Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Year in the Life...

This is actually very fun to look back at my life in the past year.  I have some amazing friends...Johnny Muzungu, you're the best.  So many laughs with you, you made life in Rwanda crazy fun.  At least I can look back on my year, one of the most difficult years of my life, and know...I did enjoy the journey!

The random status updates pulled from My Year in Updates on Facebook....

Too Much…Where Do I Begin?

Another month goes by…why does time seem to speed up? I know I'm older, actually prefer the term "mature"…or would that be "maturer"?

Scott Nydam and I were talking during the Tour of Rwanda. He writes a blog…he has a story, a story in transition, a life in transition. We were comparing how difficult it is to keep up with the events of life in Africa. Seriously, some days I look back at the day and marvel it was only one day. We both like to write, to share our experiences, our perspectives, our opinions but by the end of the day we collapse in bed only to wake and start the whole crazy intense process over again. Then in a quiet moment, usually after a glass or two of wine we reflect on how we need to write but are so overwhelmed with where to start. Each and every story is more incredible than the next, especially when you start talking about the riders as Scott and his wife, Jennifer, had three months with the Team to experience the force of nature that is Team Rwanda.

The stories of the Team I am going to defer to the outsiders, the journalists, reporters and authors who accompanied our traveling circus during the racing in November. I know parts of their stories, more unbelievable than I even imagined. In the coming months, in cycling magazines across the world, in a very highly respected magazine in the U.S., their stories will be told. The tragedy of life lived through the genocide and insurgency, the triumph of a future in cycling. Every story heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time, soon the world will know the riders of Team Rwanda.

This is what I know….

Cycling is the all inclusive force in Rwanda. It is bigger than football (soccer for us Americans). Our job is to grow the sport, to continue to give kids who have nothing, something.

The Team needs us….at the closing ceremony as I was hugging Abraham. Abraham had joined the Team that night after being released from the Tour of Rwanda prior to the start due to inappropriate interviews with the Rwandan press. Seeing the loss Abraham felt at not being with the Team was difficult. It is an extension of his family whether in his stubbornness he will admit to it or not. He needs us, we need him.

As I released my bear hug embrace on Abraham, Kiki grabbed my hand. He held my hand, looked straight into my eyes (not the easiest thing for a Rwandan to do) and said, "Thank you for coming back. Thank you. I am very happy you came. All of us are very happy. Thank you." Culturally expressing gratitude like we do in the U.S. is not akin to the Rwandan culture. Kiki said thank you….I walked away so he didn't see the tears about to stream down my face. He needs me, I need him.

Cycling, Team Rwanda, is changing Rwanda. The days Adrien spent in the Yellow Jersey galvanized the nation. Everywhere people were shouting, Niyonshuti. The second day Adrien kept the yellow, the Minister of Sport and the Cycling Federation, Aimable, Thierry & Festus, were all under the VIP tent waiting to hear the announcement. When they heard Adrien was still in yellow they erupted in cheers, hugs, showing emotion atypical of Rwandans. I had to turn away, again tears exploding from my eyes, as all these men grabbed Jock and hugged him and thanked him. Jock was overcome with emotion. So many years of struggle for this one PERFECT moment in time, everyone kissing and hugging and celebrating. Pure joy.

Gasore…Alex…his story which is about to be known to the world is more powerful than any of us imagined. I knew there was something special about this kid; I knew there was something in there. I pray every day for his future, for his ability to continue to overcome. I pray he can reach and surpass the success Adrien has achieved. When I was leaving the hotel in Kigali after the race I walked into Adrien's room where all the boys were receiving their portion of the prize winnings. I had to say goodbye. When I told them I was leaving they all assumed I was just going back to Musanze and that they would see me in the coming weeks. When I told them I was going back to Kenya, Gasore looked right at me, started shaking his hands back and forth and said, "No, no Kenya." That was all it took….time to seriously reevaluate what I was doing and where I was living. He cut straight to the point, straight to my heart. No, no Kenya.

I have no idea how we are going to make all this happen, how we will get enough money for the Team, to continue our work, to grow cycling in Rwanda. I have no idea how I will support myself after the end of January. We are always overwhelmed, understaffed and scraping by financially. But if we don't make this happen, who will? You will understand after you hear Gasore's story….

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Home To Rwanda

A couple of weeks ago I hopped on a plane to Rwanda.  Nairobi and the chaos and the people and the aggressive life in that city, coupled with my intense loneliness was just too much to bear.  I needed to go home.  When had Rwanda become home?  Wasn't I homeless in a sense?  I do not own a "house" in Las Vegas anymore since I short sold it almost a year ago, another victim of the Vegas housing collapse.  I rent month to month in Kenya.  I have stuff scattered across three countries.  Home is where you feel loved.  I needed to know Rwanda was still home. It had been almost four months since I had seen Zulu, Kongo, the riders, my friends almost two months since I had seen Jock and Max.  Was it still home?

I flew in on a Wednesday morning as the wheels touched down I knew this was where I needed to be at this moment.  Rwanda, always so beautiful from the plane.  It still fills my heart with a sense of hope, a purpose to my life, the reason I live in Africa when I hear the landing gear come down and we approach the tarmac.  A long drawn out breath escaped my lungs.  I do not have this sense when I land in Kenya or any where else in the world.  Only Rwanda.  My love/frustration relationship continues.

I walked off the plane, no baggage checked, it's Africa, I travel light, a backpack my only luggage.  I jump on the back of Jock's motorcycle and it's as if life never skipped a beat.  We run around Kigali on errands and within a couple of hours we are heading up the hill out of Kigali to Musanze.  God, I missed this.  I missed being on the back of this motorcycle, weaving up the mountain road, dodging people, goats, buses.  It is so beautiful.
I was worried Zulu, our puppy wouldn't remember me.  It had been since the first week in July.  As I got off the bike all 125+ pounds of him tackled me like it was just a couple of hours since we had last seen each other.  Mama was home.  I missed that little bowling ball noggin head boy.  We would be inseparable for the next four days.  I had a lot of loving to give and he had a lot of girl coddling to catch up on.  

I was so happy to see and hug Max.  We had had so much fun riding in California and just hanging out.  Rwanda is not an easy place for Max, but I completely admire his commitment to Jock and the Team.  Most young men easily would have bailed by now and Max always says to me, I will not leave Jock.

The riders were all out on a training ride.  I was glad I came a day early so I could see them at camp.  I met Jennifer Nydam, Scott's wife and the replacement "girl" factor in the boy's lives at camp.  She is a godsend! Jennifer and her talented husband gave up three months of their lives to live in Rwanda, train the boys and for Jennifer, do stinky laundry every day of camp.  She is energetic, dynamic, talented and has a huge heart.  

The second I heard the motorcycles beep their horns and Joseph open the gate I went out onto the porch.  We hadn't told the boys I was coming just in case something fell through.  I just stood on the porch and waited.  As each of them came in and we saw each other, bikes were dropped and boys and I were yelling and hugging.  I couldn't have imagined a better homecoming.  The missing factor was equal on both sides.  I just wanted to hug them and never let go, each and every one of them.  Their smiles so beautiful.  I have never felt to loved.

I spent that first day getting to know Clark, Scott and Jen and loving on Zulu, Kongo and the boys.  Clark is another giving human being, also donating his incredible coaching talent to helping the riders prepare for the Continental Championships and the Tour of Rwanda.  A former National Cyclocross Champion in the 90's Team Rwanda has the best of the best teaching them how to be the best riders in Africa.

I also just hugged on the riders....a lot.  Actually I needed it more than they did on this day.

Thursday morning I made breakfast.  That is really all I wanted to do.  I wanted to cook for the boys.  Of course, I tend to never do anything quietly, it quickly became a full on Moki force of nature as I realized we were not prepared, no eggs, no oatmeal nothing ready for the morning.  What?  No bananas?  I ran to the market, got back, made breakfast for 20 riders and by 9:30am was on my bike training the four girls who were there for training for the Continental Championships.  I was teaching them how to pace line.  Didn't matter to me, I was on a bike, riding with the Team in Rwanda.  All was perfectly right in my world.  

So...for the next couple of days, I rode, I loved on my animals, my boys and just breathed....the stress evaporated.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  I was home.

In four days I loved, laughed, spent time with friends, met the dynamic Peb Jackson (formerly of Saddleback Church) and Isaac Slade, lead singer of The Fray, had a close call death defying motorcycle accident and lived....lived the life I love.

I was talking to my ex husband the other night.  I was telling him about the documentary movie they are finishing at the Continental Championships this week Rising From the Ashes.

As I was telling him about the movie I became so emotional, talking about Adrien's shot at the Olympics and everything happening in the next month.   He simply said, "I know where your heart is." 

He is right....Rwanda is not only where my heart is, my very unconventional "family" in Rwanda is my home.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

MOTIVATION - "Be Great, Powerful Beyond Measure" - Best Inspirational Vi...

"Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God; your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." -- Nelson Mandela

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 14th Blog

This blog will have to wait for the book...or until I leave the country.  Never good to end up pleading your case in a foreign country police station...

Time for a vacation...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Random Thoughts, Observations and Things That Make Me Go Hmmmmm

Did you know, Kenya is known for its flowers?  Kenyan flowers, particularly roses, make up 25% of the marketshare in the European Union.  Roses make up 74% of that total 25%.  And they are spectacular!  I have never seen so many varieties of roses .

I like roses, but I'm more a Sunflower kind of girl.  You just can't be sad when you look at a Sunflower.  Sunflowers and purple anything are my favorites.  I bought these flowers at this sprawling makeshift stand not too far from my house.  I bought them on Saturday, today is Wednesday and they are still gorgeous and I only spent equivalent of $5 for the entire lot.  I think I will have fresh flowers in my apartment every day!  
Random Hmmm... #2

Spinners lie!  I went to my second spin class last night.  It was much better than the first one I went to but it still isn't a real ride....I know happy place, happy place, make do, lemonade out of lemons yada, yada, yada.

Ok, so my classmates, don't know them, look like nice people, very diverse but all have one thing in common.  When the instructor says to turn up the tension, they ALL fake it.  Sure, they may look like they are turning up the tension, putting their hand over the knob and turning to the right but I believe it's all slight of hand.  How do I know?  I am one of the most fit people in the class, one girl might be more fit, but I have a good 20 years on her.  As we're doing "hills" I'm the only one really cranking the pedals and feeling the push/pull of the "hill" while the rest of my mates are spinning up the hill like they are Thor Hurshovld or Mark Cavendish at the end of the sprint of Stage 3 in the Tour de France.  I'm sorry, no one can spin those pedals that quickly if you really are turning up two levels every two minutes following the instructors directions.  They lie!  So, next time you're in a Spin Class do not get frustrated as your classmates outsprint you the entire hour...they have no tension.  Just do your hills!

Randomness #3....If you are the driver of a Mutatu (African minivan bus stuffed with Africans like a can of sardines careening down the streets of Nairobi on a course sure to end in carnage) and the back of your bus says "God Knows, God Loves" it's probably not a good idea to give the "finger" to the driver to your right who you are cutting off in rush hour traffic.  God does know and you are going to Mutatu Driver Hell if you're not careful!

Random Thought #4....I know how blacks must feel in America at times, being in the minority.  I was in downtown Nairobi yesterday and as I sat in the truck with George waiting to meet Victor I realized I was the only white person in downtown, in that section at that moment.  It was odd.  It was uncomfortable in the way that I knew I would never fit in.  We do tend to gravitate to our own kind.  Here it is not just color but mostly culture.  I really wonder if black Americans have ever felt the same way I felt at that moment being a white American in Kenya.  The big difference, the really sad difference is that being white I still get preferential treatment even in a country where I'm a stark minority.  That does not sit well with me and has always bothered me from the special treatment head to the front of the lines at the banks in Rwanda to being served first in Kenya at restaurants.  Why does color still matter?  I guess I don't know what it's like to be a minority.

Final hmmm.....the best thing you can ever do for yourself is live outside your comfort zone.  Yesterday I saw this older gentlemen getting off a motorbike, a real BMW 1150GS motorbike, at the Mall where I was having lunch.  There it was, common ground.  As the man sat down I went over to his table, introduced myself and made a new friend.  He's a Brit, based here in Nairobi working on logistics for large organizations like USAID.  He just got here three months ago from a stint in Afghanistan.  His dear friend a UK Aid worker was just killed in AfghanistanIf you watch CNN, you must know the story.  Sad, simply tragic.  Everyone has a story, in Africa they just seem to be more intense, but we all have a story.  Next time you're sitting alone, step outside your comfort zone and learn about someone's "story".  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Quality of Your Life

I received this quote from Forest, Forest Gump:

"The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own.  No apologies or excuses.  No one to lean on, rely on , or blame.  The gift is yours -- it is an amazing journey -- and you alone are responsible for the quality of it.  This is the day your life really begins." 

I have read this quote a dozen times over the last couple of days.  I think we all have a hard time letting go of what we think we "should" be doing and grabbing a hold of what we really want to be doing.  It's that proverbial leap of faith.  Sometimes we say we don't really know what we want to be doing, but I think that's a lie.  Deep down, all obstacles can be removed or diverted if you really want.  

One thing I know is that I'm too old to not be doing what I want to be doing and to be doing it all alone.  The older I get, the more I live this less than normal life, I have come full circle to knowing what is important to me.  The adventure is not the journey, the people you meet along the journey and the ones that stand by you during the journey are the true adventure.  

I am not willing to sacrifice relationships or time lost with the ones I care about.  That has been the most difficult realization while I am here trying to do my best to help others.  

Last night I was on Facebook and I was chatting with Max.  Max is with the Team in India at the Commonwealth Games.  Out of the blue he simply typed, "I miss you Kim."  Max is like a son to me...or maybe a really younger brother.  I miss him, miss my animals in Rwanda, miss the Team...and all the people that make up my friends, my "family" in Rwanda.  

I just got off Skype with my friend, Kim, in Aspen...I miss my friends, my "family" in the US.  How lucky am I to have two circles of family in my life?  I feel loved and safe and secure and happy in both worlds.

...and here I sit between them in an apartment in Nairobi alone.  

....-- and you alone are responsible for the quality of it.  This is the day your life really begins.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Your First Bike

My first bike was red, metallic red, with a white basket on the front.   I loved that bike.   I remember a picture of me riding that bike on my birthday.  I was maybe six.  I was wearing a cream colored dress with rick rack on the bottom of the dress where the hem had been let out, again, because I was just not born to be petite.  My first real bike.  

My dad taught me how to ride.  No helmet, no protection on concrete.  That's just how it was done in the 70's.  I still remember that moment when he let go and I went flying down the street and I got it!  I knew how to ride a bike.  That was the beginning of my love affair with bicycles.  

My next bike was a yellow Schwinn 3 speed.  I rode that bike to school until it just wasn't "cool" anymore.  I must have been that incorrigible age of 13.  

And then, the Bianchi.  The black Bianchi, it was Italian, it was beautiful and I spent every dime I had saved working at babysitting jobs and Godfather's Pizza.  I think it was $300 which in the early '80s was a fortune.  I wanted to be Italian just like in the movie, Breaking Away.  I still have that bike, my dad now rides it.  

Then, businesses, too busy....riding was a part of my distant past.

Then like an old friend who knows you better than you know yourself, riding entered my life again in my early 30's.  I had injured my knee running and training for a marathon.  After numerous cortisone shots and continual pain I could not shake my doctor suggested I try a new sport.  Thankfully my best friend and running partner had Plantar Fascia and couldn't run either.  Diana suggested we get bikes.  That was 2000. 

I bought a blue Cannondale road bike, R500, steel frame.  My first ride was 12 miles within a month we did a metric century (62 miles) and I was hooked.  For the past 10 years my life and now my career, my vocation revolves around riding.  This summer, with the help of some good friends with great connections, Max, my adorable French mechanic built my dream bike, a TIME Instinct, Carbon, Campagnolo Super Record 11 Gruppo, Reynolds Carbon wheels, LOOK carbon pedals.  It is beautiful...and it sits hanging in my ex husband's garage while I spread the love of bikes to the masses in Africa.  For now, it waits...others need to know the thrill of that FIRST bike.

Sunday afternoon I spent the day with three young Masai women from the Mara.  They, like the man yesterday from Zimbabwe on the street, like the boys of Team Rwanda, have stories, horrific, sad stories.  But Sunday they were learning how to ride a bike.  Like my dad 35+ years ago taught me, I returned the lesson, to young women in Kenya.

The importance of the bike....

Several months ago my favorite columnist and author, Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about a young boy in Zimbabwe, Abel

Last month, the amazing company I work with, World Bicycle Relief made a little boy's dream come dream along with hundreds of other school children in America.  Abel and his classmates received bikes.

Today, I received a copy of a letter that was sent to Brian, the Country Director for WBR in Zimbabwe from a boy who received a bike:

Never underestimate the Power of the Bike!

The video below is from this week's Road Race in India at the Commonwealth Games.  Adrien spent 2+ laps with the best riders in the world.  A kid from Rwanda, with a past that defies a future, but yet, he rides and he rides like nobody's business!  Go Adrien....a bike changed his life and is changing the country of Rwanda. 

commonwealth games 2010 day 8 cycling Road Events

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some Days....I Just Don't Want to Know

This morning George and Joice came by to pick up the truck to go to the western side of Kenya for meetings and for George to finalize the deliveries and supervise the assembly of the remaining bikes for the World Vision order.  That means I'm hoofing it for the next few days since we don't have our second truck yet.  Actually, I don't mind.  I scheduled all my meetings with people and organizations in downtown Nairobi so a 30 minute walk is much better than the 45 minute cab ride.  Plus, I need the exercise since cycling is not an every day occurrence any more.  

I was looking forward to a day on foot...a day to see the city without fighting the traffic.  I saw too much.

When I was leaving my place right before the infamous Cluster F Roundabout there's a bridge over a stream.  Not your bubbling brook type of stream, more like a sewage seeping, communicable disease river flowing right through the city.  As I looked down I saw three young boys washing their clothes.  Making sure their clothes were clean in the stream of sewage.  This is their only way to wash their clothes.  This is in the middle of the city, down the street from my high rise, semi high cost apartment complex filled with expats and Indians and mid level Kenyan government officials.  This simply cannot be.  This cannot be their life.

I stopped on that bridge and took a picture which for some reason did not end up on my camera phone.  Just a few hours earlier I had been reading my Bible and one of the devotions was about Mother Theresa and her selfless work with the poor, the rejects of life.  I couldn't help but think...does it ever make a difference.  It never ends, not in Africa.

As I'm getting into town heading to the accountants this painfully thin but neatly dressed man (in the second hand clothes African way) is walking next to me as I try to "frogger" my way across a large intersection.  He's walking slightly behind me and then I hear "Obama".  Yes, Kenyans adore Obama.  He is their hope.  I stop and laugh and he looks right at me and asks, "Are you American?"  Ok, white, blonde girl with backpack and a coke light in my hand, how did you guess.  He says, "I am a teacher and I tell my kids that because the president of the US is black there is no more racism, no more KKK.  Is that true?"  The visions of American utopia never cease in Africa.  I do not make excuses and do not paint a Pollyanna picture.  I simply tell the truth, that yes, there are people in America who are racist, yes, the KKK still exists and sadly, I did not tell him this....I think it has gotten worse since Obama was elected, not better. 

Most of the time, I tend to not be overly chatty.  Nairobi is a big city, a somewhat sketchy place and being alone, being a woman, I play my cards close to the vest.  But there was something about this man.  We made it across the street and he started talking about his life.  He's Zimbabwean.  Bad luck of the draw.  He then shows me this piece of paper.
My eyes fill with tears as I read this.  The ZANU-PF is the political party of the infamous and deliriously evil Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe.  This is an actual document showing how he had to flee Zimbabwe, travel through Mozambique and Tanzania, just to spend three months trying to find a life in Kenya.  After three months, he's out and must return to Zimbabwe.  He's a teacher.  A simple teacher...

I ask more about his story and what happened to make him fear the ZANU-PF and this is what he shows me... 

Susan is his sister, the baby he's holding his niece.  This is the child from those rapes.

Some days I just don't want to know this much....every day I don't want to know this much....

So he asks if I have some food.  I walk down the street to the grocery store and I ask him what he needs for him and his family.  He takes a 5kg bag of rice.  I ask if it is enough, he takes another bag and then asks if he can get a jug of cooking oil.  

Ten dollars of rice and oil was all he wanted.  He never asked for money.  

There has never been one day in 44 years in America that has been as hard as the life this man lives every day.  Some days...I just don't want to know...there's not enough I can ever do to change much in life in all actuality.  It's just too much...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bikes, Bandits, Crashes...Just Another Day in Kenya

Bikes....I love bikes, I love getting people on bikes, I love riding MY bike.  I am completely obsessed with bikes.  I really enjoy working for WBR.  I just hired two new sales reps and WBR has given me the freedom to "run" a business here with all the support I need.  Every day I travel around Nairobi and the outlying countryside (which I much prefer) talking about the advantages of our Nyati Bike.  We are in the process of finally getting the last 400 bikes out to World Vision thanks to the delivery this week of our container.

Ah...the container, the saga...

Our container with 835 bikes was supposed to be here over 10 days ago and it just arrived.  I have heard some crazy stories in my food distribution days of product delays due to truck issues but truly there is nothing like transport in Africa.

The container was initially delayed when it wasn't transferred from port.  I believe it was temporarily misplaced because it is easy to misplace a large 40 foot container, isn't it?

Finally gets through customs and on a truck days later.  

The truck the container is riding on gets in an accident on the road in between Mombassa, the port city, and Nairobi.  The truck is totalled, the driver taken to the hospital and the container is sitting on the side of the road.  We get reports it's still intact.  

The container sits on the side of the road for two days guarded from bandits by the local police (and that's not always a good thing either).

Container gets picked up and put on another truck and then spends a day at the police station as more reports must be filed.

The container finally resumes its journey to Kisumu.  Kisumu is where the WBR assembly plant is and is also on the opposite side of the country from the port of Mombassa.

The truck hauling our elusive container breaks down outside Nakuru (nowhere near Kisumu).  After a "Come to Jesus" phone call between Transeast (the shipping company) and me and Jameel (my freight forwarder) and me, Transeast agrees to drive straight through and wait to off load the next morning.  Transeast as well as most trucking companies do NOT drive at night due to the plethora of unsavory characters along the roads waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey, i.e., your typical African Road Bandit.  Transeast decides to drive at night.

The truck is attacked by bandits.  I am serious, I cannot make this up.  The drivers fend off the bandits and keep our container safe.  I think they were afraid to get a phone call from crazy muzungu woman!

Container finally makes it to Kisumu all cargo intact and apparently unharmed from the accident and the bandits.  

To continue our theme of bikes and crashes, I successfully combined the two last week on my Tuesday Urban Assault Bicycle Ride of Death through the streets of Nairobi during morning rush hour.  Luckily it was more a bump and me pounding his hood, I was already anticipating the slow speed connection of biker and car, so I was prepared.  As much as I love to ride, as much as I need to ride, this riding is not helping.  I was so stressed by the time I got home I collapsed on my bed and sobbed.  I hate riding in Nairobi.  I know "hate" is an extreme word, but it is the word that best describes my feeling and dilemma of riding here.  I'm still on the hunt for a safe, decent place to ride that doesn't entail sitting in traffic to get to for hours, however, it still comes down to not riding by myself, which I actually like.  All the safety factors are just overwhelming at times.  Traffic, bike jackers, bad neighborhoods....hell, can't a girl just ride a bike!

So to complete the circle of crashes, Thursday I had an incident with the WBR pickup truck.  I was driving from downtown to my place, a 30 minute walk, a 45 minute drive at rush hour.  It was quickly approaching the witching hour.  I enter the Cluster F Roundabout off the major highway up to the road leading to my apartment.  I am in the far right hand lane, exactly where I'm supposed to be.  (Not that any type of road rule or etiquette or common sense apply in Kenya).  I go around and start to leave the CF Roundabout and in the corner of my eye I see this SUV coming at an angle right at me.  I figure he's just another one of the thousands that has cut the roundabout and is trying to squeeze in creating the ever present gridlock.  He's coming right at my front wheel.  Next thing I know I have a moto taxi on the side of me yelling at me that I hit the car.  I look in my rear view mirror and see a SUV still at this crazy angle and the bumper lying in the road.  I turn off on the first dirt road only about 50 meters up from the CFR.  I sit there for over an hour waiting for the person I hit or the police or anyone to tell me what to do.  George, Head of Logistics for WBR, finally arrives on foot and laughs when he sees the side of the truck.  He said it is obvious that the guy hit me by the scratch down the side of the truck and he probably picked up his bumper and left because he didn't want to pay for my truck damage, which was actually quite minimal.  Of course George laughed at my visions of Midnight Express and told me to go home and be careful.  All I can say, running boards are a MUST in Kenya!  That and a big ass bumper with a gnarly trailer hitch!

Yesterday, I decided to make a break from all the chaos that is Nairobi and headed to Mt. Longonot.  It is an old volcano with the top blown off that you can hike up to and hike around the rim.  There was not a better feeling than leaving Nairobi at 5:45am sans traffic and escaping into the wild of Kenya.  The further I get from this city the more I relax.  The hike was steep but when we reached the rim the view was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  Nairobi is right on the edge of the Rift Valley.  The Rift Valley is the most awe inspiring sight I have ever witnessed.  The expanse is ALL Africa.  If it was clear, which unfortunately never seems to be the case due to the pollution and smoke, you could see for hundreds of miles.  

My guide was this really interesting young man, Daniel.  We talked Kenyan politics, life outside Kenya and his dreams for his country.  He was also impressed that I did not suck on the hike.  Unfortunately, American's lack of fitness continues to create a very negative impression in tourist areas throughout the world.  The more we hiked the more he pushed, like we were in a race, which was fine with me.  I'm not a meanderer hiker and like to hike for fitness.  I can look at all the beauty and still hike with a purpose.  I like Kenyans, they are ambitious, outgoing and very friendly people.  They are fun to be around.  So, my adrenalin is pumping and we're cruising around the back of the rim of the crater far from the actual "park" area when we come up on two charcoal runners.  THIS is why I would never hike alone.  Charcoal burning is decimating the forests and wreaking havoc on the environment in Africa.  The charcoal trade in the DRC is actually killing people over the rights to the charcoal.  These are not friendly social people.  They are dangerous.  We meet two of these guys and they are both carrying machetes.  Daniel obviously is cautious.  I am thinking I am going to die over a piece of charred wood.  They exchange a conversation in Swahili and we are on our way.  Daniel said it was good that he was with me.  WHAT?  Like skinny white girl is going to fend off two charcoal runners?  I am not Lara Croft!  He explains that because I am obviously a tourist they do not want to harm anyone that might draw attention to what they are doing.  I am "off limits".  As much as I was thinking this was like a hike in Las Vegas, make no mistake, it was a hike in Africa.  


I just watched that movie "Julie and Julia".  (I know, this is an ADD transition and this conversation doesn't go with anything).  Of course I loved it because I love everything FOOD!  Love eating, love cooking, love cooking shows, chefs, restaurants.  I am a consummate foodie.  But, that has nothing to do with this...I liked the premise of the book/movie, that Julie wrote every day about each recipe.  I like to write but I always seem to be stymied because so much happens in my life here, so much craziness and emotion and frustration and joy that I simply don't know where to start and then weeks pass and it gets harder to write because there is more and more stuff to write about and then I shut down and stop writing. is my pledge.  There are 82 days left between now and the end of the year.  82 days...82 blogs....82 stories big, small, insignificant, life changing...every day a story.  

This is my life...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coming Up For Air

Three weeks ago this Friday I landed at the Nairobi airport not as a pass through passenger, which had been the extent of my stays in the glorious Nairobi airport, but as a resident of this city.  Nairobi is the epitome of the "teeming masses" cities of Africa.  Its roads clogged at every artery, people traveling every which way, by every mode of transport, foot, bicycle, car, truck, Mutatu (never, ever risk your life on these overstuffed, poorly maintained, rap music thumping death traps) and even donkey and over sized wheel barrow.  The smell of diesel lingers throughout the day and everything appears to have this film of soot.  A 20k drive from my house to one of the only areas to ride safely both from a road standpoint and a roving thug bike jacker standpoint can take as few as 30 minutes on an early Sunday morning to 2 hours during the evening commute.  Needless to say, I am out of my comfort zone.  The girl who craves wide open spaces and quiet rides to regroup and gather my thoughts and find my sanity north is living the complete antithesis life.  I cling to the brights spots that remind me, the present sacrifice of quality of life has its shining moments.

Last Tuesday when I was staying up in the northwest area of Kenya in a small town on the shores of Lake Victoria I had the opportunity to get to know one of the assemblers from the World Bicycle Relief warehouse in Kisumu.  He's a young man named Alex.  (I know, there appears to be a pattern with young men named Alex.)

Alex is always laughing.  No joke, there was not a moment in three hours in the car that he wasn't laughing, or smiling or praising his wife, his family or his life.  His spirit was infectious and he instantly engaged me.   Alex is an assembler, however, he wants more responsibility and is trying to improve his skills on the computer and in sales.  He loves to sell and is so proud of the WBR Nyati Bicycle.  He would jump out of the truck any time we stopped even for a few minutes to explain to the rapidly growing crowds the benefit of the "Nyati".  

During our ride through the rolling hills of Western Kenya, we talked about everything from family planning to Martin Luther King.  Unlike Rwanda, there does seem to be a conscious effort to plan for a family.  Alex has one wife, in Kenya it is not out of the ordinary to have multiple wives.  He said she is his one wife, until death do they part.  He has three children, two girls and a boy and the one reason he agreed to "up" the family above the agreed upon two was simply that he wanted a boy.  His youngest is his boy.  He adamantly stated his family is complete and in his eyes "perfect".  He spoke several times to his wife along the trip and every time was like listening to a school boy profess his "crush" for the girl who had captured his heart.  It was at the same time beautiful to my ears and crushingly sad as I thought about my life alone here in Kenya.   

Alex also asked me many questions about America.  He had heard from his uncle the proverbial streets paved with gold scenario.  I did not burst his bubble, America is still the most amazing country in the world, however, I felt he should know that all is not perfect regardless the country.  We talked about the economy and the poor in America, which still in my mind have it made compared to poverty any where else in the world. And then he asked about Martin Luther King.  I was shocked at first that this Kenyan who had never been outside his country knew about Martin Luther King.  I told him as much as I knew.  I have studied King's life extensively.  His peaceful protests that changed America are historical.  I often wonder what America would have been like had his life not been cut short.  I told Alex the good and the really ugly history of America.  I spoke about the Civil Rights Movement, the KKK, the lynchings, the segregation of everything from water fountains to restaurants to hotels to education.  Martin Luther King transcends decades and continents and continues to influence even a young man in Kenya.  It was shocking even as I spoke to think about what the whites did to the blacks even in a "civilized" country like America.  

And then we moved on to African history, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa...Alex simply said, "Madam knows so much about Africa."  Madam, he called me Madam all day and every time I evoked an image of a brothel outside Las Vegas.  I did not have the heart to tell him that his term of respect made me conjure up such inappropriate images. 

I spent five days traveling around western Kenya meeting with interested groups, coordinating a delivery of 700 bicycles to World Vision, and lugging a Nyati with me everywhere to demonstrate why this country, these people need THIS bike.  For five days I was in my element.

And then I returned to Nairobi.  I had to start wearing my mouth guard again because I'm grinding my teeth so severely every night I am destroying my $1,300 crown I just had put in for the previous round of grinding.  It is interesting as you age, how you begin to really know yourself and know the triggers that go against your grain.  

Luckily I dove headfirst into my work here.  I really love working for WBR.  I believe strongly in what they do, who they are and what they stand for in Africa.  I am so blessed to have this experience and know that I was put here for a reason.  Perhaps, to toughen up a bit or maybe even to soften up a bit.  We shall see in the coming months.

And yes, I have ridden my bike a bit.  Not enough that's why I'm just a bit "off" but the riding I have done through the forests along the edge of the Rift Valley has been spectacular.  The guys I have ridden with are fun and I think just a bit impressed that the old American girl can keep up.  Of course, I am the only girl.  I just need to enjoy the moments when I do get to ride to brace myself for the in your face onslaught of chaos that is Nairobi.  

Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sleep Deprived Thoughts on My First Three Days in Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya reminds me of Johannesburg, extremely confusing to navigate, crowded, traffic congestion that makes I-15 look empty at 5:00pm on a Friday, but also with all the amenities that you can find on any American Walmart run.  Yet, you still know you are in Africa where only minutes outside this sprawling city people are hauling goods on carts with mules and the reason I am here...bikes.

Initial thoughts....people are friendly, every business seems to be run by Indians, there is a much larger Muslim population than I would have even expected.  They are not trying to burn the Quaran here so apparently they have one upped the whack a doo American pastor from a little town called, Intolerance.

I don't know where I am going to ride which is freaking me out and one of the major reasons for my continued jet lag.  I don't ride, I don't sleep.  It's not so much an activity thing, it's more a mental thing.  Riding soothes my overactive, stress producing brain and I haven't been on my bike in almost a week.  

The company I am working for is big thinking company backed by a strong support system.  I have such an amazing opportunity to sell thousands of bikes with the tools to help me do that.  

World Bicycle Relief was founded in 2005 by FK and Leah Day, in response to the Tsunami.  They were moved to help people get back on their feet and to provide a source of income to the survivors, a bike.  They moved their efforts to Zambia and recently entered Zimbabwe and Kenya.  To date they have distributed over 70,000 bicycles.  I am the new Country Director for WBR in Kenya and my goal is to sell 12,000 next year.  My personal goal is to sell 15,000....15,000 more Kenyans on good bicycles makes me very happy.

Saturday I attended my first event after arriving Friday night and hitting the sack for a solid 1 1/2 hours of sleep.  The jet lag induced manic phase throughout the night helped me unpack my three large bags (yes, they all arrived intact including my bike) and settle in.  Mike, the current Country Director, George and Joyce all went to an agriculture show in Naivasha to demo and sell bikes.  Naivasha is about an hour and a half drive from Nairobi into the Rift Valley.  Like most places in Africa the drive into the valley was breathtaking.  After a busy morning and early afternoon the rains came and essentially ended the show a bit prematurely but all in all it was a success.

Last night I slept on and off with a myriad of dreams, some very uncomfortable, but I slept.  Today, more work with Mike bringing me up to speed, a shopping trip to the Walmart of Kenya, Nakumatt (bares no resemblance in inventory to the Kigali Nakumatt, there's actually stuff you want to buy here) and then a really good Sushi dinner with Mike and more business.  

I head home thinking, I'm going to sleep like a baby.  Turns out like a baby with colic!  So, why not be productive since I'm going to be worthless tomorrow.

Thoughts....I live in an apartment, very nice one, in Nairobi.  I'm still a country girl at heart.  This will definitely take some getting used to.  

Mosquitoes...back to swatting, hearing the buzzing, skin welts and fear of malaria.  People ask me if I liked living in Las Vegas.  Lack of mosquitoes and bugs alone would do it for me.

My world is bizarre even to me at times.  I still can't believe I'm here, doing this, living out my childhood dream.  Saturday I'm going to a bike race to award some WBR bikes for prizes.  After we drop them off Mike and I are going to run over to the Rhino park for a little impromptu safari before we head back to present the prizes at the end of the race.  

My cousin Anne just "friended" me on Facebook.  We haven't talked in years, maybe even a decade.  I was one of her bridesmaids 22 years ago.  Still lives in Michigan with her high school sweetheart and three kids.  Sometimes things like that make me wonder why I just can't seem to settle down, settle in and be fulfilled like she is.  My physical wanderings are simply a manifestion of my emotional/mental wanderings.  Being settled for me seems unsettling for everyone else.

Thoughts...I don't do "alone" well.  I prefer a home filled with friends and family.  This is my test.  I will need to learn to embrace being on my own...until I make a bunch new friends.

Leaving never gets easier, moving never gets easier and the first two weeks in a new place always tend to suck a little bit.  My military moving sister tends to agree so that's my touchstone.  

"There were always in me, two women at least, one woman desperate and bewildered, who felt she was drowning and another who would leap into a scene, as upon a stage, conceal her true emotions because they were weaknesses, helplessness, despair, and present to the world only a smile, an eagerness, curiosity, enthusiasm, interest."  -- Anais Nin

That is can I get an Ambien?  I think I need to sleep....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Africa: Part Two

I'm sitting in the airport in London waiting on my flight to Nairobi, Kenya.  I know things have been a bit quiet on the blog front, decompression the past two months was my MO.  Yes, Kenya...No, Rwanda.  Long story....

About a month ago when I was decompressing in northern California, simply enjoying my new bike, riding the coast and spending time with friends, I was introduced to Dave Neiswander, Africa Director for World Bicycle Relief.  I had become friends with Mike Kollins back in October 2009 when he came to see the gorillas in Rwanda.  It was a completely random meeting and I found it ironic at the time that he was doing in Kenya with World Bicycle Relief was essentially the same thing I was doing in Rwanda with Project Rwanda.  We stayed in touch via Facebook and when things were beginning to wrap up with PR I sent him an email simply asking him to keep an ear to the ground for opportunities in Africa.  I knew I was not finished with Africa or distributing bicycles in Africa.  My passion for the power of bikes in Africa continues to grow.  Mike set up a meeting for me with Dave in July.

Everyone always asks what it is like to be back in America.  For me, it was nice, but I knew from the first week I needed to find my way back to Africa.  Yes, the modern conveniences, the amazing riding I was doing on my brand new Time road bike, the great food, seeing friends and family all wonderful.  But in the end, I knew I was not ready for a move back to America on a more permanent basis. 

I am truly blessed.  I was given another incredible opportunity to be in the bike business in Africa and to do it with a company like World Bicycle Relief is a dream job.  Funny how a few years ago I was trying to figure out how to live abroad and do something with bikes and be able to support myself.  Today, that is exactly what I do, thanks to an incredible support system of friends, family and even an ex-husband back in the states and a network and support system abroad.  Life is remarkable.

I am back....the blogging is back...the adventure continues.  Stay tuned.

(The new picture on my blog was taken by Leah Day, World Bicycle Relief Founder.  It is true, a pictures says a thousand words.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If You Go Hungry It's Not My Fault

If You Go Hungry It’s Not My Fault

Within in the first ten minutes of meeting Tania, the wife of “Motorbike Chris”, she took me in her house, a complete stranger, showed me the kitchen, looked me point blank and said, “If you go hungry in this house it’s your fault.”  You know whenever you are a guest at someone’s house and they say, “Help yourself” but you never really know if they mean it?  There was no questioning the meaning behind Tania’s words or attitude.  If you were hungry, open the refrigerator and eat.  I have loved Tania ever since.

I have noticed through my travels that South African’s are a unique, hospitable, fiercely South African group of people.  Every South African I have met over the past year has had the same impact on me. 

Tania and Chris are born and bred South Africans.  I love hearing them speak in their native language Afrikaans.  Their young son Nicus is being brought up in the Afrikaans tradition.   I met Chris and Tania last December when I jumped on the back of a motorcycle for a two week adventure through Africa.  Chris deals in Motorcycles and had found five BMW’s for our group.  I think Tania thought I was crazy.  She was telling me of her last motorbike adventure with Chris where after falling numerous times she walked 6 kilometers out of the sand in her motorcycle boots vowing never again.  Sand and mud are not the terrain passengers like to see coming up the road, as my collarbone still bears the Tanzanian mud wipeout scar.

That first time six of us stayed with Tania and Chris for several days prior to setting out and NONE of us went hungry.

The second time I saw Tania was this past February when I was in Pretoria to pick up Zulu.  Again, the call, we’re coming down and getting a dog, do you mind if we stay with you?....and our new puppy?  Of course we stayed. 

Last week, with a super cheap $500 roundtrip special on Rwandair air and the side deal of an extra 30kg bag allowance (once again notoriously working the Rwandair staff for weight!), I got the opportunity to see Tania and Chris one last time before leaving Rwanda. 

Tania set up a hair appointment for me the morning after I arrived with her “hair girl” and also set up a spa day for Saturday for us.  What I love most about Tania is she FORCES me to take time for myself and reminds me that I’m a girl and its okay, after spending all my time with boys, to just be a girl.  After she picked me up from my hair appointment and we had lunch, she insisted on dropping me off at the mall….oh my God…a mall? And made me shop….and made me promise to buy something for myself.  Yes, I am now the proud owner of a pair of jeans that is not two sizes too big.

Every night after work, she would crack open a nice bottle of wine and we’d just sit and talk and gossip and just be “girl”.  We would talk about everything from the increasing collection of motorcycles in her garage to living vicariously through others…her through my crazy, sometimes reckless adventurous wanderings to me living in her beautiful, comfortable home with perks only a first world life has to offer.  What I loved most was hearing her talk about her family, her Afrikaans upbringing and how much she loves her country.

South Africa is a unique place.  I jokingly call it Little America since I can find pretty much anything there that I can find in America, what is different though is the cloud of danger and the amount of security that consumes their daily life.  Houses in South Africa are gated, dog patrolled, electric fenced, barbed wired fortresses.  You lock your doors in your car at all times and do not drive slowly through neighborhoods at night.  It is always on everyone’s mind….be vigilant.  South African’s seem to have an easy going, very welcoming persona but make no mistake, they are guarded.  They are always watching.  If I had to be in a difficult or dangerous situation, give me a South African in my foxhole.

Tania grew up under apartheid, however, she is passionate when she says, “We are all South African.”  Talking about the problems that plaque her country she becomes emotional.  I think like most of us who live in Africa, sometimes you just get so emotionally spent with hoping and working to see things get better while continuously faced with governmental corruption that at best stymies growth in general, at worst, uses the loyalties of “their people” to line their pockets.   Unfortunately, the majority of people they profess to be representing continue to waste away, uneducated, unemployed and living in shanty towns.  It is clearly evident in all our talks about the problems in Africa that Tania wants to see black South Africans really have equality.  The only way that will happen for South Africa, for Rwanda or for any of these African countries is through education.  Sadly, education continues to be more of a buzzword than an actuality.

I love the passion South African’s have.  I love their hospitality.  When a South African invites you to stay at their home, share a meal, there’s no question they mean it.  There is a couple living and working in Kigali who are South African, who have housed me more often then I can count.  Belinda’s favorite saying is, “There’s room at the inn.”  They cart me to the airport and let my janky SUV take up drive way space.  When I got back from Tania’s, Belinda was there to meet me at the airport at 11:00.  Every girl should be as lucky as I to have South African girlfriends!

So….Saturday afternoon, after my manicure, pedicure, hot stone massage, facial and lunch….I’m walking down the steps to the Spa Reception area to pay my bill.  As I get to the counter, the staff is all standing there smiling, I look over at Tania and shake my head, “No, you didn’t”.  She’s just smiling….once again, she took care of me.  I have learned, over the past year of living like I’ve lived….it is okay to just let someone take care of you once in a while.  Tania gave me more than a gift of a great spa day, she is a friend that really understands Africa, why I do what I do and go without so much, and she fights the same fight in her country in her way.  We both have a passion for doing for others to see things just a bit better…she is a kindred soul.

So….if you ever come to my house (not sure where that is at the moment J), please know, if you go hungry, it’s not my fault!

Friday, June 25, 2010

You Are What You Eat…and Other Reflections on Team Rwanda and Cycling

I never set out to work with Team Rwanda.  When I landed here in April 2009 as a wide eyed, save the world volunteer my sole focus was Project Rwanda and the marketing, sales and distribution of the PR Coffee Bike (which we promptly made a "Cargo Bike" in the name of marketing!).  Of course, as a competitive cyclist, I was always interested in the Team, that's just how us cyclists are, we love the thrill of the competition and the rise to the challenge, overcome mentality of athletes, particularly our kindred souls in cycling.

I was up to my seat post in NGO renewal paperwork, transportation logistics for the cargo bikes and simply trying to organize and run the PR houses.  I am a "systems" thinker and the act of organizing and streamlining is not simply a job it is my M.O.  I physically and mentally cannot have it any other way.  I LOVE files, balancing my checkbook to the penny and sitting back to observe a well oiled machine, whether that is a business, an NGO or a cycling team.

Because I was a cyclist, Jock asked me to do things when he was away to help with the Team.  All of these tasks came on top of the ones I already had committed to with PR.  Besides my organization freakdom, I am a workaholic that cannot say no to another task.  (I will be getting professional help for this!).  My first job was driving the support vehicle (we didn't actually have one at the time and had to rent a sputtering, bald wheeled, Rwandan pick up) for the Tour of the Volcanoes in June while Jock was in California.  I was hooked.  The 2009 TOV was the first race for Gasore.

 Alex (Gasore) Blog: It Is About the Bike June 2009

Throughout last summer, I worked on organizational projects for the Team in my spare time.  I couldn't help myself.  I was asked to do some "Visas" for one of the Team races and I spent hours looking for passport photos, paperwork, addresses, etc.  To the organizational freak that is sheer torture.  I remember asking Jock for information and my thought was, it would be so much simpler if we had all this info in one place.  I spent weeks assembling online files of photos, data on the riders, paperwork, forms etc and now instead of hours to process visa/race paperwork it now takes me literally minutes.  It has helped the Team be more efficient and the Rwandan Cycling Federation gets a file update monthly.  Now, when a new rider comes to camp and is tested, his ID card is scanned, a file is opened for him (love those files) and all his test data is stored.  I keep copies of passports and one master data sheet for races which is revised for each race showing only those riders attending.  When the Team heads to an international race, Coach gets one file with copies of all the vital online paperwork, registration, visa copies, etc.  It has made traveling so much easier, especially since traveling with Rwandans always require visas.

After my vacation in December, when camps were starting up again and racing season was beginning, I talked to Jock about working on upping the nutritional content of meals during camp, particularly, breakfast, a meal that had generally consisted of the horribly nutrition deficient, cardboard white bread and bananas.  I know as a cyclist that would be a guaranteed bonk breakfast for a 100 mile training ride.  About that time, like an answer to a prayer, I receive an email from a young woman living in Kigali, Jill Rizzi.  Jill is a young woman suffering from Lupus, who took her disease and fought it solely through nutrition.  I liked her from the start and I loved her belief in organic, real foods for health, nothing chemical.  Her search for the right, nutrient dense menus based on our lack of protein and access to variety in Rwanda was impressive.  Jock met with her and hired her to come to Musanze for a camp.  Jill introduced the riders, and the new Team cook, Petty, to a whole new way of eating and awakened all of our taste buds.  Max's favorite is still "Asian Night".  

Sadly, Jill was only with the Team a couple of months, and unfortunately, needed a full time income and was forced to return to the U.S.  Her impact is still felt in the amazing salads Petty makes and the food sources we have secured with the fish and egg markets.  I would recommend Jill and 3HealthyChicks if you want to get healthy and stay healthy and want to do it the nutritional way.  Visit Jill and her company on Facebook.

3HealthyChicks on Facebook

As time progressed, I started riding with the Team (I can keep up with them during warm up) and learned a little bike maintenance.  The riders laugh and shake their heads when I actually do fix something on their bikes when Max and Jock are not here.  It is just not a "girl" thing they are used to.

Jock also started riding with the Team, swapping motor pacing for pedal to pedal coaching which has produced great results.  He goes through the strategy before the training ride using the  little bicycle guy figurines to demonstrate the race tactic they will be training on.  Through a book called the Talent Code, brought over by one of our board members, Dan Cooper, the power of visualization especially considering the language barriers with the riders has improved their training rides.  

The level of the riders has increased substantially with the addition of new talent.  Gasore is coming into his own and won the first stage at an international race earlier this year.  Nathan is the Team Captain a role he naturally gravitated towards and the position the other riders respect.  His younger brother, Nicodem, is also a natural born leader, most proficient in English and always taking care of the younger riders like Gasore.  Both are riding strong.  

Other new riders include Eric, a tall strong young man who showed great potential in the recent Tour of the Volcanoes.  Team Rwanda's newest standout however, is Innocent aka Rocky aka Rockstar.  Six short months ago this young man was spotted on the road to Gisenyi by Max and Jock.  Today, after a two month stint at the UCI Training Center in South Africa, he is one of the strongest riders, taking all five sprints at this past training camp.

In just one month Nicodem and Gasore will be traveling to the UCI Training Center in Switzerland for a one to two month stay at the center.  If Gasore can lose the extra 5-7kgs of weight he's carrying in his upper body from years of hauling potatoes, his watts per kilo will be over 6, in the pro range.  

Just this past week we had our last training camp before we all leave for the U.S.  Training camps have become a lesson in organization and focused routine.  

The Riders come in on Day 1, their rooms made up with clean sheets and a towel for each rider.  They dump their dirty riding clothes in a large bucket outside their rooms on the way to the shower.  Those clothes immediately get thrown in the washer (Hallelujah for a big ass American washer Team Rwanda bought a couple of months ago!).  After their showers, they get a snack of fruit, hard boiled eggs, avocados and whole wheat bread (if we can find it!).  After their snack, all of the riders pick up their dishes, wash them and straighten up their eating area.  Never is a word said, never do they argue over whose turn it is to wash the dishes, it just happens.

On Day 2, they are fed a full breakfast, generally consisting of cracking 4-6 dozen eggs, oatmeal, beans, rice (brown if we can get it), fruit and avocados.  During breakfast, Jock tests new riders.  Veteran riders such as Nathan and Nicodem help Jock with setting up the Velotron.  They have taken on this responsibility without being asked....again, it just happens.  Max is working in the garage during breakfast preparing the bikes for the training ride.  

After the training ride, the routine starts anew, showers, clothes washed and off to lunch.  After lunch it is cycling race video time.  Again, visualization of races such as the Giro, TDF, Tour of California, etc., is instrumental in their growth as a tactical rider.

Dinner, English lessons...bed.

As the Team prepares to leave on Day 3, they are once again fed a huge, protein/carb balanced breakfast, they do the dishes, check their bikes, strip their beds piling all the sheets in the hall, pick up pictures I have printed off for them (they love the pics!) and say their goodbyes.  Remarkably, nothing is ever said about who does what, it all just happens.

I am grateful for my experiences with the Team.  It has been amazing to have now driven the support vehicle in four races.  In the last race, last month's Tour of Volcanoes, Max was again in his spot in the back seat ready to change a wheel, hand off food and water, or repair a disabled bike.  As we pulled into Kigali he laughed as he remembered in last year's TOV that I had missed the turn into Kigali (rookie move).  He told me, "This year, you drive good, and this year my English better."  How true....I think we just all understand one another and appreciate what we all do for each other, riders included.

I hope to be back driving a Team Rwanda support vehicle in this year's Continental Championships and Tour of Rwanda, even though I still can't speak French! If not....maybe I'll just start racing, you're never too old.

51 Year Old French Woman Wins National Time Trial



Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day...My Hero, My Dad

The hardest thing about being so far away are days like today...holidays, days when you wish you were with your family. These days, however, remind me of all the things I should have said, all the things I should have done to let my family and friends know how much I do care, how much I do love them and how incredibly much they are missed.  I've never been good at letting the ones around me know how much I count on them and how much I need them.  Now that it's been over a year without them, I long for the simple holiday meals and token gifts and the act of just getting together.  When you have those traditions sometimes your loved ones just know.  When you can't participate in the traditions, the BBQs, the meals, the gift exchanges, you come to realize all the things you take for granted must be said.  They must be said because there is that possibility whether in your Africa or across the street that you might not get the chance, that fate might intervene leaving too many feelings and sentiments locked away forever in our heart of good intentions.

Today my dad will know how much he shaped the person I am.

My dad was born in the early 40's in a small town in Michigan (right in the curve of the base of the thumb, Michiganders know exactly where this is).  He was fourth in the birth order, two sisters, a brother, my dad and my Uncle Tom.  He is Polish, he was Catholic, now he's a Lutheran, a hotbed of family feuding for 30+ years.  No one in his family had gone to college and neither did he.  However, he did know he wanted to get out of Michigan.  Unlike his family, he believed there was a world beyond the car manufacturers, parts manufacturers and mills of Bay City.  So he joined the army and ended up in Korea.  As fate would have it, he landed smack dab between the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.

When he returned from his two year military stint, he met my mom, a you understand the conversion!  They married when they were 22 and had me, their firstborn at 24.  (Ok...I cannot imagine caring for a child at 44 much less 24!  That seems so young to me.)

My mom was a schoolteacher at the time, just shy of a college degree.  My dad could fix anything.  He had a friend in Chicago who got him a job at a forklift company repairing forklifts.  That is what he would end up doing his entire career.

My dad was the first and only child to move out of Michigan.  Chicago, a six hour drive might as well have been Africa.  No one ventured that far, ever.  My dad just wanted a different life.  

My dad made very little money when I was born, but believed it important to have a mom that stayed at home.  Maybe it was just the time, mid 1960's, before the working mother, but I am so grateful for my two parent, stay at home mom upbringing.  My dad and mom were very frugal and always lived below their means.  It is a trait I still carry personally to this day.  

The earliest story I remember my mom telling me and my brother about our dad was how he spent a day walking home from work in Chicago to our home in Harvey, a suburb, during the Greatest Snow Storm of 1967. No cars could travel and he hitched a ride with a Chicago policeman for a while, but spent most of the day on foot trudging through the snow to get home to his wife and six month old girl.

From as early as I can remember, my dad worked two jobs.  He was always finding ways to make extra money.  He would sell things, dumpster diving at factories for copper and other metals to resell.  He worked on everyone's car and never seemed to sit in one place more than a few minutes.  He still doesn't.  I remember him coming home from work around 5:00, having dinner, his favorite meal being pork chops and applesauce (will never eat a pork chop again in my lifetime!) and heading back out to Job #2.  He would get in late, after I was in bed and leave again before I was up.  During the week we did not see him much, but he was always there on the weekends.  My favorite weekend tradition, my dad reading the Sunday comics to me, while I sat on his lap.  

We had the BEST vacations growing up.  I never realized we didn't have a lot of money until much later in life.  My parents were always on the go.  Camping was FUN, I never knew that camping was a necessity on their small budget.  One year, my dad took his vacation over the entire summer.  He took my mom, brother and I to a campground in Indiana, where we were joined by our best friends and neighbors, the Rozemas.  He took off every Friday and Monday and drove to Indiana to join us.  This lasted most of the summer.  I must have been 9 or 10 and it was and still is one of the BEST summers I ever had.  

We also did the total Griswald vacations complete with the wood grained station wagon, pulling a pop up camper, with four bikes and a canoe on top, spending two weeks at a time traveling through the west and then traveling east.  When I would listen to my cousins in Michigan talk about going to their cabins and never any further I knew I was lucky.  Even without money I was seeing the world....or at least a lot of the US which for a nine year old was the world.

When I was 11 my dad came home and said he had a friend who could get him a job in Kansas.  We were moving to Kansas.  Kansas?  Are you kidding me?  I live in Chicago, the greatest city in the world and we're moving to Kansas?  Already into the preteen, know it all stage, I was not happy and I was a rebellious little spit!  My dad, he was smart.  He knew what was best for his family.  At the time I thought he was mean and evil, today it was the best move he could have made.  He knew that staying in Chicago, with the high cost of living was not the best for his family which now numbered three.  My brother Paul was nine and my sister Danielle was two.

My dad moved us to Overland Park, Kansas.  Overland Park was the largest city in the middle of Johnson County, the time, the third wealthiest county in America.  With all that wealth came excellent neighborhoods, safety and the public schools that could rival any private school in America.  My dad kept working two jobs.

As I grew up and tried to fit in as any teenager does, I suddenly realized, we really did not have much money.  I looked at all my friends with nicer homes and dads who didn't have grease under their finger nails and all of a sudden I was aware, in that teenage, ignorant, self conscious, self absorbed way that my dad was different.  Even as I write that sentence my eyes well up with tears at the thoughts I had years ago as a teenager.  

What is interesting about all of this is that my uneducated dad valued education which is why we moved to Kansas.  Today, my sister is a doctor.  My dad who never had a chance to see the world in his early years, has two daughters who have been to more countries on more continents then all of our childhood friends combined.  My dad even has a passport filled with stamps from European and Central American countries now.  My dad the forklift mechanic with grease under his nails....

I remember the turning point for me as a teenager.  I was on the track team in high school and in an important race I was anchoring the mile relay team.  I recall looking in the stands for my parents at one point, it was an early afternoon and at that time both of my parents were working.  I will never forget the sound of my dad's voice as I rounded the last corner in front of the home stands neck and neck with a girl from a rival school.  I could pick out his voice as if he was the only person in the stands.  My dad made it to my track meet, sitting in the stands in his greasy clothes among all the white collar, upper middle class moms.  I knew then how lucky I was.

My parents always told my brother, sister and I that we could do or be anything we ever wanted to be.  They taught us to be independent, feisty and strong.  They instilled a strong work ethic and a certain financial smarts to keep us from also living above our means.  My dad showed me personally through our family the value of hard work.  All his hard work has paid off.  

My dad still works like crazy, even though he doesn't have to.  He just does, he enjoys it and he enjoys helping people.  He always Christmas when my dad and I were leaving a mall in a suburb of Chicago we came upon a woman with kids standing next to her car.  Her tire was flat and my dad pulled up and stepped out to help her.  He changed her tire and when she went to give him some money for helping her he refused.  As we walked back to the car, she grabbed my hand and pressed the money into my hand and told me to give it to my dad and to tell him thank you and that he's a good guy.  Funny what memories stay with you....

So, Happy Father's Day, Dad....I am the luckiest #1 daughter in the world!  I love you and thanks for helping me become everything I am today.