Monday, April 27, 2009

Land the Way God Intended it to Be

Have you ever seen landscape that was so beautiful you became emotional? I remember the first time I saw the Grand Canyon even as a child it was completely mesmerizing. I recall walking through the town of Zermott in Switzerland feeling like I was walking through a post card. However, neither can compare to riding through the Rwandan countryside. You step back a hundred years and the developments, small terraced farms, pristine. This is how God designed the world. My personal beliefs on creationism were confirmed yesterday. Land cannot explode itself into this kind of beautiful.

On Sunday Jock, Kiki and I took off on the motorbikes toward Uganda. After leaving the paved road to Uganda we traveled approximately 40 kilometers around the Lake Bulera. Jock, Kiki and I were on a mission to find the man with the wooden bikes. Most Bizarre Foods is doing a spin off Most Bizarre Places and Rwanda is on their list for this season. As we traveled along the lake on dirt roads we came upon these little towns. There was no electricity or running water in the towns. People were washing their clothes in the stream in front of their mud brick homes. Being Sunday, the Rwandan women were dressed in these brilliantly colored and patterned dresses. To think they dress so fashionably, and do so while living in a mud brick home without a floor is quite amazing. And we worry about the dry cleaner misplacing a shirt.

We would stop from time to time to let Kiki speak to the villagers as to the location of the Wooden Bike man. Even without the modern conveniences and the distances between villages everyone knew this man and pointed us in his direction. The entire trip was completely surreal. I had no longing for the brick walled homes of overdeveloped Las Vegas no matter what conveniences I was missing in Rwanda. I was a witness to how the land looked thousands of years ago. Speechless.

When we were driving back into Ruhengeri we came upon a caravan of trucks with 20-30 people piled in the back bed of each truck. They were dressed in their Sunday finest. After weaving through 9 or 10 vehicles we came upon the lead vehicle, a car decorated in white with the bride and groom riding in the back seat. It was a Rwandan Wedding Procession. It was the end to a fantastic trip.

Luckily we made it back only minutes in front of a huge cloud burst. When it rains in Rwanda, God isn't kidding. When the rain stopped we all headed out for a human propelled ride! Jock, Kiki (Team Rwanda rider), Rambo and I headed out on the road to Gisenyi. Gisenyi is along the border of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). It's about 60 kilometers to Gisenyi. The road winds through the outlaying villages around Ruhengeri and then up into the mountains.

****An aside about Rambo**** Rambo is the guard for the Project Rwanda house. He is also trying to make it onto Team Rwanda Cycling. Rambo is an interesting man. He is thirty-one and was a soldier in the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) which was led by Paul Kagame, the man who is now president after defeating the Hutu and Interahamwe Extremists responsible for the genocide. Doing the math, that would put him at about 16 years of age when he was a soldier. He rode with me the entire ride as Jock and Kiki were doing some training and had left us behind. Talk about feeling safe! We tried to talk but I know about as much Kinyarwanda as he does English, however, there was still a connection due to the bicycles and the ride. Today, when I came back from another ride toward Gisenyi, he opened the gate and welcomed me with a smile and said, "My sister". He did not know that phrase yesterday.****

After a screaming white knuckle descent dodging cars, trucks and people we arrived back at the house just as it was getting dark. Again we made dinner together, said "grace" together and ate together. There's something to be gained by taking life down a notch or six. I have lived in the moment every moment I have been in this country. Everyone should be so lucky to experience this feeling.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Riding to Uganda

Ugh...can a girl get a night's sleep here! Some of you saw me typing and messaging on Facebook at 4:00am my time. I fell asleep last night around midnight and woke up at 2:45 and never really went back to sleep until 6:30. Unfortunately, breakfast was at 9:00 with another meeting. I've never battled jet lag this bad before. Tonight might be a different story. I finally got to ride...and not just any ride. More about that later.

Jake and I had a final debrief over breakfast and then met up with a man, Ndobo Magunga. What a great name! He owns two coffee washing stations and is looking to expand his business. I'm sure he will have a need for the Project Rwanda bike in the near future.

Checked out, said my goodbyes to Jake and jumped in a car to be driven to Ruhengeri, my new home for the next four months. It's about 100 kilometers to Ruhengeri which sits on the northern border of Rwanda and Uganda. All day I have been trying to figure out how to express in words the amazing scenery and people I encountered during our two hour ride. I didn't take pictures other than one because I was simply mesmerized. To explain it would be doing it an injustice. If you've ever driven from San Jose, Costa Rico to Jaco on the Pacific Ocean, think of that drive times ten. What made the drive so amazing was not only the lucious green countryside with it's terraced farms rising thousands of feet above the valley, it was all the people walking along the road. I really felt I had stepped into a page from National Geographic. The women walking along the road were dressed in long colorful skirts carry everything you can imagine balanced on top of their heads. There's not a fast food joint, billboard, or brick sound wall anywhere in sight! Heaven...

When I got to Ruhengeri I met Felix, the Project Rwanda assistant. He's Rwandan and he showed me around the house. We walked over to my new house which I'll be moving into in the next couple of weeks with the new Bike Director. Those are the pictures I posted. Then onto the warehouse where all the bikes are being stored. The goal is 2009 bikes in 2009. I have a lot of work to do.

When we got back to the house, Jock was home and the very first thing he asked me was if I wanted to go for a quick ride. Hello? Where's my bike? He put me on a carbon frame CR1 Scott road bike and off we went. We road through the town of Ruhengeri and headed north on the road to Uganda. I can't believe I was on a bike in the middle of Africa riding with the first American to ride in the Tour de France. Is this really happening to me?

There were so many people walking along the road. Instead of yelling at anyone that you are coming up on them you hiss. It will take me a while to get used to hissing at people but that's the appropriate response. It was interesting watching people stare. No one was ever disrepectful about it. It was simply completely out of their realm of thinking seeing two Muzungu's (white people) riding bikes down the road, especially seeing a female Muzungu...on a bike!

Jock and I were rolling down a fast hill when all of a sudden about 50 young kids, mostly girls come running from their school out to the road to see us. People here are so happy and their lives are so extremely difficult. I have such respect for these people. It puts everything in perspective. We should all be thankful we live where we do and have the opportunities we have.

One of the pictures on the new post is at the Ugandan border. We could have gone it, however, it's a single entry visa for $50. It is very surreal to think last week I was riding the loop at Red Rock and today I'm riding from Rwanda to Uganda.

After a hot shower to wash off all the malaria carrying mosquitos stuck to my body, Rebecca came over and Jock made us dinner. Pasta. Of course! Rebecca got here a few months ago. She's a Peace Corp worker. So...I will sleep well tonight. I had a great day, a spectacular ride, a home made pasta dinner and hanging out with Jock, Rebecca and Congo...the cat. Life is good!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Land of a Thousand Hills, Many Meetings and Missing Luggage

I woke up this morning in Rwanda. It would have seemed strange, however, I was preoccupied with the hope that my underwear and socks had dried enough overnight or not been eaten by the circa 1980's fan that was doubling as a dryer. Yes, I made it all the way to Kigali, Rwanda after traveling from Las Vegas, through Atlanta, to Amsterdam, to Nairobi and finally into Kigali, my luggage, however, did not. Twenty-two hours of flying and thirty-two hours of airport time carries with it a certain filmy not so fresh feeling. PLEASE, let that underwear be dry. I borrowed some shampoo and deodorant from the Project Rwanda Director I had just met for the first time this morning and hit the ground running.

By the way, Old Spice does not smell good on a woman just in case you were wondering.

Jake, the American PR board member from Minneapolis, and I met this morning at 9:00am (11:00pm my bodily clock time) to discuss our proposal with URWEGO Opportunity Bank. Then we made a futile airport run to inquire about the missing luggage, 57 bags in lost and found and not one red back from Las Vegas. I'm in my happy place, think positive....

We headed to Bourbon Coffee in the United Trade Center, right around the corner from Hotel Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda for those of you who do not know, the operator of this hotel, Paul Rusesabagina saved hundreds of Rwandans fleeing the genocide). At Bourbon I met Jock Boyer, the Team Rwanda Director, two gentlemen from Thousand Hills, an adventure tour company, and the former Project Rwanda Bike Director, Tim Mizura. I was brought up to speed by Tim on PR developments and we also talked about adding a bike tour leg to the Thousand Hills tours. Looks very promising.

Then, a mad dash for some clean underwear, makeup (didn't think that was going to be so difficult but then again, I'm a Mizungu).

Jake, Jock and I met with Owen, Tom and Mishuti, a very impressive Rwandan with big ideas and great execution. By 9:30pm, Jake and I finally grabbed some dinner and then.....

.....the call....the "We've got your luggage!" call...Happy Girl now wearing clean underwear.

Tomorrow, hiring a Bike Director, meeting with URWEGO bank, a business workshop to attend, just another day in doing what I LOVE!

By the way, google Mizungu.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Did TSA Really Just Frisk That 80 Year Old Woman?

Commercial airline travel will make even the most frugal, penny pinching bail out CEO reconsider navigating the gauntlet of negative publicity for the corporate jet. After a sleepless three hours in bed last night I arrived at McCarren to embark on this adventure. Yes, last night about 2:17am I did have a minor panic attack and asked myself calmly, "What the HELL am I DOING?" I really don't believe reality will hit until sometime in the next couple of weeks when I have a craving for a Zaba's burrito and my only option is goat...again?

So back to commercial air travel....ok, I understand trying to avoid the appearance of profiling but does the TSA really have to scare the coiffed blue haired lady with the cane by searching her like she was the godmother of the Mediaen Drug Cartel? Did she attempt to smuggle more than 3oz of Metamucil through security? I have learned to simply roll with it while flying. It is one thing I refuse to go all Type A over. My flight to Amsterdam is currently an hour late taking off, however, the captain just came out explained the situation and said with a good tail wind, extra fuel and the pedal to the metal (I swear, his words, not mine) we might still make it on time. Very cool! He even asked for the passengers help in getting on the plane ala Southwest style. See what a little love can do! The whole mood of the delayed passengers just did a 180.

I still can't believe that seven months ago I read an article about Project Rwanda and was moved to become involved, and today I'm getting on a plane to Rwanda to volunteer for Project Rwanda. When you tell yourself over and over again there's something else you're supposed to be doing in life pay attention to the signs. You could be on a plane to to speak!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Does She Have Any Regrets?

Today I was riding down Gowan, a perfect morning, warm, no wind, heaven. I was thinking about Rwanda and my trip when I came up on fire truck and ambulance. They had an elderly woman on a stretcher hooked up to oxygen. My first thought when I saw her was, "I wonder if she had any regrets about the things she did or didn't do in life." It's true, we regret the things we never did more than the things we did. Sums up going to Rwanda...I do not want any, "I wish I would have" regrets. If I was that woman on the stretcher I would want to be going out with a great big smile on my face...and a glass of good wine in my hand.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Just Being a Rhino

There is this really cute, incredibly accurate book published years ago by Scott Alexander, Rhinocerous Success. It's written at about a sixth grade level for busy adults to read while doing other things. The premise is, charge through life like a Rhino, have a thick skin, and what I'm embracing today, lay around in the mud. We all need to be Rhinos and lay in the mud some days and today is that day!

Life has been a whirlwind these past 7 days. Leaving my job, planning for the Project Rwanda Fundraiser, fighting with the insurance company for malaria medicine (that's an entirely different post!) has all added up to the previously posted stress zit!

I would do it all over again just to experience the outpouring of donations, well wishes, and be safe encouragements from yesterday's Project Rwanda Fundraiser. I am a truly blessed woman!

So, we did start with a little rain, maybe God was still on Eastern Standard Time. However, 39 brave souls showed up to ride yesterday morning. There were a couple of spills, and a variety of flat tires, probably due to our three times a year down pour. There was also a great vibe to the day and lots of generous cyclists.

(An aside...Las Vegas is often given a bum rap for the lack of community in our city. We work crazy hours, we're a very transient town where neighbors live side by side for years without knowing each other's first names. However, the Las Vegas CYCLING community embodies everything about small town, coming together caring. We are a COMMUNITY...just on two wheels)

Most of the riders did the 50 mile option and jockeyed for position in the raffle bucket for the five Project Rwanda/Team Rwanda jersey's and cap.

Afterwards we continued the party at Hennessey's downtown. Food was great, entertainment by my birthday bud Anthony Vernola was a blast as always, and the donations were...amazing. We finished the day raising $2,500 for Project Rwanda.

I would like to thank everyone for coming out, braving the rain, hanging out at Hennessey's and helping make yesterday perfect!

Asia Garrett, you are the Queen of Las Vegas Cycling Events. You do so much to promote cycing in Vegas and helping new people join the sport. No one knows you are actually one of the FASTEST women I've ever ridden with! Thank you!

Carole Noel, for cheerleading the riders and taking care of Mark. Now you know why we love cycling so much!

Newlyweds Marc and Lara Baker for jumping in and helping at Hennessey's. Be careful when you ask me next time if there's anything you can do to help I might just take you up on your offer.

Mark...for weathering the storm literally and figuratively.

So, I need to roll out of the mud. This Rhino has to grocery shop and clean house. I didn't say I was a WILD Rhino.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Can someone get me another glass of wine?

It's 9:30pm, Friday night, the night before the Bike for Bikes Fundraiser and I think I blew a fuse. The brain is definitely not firing on all cylinders. I completely understand why I would never go into event planning. I'd be dead by 43 1/2! I'm such a freaky Type A personality that wants to make sure everything goes perfectly (HA!) and everyone has a GREAT time. I need to just breathe. The weather will be fine...I did talk personally one on one with God this afternoon. Funny thing is, like I can do anything about it? I'm Type A...I might!

So, I'm just going to go downstairs, run the Wonder Woman toothbrush over my teeth, wash my face, put Clearisil on my stress pimple and go to bed. Tomorrow, as my friend Tim says, we will Rock the Rwanda. I like that. It's catchy!

10 days to Rwanda....