rwanda pushes you down that road.  Some of us have one more pot holes on that road than we like to admit.
Rev Mel was a great volunteer who with her traveling companion, Jessica, taught English, worked the Tour of Rwanda and helped paint our last house.  She came back the next year for the Tour of Rwanda.  
She married Mr. AM and I.

 Jody was our English teacher for a bit...she took beautiful photos and showed me how much I love what I do and love these young men.

Dave Mac was a coach for the Tour of Rwanda 2012.  Dave is still one of our biggest fans and supporters back in the US helping us find coaches and is our spokesperson at film screenings in Colorado Springs.  He helped us find our 2014 Coach, Daniel Matheny.

Jamie Bissell is still with us, racing with the team in Algeria this month.  Jamie's quirky enough, like us, to last.  Jamie has been the best mechanic for this team, with incredible patience and a desire to teach our Rwandan mechanics, Kiki and Issa.  When Jamie leaves...he will leave a huge void.

Travis Nicks...I truly sobbed when he left.  I cried because he was the one who helped me so much that year while Jock seemed to travel every other week for the film.  I cried because he had a world of opportunity in front of him and went home and bought a Volvo.  I miss Travis.

This was our crew in 2010 at the Tour of Rwanda..Cedrig, Max, Matt, Ted, Jennifer, Scott, Clark
Scott came back in February of this year over 4 years later.  What a gift to all of us.  People do come back, once in a while, for a short while.

There are so many others who have helped us along the way.  So many friends outside of our work with Team Rwanda who are no longer here in Rwanda with us...Julie Ghrist, Dawn Zimmerman, Katie Scrafford and all the newly departed Team Rwanda crew from last year.  I miss those days but know there are more people on the way to meet.

One person said to me, "It doesn't matter that much that I was here."

Tell that to 16 year old Eva who started out on a BMX track and is now racing for a spot on the junior road mattered to him.

Everyone who has come through our lives in the last 6-8 years has mattered.  

"I don't know how you and Jock do it," TC said to me on the phone the other day.  TC is the filmmaker who made our documentary, Rising From Ashes. 

We just do it.  We stay and meet new people, form new relationships and stay.  At some point, we will be the ones who leave.

I came here for three months in 2009 and I am quickly closing in on six years this April.  The other day, as I was running haggard, conducting camp for 16 new boys, 1 girl and no coach, no help, two teams of veterans off racing in far away places.  I sat at the dinner table and never felt more blessed to be sitting where I was able to watch Gasore, one of our older riders, take over behind the dinner buffet counter, my usual spot,serving the young riders who all look to him as what is possible in life with Team Rwanda.  He is taking over so someday, I too can leave.

I live by Philippines 2:3...Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain concept.  Rather in humility value others above yourselves.

I am thankful for everyone who came and stayed for awhile and made a difference.

That is why I stay.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Words and Garage Door Openers

Oftentimes, when I have difficulty posting a blog it is due to finding the right words to express the ramblings in my brain.  Yes, you could call it writer's block, but it is truly much more.  The older I get the more careful I try to be with my words.  Careful does not necessarily mean a censorship of what I want to say, but rather, choosing the combination of words, contextualizing the words to accurately present an essay, a blog which might spark discussion and introspection versus anger or misinterpretation leading to anger.  In today's digital world it is all too common to fire back instead of taking time to read and internalize the thoughts of another.  

Over a month ago I read a blog a good friend wrote about being angry with her husband.  So I was really pissed at my husband....apparently all precipitated by a garage door opener.

Since it has been over a month and the blog is still lingering with me, despite having a fire hose spray of events in my life, I am struggling to find the combination of words to express what the blog meant to me.  She is a great writer, wickedly funny, and most definitely in love with her husband and family.  Words....or the lack thereof in this case, left me heavy hearted.  Definitely not my most favorite blog of hers.  

I have seen first hand the destruction passive aggressive behavior wreaks on a relationship.  I have an internal radar when it comes to passive aggressiveness. If you are passive aggressive with me I will call you on it.  Period.  Say what you mean, mean what you say.  If you are angry say it.  Anger I can deal with.  Snivel, snarky, behind the back innuendo I cannot.

Actually, we've been really pissy with each other for about 6 months or so.  You know the passive-aggressive kinda crap that most marriages are built on.  We had a LOT going on with the new house, the financing (which was a GIANT pain in the ass), kids in new schools, etc., etc. To be honest, I felt like a lot had been dumped on my lap.  More than my fair share.  And I felt incredibly unappreciated.

Of course, did I say anything?


My heart broke reading these words.  Six months?  There is not that much going on that could possibly get in the way of having a conversation, could there?  

I let too much get in the way in marriage number one and it cost me dearly.  I would not wish divorce on any human being, even an amicable divorce.  The words we use or the lack thereof can build up or destroy much too easily.  Do I think they are headed that way?  Doubtful...hopefully.  

In the end she realized what she had done, what they had done, when she learned a friend's husband was diagnosed with brain cancer.  But why did it take a tragedy such as that to put things in perspective.

My Sis and her German got married yesterday.  I quiet civil ceremony.  The big shindig, well small, contained celebration wedding, will be in June.  I found out as we were chatting on FB.  This was her IM:  

and I'm a bit nervous about the wedding today.  

Most people think our family is odd.  We do that kind of thing a lot.  When I got married the second time we decided four days prior, got some friends together and said I do.  It is my sister's second marriage too.  We are intrinsically aware of our past mistakes and wish not to repeat them.  We also have a sense of humor about it shown by their choice in "Best Man", Spike complete with tux and bow tie at the courthouse.

It took me two shots of tequila with my Best Man (yes, I did not have a Maid of Honor but rather my best friend's totally ok to have a boy as your "Maid of Honor"!) to be able to remarry.  Not because I didn't love Mr. AM, but I did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past.  There was too much pain brought about by my divorce and the thought of entering into a marriage with anyone was frightening.  Talking with Steve, admitting my fears, my mistakes, my bad behavior with husband number 1 got me down the aisle...and tequila.  

I live in a place and in a world where I have those moments of clarity on a regular basis.  I do not need "a friend has brain cancer" to wake me up.  I'm awake.  Mr. AM is in Algeria for a month as the team has a series of races.  March is not my favorite month.  Algeria is a two day flight, thousands of kilometers from Rwanda.  Algeria is not a tourist country.  In fact, they are really not fond of tourists.  It takes 3+ hours to get through the airport as they inventory everything you have, count all your money and scrutinize every part of your travel schedule.  Algeria is next door to Tunisia.  Mr. AM is 300kms from the capital, Tunis, where last week 21 people were killed in a terrorist attack at a museum.

He left the night of the 3rd and I will pick him up in the middle of the night on the 31st.  29 sleeps.  Last night we had a 20 minute phone call, $14 on Skype, a really nice 20 minutes.  In a month we will have talked about two hours if we're lucky.  Thankful for email.

I am here alone in Rwanda running camps, tending to riders but realizing everything in Rwanda with this team rests on me.  Our neighboring country directly over the volcanoes where I sit is DRC.  On any given day the place could erupt in violence.   I appreciate having my husband here more than ever.  I hate Algeria March.  It sucks.

I am also cognizant of the speed of time.  Mr. AM is 60 this year.  Not old, but older and really do not want to waste one second being angry or seething with irritation over perceived slights.  It is just not worth it.

I seethed for years with husband number one.  I talk with husband number two about my fear of becoming angry or bitter.  Passive aggressive I will never be.  

If there is one thing I wish I could have my friends back home see, feel and experience, it is this.  Once you strip away all the "stuff" of life, the cars, homes, jobs, keeping up with the "Jones'", you stop being angry and irritated because you begin to realize what is most important.  I know my friend realizes it now.  Do we have to wait for something to happen to realize it?  Can we just realize it now?  I am thankful she had her moment of realization.

Thankfully I do not have a garage door opener which needs programming.  Well, I do not even have a garage to necessitate a garage door opener.  Keeping it simple with the family.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Out There Alone: Hadnet Kidane's Ride to an Ethiopian Olympic Bid

Hadnet Kidane is all of 5' nothing weighing 115 pounds.  She is a tiny young Ethiopian cyclist, a woman. 

In February at the Continental Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.  I do not know if it was her first time racing internationally but I highly suspect it was.  There are simply no races on the continent for women and even Ethiopian men do not participate in many of the international races.  Ethiopia does have a strong local racing calendar with many more women competing than Rwanda.  Perhaps this is where she honed her skills.

On February 9, she participated in the Team Time Trial where Ethiopia missed a 3rd place podium finish by 4 seconds to Eritrea.  Her team did not have time trial bikes, but neither did the Eritreans.

On February 11, she raced in the Individual Time Trial placing 8th 4:44 behind the winner from South Africa and 1:45 behind Rwanda's Jeanne d'Arc.  Joan of Arc had a TT bike, Hadnet did not.

February 13, I was on the side of the road about 10kms from the start/finish.  I was relegated to the feed zone for a few laps.  Early on through a race radio the Namibians had commandeered, we learned she was in a two person breakaway with a South African.  When she came past the feed zone the first time I saw her with the South African.  I thought to myself, there is no way she is going to be able to hold this.  She was on her rev limiter keeping wheels with the South African.  

Then I hear on the radio there's another South African who has bridged the gap from the peloton to their 2 person breakaway.  They quickly drop Hadnet.  As she comes through the second time past the feed zone, she's alone.  The worst thing for a cyclist is to be alone between a break and the peloton.  No man's land.  I remember saying to Sophia, a junior Namibian cyclist manning the feed zone with me, "She should just hold up and wait for the peloton."

How wrong I was.

After the peloton comes through the feed zone I jump in the follow car with Jock and Jamie for the final lap.  The peloton splits on the next hill.  We're down to five women, including Jeanne d'Arc, chasing Hadnet and the two South Africans ahead of her.  

In the final 5-6kms we're on a plateau with long rolling hills and you can see Hadnet and her follow car in the distance.  We are gaining on her.  The South Africans have put minutes into Hadnet.  She is all alone.

For a moment it looks like the group of five will catch Hadnet.  There are two Olympic bids available in the race.  South Africa will get one, but Hadnet is being chased by Rwanda and Eritrea in the pack of five for the other. 

Hadnet crosses the finish line 3:51 behind the winning break of South Africans and only 46 seconds in front of the group of five.  Hadnet had secured an Olympic Road Race bid for Ethiopia.  

Ashleigh MOOLMAN-PASIORSARSA303:06:574040
Hadnet KIDANEETHETH22+3:511616
Jeanne D'arc GIRUBUNTURWARWA20+4:381010
Tsega BEYENEETHETH21+4:3888
Yohana DAWITERIERI22+4:3866
Heidi DALTONRSARSA20+4:3933
How wrong I was....thank God she didn't hold up.

When I finally got back to where all the riders and teams were camped out I congratulated the Ethiopians and saw Hadnet in a heap on the ground.  She was sobbing, her tiny body just heaving, sobbing.  She was inconsolable.  My first thought was she was simply emotional from essentially being hunted for miles for her third place finish.

That was not why she was sobbing.  

GG, the Ethiopian mechanic simply said to me, "Her mother died last week."

The next day I was with her at the feed zone during the Men's Elite Road Race.  She gave me her email address and begged me to please help her.  She did not have a proper training bike and she wanted to race.  A girl without a bike, without a mother gave Ethiopia a spot in next year's Olympics....speechless.