Saturday, February 27, 2010

So...the Girly Girl Part...

When I started this blog I told myself I would commit to telling my story on this adventure. I promised myself I would not hold back. I would not censor. I would tell it all, the amazing adventure and the fall out from a life lived at the edge. However, that is why I currently have been sporadic at best with my posts, and some weeks on end, completely absent. I cannot seem to express on paper the parts of this adventure that aren't so pretty. I feel like it would be opening the flood gates to so many repressed emotions. Let me just say to all the people who give me kudos for being tough, strong, adventurous, an inspiration, some days I just do not want to be all those things. So, that is my brutal reality and this is the truth that has plagued me the past couple of months.

Breaking my collar bone was one of the most painful experiences I have had both physically and psychologically. There is nothing they can do for a broken collar bone. I never even had an xray simply because I feared the radiation in this third world medical environment more than I feared a collar bone that wouldn't heal. I had been to a hospital in Kigali, no thank you. I took my chances that the bones were close enough to fuse. I took a couple Tylenol for the first few days until my stomach revolted and then, I just dealt with the pain. Excruciating pain. I remember the first morning I woke up, Monday morning. The rush of pain reducing adrenalin long gone and the pain of all the miscellaneous bruises from the fall along with the full force of a broken bone welcomed me into my many weeks of recovery. I had been laying flat on my back for about 7 hours, trying to sleep without moving. That morning, Jock bent down, told me to wrap my good arm around him and he would raise me up from my coffin like position. Holy Mother of God! The tears just poured from my eyes like mini geysers. I could feel the bones moving and I was so stiff and sore and ANGRY. Angry that I was injured, angry that I couldn't finish the last day of the ride and angry that I would have to rely on someone to take care of me for however long this recovery might last. Angry because I knew I would be off my bicycle for minimum six weeks and even that was pushing it.

....I wrote those two paragraphs two weeks ago and still have not finished this post. I know I need to write, it is cathartic for me, will it be too honest for the masses?

My six weeks off the bike was even worse than I thought it might be. It started with Christmas, or maybe it was just another pain filled day, emotionally and physically. I have never been a big Christmas fan, preferring instead the over the top birthday celebration. However, I could have used a little Christmas...anything. I gave a note to Jock and a gift certificate to Muhabura to Max (which took me three days of haggling and returning to the restaurant five times to finally secure). Guess 2009 I had been "naughty", I did not even receive a lump of coal. I was still in massive amounts of pain, sleeping very little, just taking a shower was an hour long ordeal. I missed my friends, my family, my home, my bike. I just did my work like any other day. New Year's Eve, again, never a big event for me was even worse after throwing in an argument with Jock over something I cannot now remember.

After that first week, Jock strapped me arm to my body with multiple inner tubes to secure my collar bone and put me on the Velotron, a stationary trainer we have to test riders. It was better than nothing, it would keep me from getting fat, but it did not soothe my radically downward spiraling emotions. When I rode, generally within the first 30 minutes the power would go out and render the Velotron useless. And then, if I rode, I would have to shower. I would just stand in the shower and cry it hurt so much. Living and being around all guys, seriously hard core athlete guys, gives you little space to just be a "girl". In retrospect, it was probably best that I adhered to the suck it up principle.

The second week of January, only three weeks into my break, sleeping was becoming easier, the pain was lessening but there were days I wondered if perhaps I should have gotten that xray after all. Were the bones too far apart to heal? This second week in January also brought four students from the Harvard IXP program to study the economic impact of the cargo bike. I had secured this study after meeting with the Harvard student organizer the past summer, finally the time had arrived. They would be traveling to two cooperatives, questionning the farmers who owned cargo bikes to determine if their lives economically were improved. Unfortunately for me that meant several days of very long drives over extremely rutted, potholed and difficult roads. My collar bone that had been improving daily reverted to week one after hundreds of kilometers of bad driving over those few days. With the increase in my pain, decrease in my perceived recovery my emotions plummeted. I am generally a 3/4 full glass girl, I was down to my last few drops.

During this month I also had issues happening behind the scenes with my board, poor communication resulted in emails that went from bad to worse. The more I tried to work on getting Project Rwanda positioned for 2010 and a direction from the board for our NGO renewal, and 2010 business plan the more I was perceived as "difficult"....actually the word "hostile" was used. I simply wanted answers, guidance, direction and commitment. Did someone not tell me the world had slipped off its axis?

Then Jock and Max took off for a race in Gabon, luckily the week prior to their leaving, Jock had gotten me on the back of the tandem. It truly was one of the best days I had experienced since the morning of December 21st. Just being on that bike, feeling my out of shape legs turn the pedals, feeling the wind in my face careening down the hills, learning to trust I would not embrace the fear of falling after the accident was my own personal heaven. We rode several times that week. The next week, alone, I rode a bike.

Throughout the next couple of weeks, perhaps because of the issues just running the organization, or my attitude that still had not recovered completely, the pressure for sales that were not coming no matter what I did, the constant pressure from my American Project Rwanda counterpart in Kigali to increase salaries, pay for more items, increase in the expenditures with no additional results and having to answer for it all began to take its toll. Every "Mzungu" shout out, every person begging for "Amafaranga" grated on my nerves. Why, after living in Musanze for 9 months, an actual tourist town, launch pad for gorilla treks and the one day home of many "Mzungus" did I continue to attract the constant stares and shouts of "Mzungu" from the locals. They have seen me for months. Is this white skin that bizarre anymore? Is the blonde, rapidly turning gray from stress, mane of hair really that interesting? Why can I not just walk down a street and be greeted with a hello/Muraho and leave it at that? The casual laughing off of the now sounding derogatory Mzungu was gone. I found myself become quickly irritated and sometimes escalating to, "What the hell is your problem?" Seriously, this country has got to work on changing this attitude towards the white person or it will never progress. This is the only country in Africa, after traveling through nine countries, where this term is used constantly, where it is actually taught to children. This is an education issue that must be addressed. But then again, the schools are overflowing, the teachers few and massively underpaid so this would be the least of their concerns. The first couple of weeks, endearing, nine months, exhausting.

I continued to limp through my work, uninspired and grasping to any positive I could find. Jock and Max took off again for another race, Cameroon. They were gone for over two weeks. Thank God I had my big, blonde, partner in crime, Johnny back in country and a new friend in Molly, a woman here from the East coast working for another NGO and helping both Johnny and I with a little public relations around the distribution of our cargo bikes. Unfortunately, Johnny was experiencing the same cultural overload as I only he had additional financial battles. He has been owed over $6,000USD from the school where he teaches in Busogo, a town 15k outside Musanze, since last year. Before he left for Christmas he was supposed to have been paid. In the great Rwandan tradition of "if the government does not like the results, just change the rules to make them work for you" mentality, Johnny had to resubmit under a new protocol, in which he lost a couple thousand. Today, he still has not received payment and there has now been another protocol but in place to determine his "new" payment. He assumes by next month he will actually owe the government for teaching their Rwandan students. Sadly, the ones hurt most from this spiral of government bureaurcracy are the students, who have not had Johnny's valuable teaching skills and experience since December. Johnny rightly refuses to teach until this matter is settled. Stories like this, sadly, are too many. People with a good heart, people like Johnny and I who work very hard to help raise who we can out of the depths of life sucking poverty, get sucked in, chewed up, spit out and completely disillusioned by the system, the people, the government, life in Rwanda.....and then we leave, when there is nothing else we can give. The cycle continues, the people of Rwanda never truly get ahead.

The ONE story that keeps at least one foot in country is the story of the starfish....

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf's edge and and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the person he said, "You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can't possibly make a difference." The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, "It sure made a difference to that one!"

.....I hold on to helping at least that "one" starfish. I look for that "one". I saw it in the farmers Harvard interviewed, proud to show off their payment books that were stamped "Paid in Full", showing full ownership of their Project Rwanda Cargo Bike. I see it in Alex, the Alex who inspired me months ago with his ride in the Tour of Volcanoes and who won his first stage in the Tour of Cameroon several weeks ago.

What scares me most, as I look along the beach strewn with millions of starfish, if I pick one up, throw it back in will it come back to the beach only to die with all the millions I could not save. Will the toss back into the sea be permanent? I know I cannot save the world. I cannot save Rwanda. Can I save someone? Anyone? Will all of this matter in the end?

This is my constant struggle. This is why I do not write anymore. I just get up, work and try to keep my feet planted in the hopes that the answer to that question will be "yes". Most days I simply do not believe it. That is my brutal, truthful reality.


  1. It has saved/changed you, and that, in the end, is what will matter the most.

  2. So much courage, so much heartache, so many tears. As you said, you cannot change the world, but if you make a difference in one person's life, it's all worth it.

    We are so proud of you, but want you to know how much you are missed, how much you are loved, and maybe it's time for you to be the receiver, not the giver. Mom and Dad

  3. Please do not give up your writing. You help people in more ways than you will know. People like myself that read your story and realize that no matter where we are in the world we all face struggles which reflect the same principles.
    I am raising two children which are 17 and 18. Everyday I struggle with the reality in which trying to instill good morals and values can be destroyed, by a world that seems to fight against it, at every step of the way. My son is one of those rare people you find in the world, I like to call him an "old soul", he just seems to get things that are beyond his years. People have always tried to make him conform to fit what they want him to be and luckily he has not conformed. I tell him and his sister everyday stay true to who you are, treat people the way you want to be treated, and see people through your own eyes,and Don't loose your dreams or you will loose yourself.
    I do not know you personally but I am famaliar with your struggles.Do not start feeling like what you are doing is for a lost cause because I guarantee you will be remembered for the positive things you have accomplished. There is a song that says "there are Good days that come around and then the bad days seems to kick the good days ass into the ground " Stay positive and good things will come out of it. I believe there is a God and sometimes he gives us a Godwink, just a little sign which some people believe are coincidences.
    No matter where you are in the world you are a true fighter.