Friday, September 11, 2015

Blessed be the Bona Moments

There are events happening every day, things which I face in my 42 prior years I never had to really work through.  I have said many times, life in the US is like a small wavy line going across the screen, some ups, some downs, and with the exception of a major tragedy or death to a family or close friend, relatively pretty smooth.  Life in Rwanda, working with the cyclists and their families, with governments in not only Rwanda but also Ethiopia and Eritrea is akin to a heart beat, a quick spike up, then down, a bounce and repeat sometimes these ups and downs coming more rapidly, depending on the heart rate.

If I let my emotions (besides the anger emotion) bubble to the surface every day I would without a doubt have a good cry daily.  I call them my “All Righty Then” moments.  When I say “All Righty Then”, it is something that grabs my heart and soul from body, rips it out and drop kicks it across the floor. 

Eric, 15, junior rider for Team Rwanda, 3 years of school, father dead, mother raising him and 3 siblings by another father who left, living in a mud hut, dirt floor, no bed, no money for clean water or bananas to train, handing his mother $40 to feed her family better so Eric can race better and she saying God Bless You…..All Righty Then.

Rocky losing his eye, his daughter almost losing her leg, his brother dying last month…All Righty Then.

Here’s the deal.  If I let the tears come they don’t stop.

When I got on the plane in April to head to South Africa,after minutes prior to boarding and learning about Bona’s blood clot in hisbrain I started to cry.  For 4 hours Icried.  Luckily the lights were out and I was in a window seat so I curled up by the window and softly sobbed for the entire flight.  I thought about Bona every second, how fragile my strong, funny, talented rider looked in that bed, how he couldn’t even squeeze my hand as I held his.

It was a big big cry as Jonathan says.  The kind of cry when you wake up in the morning and your eyes are three times their normal size and stuck together with gunky eye cry snot.

I have only cried like that two other times since being here, one when my divorce was final, divorce will ALWAYS suck, even if amicable.  The other when I was in Kenya living alone, almost being arrested and missing the team.

Last week Bona went to the US.  As the photos have been coming through from Mr. AM in the emails showing Bona riding along Carmel beach, riding in Wyoming at the ranch and petting horses for the first time I get so emotional.  He almost died….we almost lost him.  I treasure every second of Bona’s life…every second he is here with us.

Today Bona is with me at the Little Savery Museum in Savery, Wyoming.  He's learning about the history of Wyoming and I'm pounding out emails and writing blogs because this is the only place I can get internet...9 miles down a dirt road from the ranch.

Bona spent the morning training and then driving the Polaris around the ranch.  He loves to drive!  

This past weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Bona raced like a cyclist who had been training all year round and not laying in the hospital 5 months ago.  Every minute I spend with Bona I am happy.  He makes everything good in my world.  I love sharing my world with far from Rwanda.  We are the lucky ones.

Thanks Bo Bickerstaff for capturing these moments for us this weekend.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Refugee

Every day a Syrian, Eritrean, Libyan, a Somali dies leaving their country, seeking safety, freedom, a better life, dreams for their families.

Every day Americans go about their lives, getting Starbucks, meeting friends for drinks, complaining about poor service, getting kids ready for another school year.

Last night a refugee tried to open the door on my flight from Kigali to Brussels and jump out. 

Every flight out of Kigali, Rwanda there has been refugees.  You can’t miss them, big lanyards around their necks with all their documents courtesy of IOM, International Office of Migration, clutching bags with all their worldly possessions, fear, uncertainty, panic written on their faces.  Last night there was no such procession of refugees in Kigali, they boarded in Nairobi.  Kenya is home to one of the largest refugee camps in the world, Dadaab.

Several months ago, while boarding a flight out of Kigali, there were Congolese refugees who boarded ahead of me.  People of all ages with the youngest and the oldest looking most fearful, the 20, 30, 40 year olds looking stoic, strong.  As we boarded chaos ensued as these 50 refugees tried to find their seats.  They had never been on a plane.  This old man, just stood in the aisle looking at this little snippet of paper with his seat number on it.  He had no idea what he was looking at or why he was holding the paper.  I started helping the flight attend seat people.  As I helped the old Congolese man to find his seat, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this really better for him?”  I did not know his final destination—Europe or the US, it didn’t mater it was galaxies away from his world.  I can only imagine, having visited DRC, he was probably from some small village in the middle of the jungle, a village which probably migrated to a camp in search of safety.  They could have been fleeing one of the many warring factions, which keep the area in constant turmoil.  Chaos and war is highly lucrative to the few, the powerful.

What will this old man do in the first world, a world of speed, efficiency, and technology?  It seems at times we think, “Why wouldn’t someone want to move to the US after living with no electricity and plumbing in a mud hut miles from civilization?”

His mud hut, his village life is all he’s ever known.  It’s home.  I believe, given a choice, he would return to his village if it were safe. 

I believe Syrians, Libyans, Somalies just want their homes back, their lives back.  They want the right to raise their families in a safe environment in their culture.

It is what angers me about the many leaders or lack of government leaders who cause so much destruction among their people. 

I never saw the IOMs, as the “industry” calls them, board the plane.

At 5:20am I was awoken by an announcement asking if there was a doctor on board.  We were about an hour and 30 minutes from landing in Brussels.  I was sound asleep in seat 5K, business class savoring the “bed”, good food and calm I spent an extra $700 for to upgrade. 

With my sister being a doctor, this is a recurring conversation between us.  She has been on two flights where they have asked for a doctor on board and did CPR on someone as they were boarding a plane.  When I heard the announcement I thought of my sister.

Several minutes passed, the activity happened at the back of the plane so I didn’t hear much.  As I tried to pick up words in French and pieces of conversations among flight attendants at first it seemed if it was just a rowdy group of people who got into an argument.  Then a woman was brought to the galley directly behind my row and she began wailing, it was not crying, it was wailing.

The Captain came back on the intercom and announced we would be landing in Vienna, Austria.  We needed to get the plane down.  There was so much speculation at our end of the plane as to what happened.  We were on the ground in less than 30 minutes.

As we landed I checked my watch.  Hopefully we would be airborne again quickly.  My first feeling was annoyance; annoyance for all the craziness, which happens on this continent on a daily basis. 

As the minutes ticked away into hours I started to embrace the possibility of a missed connection in Brussels and an already long trek back to the US being made even longer.  I meditated.   I prayed for a quick resolution.

When the plane finally took back off a total of 7 people had been offloaded with luggage, most of us in business class still thinking it was just a rowdy group of people causing this massive hassle and delay.

And then I spoke with a flight attendant as we waited to deplane in Brussels. 

The melee was caused by a refugee who panicked.  He wanted off the plane even if it was at 35,000 feet.  He had become agitated and then went for the door and was stopped by several passengers and flight attendants.  He was too far-gone, panic and paranoia had set in. 

The flight attendant said in 10 years of flying he thought he’d seen it all.  He shook his head and said, “I never thought I’d see this, someone trying to jump out of the plane.”

He also told me he was with the group of refugees who had boarded in Nairobi.  He said Brussels Airlines flies thousands of refugees every year but the past couple of years have been the worst as far as numbers.  He’s had to show people how to use the toilet, the sink, and seatbelts.  These are people who may have come from never having used indoor plumbing. 

They trudge through deserts, minefields, past rebels and roadblocks all in hopes of arriving at an overcrowded refugee camp alive. 

Then the UNHCR processes the “lucky” ones and puts them on planes and sends them to new homes in the first world.

Never in a million years could most of us relate. 

At that point perspective set in and instead of praying for me to make my connection I prayed God would watch over that man and his family if he has any left. 

Why do people do this to one another; the fighting, the corruption, the exploitation, the fleeing and the dying, literally, for a new life?  How can we, in and of this world, allow this to happen?

A Syrian toddler dead on the shores of Turkey

And when I land in the US later today it will be as it’s always been and once again, I will be unable to relate.  And as much as I’ve wanted to come home for peace and quiet and structure and order, I will be thinking about this man, these refugees, this toddler.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

East Africa Sportsline: Rwandan Cycling & Africa Rising Cycling Center

This video was shot earlier this year when we had the Ethiopian girls, Hadnet, Tsega, Eyeru and Eden training with us here in Rwanda.  It really showcases the work of our team here in Rwanda, the support team, and all our incredible sponsors.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

...And People Taking Care of Us

I tell people all the time that life in Rwanda is like a roller coaster, highest highs and lowest lows and oftentimes within hours, even minutes of each other.  Sorry is EASY in the US, EASY.  My worst days in the US, losing my business and my house, don't compare to what I live through in Rwanda most days, weeks and months.  If you think of it in an image, life in the US is wavy lines, ups and downs but generally pretty flat.  Life in Rwanda is straight up and down lines with very little middle.  

Tuesday was not good....Rocky buried his brother.

We also had power for 2 hours yesterday.  A 24 hour period, 2 hours.  Actually counting up until 5:30 this evening...36 hours with 2 hours of power.  We do have a generator but due to these ongoing power issues we have been running it a lot...$$$$ a lot.  At $20/hour we have gone through $500 of diesel this week.  That is with rationing the generator use.  When we starting burning through money at that rate, I panic.  We have diesel in our budget but with this year's outages, significantly worse that last year, we burned through the budget a month ago....four months to go, with weeks at $500?....time to go to town for some wine.

But today is Wednesday.  After writing about Rocky, the outpouring of love and support from around the world was such a ray of hope.  I will show Rocky every single comment on FB and this blog.  I want him to know he's not alone.  We also had a very dear supporter of the team donate the money for his brother's funeral, keeping Rocky and his family from slipping another notch down the poverty rabbit hole.  The team, Mr. AM and I will pull together a collection tonight for the widow--and last night I find out it's four children, not two.  

Mr. AM figured out a way to rig up a battery to our internet router so we could keep working as the day wore on without power.  

Every call we made to EWSA, or the Federation or anyone in "power" the person on the other end said, "get used to it until after dry season."  That's another 3 weeks!  Apparently, Rwanda relies heavily on hydro electric power--no water, no power.

Then up comes up the Police Commissioner of the Musanze.  He's here to introduce us to his niece's husband, who's Belgian, a cyclist and knew all about our program.  We mention 36 hours without power and boom he's on his phone.  An hour later someone shows up at our compound with some cable.  He's running.  Minutes later, the power comes on.  As I'm typing, it just went off again so we had another generator free 35 minutes so I saved $11.  I guess we'll see....but at least someone is trying to help us.

While our life today is consumed with batteries and power and securing internet so we can keep working, I am still dealing with Tour of Rio, All African Games and the upcoming World Championship in Richmond, VA in September.  Riders, visas, expenses, plane tickets, housing....try doing that with no power!

I knew we could secure host housing in Richmond for the World Championships, but I really wanted and needed to find a better solution as our team would be split up and it would require running here and there and figuring out food etc, the mechanic would have hated me.  It was a good and very appreciated option from Richmond Hospitality, but not our best option.  We still do not have approval from the Ministry of Sport for the budget I submitted a month ago.  It is not cheap to get from Rwanda to Richmond with eight people!

Then, these amazing guys I've never met, one rode with Nathan while he was visiting Rwanda a few months ago, have been working on several things for us.  First, their company, Sabotage Cycling, gave us 200 bottles with this really cool Rwandan logo on it which we can hopefully use at the World Champs next month.  Then, they went to work on finding us a housing sponsor and today they came through with 75% of the funding we needed!  Hallelujah, we can cover the rest.  Thank you to the donor whoever you have no idea how much it means to us.

I jump on Airbnb and find a place right in town perfect for the race, perfect for the team.  A big kitchen to cook our own meals and enough bedrooms for all of us.  I send a message to the owner and get it.  In her response back to me she said she knew all about Team Rwanda and her neighbors were Rwandan American and her husband has been to Rwanda.

Coincidences today?  I think not.  

I think there's this almighty plan, this God like force in the world.  For me, it is God.  We needed a little help, it had been a rough day and people rallied...for us.  

I am doing this new series in my Headspace meditation.....Mr. Andy Headspace and I have come to a truce...which is on Acceptance.  This morning I said to Mr. AM, I just need to settle in with this lack of electricity issue.  There's not much we can do.  Things will be okay and I just have to make better use of my time when I have it, which I did.  Still, it wasn't easy.  Frankly, having no power SUCKS.  But as I let go, people picked up the slack for me thank you Russell, Clay, Felix, Mr. AM, Chris, Airbnb House Owner and Mr. Donor.  You gave me a peak day. can I please get the power to come back on?

I am a work in progress Mr. Andy Headspace!