Yesterday afternoon I stood on the side of a building in Rukara in the Eastern Province of Rwanda and cried. They were tears I could not stop, tears I could not hide. They were the tears of your childhood when you cry so hard you can't breathe. Every emotion I could possibly feel at that given moment came rushing out through my tears. Around the corner from hundreds of people I released the struggles, fights, frustrations and pure simple joy. Crying for me is not a typical outlet of emotion but for some reason, Africa, Rwanda has brought the emotions I seek to control to the surface daily. When you face your true "WHY" for living, knowing that God has put you exactly where you need to be it is a powerful moment.
I have been in Rwanda for a little over nine weeks. In that short time span I have experienced more than I thought possible. I left my friends and family and all the comforts of my very nice, convenient life in Las Vegas. I stepped off the plane nine weeks ago in Kigali having never met the people I was to work and live with. I have made new friends, amazing new friends. I experienced the death of one of those friends. I have had two friends leave the country...leaving is one of the hazards of relationships in Rwanda. We develop an amazing closeness very quickly only to separate entirely too soon. I have battled the government of Rwanda and learned to navigate the mind field of bureaucracy. I have networked and added my centers of influence to help me continue progressing forward in the quest for NGO renewal. The only person who has been here in Rwanda working for Project/Team Rwanda left five weeks ago. I have been alone amidst a sea of people in this overcrowded country. I have been responsible for the financial care and physical well being of the Project Rwanda team, Sarah, Rebecca and Max, a 22 year old French mechanic who is every bit of 22! (Remember those days...think back...there was a reason I never had kids!). When you live with the people you work with on a daily basis, tensions can run high, especially with a group of people all very passionate about what they do. I ran support for a race for Team Rwanda which was a first. I have battled language/translation issues and had to learn to just be patient. Rwanda does not nor ever will run on America time. During this time, I forgot why I came here.
Max and I left for Kigali Sunday evening so we could put together 50 bikes for a remarkable organization, Malaria No More. The ride to Kigali was worse than it has ever been. Not only was it dark, and we were in a run down big Diahatsu truck, but Max and I had fought earlier in the day, a nasty, personal attack fight. Jock was calling during the ride as we were supposed to pick up a bag at the Kigali airport from one of our mules. Of course we were an hour and a half late leaving, again, Rwandan time and we were making our mule wait. If I would have not emptied my bank account to keep things running the last five weeks I would have gotten on the next flight out of Kigali. For the first time, I just wanted to go home....I was done. Thank God for having no money!
My mule, Larry Dean Smith, was sent by God that night. There is no other explanation. I ran into the airport looking for a guy in a blue shirt and khaki pants. I was going to grab the bag and run, I was in no mood to be chit chatty! And then I met Larry. Either he was very perceptive or I was very obvious that I needed help. I was struggling. I sat down, got Max some food and Larry and I started talking. An unbelievably fascinating man with a life that I have only dreamed about living. He recharged me, energized me. He gave me hope. He asked for a ride to the Serena Hotel downtown. I threw Max in the back of the open bed truck and we headed to the hotel. Larry invited us for dinner and paid. How did he know I didn't have any money? How did he know I just needed someone to tell me without words that everything was going to be okay?
Monday morning Max and I were driven to the warehouse in our obnoxiously expensive and completely over the top truck. I stocked him up with water and went to do work in town with finalizing the NGO renewal. I was camped out at the Bourbon Cafe (the ex pat hang out) when Eben came to pick me up to get the NGO paperwork to the Department of Emigration. Eben.....Ebenezer Rulinda my Rwandan freight forwarder, friend, confidant, driver, translator and my right arm! Ebenezer's name means, "God has brought us this far." With my name, Kimberly, meaning "Warrior" we make a good combination. Eben reminds me of how far I've come when all I do is feel like I am waging a never ending battle.
We delivered the paperwork to the Department of Emigration late on Monday. We were force to rebind the original paperwork because it was a spiral bind not a thermal bind. I tell you I do not make this up. We went grab Max at the warehouse. Upon seeing this disaster of a truck rental Eben promptly sent the driver and truck back to Musanze and told me he would take care of us. Thank you God. I hugged him like he had just given me a home in Switzerland. We headed to Roger's house, aka our hotel in Kigali, to arrive home to no water. Max is a disaster. Sunburnt, filthy, sweaty and tired. He managed to get some cold water and cleaned up.
Tuesday morning, Eben picked us up and we headed back to the warehouse for day two of assembling bikes. After dropping Max, Eben and I headed to the Agricultural Expo where Project Rwanda had two bikes for hauling milk on display at the Land o' Lakes booth. It was so incredible to see the group of farmers around the bikes checking them out. One farmer came up and was talking to the others about the Project Rwanda bike he received two years ago. Again, Eben saves me by speaking seven languages. The farmer only speaks Kinyarwanda so Eben is telling me what he is saying. He is telling the farmers he used to use a truck but it was so expensive. He told them he only uses our bike now. He was my walking, living, breathing testimonial. What is so amazing that although I do not speak Kinyarwanda or French I can still sell a bike! It's not what you say it's how you say it and enthusiasm transverses language.
I was planning on leaving Wednesday and was just going to send the bikes ahead to the Rukara Health Center that evening with the shipping arrangements Eben had made. Thankfully I had money issues again....stay with me...the thankfully part will come. I did not have the $900 for shipping in francs and it need to be in RFW. It was supposed to be wired from the states, however, they couldn't do the conversion and get the money wired. After two days of work I was not going to let it end this way. Thankfully Max had sold four bikes to the guys at the OCIR warehouse that Tuesday afternoon and I had 400,000 RFW in cash. I scraped the last of my money, the ONLY money I had left in Rwanda in any account and we were able to come up with the 513,900 RFW for shipping. Wednesday night, Eben met the truck, loaded the bikes and personally rode with the truck to Rukara to make sure everything went smoothly. In the meantime, Rebecca hopped on a bus from Musanze to meet us so we could go out to Rukara in the morning.
Thursday morning we headed out to meet John Bridgeland from Malaria No More in Rukara about an hour drive east from Kigali. Once again Eben came to our rescue and drove us out to the health center.
This is where I cry....
We pulled up to a sea of green and yellow Project Rwanda bikes on the flowered lawn of the Rukara Health Center. I could not believe my eyes. There were 50 Rwandans all holding on to their bikes, the bikes they will be using to transport mosquito nets on behalf of Malaria No more. They were smiling and talking and pointing to things on their bikes. It was Christmas in June in Rwanda. As I walked across the dusty road to the lawn I came upon John Bridgeland, the man behind Malaria No More. The very first thing he says is, "You're Kim Coats! I saw you yesterday in a truck in Kigali. I knew it had to be you. There are not many blondes in Rwanda."
I walked around the corner of the fence and stepped into the crowd of Rwandans and bicycles. The smiling faces, the excitement, the pure joy of having a bike. All of a sudden everything came rushing to the surface. I was wearing dark sunglasses but I could not hide the tears that started streaming down my face. I kept trying to wipe them away without anyone noticing but they were too strong. I walked around the side of the building and for the first time since I've been here I was alone. You are NEVER alone in Rwanda. I sat on the step and cried. I sobbed. For all the struggles, we made this moment happen for these people. My struggles will never compare to the struggles these people endure every day. My struggles are inconveniences. Their struggles are life and death.
I cried for the life I am able to live here. I cried that I was strong enough or crazy enough to follow my dream. I cried because for the first time in a very long time I was at peace. This is my WHY.