Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Water...It Should be so SIMPLE

6 minutes and 30 seconds to fill a 5 liter jug of water...on an average day

20 five liter jugs every day during camp

130 minutes each day filling water from the single water filter we have...in my house

2 hrs and 10 minutes

Walking back and forth from the water filter to the kitchen to the garage -- At least an hour

Monday thru Friday 15 hours....15 hours just to drink a glass of water

Every day for the past two weeks the city water shuts off between 6 and 7 am.  Walk to the shut off, check for the city water, close off city water, open the valve for the 5,000 liter tank perched high above the property.  Pressure, the higher the tank the better the pressure.  The pressure is still not strong enough in the tank to properly run the water filter.  It filters out most but not all of the bad heebie jeebies naked to the human eye.  Will this time be the time I get sick? as I put the bottle of water to my lips.

Hourly checks on the city water to see if it has returned.  The longer it is out, the more precarious our supply in the tank.  Should the tank run dry we start hauling water from the lower tanks in jerry cans to our houses.  We start boiling water.  I did that last week.

11-15 riders, 7-9 staff, animals, gardens, pump track, laundry...lots and lots of laundry all needing a steady supply of water.

When will the city water come back on?  Will the pressure be strong enough to pump it up the pipe into the tank?  The top open tank sits high above the compound.  Does the opening invite birds to deposit their most recent meal?  What could possibly have settled in that tank?
The tank at the top of the property
I prefer not to go there.

I have had Typhoid Fever.  Typhoid....a disease which comes via poor hygiene and sanitation.  Poop in the water.  There is a vaccine for it, albeit 60% effective.  I was at the end of my two years, the time period where you are 60% protected.  It was the worst feeling couple of weeks in my 48 years on the planet.

Cristina, our Canadian English teaching volunteer, asked, "How many hours a week to we deal with water?"

Apparently a minimum of 15 hours.

The double whammy has been the days when we have no water AND no electricity.  Thanks to a generator we're still not sure how we are paying for, we at least have electricity.....for a couple of hours.  Last Friday the electricity was off from 8:30am until early evening.  We ran the generator for two hours just do do all the sheets from the 15 beds the riders occupied during the week.

2 hours of generator time = $60+ in fuel

$60 to do laundry

The last two weeks of camp my days have been consumed by turning on the generator, turning off the generator, filling the tank, turning on the city water, filling bottle after bottle after bottle of semi filtered water.

In between all of that...I try to do my job....getting visas and passports for Rwandan cyclists (another blog for another time) and trying desperately to find money to make all this craziness run.

I am exhausted....completely and utterly spent.

And yet, I have it easy.  I have a generator and a back up tank of water....that's the irony.

Please help us provide clean, safe, consistent water to our team and staff.  Every little bit helps!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

From the Edge of My Comfort Zone

In the last week I have traveled almost 20,000 miles, covering three continents, three states, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Overland Park and 30 years.  I went "home" for my 30th High School Reunion.  The time far eclipsed the miles.  

I grew up in a nice, clean, safe suburb of Kansas City.  In 1983-1984, Shawnee Mission South, the high school I graduated from was awarded a National School of Excellence.  Life was easy, I see that now.  Of course, when you're 17, nothing in life is easy.  How time and distance and life in Africa significantly alters one's perspective.

I was not the popular kid, the homecoming queen, surrounded by an entourage of compatriots who ruled the school.  I was the nerdy, band geek, sporty girl who had a few close friends in her class but mostly ran with others.  High school was brutal at times.  All I wanted to do was "fit in", be like all the pretty people. After 30 years I am thankful I never did.  I needed to be just different enough to not be afraid to live a very different life....although it took me almost 25 years to begin that life.

30 years changes many things....suddenly my different life seemed interesting.  In high school the last thing you wanted to be was different.  People were older, grayer, bigger and nicer.  One girl who was so nasty to me in high school was now the girl who was interested in what I did and who I had become.  She was always the prettiest girl in school, now she was still this gorgeous woman who was still so both inside and out.  My close friends are still my close friends even though I hadn't spoken to one in almost 30 years.  The conversation picked up right where it left off..."Bitch Kitty...were have you been?"

I was not the most likely person to attend a 30 year reunion.  I did so because I had the inner voice tugging at me to go.  When that voice will not subside I need to listen to it.  I am so thankful I did.  It was a ridiculous amount of travel with an even more ridiculous price tag, but this week was priceless.

My friend who I hadn't seen in almost 30 years hugged me so tightly and said, "You were the ONLY reason I came tonight.  I just wanted to see you."

That was enough.

We never know the impact we have on one another.  I did not set out to impact anyone when I went to Rwanda.  I was just trying to still my restless soul.  It was purely personal and private.  

The guy who organized the reunion and I were talking the last night of the event and he kept telling me I needed to tell my story.  I'm not the limelight girl.  I'm the behind the scenes girl.  It feels strange to tell my story, funny as I write this very public blog I know.  He said to me that although it is about me, my story, it's really about all the others who want to step out and don't.  

Really....I'm a girl from Kansas who lives in Rwanda and works in countries like Eritrea, most people have never heard of.  

"How does that happen?" he asked.

Simply....I just wanted to not suck air and die.  I wanted to live fully and completely and with that comes a life that really is not that easy, it's rampant with struggle, obstacles and frustrations and there was a nano second that life in Overland Park, Kansas looked appealing this weekend.  

But that's not me.  As I listened to friends who live 5 miles from where they grew up, talking about retiring from a job they've had for the past 20+ years and then starting their life I wondered how they did it.  There is nothing wrong with that life, these are great people, salt of the earth, hard working classmates.  But that life?  To me that is as foreign as people thinking about living and working in a 3rd world African country.  

One thing I know to the core of my soul after this week is I have no regrets, there are still hundreds of things I want to do, but if it all ended tomorrow, I would have no regrets, nothing left undone.  I don't wonder about a different life.  I live a different life.

Paul is right.....perhaps it's time to tell more of my story, step out from the shadows a bit.  If my story can impact others to live their authentic life then it needs to be told.

After all....I'll always be just a girl from Kansas.

If you're able to treat what seems like despair, what
seems like hardship as an opportunity
to reinvent yourself and to transcend your own limitations,
as David Johnson says, "the world is full of clues,
and you can read your way though it."
If you're able to turn your life into an art piece,
if you're able to turn your narrative into THE narrative,
then you become that hero.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How Strong Must You Be?

“In order to be a cyclist, you must go through incredible amounts of pain, nobody escapes it.” – Jonathan Boyer

Cycling is a difficult sport not for the physically or mentally weak.  The best cyclists in the world have generally been European.  There was a time when we thought Americans had a great cyclist.  The Colombians have risen once again thanks to a young phenom, Nairo Quintana, who recently became the first Colombian to win the Giro d’ Italia. 

But, the world has not seen the true potential for greatness in cycling….the Africans.

Two weeks ago, while in Eritrea for the National Championships of Cycling, I witnessed yet again, how much the Eritreans, Rwandans and Ethiopians have to go through just to reach 10 steps below a level playing field with the rest of the first world.

We stopped by the National mechanic’s local shop in Asmara the Thursday morning before the races (ITT—Individual Time Trial and Road Race).  Mahari looked distraught.  He had been washing Natnael Berhane’s TT bicycle, a $15,000+ Colnago with EPS Campagnolo gruppo and when he was finished it wouldn’t shift.  EPS is the new electronic shifting components from Campy.  This bicycle with these components is as good as you get, however, Natnael was not going anywhere without the ability to shift.  Mahari is a good mechanic, diligent and always wanting to learn, however, prospects for training and equipment are limited in the capital city of Asmara.  Jock told Mahari he would look at it.

Later that afternoon Mahari, Jock, Natnael and a couple of others stood in the dimly lit back room of a jewelry store, the store was owned by Natnael’s father. 

Jock is not familiar with the new electronic shifting so the first attempts were futile.  He needed to know how to reset the shifting and the sequence to reestablish the gears.  First he tried to call Natnael’s mechanic at Team Europcar in France.  His phone cannot call out as it is blocked.  Natnael then calls Steven.  Steven answers but the connection is poor, the voices delayed.  Another call, Jock and Steven talk and then the line goes dead.  Another call, a few more steps then phone runs out of minutes.  The friend runs out and comes back with three 110 Nakfa cards to recharge the phone.  The calls do not go through.  Steven calls back.  Another few steps relayed, the phone dies.  Jock calls back.  Steven tells him he will send him a video on the reset sequence.  We all laugh.  Eritrea essentially does not have Internet.  Throughout the week we were able to send off and receive a few emails but that was it.  A video?  Never happening. 

People have no idea, no concept of life in Africa, unless they have experienced it.  Most haven’t.

More 110 Nakfa airtime cards, a few more calls and Jock gets the bike shifting….4 gears out of 22.  Not good, but better.  Steven tells Jock he will send the file via email.  The first email is 5MB.  Jock responds to reduce the file and he sends it 786kb.  No chance of opening it. 

Throughout the entire ordeal, Natnael is calm, relaxed and simply going with the events.  Mahari was silent, most likely contemplating he was possibly going to be responsible for Natnael’s loss on Saturday’s ITT.  I’m nervously watching, playing solitaire on my phone trying not to think about the what ifs and biting through the inside of my cheek.   

Natnael looks at Jock and says, “Can you call Louis Garneau (the clothing sponsor for Team Europcar) and tell him I need more National Championship jerseys because I will be racing the Dauphine next week?”

Jock just looked at him and said, “Yes, I will call Louis, but we need to get the bike fixed, let’s call him after Saturday.”

Why was this bike so important?  The ITT is often decided on tenths of a second.  A TT bike gives a cyclist a 3mile/hr advantage.  Natnael’s biggest competitor, Daniel Teklehaymanot, also from Eritrea and now riding for Team MTN Qhubeka, had his TT bike.  Daniel is also one of the best cyclists in Africa and moving up the ranks of professional cycling. 

If we didn’t get this bike operating, the chances of Natnael winning were slim, slim to none.  Natnael kept insisting we call Louis Garneau.  His quiet confidence was impressive especially considering the lack of the majority of the gears working.

Friday we decided to go to the US Embassy.  We had meetings there in the morning and we hoped to use their Internet as we had heard it might be faster.  When we finished our meetings around 10:00am the electricity was still off.  The electricity in Asmara was generally non-existent between 6:00am and 1:00pm daily.  We made an appointment to come back at 1:30 to be safe.

We arrived at 1:30…the electricity didn’t arrive until almost 2:30.

As soon as we got on the computer we tried to download the link.  The computer could not open pdf files.  There were two other computers left which could open pdf AND print.  Jock and I both worked furiously trying to open the files.  The electricity surged mid download and the back up batteries died and the computers with them.  The Italian and Japanese portion of the file had printed but not the English.  Jock speaks Italian.  The electricity comes back up and we start printing everything we can find on the Campagnolo website relating to resetting the EPS.  We were allowed 2 pages of printing each.  We printed over 50 pages.  The toner ran out, we printed some more.  Luckily the Eritrean at the Embassy knew the story and let us print away.  He got a pair of Team Eritrea socks as a HUGE thank you.

An hour later we had what we thought we needed.  We called Natnael and met him and Mahari back at the jewelry store.  Another two hours and Jock had the rear derailleur working (11 gears) but not the front.  Luckily the course was relatively flat so Natnael would not need the front derailleur.  He just had to make sure not to touch it at any point or the gearing would not work. 

Two days, six hours and it still wasn’t 100%. 

In the US or Europe it would have taken 10 minutes at your local mechanics and it would have been 100%. 

This is just one of the dozens of life issues African cyclists face day in and day out.  They do not have electricity to charge, phone service to call all over the world, credit cards if they get in a bind, parents at home to bail them out in a jam, a first world education, clean water, a good diet, access to parts, expertise, nutrition, coaching….they have none of it.

When an Eritrean hits the starting line at a major European race, physically and mentally they have had to overcome dozens, hundreds of obstacles a western cyclist would not even have to consider.  When they hit the line they are already the strongest young men in the group. 

Saturday Natnael rolled up to the start house already facing a strong time by Daniel who currently held 1st place by over 3 seconds.

As he left the start house I hit the stopwatch on my iPhone and waiting.  Daniel’s time based on my stopwatch was 21:05.  As the time approached 20 minutes I started watching.  There he was….the time was ticking by.  The crowd started cheering.  I stopped the iPhone at 21:04.  I knew it was close but from where I was standing I couldn’t be 100%. 

Natnael won by .8 seconds.  He was the ITT Eritrean National Champion.