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.
....Jenny

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 life...college, 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.  


So...


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.


So...here 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...