Sunday, November 29, 2009
Growing up in Kansas riding my first bike, a Bianchi I saved all summer for, I never dreamed that one day I would be driving support for a Team in Rwanda during a UCI sanctioned race. Toto....we're not in Kansas anymore!
A girl from the midwest, the only woman driver, a race completely run in French, with a French mechanic in the backseat could this really be my life? Some days I almost feel that I am watching someone else's life and I am a spectator in this adventure. Or is it a dream I might wake up from unexpectedly?
It was real, every intense day was real. From the second the alarm went off at 6:00am every morning until I passed out in a different city every night it was constant intense focused movement. These nine days were the toughest nine days of my life, the orchestration of a traveling circus of twelve riders, one coach, two mechanics, two massage therapists, assorted guests and VIPs and me, the consummate air traffic controller trying to maneuver us through it all without any major "crash and burns".
Every day are the riders up? where are the bikes? water bottles in the coolers need to be placed on the bikes....did I eat? Coffee just give me coffee. Do the riders have their bananas? Adrien needs the smaller bottles on his bike. Nicodem's knee is bothering him. Can I find him ice when we get to the next town? Where are my two burly South African massage guys? They are driving the Explorer, our VIP vehicle, ahead of the race so they can get to the hotel and gather all the guys for the twelve to fourteen rooms we need. Hopefully the rooms are reserved. The baggage truck is here, where are all the rider and support bags? I need to get everything in the baggage truck and get Werner and Warrick and the "VIPs" in the Explorer to follow the baggage truck to the next city. We cannot risk getting Werner and Warrick lost again and having them show up IN the race pack! Has anyone seen Jock? Where are the keys? Why is Max yelling at me about my bag being in the front seat of the support vehicle? It's been there the last two days and it hasn't been an issue. Max is stressed. I am stressed.
For five to six hours a day I drive with a radio in the car blaring instructions in French. Why didn't I learn French in high school? Right about now it would come in handy. Max is translating as best he can. I am following the #1 car, Morrocco, Team Karasimbi is the #2 car. This is according to team rankings every day. I follow within inches for 150k. I listen to the radio for a call to come to the front for feedings. Why will our Team not come back to the car when I come to the front? How many times have we told them we cannot go past the President of the Jury car. They have to come back. Max is screaming at the riders. I have no horn. I am yelling. Why is that VIP car trying to cut in front of all the team support vehicles? He is NOT supposed to be here. Just because he drives a big ass Mercedes and used to do something for someone in the Federation? Did he not get the memo? No VIPs in the front of the pack. Jock is back and forth on his motorbike relaying info back to both our Team cars. I cannot hear him through that full face helmet.
I am on my cell calling Werner. Did we get our rooms in the next town? Does he have the "infamous" room list we have written on and over ten different times. Don't lose the keys and DON'T lose the room list! Yes, we have rooms. The race ends we rush to the hotel, gather the keys, assign the rooms, start unloading. Max and Ted (our wonderful Belgian mechanic we brought in for the race), are setting up. They have to wash and tune twelve bikes after every race. I get the boys in the rooms. Where is the baggage truck? I have to meet the truck and pick up the bags myself. Where are my burly massage guys? I need help!
I get the baggage, sort it out, get it to the assigned rooms. Why are we short a room again? The boys are showered, eating, getting rubbed down. Where are my coolers? I hunker down in the bathroom with my two sticky coolers and ever decreasing supply of water bottles. They all have to be washed and refilled and organized. I have the process down to an hour. Did I eat lunch today? I guess I'll just eat dinner tonight.
Kigali, Gisenyi, Kigali, Kibuye, Butare, Kigali, Nyagatare, Kigali this is my life for nine days. By day three this is a well oiled machine. We all have our jobs. We all move this circus like we're Barnum and Baileys and have been doing it for a hundred years. We do all of this with Jock, Werner, Warrick, Max, Ted and I. Never in European racing would you see six people handling the logistics, mechanics and physical needs of twelve riders, but we do it and by the end of the Tour we have done it well.
Nicodem comes up to me after the final stage and gives me a hug and tells me thank you. He says thank you for helping him find ice everyday (NOT an easy task in Rwanda) and for driving the car "good". Nicodem was one of the only riders to really understand the task of coming back to the cars to get water, energy drink and food. Nicodem was the workhorse of the team. Nicodem and his thank you made the nine days of sparse eating, biting my cheek until it bled due to the stress of driving, getting yelled at in two languages and never getting enough sleep all worth while.
The Kansas girl can drive a car.....in an African country in a race run by the French with a Team of Rwandans. I found it all in nine days....heart, a brain (driving in a race listening to French) and courage (lots of that!). I can do anything, with the right TEAM!
To see more pictures of the amazing Tour of Rwanda please become a fan of Team Rwanda on Facebook or "Friend" Kimberly Moszyk Coats on Facebook. To see ALL the photos of my life in Rwanda, visit me on Facebook.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
I heard this phrase years ago, most likely from someone watching me deal with the fourteen spinning plates in my life. When you have so much to do in life, so many responsibilities, so many people pulling from all different directions how do you wrap your head around it? When I look at my ever growing "To Do" list accompanied by the new "Must Do" list I want to crawl back into bed and sleep. I've been in avoidance mode for two days now and it's time to sit down at the table and start eating that elephant....one small bite at a time.
I got back from Zambia Saturday afternoon. Jenny and I flew through Nairobi where we not only met up with my sister, Danielle, who was flying from Dakar to Rwanda through Nairobi, but also Team Rwanda returning from the Tour of Senegal. Go figure, we all end up in the Nairobi airport at the same time. After hanging out for 6+ hours we finally head to Rwanda. Jenny and I had left Lusaka, Zambia at midnight the night before, flew an hour to Harare, Zimbabwe, then three hours to Nairobi all the while I'm smashed in a window seat with no escape and no extra seats. My claustrophobia was a minute by minute taming of the irrational fear beast. Needless to say, sleep was not in the cards.
We landed in Rwanda around 1:00pm, left Jenny with Mike at the airport, picked up my car, dropped off my iPhone, which had died in Zambia, to the local hacker and then went and had much needed pedicures. Hey, I might live in Africa and traipse through the farms, but I'm still a girl!
We finally got home to Ruhengeri early evening, pulling into our driveway hearing the inescapable sounds of Max and European techno music blaring in the garage. It was good to be home and good to know Max was home too. I hadn't seen Max since he left in mid August when he returned to France for a couple of months to decompress.
Jock in the meantime had left Dakar after the Tour of Senegal, spent a day in Brussels and was back in the US to attend Tom's wedding. It's funny to think that at any given moment all four of us plus the Team were somewhere in the air over Africa or the Atlantic. The airlines were loving us the past couple of weeks!
Sunday I finally got back on my bike....it had been almost a week. Never ever a good thing! Danielle and I took the mountain bikes out with Max and got totally muddy. We had about a three hour reprieve from the rain and made a break for it.
Monday morning, during a break from the rain, I took Danielle to Gisenyi for lunch and a 20 minute sun filled lounge on the beach at Lake Kivu. Danielle had just spent four weeks in The Gambia volunteering at a local hospital teaching ultrasound. She had had very intermittent electricity and had learned the joys of bucket bathing so although we were not really do a whole lot during her time in Rwanda, I think just having a shower, a little less intermittent electricity, and food other than rice, was good enough for her.
Jenny returned from Kigali Monday night. She came back to help with a bike tour I was doing on Tuesday morning with Michael Kollins from World Bicycle Relief, and Vipin and Kruti, some friends of a friend who are in the midst of a six month world travel excursion. Tuesday morning the three of them, Max and Kiki, riding the new tandem mountain bike, Danielle, Jenny and I headed out. The weather was perfect, no rain a little sun, a little warm, we totally caught a break. When we got back to the house, I helped my sister secure a gorilla pass for the next day to go trekking with Michael, Vipin, and Kruti, got everyone settled in the house and ran around trying to get some work done before heading to Kigali to pick up Jock who was returning from the US.
So, I pawn my sister off on Johnny Muzungu for the night, load Jenny, Kiki and his bike in the car, run to Kigali, drop them off in rush hour traffic, cut back across town to check on my iPhone which is still unhackable, then to the airport. There are days like this when I'm just overwhelmed running everyone around and hearing that nagging voice in my head, "have you done your work today". Some days, it just isn't possible. There are not enough hours, enough people to help and enough conveniences in Africa to make that happen. Jock and I finally head out from Kigali around 9:00pm back to Ruhengeri. Although it's good to have Jock back because it takes some of the day to day work off my plate, the feeling is a little short lived as I know he gets back on a plane to Namibia in less than a week for the Continental Championships.
Wednesday, I finally get through my 100 urgent emails, talk to Felix about his bicycle road show proposal, hammer him about the 80+ sales we have somewhere in the pipeline and express the urgency of closing some of the sales. Also, I need a mechanic to come to Kigali to assemble 15 bikes for distribution and Max will be in Namibia. Jock's still in bed at noon when I have to go pick up the freelance reporter who's coming to interview him about the Team. I can only imagine how jet lag funky he's feeling at this point with two trips back and forth from California to Africa in the past two weeks.
Wednesday night we have dinner with Anna Reed and Tom Allen from Bridge to Rwanda. Anna is leaving in a few days for two months back in the US. It is a great dinner with amazingly great people and I literally cannot keep my eyes open. As we're finishing dinner, the electricity goes out so Danielle and I decide to spend the night at Jock's since for some reason he had electricity. At 3:00am I wake up to lights on, chairs moving in the living room and I walk out to see Jock rerouting the electrical cords for the computers and crawling around on the floor. Jet lag is a amazing thing to view in action. He is almost "manic" cleaning the house, unpacking. I totally know what he's experiencing. At 4:30, after helping me unpack and talking about all the things we need to catch up on, (like I'm going to remember the visa question for Max we discussed at 4:15am), I head back to bed.
Thursday morning we get up...again...and race around the house trying to finish some last minute things before heading to Gitarama. The Team has a sponsorship appearance with Fina Bank at the opening of their new branch in Gitarama about 2 1/2 hours from Ruhengeri. Kiki was supposed to be there with Obed and Nathan. We decide to all go for the day, since Danielle had to catch the 3:00am Kenya Airways flight home later that night. When we get to Kigali and the intersection to the road to Gitarama we call Kiki and find out he's training the opposite direction from where we are. He completely blew off the event. We call Nathan, he's working. Obed is our last shot and luckily he lives in Kigali and he's home. We grab him throw him in the car and head to Gitarama. At this point, Jock and I are so irritated with another example of Rwandan lack of follow through. This is not the first time and surely won't be the last. As we race to Gitarama, we are speeding around a corner and see a guy in a Wooden Bike Classic tshirt waving at us and yelling. It's Daniel, a former Team Rwanda rider. We turn around, ask him if he still has a jersey and we throw him in the car. Looks like Daniel will be speaking about Team Rwanda at the event! He completely broke the stress in the car. How could we not just laugh, it was truly comical.
The event in Gitarama went great, Daniel was the hit of the Children's Home. Obed and Daniel talked about their stories and then answered questions, once again, I had no idea what they were saying but the looks on the children's faces said it all. This is such good experience for the riders to give something back to their communities. Even if they're not actually a rider anymore!
We got back into Kigali about 7:00pm, met up with Jenny, did some passport pictures for Max for his Visa...yes, Max is having visa issues AGAIN. He's going to Namibia, however, his visa for Rwanda is a single entry visa. Now we have to figure out how to get him back into Rwanda after Namibia. Why can't he be American?
We finally got to the airport around 9:00pm after a great dinner. Jock, Danielle and I hung out until about 10:30 and then sorry to say, Jock and I left her there and headed home. We finally got in around 12:30 in the morning. A few hours of sleep then Jock gets back on the motorbike at 10:30 Friday and heads back to Kigali for a meeting just making it back to Ruhengeri by 2:30 to meet some guests that had come in from Technoserve, a potentially great partner for Project/Team Rwanda.
I guess it's no wonder I slept to 9:45 this morning....and now, I must eat that first bite, well, second, posting this blog was my first!
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I've always had hope...hope that all the dreams as a little girl with all the pictures of Africa on my "Dream Board" in my bedroom would someday come to life. They have....they just took a little longer than I had planned when I was 13.
Tonight at dinner in a Ikea decked out Italian restaurant in Lusaka, Zambia, I was reminded how what dreams you can dream can become reality. I have just spent the last day and a half meeting with the dynamic young owner of Zambikes, a bicycle assembly and distribution for profit company in Zambia. I'm almost twice his age with half the experience of operating a company on the African continent. I have spent hours picking his brain for ideas on how to maximize the potential of Project Rwanda. I have tried to figure out our next growth expansion move. I've been trying to figure out how they have done what they've done in less time then Project Rwanda has been around. They have an incredibly successful business model and are generously letting me beg, borrow and steal ideas to improve our own organization.
So, at dinner is Dustin, one of the founders of Zambikes, Wankunda, a Zambian, educated in America who now works for Zambikes, Scott Sloan an Irish guy doing his masters in Zambia and Jenny and I. All of us passionate about the work and lives we lead in Africa.
I was just a girl growing up in Kansas with dreams of living in Africa....three decades ago...and here is life.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Felix and I were met at the warehouse at 7:00am by my driver and my rental Diahatsu. I love Rwandans...our driver was all dressed up in his Sunday best, pin stripe pants, black and iridescent blue shirt straight from the set of Saturday Night Fever. As you can see we managed to get all 10 bikes into the back of the truck, plus 1 demo bike to take to the Police Commander in Gisenyi.
We finally got on the road to Gisenyi about 8:15. The road to Gisenyi is nice, no potholes, not too twisty, a nice easy drive. Jenny and I were following Felix and the driver and we were so amazed by the looks on the faces of all the people as we passed. Everyone and I do mean every single person, stopped and followed with their eyes and the direction of their head, our truck of bikes. I had never seen anything like it! They were completely mesmerized.
A little over an hour later we pull into COPAC and start unloading the bikes. Heidi's group was coming the next day to present but as soon as we began unloading we had a crowd. All the workers wanted to have their picture taken with the bikes. Even our driver had to get in the mix.
It still always amazes me how these bikes impact these people. A bike is everything to them. It is their livlihood. I continue to be overcome with emotion when I deliver bikes. I am Mrs. Claus on an October afternoon in Rwanda. It rocks!
Our next stop was the Police Commander's office. We had a lead on a couple of taxi coops that wanted our bikes but had been told by the police they could not use them in town. We wanted to get the blessing from the Police Commander. We found out that no they couldn't transport people on the tarmac (asphalt streets) in town but they could still use our bikes to haul goods. Dual purpose, dual income streams the people of Rwanda do understand distribution. Plus, there really isn't much "tarmac" here in Rwanda!
So, with the police commander's assistant in tow, Felix, Jenny and I (and our happily involved driver), head through some gnarly, pumice covered roads behind the town and arrive at the Taxi stand/mechanic shop. It is nothing like you see in the movies! What I love about Rwanda but what makes most people very uncomfortable is when you stop, especially as a Muzungu, and start talking to a couple of people, before you know it you are surrounded by a crowd that continues to grow. It's the weirdest thing. You don't see all these people when you first start talking and then you look behind you and all before you is a sea of Rwandan faces hanging on your every word....well, Felix's words. Kinyarwanda is not progressing well for me. If you are claustorphobic it would freak you out. For some people it is just too uncomfortable and unnerving. I oddly feel right at home.
We walk away from the taxi coops with an order for 80 more PR bikes! YES!!
Jenny and I race back to Ruhengeri to meet with three guys our friend Tom Allen wanted to introduce us to. They work for Tyson. Tyson is currently in the process of starting an egg laying facility. I have been working with them to design and manufacture an egg rack for our bikes. They would like to haul at least 30 dozen per bike. Tyson is looking for entreprenuers, independent contractors to work the egg distribution routes....all done on PR bikes. This is when I'm reminded that I really do live in a third world country.
Project Rwanda is distributing bikes...a lot of bikes....why the sudden upsurge? For another blog...
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I've been back 9 days....today it feels like 9 months. Dog years I'm telling, dog years!
Saturday I slept in, simply because I didn't fall asleep until 4:00am so technically at 9:00am I was still in the red. From the second I moved Kongo to the other side of the bed so I could get up I did not stop. Sunday morning I had to head to Kigali to drive support for Team Rwanda in the Tour of Kigali. There were race supplies to gather and pack, bottles to wash, a car to load and all the administrative "stuff" that was on tap for Monday morning meetings in Kigali. I also had to pack two bags for the Team to take with them to the Tour of Kigali. The mental checklist was breaking down quickly. Can't forget the racks and tools for assembling 12 Project Rwanda Bikes on Monday. For the Team and the race I need to remember tubes, wheels, spare bike, bottles, thank God I brought bottles from the US since Max actually never made it to Rwanda. Due to visa issues he was still in France and was now headed directly to Senegal. Guess the Senegalese like the French so no visa issues. How I could have used a guy to help me! I admit, I needed an extra pair of hands...guy hands. By the time Johnny Muzungu showed up at 8:30 with an incredible bottle of wine all the way from Washington (he is a true friend), I was ready to pass out, and it wasn't the wine.
Saturday night....again insomnia. What is wrong with me? Why won't the brain just shut off, just shut UP? You know it's bad when you start sending yourself emails at 3:00am from your laptop you went to bed with to remind you not to forget things in the morning. By the time 5:30am rolled around I had slept an hour and was up running through the house grabbing all my gear to head to Kigali for three days.
I hit Amahoro Stadium at 8:30am and found all the riders. By 9:00, Jenny was there. Jenny is my new Project Rwanda partner in crime and essentially a "mini me". She is motivated, driven, feisty and actually "mini". She would be hanging out the window, watching riders, motorbikes, traffic, cars coming the wrong direction, riders broken down on the side of the road for the next four hours. Jenny came back to Rwanda in September to run our Wooden Bike Classic. Thank God for Jenny!
The Tour of Kigali was a three lap 45k circuit through the crazy streets of Kigali. Only half way through the first lap we come up on Jean de Dieu. I knew there had been a crash a few kilometers before and it wasn't pretty. One bike completely mangled, several riders involved, however I thought everyone on our Team had made it through unscathed. Coming up on Jean de Dieu, his rear wheel obviously damaged, blood running down his leg and hand I knew he had tangled with the downed group. I jump out of the car, pull the ONE spare rear wheel I had out from the back of the car and run to his aid. The crash had smashed his brakes and we couldn't get his damaged rear wheel released. I grabbed the allen wrench and had to take off the brake pads to get the rear wheel out, the whole time I thinking, "Where is my mechanic?" and I'm looking at Jean de Dieu, his eyes pleading for me to hurry. I finally get the wheel off, slap on the new one, tighten the brakes and he hops back on as I push him up the hill.
Two more laps, hundreds of close calls with motorbikes, a police officer jumping off his motorcycle with a giant stick swinging at them, one car-motorbike collision, one motorbike off into the Rwandan ditch, six thrown waterbottles, four gallons of water, 50 bananas and we finish still in one piece. Team Rwanda swept the first six places as they should, with Nathan, Abraham and Obed finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
After the awards, I went to dinner with a prospective Project Rwanda bike purchaser. At 7:00pm when I finally rolled into the house I was staying at I was exhausted. And Sunday night, the first night in a week, I slept.
Sleep is so elusive for me here. I cannot figure out why. At home, I sleep, eight/nine hours a night. In bed by ten, up by six, routine. Probably because NOTHING in my life here is routine. Even through difficulties during the past few years, I always was able to sleep. Here, it's a different story. It is a nightly battle that I appear to be losing.
Monday I wake up actually refreshed. Jenny is still sleeping. We are couch surfing at her friend, Amy's. I have never slept in so many different places. I head to Fina Bank to drop off paperwork for our new bank account and on to Ecobank to hopefully get access to our Project Rwanda account. I have been trying to work on getting added to the account for almost two months. I think the next step is actually producing a "first born".
At Ecobank I am told by Christelle that everything is in order and that is a relief since I just left a check with Felix to pay the guards, the electric bill and the car insurance. It is the 5th, they were supposed to be paid on the 1st. Unhappy guards are not a good thing to have!
I head back, pick up Jenny and the day of meetings starts. We are trying to secure sponsors for our Wooden Bike Classic in November. As the morning moves quickly on, the panic sets in. I have 12 bikes that have to be pulled from the Kigali warehouse, racks put on, tuned and loaded up by 2:00pm. I move the pick up to 3:00 and head to the warehouse. Kiki is meeting me there to help me. He is leaving for Senegal at 4:00am in the morning. I get there, pull out the bikes and start wrenching on the racks and then the rain starts. It rains harder. The skies then open up like the world hasn't seen since the days of Noah and the ark. During all of this I get a call saying they won't accept the check I left for Felix in Ruhengeri to pay the guards. Someone's going to die at Ecobank! Blondie Muzungu has had it!
Kiki shows up and there is no way he is going to work in the rain with a ten day stage race in three days. Then his phone rings, Sibo is out of surgery. Sibo had to have an elbow abscess drained and they put him under general anesthia. He rode in such pain in the Tour of Kigali and he had to have it drained before he left for Senegal. Nyandwi, another rider has been at the hospital all day with him. They need to get him out of the hospital but they need me. I have the money to pay for the procedure. Well, I did until Ecobank decided they didn't know who I was again and needed that "first born". I call the pineapple coop and tell them we have to scrap it and they will have to pick up the bikes on Tuesday and Kiki and I head to the hospital.
I cannot, will never be able to, put into words the sight of a government run Rwandan hospital. I would rather die on the side of a road then enter that place as a patient. It was crowded, overflowing with people with all varieties of ailments, sicknesses, diseases and injuries. We had to get Sibo out of there quickly. Nyandwi takes me to the recovery room. Before we can enter we have to remove our shoes. I ask to wash my hands and they point me to a bathroom with no soap to be found. You have got to be kidding me, in a hospital? I am covered in mud due to the mixture of all the dust from the bikes and the torrential rains. My hair is dripping wet, my hands are filthy, my jeans are looking more brown than blue and all I need to do is take off my shoes?
I walk in and see a room full of people laying on sheets that look like they have seen better days. There are no curtains, no dividers, everyone stacked next to one another. I walk in and grab Sibo's leg. He lifts his head and gives me his big Sibo smile, his eyes roll back and he's down. I'm looking for Dr. Albert, our Team doctor. The nurses tell me I have to pay, get his medication and then he can be released. After an hour and a half of going from one building to the next, paying 72,000 RWF ($130USD), I went back to the recovery room and Sibo. At this point Sibo is semi coherent and smiling. That's good enough for me, he's out! Then a heated conversation breaks out between the nurses and Kiki and Nyandwi. They are telling me I cannot take him out until he drinks some juice. Of course the hospital doesn't have juice, food, no basic staples of any kind, so Ceceila from the cycling Federation heads out to buy some juice. In the meantime I'm arguing with the nurses in English, Kiki's translating to Kinyarwanda and Sibo's laying there. I keep telling them he is going home. Finally, Dr. Albert walks through the door and hands me the official discharge papers. I give Sibo a big hug and a kiss on the head and head out with all three boys safely in the hands of the Federation representative. Twelve hours later those three and three more are on a plane to Senegal.
Is this still the same day.....could it still be just Monday?
I head back to Amy's to shower and meet a friend for dinner. By the time I get home at 10 I am wiped out but I spend another hour making sure everything is done for all our meetings Tuesday and texting with Jock in between flights from California to Senegal. Of course, no sleep Monday night as I wait for the phone to ring. Kiki and Nyandwi were instructed to call me if there were any problems getting on the plane to Senegal. I slept all night with my ear to the phone. Luckily no call, unluckily also no sleep.
Tuesday, more meetings, meet Abuba, a fill in mechanic to assemble the bikes, get the bikes picked up by the coop, fight with Ecobank, get money released (but just one check, they are doing me a customer service favor since I still haven't produced the "first born"), pick up supplies at the store, go to Fina Bank, order my new checkbooks so I can take all my money out of Ecobank and put it in Fina Bank. Fina does not have the "first born" requirement. Then, Jenny and I head home to Kigali, it's dark, road of death, no moon and we're both exhausted. However, the exhaustion has morphed into a serious case of "slap happy" and we spend most of the next two hours laughing. I am thankful I have Jenny!
Three days....did someone say three months?
Thursday, October 1, 2009
This morning I awoke to no water, again....now two days into no shower and a flurry of emails asking why Max was "stuck" in Paris with no visa and no way to board the plane. In the four weeks in Vegas I was so focused on getting the riders visas to Senegal, Namibia and Botswana I was completely unaware that my own French mechanic had to have a visa to enter Rwanda. Max was stuck in Paris and couldn't board the plane without a visa. Not only had he totally spaced the flight he was supposed to be on Tuesday but now after paying a fee to get him rebooked he still couldn't leave. I learned this morning that being American brings you an immense amount of "privilege" while traveling. I just get on a plane and go to pretty much any country I want. For other nationalities that is not the case. The French cannot enter Rwanda without giving up their first born. Obviously there is no love between Rwanda and France. I learned a very expensive lesson.
At 7:30 am I was not quite "with it". I had gone to bed (dirty) at 11:30, woke at 2:00am wide awake thanks to the unforgiving reality of the jet lag I think I am supposed to be immune to, and then went back to bed at 3:30 never actually falling asleep. My first email I opened elicited utter panic. It was too late, there was nothing I could do but apologize and learn from my mistake. Now, provided everything goes as planned Max will arrive on Saturday only to work the Tour of Kigali on Sunday, fix all the bikes on Monday and leave Tuesday for Senegal. That would be the perfect scenario, if the visa issue is fixed by tomorrow.
I had to regroup....which I did an amazingly poor job of and headed to Kigali for meetings. My first meeting was with David Baard from Akagera Aviation. We are using them for the Tour of Rwanda and trying to figure out the logistics of camera filming and medical evac. It is always interesting to meet people who know me through my blog. I tend to feel overly exposed since they "know" me from my brutally honest excerpts of life in Rwanda while I know nothing about them. David "knows" me from my blog about David Pluth. He had flown David around Rwanda while he was filming before his death. He found me through searches on David. The only good thing coming from David's death has been the work done towards securing a medical evacuation helicopter based in Kigali to get people out of this country in event of emergency. I do not say this sarcastically or flippantly...I know if something bad happens to me here, I will most likely die here. That is reality. One bike accident, car accident or other medical emergency I will not make it home alive. That is just something you have to be "okay" with. I pray.
I then headed into town to deal with getting the plane tickets for Nic Nic and Alex. They were invited to the South African training camp. This is the next step for Team Rwanda riders. This is a HUGE deal for these boys, especially Alex. I am supposed to go to Rwandair and purchase the tickets, they are supposed to be $600 total. When I get there I find they cannot honor the special fair and in addition to that they cannot even give us their best fare. I am now faced with a $1,456 airfare. I have a signed check, which they will not take, even after my best theatrics. I do not have any other option at this point. I put the full plane fare on my personal credit card. Rwandair was kind enough to charge me an extra 5% for the convenience!
Brutal honest side note....I had to be put the airfare on my parent's credit card because I'm in the middle of a foreclosure on my house in Las Vegas and my credit is less than stellar. I called my mom from Rwanda and told her I just charged $1456 on her credit card for a couple of riders. My parents, being the incredible supporters they are, left me a message saying no problem, do what you have to do. There is nothing more humbling at 43 than asking your parents to accept a charge for two boys they do not know in Rwanda to help them get to a camp to pursue their chance to be the next Adrien Niyonshuti. I am a lucky girl....thank you mom and dad....
One thing you learn quickly in Rwanda is that you have very few options. Most decisions are met on the fly and you do what you have to do to make what you believe in happen.
Jenny and I finish the day with a meeting with Aimable from the Rwanda Cycling Federation. Aimable is a total stand up Rwandan who loves the Team. His associate Emmanuel drove to Buhgembura, Burundi to secure the visas for Senegal today for the team. We are so fortunate to have this support.
So, we head out on the road of death at 6:30, it is now dark (I hate driving this road in the dark). I call Nicodem (Nic Nic) to make sure he is ready to go to South Africa tomorrow. Thank God, he is a rider that has totally embraced learning English and he tells me Alex is with him and they are ready to go. I am relieved Alex is with him. I call Kiki and talk to him about the Tour of Kigali. He is happy to know Max and I will be there to support him. The visas are ready for the team for Senegal and all is good in the world of Team Rwanda.
During all this chaos I pick up a purchase order for 12 bikes to go to Butare.
This....is my life....just one day in Rwanda.
As I sit on my porch in Ruhengeri typing this blog I am content. A day that started as a disaster has finished strong....however, there will be no relief until I KNOW Nic Nic and Alex are safe in South Africa.
Home is Where My Heart Is.....
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
This feeling is real, however, I also am cognizant of the effect my love of this life has on my previous "home". I do not say this to slight my friends, family and loved ones back home. Their love and support is priceless. It was so nice to see everyone this past month and to catch up on life in Vegas. I am forever grateful for the support system there. But being back in Las Vegas was difficult. I felt out of place, unsure of myself, some of the old feelings I had before I found my calling kept haunting me. Perhaps it is the place itself. I grew up in Kansas and I think I'm more a country girl at heart than I care to publicize.
This morning when I woke up the sun was shining and all the sounds of the birds, avocados falling off the trees hitting the roof, Rambo chopping wood were all so comforting. I walked outside and was greeted by Joseph, our day guard. He was so happy to see me and I him. I missed the quiet of the mornings. I do not hear cars and planes and do not have the "rush" of getting somewhere in the morning. My mornings here are so peaceful. But before I wax too nostalgic, I have been out of water since last night. For some strange reason, it just does not phase me anymore.
My heart is in Rwanda. I have tried to explain the feeling that comes over me from time to time since I first got here. I have this feeling of COMPLETE contentment with my path in life. That is not an easy thing to find. I know, I've searched decades for it. As I was going through the market today, buying vegetables, greeting my "preferred farmer girls", it came over me. I feel so comfortable so at peace among a throng of Rwandans selling their wares in an open market. I am the ONLY Muzungu in the place and I feel like I belong. It is completely unexplainable to most people.
A friend of mind said to me right before I left, "Kim, you are so fortunate. To be able to pursue your dream, your passion and have the ability to make it happen....most people never get that chance." He's right. I have found my passion, my place in life for now and I will not take it for granted. I am a blessed girl!
Now...I've got three containers of bikes to distribute and a lot of joy to spread to farmers. One bike will change their life....this one bike has changed mine.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
September 11, 2001....
I remember listening to the radio and hearing that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the world trade center. A friend of mine was the DJ on a local station that morning and my first thought was it's a joke, then I thought, "Who's the idiot who flew the Cessna into the World Trade Center?" Then....I turned on the TV.
I stood there watching for a few minutes trying to understand exactly what was happening. As I stood there I witnessed the second plane fly directly into the second tower. I was stunned, complete disbelief. Was this honestly happening or was I an observer in a very bad dream? The door bell rang....in walked a group of realtors ready to assess the value of my house. The house I had just put on the market after losing my multi million dollar business the week before. My thought was, did it really matter?
Eight years ago every thing changed.....for most of us..
The next eight years saw my sister deployed to Iraq and my brother in law deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the "War Against Terror". They are both facing deployments to Afghanistan in the next year. The events of that day continue for them and thousands of others in our military.
I lost my business and moved to Las Vegas....always feeling like I wasn't where I was supposed to be...doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Every year on the anniversary I watched the coverage of that day. Every year I was reminded how finite life was. I did not personally lose anyone......I feel for the people who did. I kept thinking I don't want to die without doing what I need to do....live.
Time sped by, moved to Las Vegas, started and lost another business and still questioned what I was doing with my life. I turned 40. Now I would change. Then I was 42 and nothing had changed. And then, last September as yet another 9/11 anniversary reminded me how quickly life can change, how quickly it can all be over I read the article about Project Rwanda in Outside Magazine.
Tonight as I watched the footage from eight year ago, I still cried. I cried for the people lost and the people who had lost loved ones. But this year, I cried knowing I now have no regrets. I cried, thankful I grew up in this country and appreciating all the amazing opportunities I have to do the things I do including living in another country.
The transition back into life in America has not been easy. There are so many things that have changed. Things that seemed so important no longer have that same draw. I like my simple life in Rwanda. I like knowing that every day for me "counts". I no longer waste time just getting by. I live every day with no holding back. It makes for some great highs and some spectacular lows. I find myself anxious to go back, missing Rwanda, the people and my life there.
However, I also like knowing that I'm an American, living in Rwanda. For that, I am thankful.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Can you really substitute “goat womb” for a standard “goat meat brochette” and really not tell the difference?
Did you not think I’d notice that the vegetarian pasta you gave me does not resemble in the slightest the cheese pizza I actually ordered?
Crazy t-shirts donated to Rwanda by well meaning Americans
A woman wearing “Frank the Tank”…do you think she’s seen “Old School”?
Which leads to BAD saying t-shirts….do we really need to donate the “Johnson” shirts and shirts saying other obscenity?
Does the guy I see every morning understand the meaning of
“Machine Fuckin’ Head”?
Be careful what you donate!
College Shirts….Cornell, Yale, Harvard very wealthy do gooders (or significantly in debt) giving to the less fortunate and uneducated. One year’s tuition would equal a lifetime of income for the average Rwandan….Does anyone else find this ODD?
Using three languages in most conversations just to communicate basic information…broken English to Max, Max French to the coop leader, Kinyarwanda from the coop leader to the farmers….amazing we can actually sell or fix ANY bikes!
Rwandans are nose pickers….must be the dirt and dust
...I pick my nose
…need to stop THAT habit!
Everything is 200 RWF in the market unless you’re a “Muzungu” then it’s 300 RWF, unless you have a Rwandan with you…then it’s negotiable.
The Ishema Hotel where I get “brown bread” never has brown bread until I ask for it, then they bake it, sell it and when I go back to get it, they don’t have “brown bread”.
Not every Muzungu wants a Rwandan boyfriend but every Rwandan wants a Muzungu girlfriend.
Rwandans listen to really bad music! This is not African music….it’s Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton circa 1980ish.
When I ask Rwandan’s what time we’ll be meeting, I always clarify if we’re talking “Rwandan Time or American Time”.
You can always cut in line at the bank if you bring the girls really good chocolate! And yes, I abuse this! If you had to bank in Rwanda you would too!
Speaking of banking….it is not unusual to not have an internet connection at the bank to get money, or to actually not have money at the bank. Can you imagine that one in the US? AND….no ATM cards!
Rwandan’s have no concept of multitasking. There is no list of 37 things to do and one trip to do them in. There’s 1 thing to do in 1 trip and you do that 37 times.
Trucks all have sayings across the windshield. Some of my favorites….
Go With God
Life is Short
Life is Life
God is Good
God is God
Nigga (I kid you not!)
Jesus is God
No Time to Lose
Thank You…(insert various names here…including God)
Various Kinyarwanda sayings that I have no idea what they mean!
Then, the big trucks are highly decorated with the following options:
Picture of Jesus with His crown of thorns in the front windshield
Stuffed cat, big and white
Carpeting, generally 1970’s circa shag across the dash
Various plastic people, animals and chatkes
Dangly thingys hanging from the headliner
Drivers…the worst I’ve ever seen!
Don’t look when pulling out, drive too slow, drive in both lanes, if they are talking on the cell phone see above comment about multi tasking!
The reaction of people on the street when I was carrying a frantic King Kongo of Rwanda (our cat) to the vet to be neutered. As he’s clawing scratching and wiggling away from me so were all the people who wanted nothing to do with a domesticated animal attacking the freaky Blonde Muzungu.
Not showering for days on end because no water, or no electricity or both and feeling like it’s not that big a deal anymore.
Rwandan women who spit gigantic “lugies”. They can hack with the best Red Neck American man!
Kids on Jock’s street that call every blonde girl Rebecca regardless of who we really are. Thanks Rebecca for teaching them your name….we’re all Rebecca’s!
Things in Rwanda That Make Me Sad, Cry, Emotional or Just Make Me Wonder Why?
Poverty….how can it be so intense?
Electricity….why is it such a luxury to 90% of the population of Rwanda?
Water….can you imagine spending every day gathering water? And it’s not drinkable?
Children….tiny children…tiny due to malnutrition, due to poverty, due to other forces beyond their control
Intensity of days….how can I possibly pack as much as I do into a day and still feel like I haven’t done enough….It’s Africa….I will never be able to do enough!
Begging children….they were taught this by the prevalence of too much aid and not enough REAL help! Teach these people to fish!
Friends always leave….some come back, most don’t….you attach and then they’re gone.
Leaving my friends today….
….this is a difficult day
The sheer beauty of this country….
…the smiles on the children
….the faces and inquisitive looks from women watching another woman ride a bike
….a bike….can you imagine?
….the kindness and smiles of Rwandan’s….they will keep me coming back, they will keep me fighting to help them have a better life.
….watching Alex look at his passport
….listening to Sibo tell me he can’t train because his wheel is broken and I can’t fix it and we have no more wheels because we have run out and it will be four weeks before I can return with wheels….He is emotional, his voice cracking as he tells me this.
….watching Jock with his Team ALWAYS makes me cry….
…watching Adrien’s success at Tour of Ireland
…knowing what I know about how much Jock has sacrificed to make this happen for these boys…..THIS makes me emotional
…this makes me cry
…this makes me stay
…the stories of farmers
…Leonard riding his Project Rwanda bike with his Project Rwanda jersey and his million dollar smile
…the story of the 62 year old farmer in Bukonya that has a dream for his family that life will be better because they have a bike and may have more bikes
…watching 12 farmers ride off with their bikes
…watching 50 health care workers checking out their new bikes
…watching a woman, Penina, want a bike so badly it brings her to tears
….having Luna Chicks and Marika sponsor Penina to get that bike
…YOU women make me emotional!
….not having the NGO yet to bring in more bikes….
….this makes me cry in frustration…will I EVER make it happen? These people need more bikes and I can’t ship them from China until the NGO is renewed
….I cry in fear…
….I cry in frustration…
….I cry because I feel helpless….
….THIS is why I stay….
Friday, August 21, 2009
Yesterday as I was driving 30k down a dirt and gravel road into the middle of nowhere Rwanda with four people in the car, most listening to their IPods, oblivious to the surroundings, I thought about how far I have traveled. It's not a matter of miles, it's a matter of perspective, it's a personal journey miles cannot quantify.
Six months ago I was traveling in the circle of fancy restaurants, celebrity chefs, decked out in nice clothes, fabulous shoes, and living the life most people dream about. Today, I am two days out from a shower, wearing dirty jeans that are now a size too big, and flip flops, a life most would never long to have. It is my "perfect" life at this moment in time. I am thanking God as I look at the amazing countryside. I have had several moments while on this adventure of these surreal waves of peace and contentment that wash over me. It's difficult to explain. It's almost other worldly. To know you're exactly where you need to be at the exact moment in time you are there is emotional.
I am heading to the Bukonya wash station, home of Land of 1,000 Hills Coffee, to document the stories of farmers who have been fortunate to have the opportunity to own a Project Rwanda bicycle. These farmers are able to own these bikes through the generosity of Jonathan Golden, owner of Land of 1,000 Hills coffee. These farmers have had the bikes since February and when you hear them tell their stories you can't help but feel fortunate to be just a little piece of their hope for the future.
The very first farmer we interview is a slight man in his 60's, although his hard life makes him look a decade older. Two of his children died in the Genocide. His family has taken in an AIDS orphan as their own. I do not know Kinyarwanda. As he begins to answer the questions we ask I don't need to know. I already know the answer. As he begins to speak his voice cracks, his jaw quivers, his eyes well up, although no tears fall. Watching him I begin to cry. One simple bike. That's all....one simple bike.
The translator relates to us that the bike has allowed him to provide for his family. It has increased his income by 20%. He is now able to support his wife and children and he has hope for his grandchildren. He wants them all to have bikes. Hope is a powerful thing...especially in this country.
I walk outside to be alone with my thoughts. As I do, I hear behind me the school children coming down the hill. The children here are so beautiful. They are curious. They want to learn English and love to practice English. They spot me sitting on the stoop with my lime green Dell in my lap trying to write down my thoughts about what I had just witnessed with the farmer. Within minutes I have a hundred or more children all surrounding me. It's a Muzungu in Bukonya. That's akin to spotting a white rhino on a safari. Extra credit points!
Around the corner comes an older gentleman dressed nicely who begins speaking to me. His English is difficult to understand but I begin to realize he is trying to teach the children a powerful lesson. We are all the same. My white skin is the same as their black skin. He wanted the children to feel my skin and asked if I would let them. I stuck out my arm and within seconds tiny little hands were touching my skin, my white skin. They laughed, realizing that yes, all skin feels the same. There is no difference. It is very strange at times to be an object of curiosity. For some people who come over it is enough to drive them home, never to return. There are days when I wish I could just blend in, but then I realize, I've really never "blended" in and it has nothing to do with the color of my skin.
We interview three more farmers, all of them with similar stories of increased income and hope for their families. All of them are so proud to share their stories. The sound of the first farmer's voice however, will stay with me forever.
As we head back to town everyone in the car is again wrapped up in their thoughts, listening to music. I'm always very quiet after these interactions with farmers. I feel privileged to be the one to help them tell their stories. I feel blessed to be the one to help them get their bikes. One Simple Bike.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Only about 30k into the trek on the Road of Death, just as the sun is coming up, an accident. A truck missed one of the hairpin curves and ended up in the ravine. Luckily it was a ravine on the inside of the road and not the outside, which is a steep drop no one is coming home from. Seeing accidents like this always remind me how dangerous the driving in Rwanda can be. Matt and I continue our conversation while the four boys sleep scrunched up together all in the back seat of the Explorer. At times like this, I need a camera!
We make a quick stop in Kigali, meet up with Kiki, who has secured the Jaquar bus ticket to Uganda for Matt and give lots of hugs and goodbyes and send Matt on his way. Max jumps in the front seat and in goes the Iphone and we are jamming to music that makes me realize I actually am 43. For some strange reason, it is exactly what I want to be listening to. Max is definitely rubbing off on me!
By 9:30 we are cruising down the final 10k of dirt road to the Health Center in Rukara. We're technically late, but this is technically Rwanda so they cancel each other out. As we pull into the center I see about 40 bikes all lined up. I see Max's face. He's going to need cigarettes. Whatever Max needs at this point, Max gets! Julius is simply looking like a deer in the head lights and Omar and Evan are bracing for the onslaught of kids and stares and shouts of "Muzungu". I'm just worried about getting on my laptop and onto the internet to check on Max's Visa so he can leave on Sunday. The beauty of air cards in a cellular country! Max's Visa has been at the Department of Immigration for the last three weeks, because it was incorrectly stamped when he entered and he has "officially" overstayed his welcome according to the laws of Rwanda. We have been there four times, taken four passport photos and paid 50,000 RWF ($100) and still don't have a passport. No passport, no France, no France, Max is going postal. We are both completely in need of a break. No passport today and Blondie Muzungu might just go Postal!
As Max gets to work wrenching, Julius follows suits, Max and Omar start documenting with pictures and I sit on a stoop surrounded by 20 Rwandans all curious about the lime green Dell in my lap and my heated conversation with my contact at MINICOM (NGO issue...can't discuss...end up in fetal position). According to the update on the website, Max's Visa is ready. Until Max's Passport is in his hands that chicken hasn't hatched. Another call to the American Embassy to confirm I can pick up Jock's passport there. (You know you travel a lot when you run out of pages to stamp in your Passport and have to go to the Embassy to have them add more). And one email to Jock to check on the progress of Adrien's Passport which is supposed to be sent from the Irish Embassy in Kampala, Uganda to Pretoria, South Africa so Adri can ride in the Tour of Ireland. Adri will be the first Rwandan to ride in the Tour of Ireland and ironically, the Tour of Ireland was Jock's last professional race. How amazing is God?
Oh, damn....the cigarettes!
Three hours and 39 bikes later our little road show packs up and rolls out. Max has shown all the patience in the world to the Rwandan health care workers but as soon as we get in the car, he just shakes his head and says, "Stupid". I agree, sometimes it's disheartening to see how fast a bike can be destroyed. These are bikes that would last the average American a lifetime, however, for some strange reason, Rwandans destroy the bikes. Perhaps it's the lack of really good mechanics. I am not sure exactly why. The riders are extremely hard on their equipment as well. I saw our guard one day taking steel wool to his biking shoes to clean them. Would you ever consider using steel wool to clean shoes? I think that is what frustrates Max and myself most is trying to keep bikes, cargo and team, running.
Next stop....feed the boys. It's almost 2:30 when we pull back into Kigali. There is no way any of us can deal with Immigration and the Embassy on an empty stomach. There's an amazing restaurant in Kigali, Afrika Bite, which is traditional style African food served buffet style with drink for 3,000 RWF ($5.50). Great place for four starving young men and one bitchy hungry old chick! We literally inhale the food, two plates each, and we're on our way to Immigration.
As Max and I walk in we are number 3071 and they are on number 3053. I leave Max and head to the Embassy. Omar, Evan and Julius wait outside with the car at the curb for our quick getaway while I strip down of all non essentials to get through the three security ports at the Embassy. I walk in with the clothes on my back and my passport. No phone, wallet, keys, nothing....the more you bring in the more they have to confiscate. Ten minutes later I hit the curb with Jock's passport and back to Immigration.
We are now number 3061. As Max and I wait, I am on Facebook with Jock letting him know I have his passport and getting info from him that yes, the Irish Embassy released Adrien's visa and passport and it is on it's way to South Africa. Two down, one to go....number 3071....ten minutes later we're out the door. The chicken has hatched! Max is going home. I have never seen a kid so relieved in his entire life.
We head to MTN Bourbon, the only place that has ice cream in Rwanda I believe, and celebrate. As we're leaving we witness accident number two. A RAV 4 in a Rwandan ditch. These are not any ditches. These are deep, stone, edge of the road, troughs from where a car will never return. I see the car and wonder how anyone could have made it out alive. I don't want to look. It's 4:30 and I am chasing daylight on my own drive home on the Road of Death.
Just when I begin to relax and feel good about an amazingly productive twelve hour day in Rwanda, I'm pulled over. I'm 50k from home and I'm busted. I wasn't speeding. I was simply trying to pass a truck blowing diesel exhaust chugging up this hill. I pull out and they see me. I do not have my driver's license. It's in my other bag at home. This is not good. I try to explain to no avail. They want the driver's license. Of course they do not understand English, so Max gets out of the car, lights a cigarette and next thing I know I'm standing in the middle of a heated argument in French. All I know is Max is irritated and is trying to reason with them. Finally Max looks at me and says they will take 50,000 RWF ($100) for the "punishment". At this point, darkness is closing in and I just want to get us home. Fine, 50,000 RWF I'm out of here. Give me my ticket and I'm on my way. Wait, no ticket? No receipt? I give them 50,000 RWF and walk away. Max just says get in the car. This did not just happen. They just pocketed the money. Welcome to third world reality. On top of that, I cannot drive. Max, Omar and Evan all forgot their licenses. The only person who has a license is Julius who has been down this road one other time and has only been in the country 48 hours. This is not good.
As I'm sitting in the back seat with Omar looking like he's going to vomit and Max even clutching the side of the door, I realize this is not going to fly. I will have to take the chance and drive. Better me in jail and alive then being accident number three. Omar looks at me and asks quietly, "Will you PLEASE drive?" Twenty kilometers down the road with Julius all over the road, weaving to avoid the people I have had enough and make him pull over. I am driving the rest of the way. It's dark and generally the police go home at dark. I know I'm late, Jock is texting me wondering where I'm at.
I finally hit Jock's. It's almost 7:00pm, it's dark and I'm going straight back to his closet for my last stash of wine and I'm not sharing....okay, maybe a swig for Jock. Just another day in Rwanda.
Friday, July 31, 2009
I have been thinking about my time here. As most of you know by now, I am returning at the end of September, early October, to finish the work we began in April. I simply cannot imagine leaving for good....not now! I still have an NGO to renew.
The NGO issue has become quite defeating. Never in my life have I not been able to do something I set my mind to. If I didn't make something happen one way I always found another way to get it done. For the first time in my life I am completely blocked. I have called in every favor, every contact, prayed my heart out to no avail. If God wanted to teach me perseverance and patience, Rwandan NGO renewal is the catalyst.
Today is August 4th and I'm still not finished with my blog. It's not because I haven't had time. I haven't had the inclination, the right frame of mind, the ability to express in words the roller coaster of emotions I have been riding.
Between Sunday night and Monday night I wanted to go home at least thirteen times. Actually I never really counted, however, it felt like entirely too many. I think I really was ready to plan my escape. The pity party was in full swing and I was dancing on the bar drinking tequila shots! Thank God for new days.
I really haven't had much change between the last couple of days and today other than I have been able to reach out and grasp the hope and hold on just a little bit longer. I hold on because I realize some days no one in their right mind would tackle this for no pay, no electricity, no water, bad hours and incessant shouts of "Muzungu" and "Give me amafaranga". I hold on because I do make a difference by putting a bike in a poor farmer's hands. I hold on because Jock gave me an Organic Cotton, soft as a bunny, bath towel. It's truly the craziest things at the most bizarre moments that make me say....I can do this one more day! You have no idea how much you begin to appreciate little things like nice linens. It makes one feel almost American again.
I'm less than four weeks from going home. I still do not have my NGO renewed, not for lack of head banging, rounding up my Rwandan network of influence posse, or devout prayer. It currently sits in the hands of MINICOM (Ministry of Trade and Industry). It has surfed the Ministry for over three weeks and still no answer. I need them to sign off on the MOU (Memo of Understanding) so I can go back to the Department of Emigration for another go round of "Name That Obscure Form" to hold up the NGO renewal. I have gotten to the point that I am just going through the motions. When people say to me, "Don't worry, you'll get it" I look at them with the initial thought of wanting to smack them upside the head (due to my frustration not their thoughtfulness and hopefulness). Then I just sigh quietly and settle back into my mousetrap wheel. I still hope it will happen. Will I be shocked if I leave here at the end of the mouth not accomplishing this goal, sadly, no. What saddens me most about all of this is how hard I work to make life easier for the majority of poor Rwandans, while a select few decide their fate. It truly is crushing some days.
On top of the NGO issues this week, I have also had three bikes seized at the Ugandan border and been told I cannot export any bikes outside of Rwanda. They were brought into Rwanda to serve Rwandans and as they were brought in under the tax exempt NGO, they cannot leave the country. They are bicycles for Rwandans. Now you can see the agony of this NGO mess. I cannot move bicycles in Rwanda because of our expired NGO, but I cannot move them out. I cannot get the NGO renewed to get more bikes into Rwanda for the same Rwandans that are due the bikes in the first place. Follow the logic...or illogic? Is that a word? It could be here!
So, my great day in the Congo on Sunday with Jock and Jean Paul was for naught. Bikes cannot go across the border. More people need these bikes. These bikes can change their lives but for some crazy law, they sit in a warehouse collecting dust. THIS is why I have days when I feel so defeated and want to go home 13 times in a 24 hour period.
And then....I look over at Jock typing away to Kiki, one of his riders, on his computer. Kiki is here for training camp and is sitting on a computer on the other side of the room.
Jock says...Are you there Kik? Where are you? How are you? Who are you?
Kiki....I am good. I am Kiki. I am at home.
Jock....Thank you Mr. Uwimana. Father of Jonathan Rafiki Uwimana. I am happy when you are in this house.
Kiki....Thank you very much my coach. I am happy when I am here.
Jock....I am glad you can answer me too.
I see this and tears come flooding across my eyes. Sometimes I just have to remember "why" I put up with the craziest. This place, these people, make Kiki feel like this is home. That does it for me.
Last week, as I stood in the customs house at the Rwanda/Uganda border and argued with the agent for over an hour about letting the bicycles leave with my farmer to Uganda, I cried. I looked across at my Ugandan farmer, so excited to have his bikes and I said, "I am so very sorry I cannot make this happen for you." At that moment, a middle aged, poor as dirt, Ugandan farmer and a middle class, white girl from Las Vegas were on the exact same page fighting for the exact same thing. Unfortunately, we both lost....for the moment.
This is why I cannot go home. I have so much unfinished business. September will come quickly and before I know it I'll be on a plane back to Las Vegas. I still cannot imagine landing in Vegas and feeling remotely at home. I have changed so much in my time here in Rwanda. I was a square peg in a round hole living in Vegas four months ago. I am City Center trying to be jammed through a eye of a needle now. I do not know how I am going to react. It is going to be difficult. As much as I wanted to leave the last 24 hours, the more I cannot imagine being any where but here.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Once again I'm at the Kigali airport. I'm picking up two volunteers from Boston who will be working with us for the next five weeks. Unfortunately, I'm also dropping off. Another goodbye, this is a big goodbye.
Rebecca decided to leave a couple of weeks ago. I knew it was coming. She is completely, totally, head over heels in love with her fiancee, John. She has been in Rwanda since January when she originally came here as a Peace Corps volunteer. Rwanda has taken its toll and the pull of love in America is too strong. It happens. We all leave at one point. I am happy for her and selfishly sad for me.
I met Rebecca the first night I was in Musanze. She lived down the street from Jock in this unbelievably sketchy horror house provided by the Peace Corps. She had become friends with Jock through John, who had met Jock at Interbike last year. If you don't believe in divine intervention, or cosmic shift this connection will make you a believer. John met Jock. John had just started dating Rebecca. Rebecca had decided to join the Peace Corps and did not know what country she was going to be sent to. She ends up in Rwanda, and after training gets stationed in Musanze, right down the street from Jock. She stays with the Peace Corps until May when, due to her frightening living conditions, ends up at my house and eventually leaves the Peace Corps to work with Project Rwanda. Believe in cosmic forces now?
From the first night I met Rebecca we connected. Yes, another girl and I actually connected. She was easy to be around and incredibly funny. The first night we cooked dinner. Rebecca does not cook, but is a great dish washer! I remember feeling so "at home" that first night. She helped me slide right into my new life in Rwanda.
The laughs we have shared. I will most miss the laughs. The MTV video shoot with the Hugh Hefner of Gisenyi was the highlight of our trip. I know my red bikini butt will show up on some You Tube video clip someday!
Our discussion with Suzanne about "E Pussy" still makes me burst out in laughter. I still wonder what that German tourist thought of our conversation. By the way, that is what they call "cats" in Rwanda. What did you think we were discussing?
The last dinner I had at La Palme was with Rebecca. I haven't been back since the goat "womb" brochette incident. Something about goat womb just doesn't sit right with my intestines. Embrace the parasites and projectile vomit on the side of the road. It is after all a great weight loss system!
I laugh about our bad hair, coloring our bad hair with even worse color. I laugh about our bad skin, all broken out due to bad water and the fact we've actually embraced not showering. How will I ever be able to reenter my "American" world? Do you think they will actually be able to remove all the dirt from under our finger and toe nails?
Everything was always so easy with Rebecca. Jock, Rebecca, Max and I were our own little family away from family. I came to rely on Rebecca not only for the incredible work she did for Project Rwanda after coming on board, but for her insight, her friendship, her humor and her half of the crappy over priced Rwandan wine! Through it all we've managed to get so much accomplished. We've helped Project Rwanda move forward even with the demise of the gin soaked Apple computer!
Today as we were driving to Kigali for the last time, we found ourselves listening to this awful CD, which happens to be one of two really bad CDs I was sent from home. We sang with all the gusto one can muster up for Air Supply's "All Out of Love" on the Road of Death. We waved at the young kids yelling "Muzungu" and yelled back with all our love, "Little Black Kids". We went to lunch at Bourban for one more round of really bad Rwandan service. Oh, Rwanda....
This is a hard "goodbye". I do not express myself openly at times with friends. She probably never knew how much I appreciated her being here. I am so happy for her and her new life. Although I will see Rebecca in September at Interbike she was a constant for me here. She helped keep me sane with some very difficult home dynamics. If at any time I needed someone like her it would be now. She'll just have to keep me laughing via SKYPE....just keep the Gin away from the laptops!
Monday, July 20, 2009
The main reason I went to Goma, other than keeping myself legal in Rwanda, was curiosity. It was that draw of danger and the desire to see what oftentimes ends up on the page 16 of the Sunday edition of the local newspaper. This is a place no one from the outside world really seems to care much about. Congo is rich in natural resources; the ones who "care" are the ones who want what Congo has.
Another reason Jock and I went across the border was to visit Nyandwi's sister's school. Nyandwi is a rider for Team Rwanda and his younger sister attends school in Goma. She walks 10k every day to attend the school Nyandwi pays for with his earnings from Team Rwanda. He is trying to help make a difference for his sister. Jock and I were the only Americans crossing the border that morning. I was thankful to be with Nyandwi and his sister and I was anxious to see the school. I then I saw the school.
After riding four mototaxis, sans helmets and any semblance of adherence to safety and traffic rules, we arrived at the school. It was down a horrible, pumice laden side road. The pumice is a reminder of the volcanic eruption seven years ago that took out a runway at the airport, swept through the town and killed dozens. The school was empty because it was Sunday but even a full attendance roster could not hide the horrendous condition of the building and the classrooms. As a stepped into the unlit concrete hall my eyes filled with tears. I looked at Jock and mouthed the words, "THIS is her SCHOOL?" He just turned away. I am sure he was just as shocked. How could this possibly be a school? There is no electricity, water is in a 55 gallon drum, the ceiling is falling in, there are no books, no labs, and no desks....this is not a school! This is her only option at education. She wants to be a doctor. How do you become a doctor without a textbook, any textbook?
I tried not to show how appalled I was with the situation. I did not want Nyandwi and his sister to feel uncomfortable. This is their only choice. It is the best one they can make at this point. Take every student, every teacher, and every principal in Las Vegas who complains about not having enough money to educate and let them spend a day in class in Goma. The pictures I posted on Facebook do not even come close to the reality of that school. The smell, the dust, the complete sense of hopelessness cannot be captured in a photo.
After leaving the school I wandered behind Jock lost in my own sadness. The night before I had complained of the terrible service and the overpriced food at our hotel in Gisenyi, on the Rwandan side of Lake Kivu. How could I? I have NOTHING in this world to EVER complain about.
We spent a couple of hours walking around Goma. It was quiet; few people were out and about. Just UN truck after UN truck rolling down the road. The waste of manpower, money and lives is the United Nations. As they adhere to their mantra of "Don't fire unless fired upon", they are first hand witnesses to the ongoing war in the DRC. They will watch people die and never step in. The UN had front row seats to the Rwandan genocide. The UN in Goma also has prime real estate on the edge of Lake Kivu. Needless to say, I am not impressed with the work of the United Nations.
I have been told by some to be careful what I write, to not let my personal views or my blog become my soapbox. I have been told to make sure I do not write about my experiences without first setting the stage so my opinions are not taken out of context. So before I launch into my next attack on misspent money and lack of REAL help let me set the context. Every day I witness large NGO's (Non-government Organizations) spend money, lots of money. I see the staff of these NGO's driving around in their expensive SUVs all throughout town. When you ask what them what they do, generally you get something like, "I handle logistics and team coordination in the field to assess situations that may be complex and be a potential for significant need in the area." WHAT?
This is my job at Project Rwanda, "I sell bikes to people who need them to transport their goods and grow their businesses in order to increase their income at least threefold." So this is my "context". I do my job with three people in Rwanda and until two weeks ago, no vehicle. I care for every penny entrusted to me by our donors. I make sure we live frugally and conscientiously to be able to get the most amount of bikes in the hands of the poor of Rwanda. Every dime counts.
Walking down another lumpy pumice road towards the beautiful Lake Kivu, we come upon the strangest, most surreal sight I have yet to see in Africa. Row and row of large homes, really large homes, big by American standards large homes are built and being built all the way to the lake. Ironically these are the same homes that will probably end up in the lava river again once the volcano decides to erupt again. All these homes are surrounded by barb wire, surveillance cameras and a breathtaking view of the homeless in wood shacks settled in among the lava. Sadly, many of these homes are owned by NGO's. It is truly sickening. When I said I was sadly speechless in my Facebook status update, this was why. When so many people have so little, and you are the only here to assist, provide and offer hope, how do you truly engage while you maintain your "cushy" western life amongst the people of this ravaged city?
It has been two days since I visited Goma. Today I wanted to go home.