Monday, March 14, 2016

Nathan & Thinus...THIS Should Be Our World

Nathan Byukusenge, a 35 year old cyclist from Rwanda nearing the end of his career, is currently racing the Tour de France of mountain biking, the Cape Epic.

Nathan lost his father in the 1994 Genocide and spent months running for his life in the forests of Rwanda in the summer of 1994.  

The genocide dictated his past.

Cycling dictates his future.

Thinus Redelinghuys, a much younger South African, only 25, is Nathan's partner.

They had never met before a few days prior to the Cape Epic.

Thinus is a student and a cyclist.  

Their worlds could not be further apart.

The Cape Epic is a race where you and your partner race for 8 days never being more than 2 minutes apart.  You must finish together or be disqualified.  You cannot win alone.  Nathan and Thinus were featured in a "who to watch" report leading up to the Cape Epic.

After the Prologue, Nathan and Thinus were in 25th in the GC and 5th in Best African.  After Stage 1, a grueling 108km stage with 2,300m of climbing, they finished 28th GC and 8th Best African.  It was not an easy stage seeing even one of the top team members, Gert Heynes, pull out due to illness.  

The beauty of the Cape Epic is it tests your will, your fight, your determination.  It is most definitely not for the weak of heart.

For Nathan and Thinus it is a coming together of two people from opposite ends of the social and economic spectrum to become one team, for one purpose for the next eight days.

This photo from today by Anthony Churchyard, should remind all of us of our responsibility to embrace differences...differences in language, country, color, ethnicity, economics....Nathan and Thinus couldn't be more different.

But today they are one....

To all the "haters" of the world, the people in the US who believe the "Trump" rhetoric, who disdain refugees, who do not accept people of other religions, color, ethnicity....internalize this photo.  

Thank you for all the love and help you have shown Nathan...Thinus, Joggie, Ruan, Max, Bronwen, Scott MTB, Cape Epic and the fans.  

#GoNathan #EmbraceDifferences #teamisteam

Thursday, February 25, 2016

48 Hours in Team Rwanda's World

I have written and said this countless times...

"Life in the US is like a small slightly wavy line of ups and downs."

Think this....
"Life in Rwanda is more like straight up and down.  You can have your best moments and your worst moments within minutes of each other all day long."

Think this....
Nothing exemplified my statement more than the 48+ hours spanning from Monday morning to Wednesday evening.

This is life within Team Rwanda....

Monday morning, after getting the team off to Morocco for the Continental Championships on Friday and regrouping and preparing for the new week of training camps with the team going to Cameroon, I decided to go for a ride.  I hadn't ridden in over a week.  When you run a cycling team there is no time to actual cycle.  I had seen Sterling, our coach, ride by my office window on the way out and thought, time to go.  

Riding alone for me in Rwanda is difficult as the crowds, people and bad drivers make for a not so relaxing few hours.  The complete opposite of what most cyclists derive from a ride. But it was election day so I figured the roads would be a bit quieter.  And they were.

11:30am....Seven miles out of town at the top of the first hill towards Gisenyi my phone rings.  I never answer my phone while riding and I never answer my phone if I don't recognize the number.  For some reason I answered the call.  A Rwandan woman told me her husband had taken one of our "team members" to the Musanze Hospital.  I'm kicking running through my mental rolodex of the riders coming from that direction.  Then she said, he's from California.  Sterling....

I call Simon, our Belgian coach and tell him to meet me at the hospital with the car.  I turn around and race back down the hill into town.  When I arrive Sterling is yelling for pain meds, the orderly and "doctor" are trying to assess the injuries.  We are in a disgustingly dirty room, with blood stained rags on the floor and Sterling laying on a not so clean table with swollen wrists, a continually swelling left ankle and a variety of scrapes and road rash. Of course, every single item needs to be paid for before they will do anything.  Pain meds, 3,000 RWF run to the pharmacy across the hospital grounds.  X-Rays?  Run to reception, stand in line, pay 16,000 RWF then they will X-Ray.  It's insane.  

I keep calling an American friend who is a doctor working at the hospital.  She's not there but says there are some Belgian doctors on the grounds.  I ask about the Belgian doctors and no one knows anything about them.  Ok....they are white, there are about 6 white people and over 300 Rwandans on the grounds.  We kind of stick out.  Nope...nothing.  They take X-rays, looks like broken bones, they put him on another dirty bed in another disgustingly dirty section of the ward and I'm trying to figure out where the Belgian doctors are.  No one, no doctors, no nurses, no one is doing anything.  Well, unless you count 7 nurses/orderlies texting and Facebooking in the nursing station across from Sterling.  I see the Belgians...I grab them and show them the X-rays and immediately they went to work talking to the insurance company and figuring out the best course of action.  The Belgian nurses start cleaning his wounds after spending 30 minutes looking for gauze and antibiotic wash and ointment.  

They redo the X-rays and he needs to get to another hospital, to Kigali.  He needs surgery.

The insurance company after numerous calls into the two hospitals cannot get an ambulance arranged to transport him.  

Sidebar....after 7 years of working with cyclists, breaking my own collarbone in Tanzania I have learned to stay calm and go into triage mode.  I don't show much emotion, outside of anger for the lack of ineptitude and sense of urgency.  I show no fear.  Looking at his situation....I had fear.  He needed to get to another hospital in another country.  

With the help of a angel of mercy Rwandan doctor not even on duty at the hospital I finally got all the transfer paperwork arranged to get Sterling to King Faisal in Kigali.  Then...the ambulance.  We're waiting...waiting, a patient in the ward is WAILING in pain, stressing Simon, Sterling and myself.  They couldn't give her pain meds because the family could not pay for pain meds.  At one point I said I would pay for her pain meds....the nurse laughed.  I almost slapped her.

Where is the ambulance?  I go out and see the doctor at the ambulance with the hood up.  He says, "I am doctor and mechanic.  The battery is dead and they cannot find the key to unlock the battery cage."   UGH....yes, in Africa we lock our batteries in our vehicles...theft. As people are running around trying to find the ONE person with the ONE key I realize the realities of the third world in which we live.

Another hour passes and finally, 8 hours after Sterling's accident he's on his way to King Faisal in Kigali.  I go home to pass out after dropping Simon off to grab dinner and drinks in town.

By this time I feel like my right eyeball is going to pop out of my head.  A friend in Kigali is meeting Sterling at the hospital, the insurance company is updated, I take two Tylenol PM and pass out about midnight.

5:00am (Tuesday)...I wake to numerous text messages.  I'm on the road of death to Kigali by 6:45 to hit King Faisal.  I grab our new English teacher/Development person/Tourism person who just arrived late Saturday night.  We might as well submit all her work permit info as this is day 3 of the 5 day window we have to do so.

8:30...changing money for Sterling's medical expenses at the Forex the Federation, grab Francine to go with Lacey to Immigration

9:30...drop them at Immigration head to King Faisal

10:00ish...I'm at Faisal...NOTHING has been done other than he's there with our dear friend, Martin, who met him there the night before.  There is one doctor I trust at King Faisal, Dr. Albert...he's out of the country.  Sterling and Martin tell me there are no parts to fix Sterling's foot.  We need a special plate.  

10:30ish...I barge into the office of Dr. Albert's boss.  I show him the X-rays.  He says he thinks he has the part.  He'll call me in the afternoon.

11:00...Lacey calls me, they won't take her paperwork for the work permit because her University diploma is in Latin...for fuck's sake.  

I meet up with Lacey at the US Embassy.  They want a notarized translation of the diploma.  If I send that email to St. Lawrence University I'm thinking they might think we're a bit nutty here in Rwanda.  We go to a cafe, google translate it on my iPad and I call Francine to meet us at the Federation to print off the document.  

"I will be back at 2:00 I'm at lunch."

It's 11:45am.

"You will meet us at the Federation in 15 minutes!!!!!!!!!"  I got the stink eye from six Mzungus at the Mzungu cafe.  I have zero Kumbaya.

Taking lunch is a very UNAmerican thing unless you're closing a major business deal.  Who do you know in the US who takes 2+ hours for lunch?  I don't think I've ever taken lunch.

We head to the Federation, print the document, head back to the US Embassy, get it notarized and at 1:00pm Lacey is at Immigration to submit the paperwork.  They try to tell her they are closing for lunch.  Seriously, what is up with LUNCH in Rwanda?  She forces the paperwork on them and they take it.  SCORE!!!

Back to King Faisal...talking to the insurance company on and off the entire time.

Security Guard tries to block my way into the ward. 

"It's not visiting hours."

"Stop me...."  I get back to Sterling.  "Ok...we're working to get you out of here."

After a quick bite for lunch...less than 45 minutes...back on the road of death to Musanze to beat the darkness.  As I start driving...Jeanne d'Arc has taken Silver at the Continental Champs in Morocco, a historical day for Rwanda.  I can't tweet/FB anything for the next 2 hours while I'm driving.

....she did it...only missing Gold by 1 call Sterling.  I can hear the change in his voice.  We did it!!!

We had asked for Sterling to go to the Continental Championships...instead they took someone from the Federation instead of the coach.  Sterling should have been there.  The irony of that decision, out of my control, was not lost on me at that moment.

I grab some dinner and spend another 3 hours on the phone with the insurance company.  They are sending Sterling to Nairobi.  Hallelujah.

After several SMS/calls, the doctor in Kigali finally messages me back, they have the part.  Sorry....he's going to Nairobi as not only Team Rwanda but the insurance company has had enough with the inability to make a decision, relay information and give any indication he is getting the best care in Rwanda.

I pass out about midnight with the phone in my hand. rings, it's our guard David...he's caught a thief.

I throw on my clothes fully expecting to see some stranger they nabbed coming into our compound as we've had a few lately.  He shows me two boxes of produce and two bags of eggs (60).  Our Team Rwanda cook has been stealing.  We thought he had been but never had proof.  Wednesday morning we had our proof.  At least $10 worth of food.  He wasn't stealing to feed his family he was steeling to profit off the back of Team Rwanda.

I pounded on Simon's door, "Cook Breakfast!"

I'm not about to let a petty thief interrupt our Tour of Cameroon training camp.  

After several hours, getting all the witnesses in place, we had enough.

I looked at Thomas and said, "You didn't steal from a Mzungu, you stole from Team Rwanda.  You're a disgrace."

We escorted him off the property.

He came back 20 minutes later asking to be paid for the day.

It's the closest I've ever come to slapping someone.  I told him he had two choices...leave and never set foot on our property again or I would call the police commissioner who I have on speed dial and have him arrested.  He took option one.

He had stolen over $1,000 of food over 4-5 monhts from the team....I was sick.

The riders have been learning about integrity, discipline and character in English class.  I'm walking back to my house and I pass Bosco getting ready to head out for his training ride..."Mukecuru, Thomas has bad, bad character."

Yes, Bosco, he does.

I start sorting out Sterling's bag.  He's leaving at 6:10pm for Nairobi.  I arrange to get a bag and money to him with a driver heading to Kigali.  We live two hours away.

Little Eric comes back from training as I'm walking back to the office and hands me this photo.  He says, "From Mama, for you."

It is a photo of his mother and his three siblings.  It was a thank you for giving her food money every month.  I walk away holding back the avalanche of tears.  

Then I get the message....Valens has won the Continental Championships U23 ITT.  Rwanda's first gold medal in the history of the Championships.  The Rwandan national anthem is played for the first time.  

A couple more phone calls to the insurance company and a Facebook photo and Sterling is on his way to Nairobi for surgery.

54 hours later from when it all began....

My last chat with Sterling today, another 18 hours later....thank you for insurance, good hospitals, doctors and getting me through another day.

Tonight. Surgen(s) have all talked to me
Its like an episode of House
They know their shit

You cannot make this up...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Nothing Left to Give

A few weeks ago I was reading my friend's blog, I Love Devotionals.  Wendy is South African and her husband used to work with MTN Qhubeka (Adrien's former team) doing public relations.  Cycling is a VERY small world, especially on this massive continent.  

She was writing about her word for 2016.  Her word is "well".  Mine is "fifty".  I never said I was normal.  

In another blog she asked for guests to write about what they thought of when they heard "well".  I liked how she prefaced the "guest blog".  

What I really want to do is to open up the doors of my home, (tell the dog to stop barking at you), sit you down on my couch, and fill you up with cake, and then listen to the stories you have about "well".  

Here are my thoughts on well....

If you feel you have nothing left to give....

Take the time to read Wendy's devotions and be inspired.  It's the best way to start your day.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Leviticus: My Many Burnt Offerings

This year I decided to read the Bible.  Not just a few chapters but the entire thing from Genesis to Revelation, in that order.  I didn't have any particular reason other than trying to find ways to keep my sanity while in Rwanda.  I figured why not, let's do it.

Maybe readers should start with the New Testament.  I grew up in a religious family, went to Catechism class, was confirmed, got kicked out of church and over the years found myself back with God.  Not so much religion, any particular religion, definitely still not church, but I'm good with God and really in the end, that works for me, but the first few books of the Bible are not light reading!

I am proud to say, I'm still on track and the reading has sparked some very interesting conversations, none as much as the reading of Leviticus.  Genesis is pretty much creation and the procreation of God's chosen people, the Israelites.  Exodus is the exit of the Israelites from Egypt under slavery to Pharaoh, even though frankly, the Israelites were a pain in Moses' ass.  My main takeaway from Exodus was God chooses the most unlikely people to be heroes or to do great things.  Moses never wanted to be a leader, kept asking God to give it to someone else.  God knew what he was doing even when Moses was a bit whiny.  Exodus contains one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

Exodus 14:14  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.  

Still....that's where I struggle.

And then there's Leviticus how to be perfect in the eyes of God and if not, what you need to slaughter.  As I read all the protocol around which animal to sacrifice based on the sin you committed I began to realize, I am so thankful I did not live in the desert in the time of Leviticus.  I don't think I would have had a herd big enough to handle all my sin offerings on a weekly basis.  I write this tongue in cheek...somewhat.  Reading Leviticus made me "check" my daily behavior.  Throw down an F bomb, there goes a male lamb one year old.  Speak poorly of someone, go round up a goat free of defect and head to the tent of meeting.

The rules are very specific.  Aaron, Moses's brother, had two sons Nadab and Abihu, they were given the job of putting the incense in the censers and lighting them.  They lit an unauthorized fire and bam the Lord consumed them with fire and they died.

Don't forget to double check the instructions!

A rule I highlighted which should be put in force more today...Leviticus 5:2...If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.  

In other words, it is your duty to speak up!

Several chapters cover defiling molds, skin diseases and discharges.  

The term, scapegoat, comes from Leviticus, to take the sins of others.

One thing I am left questioning, other than the amount of animals necessary to cover the sins of 650,000 Israelites (that's just men counted in the Bible), is the value, or lack thereof, placed on women.  Judaism takes the first five books as the Bible as the Torah.  The Muslims believe these books were given to Moses via God but they are corrupted by Jewish translation in the Torah.  Either way, women do not have many rights in the traditional Jewish and Muslim religions.  Why did God specify 50 shekels for a man and 30 for a woman?

As you can imagine, it has created some lively morning discussions over coffee.

As I ride my bike trying to ignore the onslaught of people hassling me for money, I try to remember....throw down the F bomb or smack that kid screaming MUZUNGU AMAFARANGA, go home and sacrifice a goat.

It's keeping me on the straight and narrow.

How many animals would you have sacrificed for your sin offering today?

Be a lamb.