Saturday, August 1, 2015

Who or What Do You Appreciate Most in Your Life?

One character trait I possess is tenacity.  I might bitch and moan about something, like living in Rwanda most days, but if I commit to someone or something or some higher force or a direction in life, I am "all in".  Sometimes I kick and scream but if I say I will do it, it is done.  Period.

Take Mr. Andy Headspace for example.  I am fighting the meditation, but I am committed.  I'm "all in" Andy, no matter how much I appear that it is of no value and I think you are talking zen gibberish.  I slogged my way through the 30 volume set of "Creativity" and then decided, since I was apparently so angry, according to my sister (who lives in Germany, and has power and water, and a cute weiner dog and makes great cupcakes, is pretty and younger and has a bad ass husband so life is perfect...yes, that sister), that I might try the shortened mediation series of Appreciation.

Curse you Mr. Andy Headspace...it worked.  It does not mean we are friends.  It just means I can tolerate you, Mr. Perfect Zenman.

During the meditation I breathed, counted to 10, thought about 15 gabillion other things and then..."Who or What Do You Appreciate Most in Your Life?"

All week I thought about that question.  It made me want to start doing yoga with Obed and the boys again.  I wanted to just take it in, to appreciate all Obed has done in the last three years with developing the yoga and massage program for this team and also Eritrea and Ethiopia.  I laid there during relaxation pose and was so thankful for Obed, for his desire to make a new life after racing, to help his teammates, to lead the way in a completely new discipline.

I sent my mom an email after weeks of quiet irritation. My mom gave me the wherewithal to do what I do.  She encouraged me to be strong, independent, a free spirit.  Although I don't always agree with her choices--like I'm sure she always agreed with mine!--I appreciate her.  I need her to be around for a very long time yet.

I told my husband how much I appreciated him last night after a motorbike trip into Kigali for business.  Seriously, there were at least 30 near death experiences during the day.  I am not exaggerating.  Rwandan's have a serious death wish on the road and yesterday was the worst day I've had on the back of his motorbike in 6 years.  That includes the collarbone break in Tanzania in 2009.  On the way home I had my new TomTom watch on which registers heart rate.  Normal heart rate....65....every time someone was in our lane, passing on a blind corner or simply cutting us off....spike to 95.  

I appreciate my ex-husband.  He ships all our gear all over the country, pays my bills and is our biggest Team Rwanda fan!  He could have remained angry at me for the rest of my life, instead, he was the good man he's always been and understood this was what I was meant to do with my life.  I am one lucky girl.

Yesterday I met with a friend, Kelly Bean, in Kigali.  She is here to check in on the programs she runs with her non profit, African Road.  She cannot go to Burundi, another country she works with, because of the recent election violence.  Last week, about 36 hours before she boarded a plane we had a FB conversation about how I was suffering, once again, from compassion fatigue.  She asked if she could bring me anything.  I said it was too late for this journal I wanted but not to worry.  When I met her yesterday and chatted about everything going on, she said to me, "How are you doing?"  She said it, meant it and I felt it.  As I was leaving she gave me a care package with two journals and a coloring book and pencils...and chocolate!  I told her I want to channel my inner KB...calm, nurturing and loving.  KB doesn't yell, and never appears frazzled.  I am always yelling and frazzled!  Her gift, her friendship means the world to me.  Appreciation.

I appreciate my sister who introduced me to Mr. Andy Headspace....and who always supports every campaign I launch begging for money!

And today....there was a moment of complete Appreciation....savoring every second of the moment....looking up to God and simply saying, "Thank you...thank you for this moment..."

Bonaventure, our rider who had a horrific crash 3 months ago and then developed a post trauma blood clot which almost ended his life, raced.  This was his first race since the accident.  Mr. AM and I were following the race on the motorbike and Bona was staying with the peloton which at our last time check was 4'52" behind Bosco, the eventual winner.  That alone was impressive.  We sprinted ahead with 20kms remaining to make it to the finish line to set up the video finish timer.  

In comes Bosco, then Patrick, then Joseph and Camera....then a minute or two after that....Janvier...and Bona.  Bona...Janvier reaching down to hold Bona's hand as they crossed the finish line.  I looked across the finish line to Mr. AM and just smiled, holding back tears..."Did you see Janvier and Bona?"

"Yes."

"They were holding hands...he's back.  I think I'm going to cry."

I finished Mr. Andy Headspace's Appreciation series today.  Who or What Do I Appreciate Most in My Life?"

Friends who understand me and what I deal with living here, doing what I do.

My staff, Catherine & Thomas who cook for this unbelievably large family, Felix who handles everything for me, Janvier, the guard who makes sure the water tanks are always full, Joseph and the two Damascenes who make the garden and grounds peaceful, serene and inviting and Beatrice who cleans, cleans and launders all day long!

Flowers....the gorgeous flowers Beatrice put in my house, the flowers that surround my house, the flowers in the kitchen...just beautiful flowers.

And most of all...

I am thankful for God's healing power over Bona.


The press interviewing Bona on his return to racing
Janvier reaching for Bona at the finish







Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Five Loaves and Two Fish/105 Eggs & Some Salad

Found in all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is the miracle of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people.   According to the Bible, Jesus had gone off alone in a boat to mourn the beheading of John the Baptist.  People began gathering at the shore upon hearing Jesus was nearby.  

According to Matthew 14:14-21:  

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late.  Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."

Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away.  You give them something to eat."

"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.

"Bring them here to me," he said.

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.  Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.

They all ate and were satisfied  and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Today I mentioned to Sterling, the Anti Coach, "I feel like I'm feeding the 5,000 with my five loaves and two fish.

Cyclists are always hungry.  That's a simple fact of the sport.

Our Rwandan cyclists are always hungry but never have enough food.  Local cyclists, juniors, club riders, national team hopefuls not in camp show up every day to have a bike repaired, to ask for some shorts, or to keep their friends company.  Our door is always open and we are always feeding someone.


We have a 15 year old junior, Eric, all fight, 49kgs and a smile that can melt even the hardest hearts.  He got me months ago.  Most of our riders are poor or come from very poor backgrounds.  Eric is a whole new level of poor even for Rwanda.  His father is dead and his mother has three younger children by her second husband who left for Uganda seven years ago and never came back.  Sterling told me the other day he's worried about Eric because he never has any food and will ride down to meet the team on a training ride and will have had no breakfast and then no water or bananas for the training.  He asked if Eric could come early for breakfast. 

"Sure, why not, what's another mouth to feed," I said.  "He can stay for lunch too."

Well, Eric is staying for dinner tonight and until Thursday afternoon.  He's bunking with the team on a top bunk.  None of the older guys will sleep in a top bunk.  Eric is happy to take it.  It's a bed.  He has no bed at home.  He sleeps on the floor.  I will be buying him a mattress and taking it to his house on Thursday.  Five loaves, two fish...and a mattress.

Eva, another 15 year old junior, who recently lost his father while his mother continues to struggle with a chronic illness, came today to get his biked fixed.  He wants to race this weekend.  He brought along another club rider from Gisenyi.  I see them sitting on the curb across from the garage hanging out, waiting, petting Shaka.  I walk in the kitchen and see Thomas and Catherine buried in chapatti dough.  I grab a pan and some eggs and head to my house where I fried up six eggs and went back to the kitchen and grabbed some cold rice out of the refrigerator.  I called Eva and his friend over to the kitchen asking if they were hungry.  No rider, ever, in the history of Team Rwanda has turned down food.  I set the bowls down, got a smiley, "Thanks Mukecuru!" and walked to the garage.  

There sat Sibo, Joseph aka Mr. Grumpy's half brother.  Apparently Joseph's dad has two wives.  

"Joseph, I didn't see you, are you hungry?"

"Yes, Mukecuru"

"Ok...stay for lunch... ok?"

A big yes and an even bigger smile.

Money is always tight with this team.  There is never a time when we have "enough".  But we always have food.  These kids will never leave hungry.  

I have a split second moment of holy crap how am I going to pay for all of this but then I just think...5 loaves, 2 fish...we are not going hungry.  

Our food runs us about $300/day with camps.  We grow a lot but don't have all the vegetables.  The market food (vegetables/bananas) are inexpensive.  Eggs are cheap, all other protein is insanely expensive.  Thomas and Catherine always seem to make what looks like not enough be more than enough.

As I had my holy crap moment, commenting to Sterling about how I felt I was a disciple with my 5 loaves and 2 fish, I received an email from the Federation saying they had just received 5,000,000RWF ($6,600USD) from the Ministry of Sport for food for the team.  The President (yes, the President of the country) had said he would pay for food this year for the team.

Thank you Jesus...via President Kagame.

Tomorrow we pick up two Burundian cyclists who finally were able to get through the border to Rwanda.  

5 loaves and 2 fish

....150 eggs....2 cans of porridge....heads and heads of lettuce from the garden...10 chickens....4 wheels of cheese....3 cartons of milk....kilos and kilos of rice, potatoes and pasta

Every Rwandan cyclist eats here at ARCC

5 loaves 2 fish....and lots of coffee for me!




Thursday, July 23, 2015

F*&% You Mr. Andy Headspace

Think Julia Roberts, Eat, Pray, Love meditation scene.  Not the awesome Muffin Top scene where she's really enjoying pizza in Italy.  That I can do...think meditation scene...one minute, fly buzzing, OMG I cannot do this!

That is me on meditation.

A few months ago I picked up the Dan Harris book, 10% Happier.  Actually I Kindled it, maybe I should have had the actual copy?  Would that have made a difference?  Paper helps.  Not that I wasn't happy, I was, I am, well most days...however, everyone, mostly my sister, swore about the benefits of meditation.  The voices in my head simply want to kick ass most of the time, good or bad ass kicking so I figured what the hell....let's see what Dan has to say.

I was intrigued.  His struggle seemed genuine, albeit, whiny first world issuey to me but then again, that is why I felt I needed some meditation to deal with FWI (First World Issues).  I simply couldn't relate to anything or anyone who had what I thought was a minor problem, Starbucks too cold, couldn't get car into the garage for a oil change, kid got overlooked for the part of the baby Jesus in the Christmas play.  You know, that kind of FWI stuff.  My desire to "unfriend" and punch people for whining just reached the lack of containment point.

I thought Dan a little weird, sorry Dan.  I wanted you to put on your big boy pants.  In then end though, you at least made me see the possible benefit I could attain.  I liked that you said 10%, if you had even said 45% or higher you would have lost me.  Maybe it should have been 10% Better Contained.  You would have had me at 10%.

My sister read the book and then recommended Headspace.  I think she gave me my first 30 days free.  There's this guy named, Andy, chocolate syrupy voice with a lovely British accent.  Do the Brits ever sound angry?  I'm thinking I need more the German version of Andy.  You have to do Levels 1, 2 and 3 before you get to unlock way more interesting things like Appreciation or Creativity or Stress Relief.  I started with 10 minutes on Level 1.  If they would have had a 2.5 minute option I would have been all over that.  After Level 1 I was feeling quite cocky.  I've got this...Level 2 15 minutes bring it.  Level 2 DONE...although I think it took a bit.  I can't remember.  Level 3 20 minutes why not?  WHY?  That was the most excruciating 20 minutes of my life.  

Think Julia Roberts....Eat, Pray, Love.

Ah...then, Creativity.  Yes, I want to write.  I want these amazing sentences to flow from my rapidly typing fingers.  Back to 15 minutes and 30 sessions of Creativity...30 sessions are you kidding me?

Today I finished Session 30 of Creativity.  I have zero Creativity unless you count trying to figure out how to do Brazilian visas from Rwanda, paying in Kenya Shillings without being able to actually procure KES from Rwanda, then realizing the bank will give you 80 to the dollar when you should be getting 100 to the dollar.  Call Joice, my friend and former superstar employee at World Bicycle Relief who bailed me out like a gazillion times.  She's Kenyan, living in Nairobi, she can make this happen....and so far she has, with the exception of the Obama visit tomorrow where all roads will be closed for the POTUS so she can't make it to the Embassy of Brazil!  That's a whole other blog.

That's Creativity.

But I want the Eat, Pray, Love kind of creativity.

Oh yeah, that's a movie, based on a book.  A real book though so maybe it's real.

So, my last session of Creativity.  I tell Mr. AM I'm going to mediate.  

"Would you like a glass of wine?"

That can't hurt...sure.

The last 15 minute session of Creativity starts.  Andy...your voice, so sweet, so sing songy, today I want to punch you.

Deep breathing....1 2 3 4 Inhale Exhale

Zulu is eating and slamming down his food as if it was his last meal on earth.

Why is that such a disgusting slurping sound?

Mr. AM, why do you walk so hard across the floor?

1 2 3 4 let your mind be free....

Zulu, seriously?  Do you need to shake all that wet fish, rice, egg concoction all over me after you eat.

1 2 bring your mind back...

Back where...there's water and goo all over me.

FOCUS!!

BREATHE!!

I open my eyes...I couldn't feel the wine class with my eyes closed.

5 new notifications on Facebook.

Why did you look?

Creativity...

12:01...seriously, it's not over yet.  This is my last damn Creativity meditation then I can move on to Appreciation.

13:18...really?

14:09...I can't even make it a minute?


15:02....this is supposed to be 15 minutes and look at that bar left.  Why is there more bar left?  15 is 15.

God, I need help.

This was my meditation yesterday...

Zulu on my mat.  Kongo preening.  Does that cat have to lick that loudly?

People...animals...leave me be.  Andy and I need to have our Zen moment.

Andy...this may be a match made in hell.

Think Julia Roberts...Eat, Pray, Love.

Onto Appreciation tomorrow....I have a 12 day streak going!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

REAL Courage in Sport

I turned 10 the summer of 1976, the summer Bruce Jenner won the Gold Medal in Decathlon in Montreal.  I remember his body splayed in a variety of decathlon events across my morning Wheaties box.  Didn't we all want the Bruce Jenner Wheaties box in 1976?  I do not care much for Wheaties, never have, but as a child, staring at Bruce Jenner heaving the javelin across the cereal box, I knew I wanted to be in sports.  The Decathlon is the pinnacle of sport discipline in the arena of Track and Field Athletics.  

Bruce Jenner returned to my personal radar decades later as the father and stepfather of the narcissistic, selfie-taking, why are these people famous?, Kardashians.  Where had my sports hero gone?

And then he became she, Bruce became Caitlyn....

Earlier this week, Caitlyn/Bruce accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs.   According to Wikipedia, "The Arthur Ashe Courage Award ... is an award that is part of the ESPY Awards. Although it is a sport-oriented award, it is not limited to sports-related people or actions, as it is presented annually to individuals whose contributions "transcend sports". Often these transcendent figures are also athletes who have been at the top of their sport, such as Muhammad Ali, Dean Smith, and Cathy Freeman."

Bruce Jenner did something in 1976 which transcended sport.  It was our Bicentennial in the US.  There was an increased level of patriotism and he rallied Americans around those Olympic Games, akin to the 1980 US Hockey team.  

That was courage.

Burundi is a tiny, land locked country on the brink of imploding.  It is home to a President, who like many African Presidents, has decided to change the constitution to run for another term, even though one lone Judge had the courage to stand up and vote against it.  Since April of this year, violence has been an ongoing fixture in the capitol city of Bujumbura.  In two days there will be a poll in the country.  All the opposition leaders have pulled out, violence is escalating and Burundians are fleeing (167,000 refugees into Rwanda and Tanzania since April).  The average Burudian makes $267USD per year.  Only 2% of the population has electricity, 56.8% of children are malnourished and the UN has declared Burundi the "hungriest" nation on earth in 2013.  

The UN has announced it is time to bring in the Security Council to avert mass atrocities.  The refugee situation has become tenuous in Tanzania with lack of proper food, shelter and sanitation.

Burundi is also the home to a cyclist, Leonidas Ahishakiye.  Leonidas is 19 years old and in February raced to a 4th place finish at the African Continental Championships Mens Junior Road Race.  He finished 4th in a sprint, with the 3rd place finisher, nudging out the podium win.  He finished 39 seconds back.  His bicycle was old, his coaching was little, but yet he made history as the highest finishing Burundian at a Continental Championship.  On the Procycling Stats results page they have a Rwandan flag next to his name in error.  Rwanda and Burundi are very different countries.

His performance earned him an invitation to the UCI World Cycling Center in Switzerland, the same one Rwandans, Valens and Jeanne d'Arc are currently attending.  Last week he found out his visa for Switzerland was denied as Burundi is now a "refugee" country and they will not bring him to Switzerland as he could apply for asylum.  

We at Team Rwanda have been following the situation closely.  Our hope was Leonidas would go to Switzerland.  Now, he is coming to us.  We must get him out of Burundi as soon as possible as the situation, especially in the capitol city, is day to day.  The invitation letter went out on Wednesday and we hope Leonidas and his trainer, Faustin, can make it to Rwanda this week. Interestingly, Leondias was also the name of the great warrior king of Sparta (540-480BC).  

Leonidas just wants to ride and race and faces leaving his country of the verge of disintegrating.  He probably hasn't been able to train properly and food and clean water is simply a luxury.  At our center he'll be safe, trained, cared for and given an opportunity to show the world the talent of Burundian cyclists.

THAT is real Courage in Sport.

In a recent interview with a new magazine, Ride Like a Girl, Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc), our Rwandan female cyclist currently training at the UCI in Switzerland, stated, 

"The biggest problem for girls/women to be involved in cycling in Rwanda is the mindset. Most people especially girls themselves don't see cycling or sport in general as something for them. Parents and communities in general play the biggest part in discouraging girls to see cycling as an activity for them. This has to change. I was lucky because my parents and community (Eastern province) showed different attitudes to what I have experienced in other parts of the country. For example most people in the Northern province don't see cycling as a sport for women - when they see us (girls) riding with the boys they find it funny and not normal! As much as we need to encourage more young girls to take part in cycling we also need to educate general public about the importance of girls having equal opportunity in sport. If a boy can ride a bike so can a girl!"

Jeanne d'Arc left everything she knew, personally, culturally, at the age or 19, to hopefully be the woman to inspire a country to start riding, to give women the same support she was given.  She didn't know but a smattering of English and had not a dime to her name, but she's racing and thriving and breaking down barriers for not only Rwandan women, but women throughout the continent of Africa.

THAT is real Courage in Sport.

Daniel Teklehaimanot, who, in his first Tour de France, as the first black African to race in the 100+ year history, was in the Polka Dot Jersey (best mountain classification) for several days and united Eritreans around the world and gave all of us in cycling in Africa hope...THAT is real Courage in Sport.

Hadnet Kidane, who after losing her mother the week before racing the Continental Championships, rode to an Olympic slot at the 2016 Rio Olympics Road Race.  Hadnet, with the generosity of a woman in Oklahoma, now has her first road bike to train on to race towards her dream....THAT is real Courage in Sport.

Our world has become so politically correct, so afraid of offending, that in so doing, we have truly overlooked what or who is actually courageous.  It is time to bring the focus back to real courage and not be afraid to stand up for those who truly exemplify the courageous spirit.

Leonidas, Jeanne d'Arc, Daniel and Hadnet...here's to your courageous spirit in the sport of cycling!