Friday, August 21, 2009

One Simple Bike

Probably a couple of times a week I get asked by people, why I do this...why I put up with the bad hours, the crazy home dynamics, the frustrating bureaucracy, the difficulties that are inherent with living in a country like Rwanda. Some days I ask myself that same question.

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 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.

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