It catches me off guard when I hear people tell me I have courage. I think that is one of the hardest adjectives for me to grasp about myself. What is courage? I moved to Rwanda, I'm not fighting cancer. I am not staring down the barrel of a gun in the Congo seeing my family slaughtered in front of me. I did not survive the Genocide. I simply moved to Rwanda to volunteer and to pursue my passion.
Do not get me wrong, I appreciate the well wishes. I appreciate that in some way my life and the way I choose to live my life may inspire others to step outside their world and into their dream. However, the word courage in my mind is reserved for those individuals who are fighting every day to stay alive and to stand for their principals even in the face of death.
I am simply....Fear...less...
I thought about this Sunday morning as I hopped on the back of a BMW 1150 motorcycle in the pouring rain for a two hour ride through the mountains to Kigali. I sat perched like a praying mantis, arms wrapped around this skinny former bike racer who I probably outweighed by a couple of pounds and off I went with absolutely no fear. To be on a motorcycle in this country is a risky proposition, add in a downpour, fog and mountains and you really do have to question your sanity. But this is simply what we have to do to get around. Project Rwanda does not have a vehicle. We get around on bikes and motorcycles. We dodge people, goats, cars in the wrong lane and the hundreds of bikes on the roads. That is our life. I have never been afraid on the back of that motorcycle here. I should be. I have embraced that fear as just a part of life in Rwanda.
There are so many things to fear in Rwanda just to make it through a typical day. Traveling on the roads, whether walking, biking or being on a motorcyle top the list. There is fear of disease. Tuberculosis is all too common. You can see the children suffering with the racking coughs. Malaria is most common and most potent. Yet, I walk around with mosquito bites. I do take Malarone, however, due to the continued side effects and long term issues with this drug this may be something I rethink in the near future. Jock, my partner in my day to day Project Rwanda adventures, does not take anything. He has been here for almost three years. He has decided to take the holistic approach and so far has been spared.
There is fear of bad water, bad food, parasites, accidents, reprecussions from an accident if God forbid you have to go to a hospital. I think I would rather be left on the side of the road! I live in a home with a massive, green metal gate and broken bottles lining the walls of the home to thoroughly slash and mangle any would be intruder. My guard is Evariste, a very large Rwandan who you do not want to run into on the other side of my wall.
There is an underlying fear within this country which is largely unspoken regarding the president, Paul Kagame. He has brought this country back from the brink of extinction, yet he too has enemies. This land could potentially change face very quickly should he be assassinated. Just 60 kilometers from my home a war rages in Congo where the largest concentration of UN forces sit completely useless. They will not protect and will evacuate at the first sign of trouble if any of you remember the first days of the Genocide.
So, embracing these fears and making them just part of my life in Rwanda has made me fearless. I trust the people here who have taken me under their wing and protected me. You learn to trust the people around you more. You have to. If something happens to me here they are all I have. It makes for stonger commitments to relationships and people when you know your life may depend on them. With this I can be fearless.
Coming home Sunday from Kigali the rain had stopped. The roads were dry and we were trying to make it home before dark. Darkness in Rwanda is a darkness you will never experience anywhere in America. We do not have street lights, we do not have the electricity. We raced through the mountains the sound of the motorcycle and the wind whipping my jacket at 120kph and I was safe. I was fearless. If something happened, if we crashed, if I died at that moment I was exactly where I was supposed to be....Fearlessly living my dream fully engaged in my life. How could I possibly be anything but fearless....