Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You Actually Can Live on Pringles and Wine

It’s Tuesday. I’m sitting in front of the Ecobank in Kigali waiting for Felix, my Rwandan assistant and go to man, to cash our check for $400,000...Rwandan francs that is. The exchange rate is 550 RFW to $1 USD so don’t get too excited. You do the math. That’s to pay for four guards, Felix and living expenses for the month. Thank God for the free container of Pringle wanna be’s at the Simba store down the street. I can see why they were giving away the tomato flavor….quite nasty, however, it will keep me physically alive until I can get back to Musanze. But why is it making my tongue feel like sandpaper?

How is it that when I had my “big time” career with all the money and perks I just couldn’t pull myself together enough to give it everything I had and then some? Yet, I work for free for Project Rwanda, pull routine 12-14 hour days and can’t wait to get out of bed and do it again tomorrow? Could this be what living passionately and living your dream is all about?

This morning I blasted out of bed at 4:45am for another trip to Kigali. A couple days will pass between blogs and I have so much that happens I don’t know where to begin on my blogs and really wonder if people will actually believe this crazy life I lead. Since David’s death on Friday, Jock made a trip to Kigali for meetings. Jock and I returned to Kigali on Saturday to attend a fundraising event with Suzanne and to just be with her. We left Sunday afternoon after meeting with Lawrence and Pat, David’s wife.


An aside…Lawrence….tears well up the second I think of him. He was David’s assistant. A big, strapping 6’2” Uganda with a heart even larger than his person. The moment he came up the stairs and saw Jock he broke down. His pain is palpable. I’m sure the tears he has cried could fill all of Lake Kivu. That is love…to give yourself over to one person, one friend, one mentor to the degree Lawrence did is to also risk such extreme heartache. If I learned anything from Lawrence and seeing him in such pain, ironically, is that I need to let myself let go, really feel, really love, let go and follow my heart emotionally. Yes, the pain is excruciating when something bad happens, but I am sure the good times while David was alive were truly lived. My prayers are with you Lawrence….


Sunday we arrived back in Musanze to quickly test to riders for the Tour of the Volcanoes in two weeks. Being Rwanda, being that Jock was leaving in less than 24 hours, we come home to no electricity and no water. Electricity is generally out here and there throughout the week, but a double whammy with the water….that is testing the new level of patience I have tried to embrace. I took down phone numbers, notes, to dos with a head lamp on sitting on the side of Jock’s bed while he packed and dictated. This is high tech NGO business operations in Rwanda!
Monday morning no electricity no water. All of a sudden we hear the guard running the hose outside. We gave each other this look like we had been on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, WATER!!!! But the water didn’t come out of the faucets. All of a sudden Jock realized, someone had shut off the main to the house, probably a rider not knowing any better. Did I mention it is very helpful to have a sense of humor in Rwanda?

So I follow Jock on his motorcycle with Rebecca and Olivier in the car we borrowed from Owen so we could haul his luggage to the airport. Drop of motorcycle number 1, head to MTN for a meeting for the Tour of Rwanda, check emails (remember no electricity at home means no internet), head to Owen’s, pick up Suzanne and motorcycle number 2. Go to see Euben to get custom info for motorcycle number 2 and leave it there. Head to airport, drop Jock off, head back to see Euben to get bikes shipped to Tanzania (it’s only 12:30 at this point). He’s gone, drop girls at Nakumata, the Walmart of Kigali…NOT! Go back find Euben, get into warehouse, beg to keep car another day as I’m going to miss the bus….I’m getting hungry….pick up Suzanne and Rebecca, drop Suzanne off wolf down crappy pizza they picked up for me…did I mention I had a piece of toast that day? Head back home on the ROAD OF DEATH!!! Drink a bottle of wine to calm down….where are those damn Pringles we bought at Simba?

And that brings me to 4:45 Tuesday morning….the saga continues

Friday, May 22, 2009

Heaven Awaits You David Pluth 1946- 2009

This morning Jock received a call from a very distraught Suzanne. It was early, her sobs were audible through the phone line. Our photographer, David Pluth, passed away last night. It was completely avoidable, it was completely useless, it was completely because we live here, in Rwanda, not in the USA, but in Rwanda. He dodged bullets in Uganda from the LRA, he filmed in Congo, he died trying to hike up to the source of the Nile in Rwanda. He could have been saved....


I had only met David last week. Suzanne, a friend of Jock's, had met David and they were looking for a couple of "tourist" looking aka Muzungus to film for the Rwandan Tourism DVD. We were Muzungu tourist enough for the video. I met David last week Monday, by Wednesday Jock and I were headed to Gisenyi to work with David and his partner Lawrence. The first time I met David at the Gorilla Hotel in Musanze I was "wowwed"....his life was a page out of National Geographic. He was a photographer and he was the first person willing to come in to Rwanda after the Genocide. He filmed all over the world. He was American, living in Switzerland, traveling the world. He was everything I always dreamed of being...the consumate world traveler.


We spent three days in Gisenyi, "frolicking" on the beaches of Lake Kivu. The entire time we were being filmed...cheesey, touristy...but those were some of his last pictures. I have honestly not laughed that much in years.  Rebecca, Suzanne, Jock and I like teenagers, laughing and joking, playing MTV Spring Break. It truly was a fun three days.


David, Suzanne and Lawrence headed out last Friday to Nyungwe National Forest to film. ORTPN the tourist group that had contracted for the film had provided the group with less then stellar accomodations. There was no breakfast or lunches available and the group was given limited water. They were supposed to receive a 4 wheel drive vehicle to take them most of the way in. In Rwanda, vehicles and relability are NOT synonomous. The vehicle lacked four wheel drive and they set out on foot carrying all their camera gear without any packers. According to Suzanne the "guide" recommended a short cut and they followed it. David missed the short cut and later collapsed on the trail, alone. When Lawrence, Suzanne and the guide found him he was already in peril. There was no one to call, no vehicle, no aid, no 911, no Life Flight. It was Lawrence and Suzanne carrying him out of that forest. He died last night.


He was only 64.




One of the last stories David left us with last Friday was from an adventure of his in Uganda years ago during the LRA uprising. He told us he wasn't very religious but this story made him believe in the power of prayer. He was filming on assignment when the LRA stormed a village and killed everyone in the village. Their driver was one of the people. He had been carrying a 50# bag of sugar that had saved him from the bullets to the back. He avoided death again when some local tribesman came upon him and wanted to kill him. He looked at his watch as he raised his hand. The tribesmen recognized him as the "Muzungu" driver and spared him. At the exact same time that he looked at his watch and mentally recorded the time, the village with David and Lawrence were offering up prayers for his safe return. From that point, David had considered that there might have been a higher power guiding their lives. I like to believe that David was comfortable with us and especially with the sprituality that Suzanne and Jock evoke that he felt safe sharing this with us.

David Pluth's last post on his Facebook page was.....

David Pluth spent a couple of days filming some amazing people frolic on the beach in Gisenyi, Rwanda. Doesn't get much better than this.

We were those people. I thank God that we made one of his last days one of his best days. His death not only reminded me the power of living my life passionately, but to ALWAYS remember to make others lives better because they crossed your path. You just never know.....

To see David's amazing work....www.fotografx.biz




Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Does Embracing Fear Make You Fearless?

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....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another Day with the Mayor of Musanze

My first major task I was charged with when I got to Rwanda was to make sure the paperwork got done for our NGO renewal. I'm thinking, no sweat. Although I've never set up a 501(c)3, I have started five businesses, dealt with business licensing, government registrations this is not my first rodeo. Well, obviously it is my first RODEO in Rwanda!


I have now been in Rwanda a little over three weeks and I am still not much closer to getting the NGO paperwork done. Number one issue....letters....letters of collaboration (huh?), memos of understanding, (if only I knew what I was supposed to understand). Memos on the relationship between Project Rwanda and the Vision 2020 Plan. Memo to EDP, and CRPS. I always thought I was a fairly bright, intuitive take charge kind of woman. And this country's NGO mouse maze has reduced me to an outburst in front of Felix on the road in Musanze. I'm sure he was thinking I was completely Muzungu. Crazy Muzungu.


The letter of collaboration that I needed from the Mayor of Musanze consisted of the following song and dance routine:


I got a copy of a similar letter from another organization and inserted Project Rwanda information. I take the letter last week to the mayor's office with a meeting Jock and Felix had set up. We meet with the Mayor of Musanze in his concrete block office with reject paint the color of bad imitation turquoise and he looks at the letter and says that's great he'll sign it as soon as we have a letter attached to it requesting him to sign it...WHAT? So, I race home write a letter asking him to sign the letter and then go back. I'm not letting anything else pop into the picture. I hand the paperwork to the Mayor's secretary at which point he says, "We need a different letter and this original letter will not work." About this time I give him the ticked off, get it done, Muzungu woman look from hell and he quickly reconsiders. Perhaps he was afraid I'd sit in his office glaring at him all day. I'm told to pick it up in two days, in Rwandan time that is equal to 3 1/2 months.


Two days later I return to pick up the letter and much to my shock...NOT, I'm told they can't sign it until JAF signs off. JAF stands for Joint Action Forum (the first time I heard him I thought he said Joint Action Farm to which I addressed their letter). The JAF office was across the street. I sprinted across the large expanse of dirt, mud and volcanic rock that doubles as the main thorough fare in Musanze and up into the the JAF. No one there. That's when my skills as a phone stalker come into play! I track down Mr. JAF, explain my situation and he agrees to meet with me that afternoon at 2:00pm, which is 4:30pm Rwandan time. I'm told I need someone to come visit the Project Rwanda house and warehouse and of course, being Friday I cannot get someone out there until Monday. Another week down.....


So, Monday rolls around and JAF is supposed to be out there in the afternoon and lo and behold they show up at my door at the exact time I'm walking out to help some coffee farmers with their bikes in Kinigi 12k from Musanze. Yes, Rwanda time 1pm is actually 9:30am. Stay with me it doesn't get easier. So, Mr. JAF inspector has to write a report to give to Head JAF. I can pick up Tuesday. Tuesday I call Mr. Head JAF and am told to meet him at 10:00am at his office. So I decide to walk over there at 10:30. I'm figuring out Rwandan time! Head JAF shows up at 11:15 and he's irritated with me for calling him three times wondering where he was for our appointment. $150,000 Rwandan Francs later ($300), I have the okay from JAF to give the okay to the Mayor to give the okay to Project Rwanda to get the NGO Renewal. Whew...one more stop back to the Mayor. Silly me, thinking I was home free. The Mayor is no where to be found and he is the only person that can give me the blessing. I'm told to come back the next day, now Wednesday. Wednesday, Mr. Mayor is still out. Where is he? Musanze is not the size of Chicago. Now I'm in a panic. I'm leaving for Gisenyi Wednesday night. As I rant and rave all the way down the street back to my house with Felix, my Rwandan assistant by my side watching his first Muzungu melt down he looks over at me smiling and says, "You'll get it done in a couple of days because you're a Muzungu. If you were a Rwandan it would be three months." Culturally, it is not okay for Rwandan men to question other Rwandan men in power. Even if they have a simple question of how to do something. Well, that never stopped me. Rwandan is also VERY patriarchal. They do have a majority of females in the government, however, women are still very much second class especially in the rural areas...but that's for another blog.

So by Wednesday night, no mayor, no letter and I'm on my way to Gisenyi for three days of filming for a Rwandan tourist DVD with some friends. I leave it in the very capable hands of Felix and pray. He returns Thursday and waits and waits and waits and then...he gets it signed! I texted him from Gisenyi and he responded with a "Yes, I have it!" As I shriek with delight and crack open a glass of wine to celebrate my phone vibrates. It is Hamza, the Rwandan I have working the paperwork from his end in Kigali. The Letter of Collaboration from the Minister of Sports which we need for the NGO renewal is not signed. They said it needs to come from the Minister of Agriculture. The saga continues....off to Kigali this morning!

I Actually Do Work in Rwanda...It's Not ALL Riding!

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Monday, May 11, 2009

June 13, 2008

Journal Entry June 13, 2008 (Yes, 2008) --

The other day I was looking through my journal trying to find a phone number I had quickly written down on an empty piece of paper. As I was flipping through the pages I came across a journal entry from June 13, 2008. Guess there is power in writing down your dreams....

6/13/08
My Dream.....
1. Involves my mission -- "My mission is to build, enliven and inspire the unlocked and unlimited potential for greatness in all people."

2. Takes in my love of seeing the world, traveling and experiencing other cultures.

3. Must incorporate physical activity: Biking, hiking, climbing

LIST OF FEARS
1. Money
2. No safety net in my old age -- again money
3. Don't know how to start
4. Becomes bigger than I anticipated
5. Takes lost of hard work, maybe working two jobs for a while

What's very interesting about all of this is that I had crossed through my list of fears. I wrote them down and then drew a big "X" through them. Eleven months later, I'm living my mission by working with people to better their lives through a bike, both the users of the Project Rwanda bike and the boys on Team Rwanda. I'm living in the most scenic country I've ever visited and everyday I get to bike with amazing riders. I ride every day with a former Tour de France rider. How did I get this lucky? I listened to the voice inside begging to be heard and I refused to embrace the accompanying fears....that's all!

I dare you to try it!!!!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More Musings over Musanze

More thoughts on my day to day adventures in Rwanda....
  • People are everywhere. You can never find a "quiet" rode to meander. With most cars priced out of the range of 90% of Rwandas, everybody walks. Yesterday on the road to Cyanika throngs of people covered the road. Rwanda is the most densely populated of all African countries. In 2005, the population of Rwanda was 9.04 million. It increased a million between 2000 and 2005 and they are projecting a growth of over 2 million people by 2015. With an average fertility rate of 5.74 children per mother children are everywhere. Currently over 40% of the population of Rwanda is under the age of 15. This is going to pose huge challenges for this underdeveloped country in the near future. We must find a way to bring in more enterprise to this tiny country. They do not need anymore NGO's distributing aid. They need businesses in the free enterprise market to produce jobs and spurn more businesses. If this does not happen the country will not move forward and may in fact decline due to the overwhelming population unemployed and impoverished.
  • The faces of the people....beautiful, inquisitive, shy, striking, solemn, haunting. On my ride with Team Rwanda yesterday on the road to Cyanika (Uganda) I see it all. The male adults tend to look and generally they say something which unfortunately I do not understand the Kinyarwanda. I am going to learn more Kinyarwanda simply because I have a feeling I might want to know what is being said about me. The women tend to look at me like I stepped off Mars. White skin and blonde hair in Rwanda is akin to six eyes and three legs in America. I always make a habit of saying Muraho (Hello) or Amakuro (How are you?) to people as I pass whether it's on my bike or walking. I try to make that connection. What's funny about many of the women, carrying their heavy loads of crops, wood or water on their heads, they will point at me and whisper to each other if they're in a group. If they are alone often they will tentatively raise their hand to wave at me. I'm definitely a curiosity to them. I wonder about their lives. How difficult each day must be for them. I complained about not having water the last two nights at the house. They carry water on their heads for miles and it's not even drinkable. And the children..............
  • Children are so beautiful. Most are barefoot which is disturbing because it is actually quite cool in Musanze as we are at approximately 5,000 feet in the Virunga mountains. A few days ago when I was riding along the road to Gisenyi I came up on a little girl carrying a jug of water. It was about 10:30am, she couldn't have been more than four or five years old and she was all alone. She just stared at me with these HUGE eyes as I approached her. Her mother was no where in the vicinity. This tiny girl was all alone on a busy mountain road hauling water to her home. I wanted to scoop her up and take her home with me. I'm not sure what the school system encompasses here in Rwanda. I don't know if it's state run and funded and to what extent. I see many children in their uniforms going to school. Everyone wears a uniform. For the boys it's generally a khaki shirt and shorts, the girls wear these royal blue dresses. However, for all the children I see attending school I see just as many who do not. Education is the only way out of the tiny mud huts of Musanze for these children. The life of a subsistence farmer, their potential future, is bleak. What causes me to get most emotional are the children. They wave they shout they want to run alongside my bike just to have me "fist bump" them. And they LAUGH...the most infectious laugh. Riding has always been pure joy for me. To ride in Rwanda is to ride in heaven.
  • Coca Cola Light, a poor saccharin laden substitute for Diet Coke, is hard to come by. One personal vice I have is a Diet Coke once in a while. Unfortunately, the only store that carries it is run by a man from the Middle East who charges me 900 Francs or $1.80USD for one can! I'm going down there today to strike a deal for the next four months on the price. However, perhaps I am fortunate it is so expensive at least I won't die like the lab rats at the FDA!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Musings over Musanze

I have so many unique experiences every day running around the town of Musanze where I live in the Virunga mountains of northern Rwanda I never know exactly which ones to share with you. By the end of my sensory overloaded day, there are just too many to choose from and since wine, even really bad wine, is expensive I do not have any way to help my brain unwind. I know, pathetic excuse, however, those of you who have non stop ADD brains feel and embrace my cerebral pain!

So....I just decided to give you a quick look at what I see and the questions I ask myself about this very unique place.

  • This is poverty. Real poverty. Not the "I can't get my Section 8 housing voucher from the city of Las Vegas" poverty. Homes made of mud bricks with dirt floors and no electricity and running water poverty. CRUSHING, INESCAPABLE. Only 4% of Rwanda has electricity. It is a very expensive luxury. I could rant for pages about the difference between Musanze and Anywhere, USA poverty. Yes, in the U.S. people do fall through the cracks, there are homeless people, programs lack funding to provide necessities but we have programs. There are safety nets. Often poverty in the U.S. is brought about through poor choice, choosing to have babies when you're just a baby, having babies out of wedlock, having five babies with three various baby daddies, choosing drugs, dropping out of government funded schools. Yes, these are choices. Poverty in Rwanda is a birthright for too many. They do not have schools they can attend to use education as their springboard out of poverty. Just getting enough food to survive requires an entire family's effort. They do not have the luxury of swiping their Food Stamp card at the local Terribles. My sympathy wanes for the poor in the U.S. Harsh as that statement may seem to some of you, come experience Rwanda and tell me differently.
  • The market. How do I put this into words? There is no brightly lit, wide aisled, thousand varieties of every variety of food supermarkets. There is the open air vegetable, staples and the odd assortment of third hand clothing market which I frequent daily. It's actually quite an adventure in chaos and for some odd reason I find it fascinating. I'm learning enough Kinyarwanda to be able to speak to the locals and to haggle for the best prices. I always draw a crowd of young children completely enthralled by the tall, blonde umuzungu. No problem picking me out of the crowd! I am still taking Felix with me to help navigate the dark, concrete stalls where vegetables just pulled from the earth that morning are on display. The women selling the goods are very interesting. We do the Muraho (hello), Amakuro (How are you doing?), Ni Meza (Fine) exchange and then they always ask Witwande (What is your name?), Nitwa Kim (I'm Kim). Trust me it's good to be on a first name basis with the good potato seller, Iesha. They want to connect with you. Maybe the bored checker at the local Walmart Supercenter sliding the hundreds of items across the scanner could learn a thing or two about real customer service from the women of the Musanze Market. Perhaps a genuine warm and hearty Murakoze (Thank You) with a smile once in a while would go a long way.
  • Food....well....fresh, sometimes too fresh, i.e., goat slaughtering on a concrete slab in the market. It is difficult to maintain a "balanced" diet. At this point I'm on serious carb loading. Protein equals goats in the market. As you can imagine I have returned to my vegetarianism ways. Dairy is expensive and comes in little paper pouches on the dry shelf of the "supermarket". That is not the slightest bit appealing. Guess I'm not having my bowl of Rice Chex this morning. My only dairy comes from a cheese they make here in this area. It is actually quite good. Avocados....picked straight off the trees in our garden. Unbelieveable. I never knew avocados tasted like this. If I could score a bag of Tostitos I would be in guacamole heaven. At this point, the only answer to Tostitos is the odd cans of random flavored Pringles on the shelves.

Hopefully, this gives you a flavor literally of life in Musanze. There is so much more to write about this little town that has captured my soul. I read this quote the other day, "God travels the world during the day, but lays His head to rest in Rwanda." It couldn't be more true!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For....

Yesterday as I was riding my bike down a gorgeous single track, (actually a heavily traveled foot path Rwandans use to navigate from their tiny mountain villages to town), I experienced a sense of deja vu. I had dreamt of this moment for months. Jock, Suzanne, Rebecca, Rambo and I rode about 33 kilometers to Le Foyer de Charite, a gorgeous retreat on the top of a long climb. We laid on the lawn relaxing and taking pictures and trying to recover. From there we had a screaming fast descent down to the dam and along some gorgeous singletrack. I remember seeing my first Project Rwanda video showing Tom Ritchey riding through Rwanda and thinking, that will be me someday. Today it was me!


The question I get asked most here in Rwanda is, "How did you come to work with Project Rwanda?" Every time I answer that question I marvel myself at the road I took to get here.

About a year and a half ago, I was transitioning into a new job, leaving US Foodservice in search of the next rung in the corporate ladder. I was frustrated and searching for something that would make me happy. I thought the advancement in my career would fill the void. I couldn't have been more wrong. Three months later, I moved to Sysco as a Business Development Manager. This appeared to be my dream job, good income, great potential, meeting, schmoozing and loving on new clients and yet that nagging feeling that I should be doing something else with my life kept haunting me. I must have voiced my wish for clarity to God a million times...or at least once a day. Then one day in September I heard the answer.


I was reading Outside Magazine, September 2008, and came across the story of Project Rwanda. I knew the second I began reading that I was staring at my life search answer head on. When you become crystal clear with yourself about what is important to you and where your passions lie, then ask for the life to manifest that quest and be open to the possibilities then most importantly, take action. If you do not take the action the signs may stop appearing. God can only beat you over the head for so long.

I was laser focused on the things that roused my passion: helping people, cycling and traveling. By knowing what moved me the article leaped off the page and the story into my heart. I was done. I started the process of tracking down the people I needed to get to in order to volunteer with Project Rwanda. Honestly, did I think I'd end up in Rwanda while I made the first contact, yes. I completely expected it. I cannot begin to tell you the serenity of going down the exact road you should be on, the one you've been traveling toward your entire life.

So, tonight I sit in a Rwandan cafe behind the hotel La Palme, with my new friend Rebecca blogging away about my journey, watching the rain, drinking a cold Primus and eating really crappy French Fries. I wonder if they've heard about the Lamb Weston Stealth long hold fry...I digress.....

Friday, May 1, 2009

Over in an Instant....

Half a world away I learned about the death of Danny Gans, a Las Vegas entertainer. He wasn't just any entertainer, he was Entertainer of the Year, 11 years running but most importantly he embraced Las Vegas as his home. His family was part of our community. He employed my friends. He was very generous to Las Vegas, donating over $2 million dollars to charities throughout the valley and now he's gone.

52...is young...my new friend helping me find my way in Rwanda is 52.

If I doubted what I was doing quitting my job and leaving in search of adventure in Africa, I do not give it a seconds thought now. How could I? Danny had everything. He had the "all American dream". He had a successful show, money, family, he appeared healthy and now it's over. Danny Gans Lived Large. We all are given the same 24 hours in a day. Are we using it well or are we spending time watching reruns or reality shows? I could go to sleep in Africa tonight and never wake up, or I could go to sleep in Las Vegas and never wake up. At least in Africa when I go to bed, I know to the core of my soul, that at this moment in time, I'm doing exactly what I was destined to do and I am completely living my dream. Tonight I'll rest peacefully.

If you didn't wake up tomorrow morning, could you say the same?

Am I Really Here, Doing This, With These People?

Tuesday, Jock and I took off for Kigali for a full day of meetings and business. Not my "normal" way to go to work, suit, heels, makeup, and jumping in my air conditioned vehicle to head to the Strip. Instead, I'm decked out in hiking boots, jeans and a motorcyle jacket and helmet. I did manage to still get on the makeup even though no one here wears makeup and Jock has put a time limit for this "Muzungu" to truly embrace Africa. Hey, a girl's got to be a girl!

Luckily the rain was intermittant. The road between Ruhengeri and Kigali is 100k of steep winding climbs and wicked pot hole descents. You never know when a person or a goat will step out into your line of travel. The pot holes are actually doubling as swimming pools for the locals. Jock again filmed portions of the ride which looks like we're part of a Bourne action flick. My loved ones will NEVER view this video. I felt remarkably safe, however, it was high alert the entire one and half hours into Kigali. My 5'8", long legged body looked like a praying mantis on the back of that BMW.

Kigali is a city with throngs of people everywhere. It's beautiful in its own Third World way. Our first stop, SPREAD. Did I mention Rwanda has the highest concentration of NGO's in Africa? It is an alphabet soup of acronyms. I believe SPREAD is an organization which is part of or receives money from USAID which are both NGO's where nothing happens ASAP. Welcome to aid in Rwanda.

At SPREAD, Jock and I met with Pierre Celestin Habyaramana, a pineapple farmer in Butare who purchased 20 bikes for his cooperative.

After the sale we headed to Bourbon MTN. Bourban Cafe is the go to meeting place in Kigali. There's Bourbon MTN, Bourbon UTC. We love our acronyms! We ran into an American who is currently head of the RDB (Rwandan Development Board) and Paul Kagame's right hand man. He was brought into Rwanda to assist the President in bringing Rwanda into the foreign investment game. I cannot reveal his name because unfortunately there are several major events about to come down which will move this country in one direction or another. It is a major turning point politically. Was I just selling food two weeks ago in Las Vegas?

A few business meetings later, I was introduced to Suzanne, a Brit, and dear friend of Jock's. She is an interior designer who read Bishop to Rwanda, about Bishop John and his place in the history of the Genocide, and decided she would move to Rwanda. I believe there is a pattern developing here, 40 something women, no children, at this point blondes, read an article or book and pick up and move to Rwanda. Are we missing something in our lives that would cause us to go to such extremes? Is it the hair dye?

Next stop, Bourbon UTC to meet with Nicole from Bizarre Places. The Andrew Zimmerman show Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel is expanding to include Bizarre Places and they have chosen Rwanda and will be featuring Team Rwanda and Project Rwanda in an upcoming episode. They will be filming May 24th in Ruhengeri.

My last stop of the day Jock and I parted ways and I headed over to meet Matt Mitro and Ben Stone from Indego Africa http://www.indegoafrica.org/. They are the founders of this incredibly efficient, results producing organization that helps woman sell their handicrafts in the international market place. They have expanded their program to include computer and business training. They are the epitome of the effectiveness of a Hand Up Program. Rwanda does not need anymore Hand Out Programs, or anymore acronyms for that matter.

We talked about their work, their passion for the women of Rwanda. Ben has taken some amazing photos and has found his second calling as a photographer. Both of these men were large firm attorneys and friends from college. They had a moment very early on where they questioned the status quo of life. Thankfully for these Rwandan women they did! As we talked over beers and quesadillas and sliders I realized that I could be sitting at any American restaurant doing the same thing, until Ben pointed out the rat running along side the area to the kitchen. Well, it could have been a Taco Bell in NYC.

My ride home that evening...let's just say I've truly embraced the No Fear mantra. In Africa, when you control your fear you experience the most amazing things. I've never seen darkness that black or stars that radiant or been so in tune with where I was, on the back of a motorcycle racing down the winding mountain roads thinking about my day.....

Am I really here, doing this, with these people?