Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Year in the Books: Thoughts on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 2011

One word sums up 2011...FAST.  Everything went fast this year.  I started 2011 on a warm beach in Zanzibar and am finishing it on a cold, rainy night in Rwanda.  In between I lived in Kenya, had an extended stay in the US this summer and moved back to Rwanda to work full time with the National Cycling Team.  I have, in my estimation, traveled very little....Wyoming, Colorado, California, Washington DC, South Africa and Uganda.  There's way too much to see!

2011 was a year of building Team Rwanda Cycling and taking it to a new level.  We separated from our founding organization in 2011 and never looked back.  We started the year with enough money to fund the team for a month, today we have four months banked.  Baby step progress.  Adrien Niyonshuti is going to the Olympics this coming year, our Team finished first in the Tour of Rwanda and our new rider, Joseph, a former bicycle taxi driver won the last stage of this year's Tour of Rwanda, a first for a Rwandan since it became a UCI sanctioned race in 2009.  NicNic and Gasore went to Switzerland for 6 weeks to train and then to South Africa for another 6 weeks of training along with Joseph.  We had amazing press from Philip Gourevitch's article, Climbers, to the French Sports News, L'Equipe and the German's "Newsweek", Der Spiegel.  And most importantly we were blessed with amazing volunteers (Mel, Jess, Hilary, Jeff, Dan) for the Tour and all in all we scraped by financially.  Life was good for Team Rwanda in 2011. 

2011 for me personally was...transitional, less adventurous, and I think somewhere along the way I lost a bit of my moxie.  Or perhaps I put it on the shelf and just forgot to dust it off.  I did what I do best, make things happen.  I secured the 501c3 status for Team Rwanda, finished my contract with WBR (World Bicycle Relief) in March and started pounding the pavement for funds to support the Team and to be able to pay our staff, Jock, Max and myself.  I took quite the pay cut financially to work with the Team but it paid dividends in Team success and "feel goods".  I just put my head down and went to work.  I need to dust off the moxie box though as I can feel my restlessness knocking at my soul.

But 2011 also gave me some frustrations, especially this holiday season.  Some times I look around at the world and I really wonder, why bother?  I never want to impose my life choices (no money, third world living, real meaning to life) on any one else, however, it was so difficult for me this Christmas to watch the Facebook posts/status updates tick much shopping to do, not enough gifts, haven't found that "insert whatever is the latest/greatest thing people can't do without".  I read people complaints about all of it but yet, they still do it, people still give and receive gifts simply because they are compelled to because someone, somewhere might be offended.  Perhaps you should offend them, they're really not your friend anyway if you HAVE to give them a gift.  However, just when I was about to lose hope in mankind I read a blog from my amazing friend Lori, My Crazy Friend Renee.  Lori, a real friend who I did not buy a gift for this year, or last, or the year before, was there for me when I had a rocky patch a few weeks ago and told me straight up what she thought...(because that's what real friends do)...wrote about serving those in need.  If you have that after Christmas blech about the consumerism, ungrateful people and unnecessary returns due to the unnecessary shopping to begin with read this blog and get a reboot.

Of course living in Africa you are constantly bombarded with some really crappy shit that happens as day to day events.  Most days it is truly mentally and spiritually overwhelming from the famine in Somalia and the accompanying rapes of women, to the corruption in EVERY African country which delays, denies and slows the pace of every possible positive advancement laid out before them.  I have just read The Fear about the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, a country that has been destroyed slowly and methodically by it's leader, Robert Mugabe.  It has been going on for 30 years and for some reason no one can stop this killing tyrant of a leader.  Perhaps if they discovered oil in Zimbabwe?  Just a thought....Every day I'm frustrated, some days I'm pissed off and once in a while I can't hold back the tears.  

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Thula Thula Game Reserve in Zululand, South Africa.  I went because I had read the book by the owner of Thula Thula, Elephant Whisperer.  It was an amazing book about Lawrence Anthony and his passion for saving the last surviving wild animals in Africa.  In fact, the rogue herd of elephants he saved by taking them on to his game reserve were the first elephants on this land for over a century.  They once roamed free.  While at the park I saw the two newest editions to Thula Thula, two and a half year old male and female rhinos.

I've never seen such beautiful creatures.  Sadly, the jeep you see in the background is one of the several 24 hour guards these animals must have so they are not killed for their horns.  That is disgusting, that is sad.  Mahatma Ghandi once said, The Greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."  We have much to learn.  This year in South Africa alone over 400 rhinos have been killed for their horns all because of some idiotic rumor started by an Asian that rhino horn dust cured their cancer.  Now you begin to understand my vehement hatred for the activities of African countries selling their souls and their animals to the Chinese road companies building roads through game parks and even the Serengeti.  Luckily that project has temporarily been halted.  I know in America with all of "life" going on, how possibly could we think, care or recognize the impact of losing an entire species on this planet.  It's can see these animals in the zoo.  If you've ever seen a rhino, an elephant, a giraffe, zebra, wildebeast, lion, leapord or gorilla in the wild you might just understand.  Time magazine published one of the few articles about the poaching of rhinos this year, Killing Fields: Africa's Rhinos Under Threat .  Take the time to read this article, I warn you the photos are graphic, if they don't move you, sadden you, horrify you check your soul.

Why do I write about these things?  Maybe, just maybe it will cause any of you to stop and think about life, the world and the people beyond your circle.  Maybe if all of us just stopped thinking about our problems, which in America are pretty benign, unless you are dealing with health issues, and started caring about other people and even animals more perhaps, just perhaps the world would be a scosh better and maybe we all would realize how good we really have it.

So, that's it for the stump speech for 2011.  I ended this year with a 40 mile ride to Sashwara and back.  Sashwara is Gasore's hometown.  I went to see his new house.
It's doesn't have running water, but it does have electricity and Gasore is so proud of it.  Next month I'll be up there painting the inside with him.  Gasore came to Team Rwanda two and a half years ago with nothing but the clothes on his back and a beat up 40 pound bike.  Today he owns a home and is heading to South Africa and Switzerland for more training to become the best cyclist in Rwanda.  THIS is what's right with Africa!  It's not about hand outs it's about hand ups and we've got ahold of Gasore's hand tightly and we're not letting go.

Resolutions for 2012?  I don't do resolutions.  They are the quickest way to set yourself up to fail and then spend the next few months beating yourself up.  What I will do is tell more stories about the people I meet and the places I see.  I will keep speaking my mind....all you negative internet armchair quarterbacks in life can keep posting your misinformed and misguided comments about my life all you want, I'm going to keep telling it EXACTLY how I see it.  Will it offend some, probably, will it be anything but the truth, doubtfully.  And I will live 2012 with a much renewed moxie.

Happy New Year and God Bless...yep, I believe in God and I just blessed all of you with God's love...take that political correctness!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tour of Rwanda/Team Rwanda: More Than Just a Race...More Than Just a Team

It's December 12th, weeks after the Tour of Rwanda and the dust has finally settled.  Every year our lives from the end of September through the end of November are a glorious study in workaholism and controlled chaos.  Every moment of those proceeding months leads us to the nine days of the Tour of Rwanda every November.  Every year about this time, after coming up for air, I finally get a bit of contemplative time.

This year was Team Rwanda's most successful year.  We had five riders in the Top 10 in the General Classification, Team Rwanda Karisimbi took top Team honors and Joseph, our young new rider, pulled out a nail biter final stage victory into Kigali, a first stage win for a Rwandan.  Joseph was so shocked by his win, he unclipped BEFORE the finish line and then after crossing the line, collapsed off his bike and sat down.  I have never seen anything like it.  Cycling News reported on each and every stage and captured his incredible win in words and picture! 

Once again this year, Team Type 1 participated in the Tour.  Last year they came thinking this was just a little African race and promptly felt the pain of the Land of a Thousand Hills.  This year they brought their A game and it showed right from the start. 

What is most important about Team Type 1's participation in the Tour of Rwanda is what they have done for the people of Rwanda who are suffering with diabetes.  Last year they provided testing, education and test strips to all the diabetics in the country.  Rwanda does not receive funding for diseases such as diabetes as most of the international medical aid money goes to AIDS and other infectious diseases.  This year they continued their education, testing and supply distribution.  In a remarkable serendipitous twist of fate, the driver for their Junior Team, a friend of a friend of ours who drove the TT1 group around to their education seminars, began listening to the programs in the various cities the entourage traveled.  One day he spoke up, "Could you test me?  I have many of these symptoms."  Claude tested off the charts and it was confirmed this man was a diabetic.  He immediately began treatment.  Driving for Team Type 1 saved his life...the Tour of Rwanda saved his life.  Without cycling there would be no TT1 working throughout Rwanda.  I got chills hearing this story.  Often times skeptics and cynics poopoo my perhaps melodramatic talk about how a bicycle can change a country.  A bicycle changed Rwanda.  Tell that to Claude.

From Stage 3, the Team began to gel.  I had never seen the Team race so well.  They had never raced like a cohesive group of individuals.  From Stage 3 Team Karisimbi secured the top Team spot and held onto it until the end.  Watching them was nothing short of inspirational and downright spectacular.  Gasore and Abraham, who recently was invited back on the Team, gave it their all into Gisenyi that day pulling the Team into first.  Janvier, our young new twenty year old rider in his first multi stage race, hung in there, his young underdeveloped legs begging to stop.  Nathan, Mr. Populair, was fourth overall.  Emmanuel, who fears riding in a pack, conducted breakaways almost every stage to keep the pressure on.  And Nicodem, always appreciative always realizing everything around him, always understanding the big picture.  They were a team, a real team!

I cannot put the 2011 Tour week to rest without a huge thank you to all the people who made this Team win possible.  Our riders had one thought the entire race, to race, that was it.  Hilary took care of making sure their hotel rooms were secured and their bags were waiting for them.  The other teams sat for hours before getting into their rooms every day.  Mel and Jess, took care of all the logistics for moving this caravan around the country of Rwanda.  They were also the food goddesses!  Our boys always had good breakfasts and healthy snacks.  Jeff, Dan, Bert and Matt, the motorbike dudes made sure photographers got the pictures and made it through the Tour without a scratch.  Issa, our alternate rider for the Tour, traveled with us and made sure every day the boys kits were washed and dry by the next morning.  Marnitz, Line and Conrad, our South African contingency, mechanics and massage therapists extraordinaire and loads of fun.  The South Africans always are.  We were all a team in the best sense of the word.

NicNic summed it up best on his Facebook page a few days after the Tour:

Thanks all teams rwanda,and our big staff ,you worked hard for us,I am very happy for you!!
 Yes...more than just a race...more than just a team.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

RunLikeAGirl: Pedaling for the Women of Rwanda

RunLikeAGirl: Pedaling for the Women of Rwanda: “Race what you bring” is the inclusively spirited motto for the monthly races run by the Rwandan Cycling Federation. In July, Angel...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Soul of a Team

soul (səʊl) -- n

1. the spirit or immaterial part of man, the seat of human personality, intellect, will, and emotions, regarded as an entity that survives the body after death 

2. Christianity the spiritual part of a person, capable of redemption from the power of sin through divine grace

3.the essential part or fundamental nature of anything
4.nobility of spirit or temperament: a man of great soul and courage
5. an inspiring spirit or leading figure, as of a cause or movement
6. a person; individual: an honest soul
I have been thinking a lot about all the stories, everything that happens in one given day in Rwanda with this group of cyclists and staff.  Once again I find myself in a quandary over which stories to tell, how do I choose the best story to convey to the world.  Every story is inspiring and heart wrenching, hopeful and tragic.  Every day feels like a lifetime.  Every night I collapse into bed and think, “That was just one day?”  Every night I think of all the things there are to write about and then before I know it I’m on to the next day.  As the days mount my nagging procrastinator voice keeps telling me, “You need to tell these stories, you need to write.  Get in front of that computer, tell the world.”

The other day on a long mountain bike ride through the hills of Rwanda I thought about the Team, the stories and the soul of this team.  When I got back to my computer I looked up the various meanings of the word “soul”.  Every rider, every one of the people here trying to keep this team moving forward, all our supporters around the world, all of us, all of our stories make up the soul of this team.

1. the spirit or immaterial part of man, the seat of human personality, intellect, will, and emotions, regarded as an entity that survives the body after death

This Team will survive long after all of us our gone.  From the dream of a few, to the tenacity to stay and make a life in Rwanda, to the vision that has been cast and grasped by the Rwanda Cycling Federation, the clubs and the riders at the lowest levels of competition, this team will live on and continue to change the face of cycling in Rwanda and in Africa.  At the Federation’s Press Conference several weeks ago I sat in amazement at all the clubs and riders who came out to show off their “new” bikes, all ready to rub shoulders with the elite of the elite, the boys of Team Rwanda.  We just provided the access to the donated parts, clothing and bikes.  Rwanda took ownership in the distribution and future growth of cycling.
2.  Christianity the spiritual part of a person, capable of redemption from the power of sin through divine grace

This team is redemption, the riders, the coach…Max, myself.  Adrien, a Tutsi, mentors Gasore, a Hutu, they are friends at the deepest level.  Gasore looks up to Adrien, aspires to be like Adrien.  Adrien is a hero to this country, a symbol of all things good from a country where the adjective “good” is very seldom used.  He inspires so many children in Rwanda and of course, up and coming cyclists view him as the hope of Rwanda.  They want to be Adrien.
3. the essential part or fundamental nature of anything
More and more over the past couple of months the riders have become stronger leaders.  The veteran riders, Kiki and Obed, who came to America this summer, are leading the way.  To watch them hold the Team meetings every afternoon after lunch, to discuss what went right and what went wrong on the morning’s training ride is impressive.  Jock and I sit quietly by as these riders discuss their performance, their good and bad days on the bike.  The openness they have with one another, the ability to voice their true feelings safely and to learn from each other is unique to this country.  This doesn’t happen anywhere else.  Rwandans are guarded, they lie not out of deceitfulness or malice, but because they are fearful to say something “wrong”.  They will tell you what you what to hear, not necessary the truth of where they are.  This has changed within this microcosm of Team Rwanda life.  If someone has a bad day, someone needs something, someone is not happy with their teammates performance it is voiced, discussed and resolved.  This is the soul of Team Rwanda.

4.nobility of spirit or temperament: a man of great soul and courage
Innocent Uwamungu aka Rocky aka Rockstar…our young man who recently lost his right eye in a freak accident.  Rockstar who took 5th last month in the Kigali to Butare race, who was 6th Thursday in the Nyanza to Kigali race, the man with the most infectious laugh one that sucks you out of the depths of a “bad” day and fills your soul with joy.  There is no finer example of “nobility of spirit of temperament:  a man of great soul and courage”.  When the Team was discussing the poor performance of several of the riders on a descent in the rain, the riders in question were complaining.  Rocky spoke up and said, “Cover one eye and in the rain it comes in your other eye and you can’t see at all, that is me.  Why do I beat you?”  Complaining ceased.  Rocky takes every single excuse away.

A few weeks ago Rocky spoke up at the end of a Team meeting and said he needed help.  Rocky never asks for anything.  He said he had about $100 saved and that Felix Sempoma, the Club President he rides for at the Club Level, had offered to kick in another $150-$200 towards getting Rocky a glass eye.  Rocky still needed about another $500.  I told him I would put his story on Facebook to see what we could do.  Within 30 minutes the Jorgensen family and two others had donated more than the needed $500.  That night at dinner we told Rocky….he was speechless.  All he kept saying was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you coach.”

5. an inspiring spirit or leading figure, as of a cause or movement

Adrien….quiet, introspective, disciplined, devout, evoking a spirit that fills a room with hope and peace.  Adrien is the center of the soul of the Team
6. a person; individual: an honest soul
There are many “persons and individuals” all contributing to the soul of Team Rwanda.  

Jean de Dieu “Rafkiki” Uwimana can animate a story and make the team laugh more boisterous than any person I have ever witnessed.  He embodies the spirit of storytelling.  When Kiki holds an audience, even though it’s all in Kinyarwanda, I laugh.  His mannerisms, his expressions, his animation is contagious.  Kiki loves this team and this Team is part of his soul.  His son bears the name, Jonathan, after coach.  

Obed Ruvogera, Museho, the old man on the team.  Obed is observant, quiet but when he speaks he carries the authority of a rider who has been there, experienced the pain.  Obed is the even keel positive energy of the team. 

Janvier Hadi, a new rider, Gasore’s roommate, his story unknown.  Smart, young, sweet and a fantastic rider following in the footsteps of Gaso.

Gasore Hategeka, orphan, quiet, polite, helpful and truly always always thankful for everything he has experienced through this team.  Team Rwanda is Gasore’s family.

Coach….he came and stayed.  He stayed for Adrien in the beginning, he stays for the rest today.

Max…perfectionist, troubled, searching always wanting to be the best mechanic, frustrated every day in Africa always working to stay on track.  He’s still here two and a half years later.

Volunteers like Melanie Dries and Jessica Niles, teaching yoga and English, doing meal planning and simply making my life a bit more sane.  There will be a void when they leave after the Tour.

…and me, I’m just one person along for the ride, giving a little tough love and keeping it all close to the vest where it’s locked away until I have a time and place to release all the emotions of the past two and a half years.

All of us are the Soul of Team Rwanda…..

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

RunLikeAGirl: Just Quit & Just Do It

RunLikeAGirl: Just Quit & Just Do It: To find our way in life sometimes we have to just quit, and other times we have to just do it. In Kimberly Coats’ case, she did both....

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Unpublished Blogs: Wisdom From a Friend

I was on a roll today getting done everything that was on my "to do" list that I really hate "to do" so I procrastinate until I have to "to do".  I was on an organizational crazy train so decided to clean up my blog, do a little redecorating, but then the ADD took hold and I started reading my "unpublished" blogs. 

Some of these blogs were published but then taken down because I offended some people.  I think I might put them back up, we'll see.  Some of them I just started writing and then stopped.  Some I have no idea why I never published.  In all there's 11 lost blogs.  Of the eleven, this was my favorite which never got published.  It was written January 26, 2010, not sure what I was going through but as always my dearest friend, Johnny Muzungu made my day.  Here's to you Johnny M...I miss you!

Yesterday was one of those days....a day when no matter how much I tried to stay positive the onslaught of negative events continued.  I prayed...a lot....I wondered why I was experiencing the things being thrown at me.  I continually had to "check" my attitude and nothing seemed to keep me steady.  Until I had a talk with my dear friend Johnny M.  Actually not a "talk" but a series of "IM chats".  We're on two different continents.

So it seems, if you are having a less than a stellar day and people are behaving poorly towards you and heaping on piles of grief to your life remember these words, the words of Johnny Muzungu.

"It was great talking to you today.  I am sorry that you are down.  One great indication of character is the willingness to be responsible for difficulties.  You have this because your care is genuine and deep.  Try not to abuse your love and caring nature by taking responsibilities for things that are controlled by others.  You can't prevent certain people from being douchebags.  Some people look for any excuse to reveal their inner douchebag.  It is a force more powerful than good because it can strike at any time and without warning.  Randomness is a classic requirement of douchebaggery.  You must not let the douchpectations and douchpotential of the general population change who you are.  If you are overwhelmed by the act of douchbagetry, then douchbags everywhere win.  You can't let them win.  The world needs you to be you.  The world needs a champion of common sense and logic.

Quick sidebar, not real sure where I was going with this, I was going to lead up to you being some sort of anti-douchebag super hero but I don't know what an antidouchebag would be.  I drew a blank.  Sorry."

Everyone needs a friend like this to make you put everything in perspective, and to pee your pants laughing!  Now where can I get that ADB superhero cape?
 Johnny...Thanksgiving 2009 Rwanda

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Drives Me to Drink Bad South African Boxed Wine

Yes, I drink wine, bad wine...perhaps too often.  When I'm in America I drink great wine, not as often.  But then again, in America the stressers, triggers, or crap that just plain irritates me is of a different caliber.

In no particular order.....

Actually I take that back...this jumps to the head of the line.  Lying, incessant, indeterminate, random, lying.

This is a culture based on lying.  I have never seen anything like it.  Rwandans will lie about anything and nothing.  For example, when we asked Angelique how many days she was training prior to her attending her first camp she quickly told Felix, the interpreter, "Everyday!"

Jock just looked at Felix and told him to give her the rundown about lying if you're on the Team.  We do not tolerate lying, plus it really doesn't matter how often she's training at this point as she wasn't on the team yet.  When Felix explained to her our position she quickly responded with an, "Oh, three days."

This is typical.  I have found Rwandans will tell you what they think you want to hear.  They won't tell you their opinions or the truth if they think you won't like the truth.  

One rider lost his place on the team for stealing a razor.  Ironically, it wasn't the theft that got him in the end, it was the lying about it.  He had been asked three different times if he had the razor and he said no.  If he would have confessed to it on the first go round he would still be on the team.

Another perspective rider who had been tested before Jock came to the US showed up at the house asking to be tested and trying to pass it off as if he had never been here and never tested.  We all kept looking at him like we know this guy.  Sure enough it was the same guy and he had lied to Kiki to get in the door.  His test numbers were actually decent, however, he blew his chance to get on the Team because he lied on several occasions to several different people.

I asked the girl at the counter if the insecticide I was buying had a spray nozzle under the cap as it was hermetically sealed and I was not allowed to open the package.  Three times she said yes.  I got home, no spray nozzle.

Here's to the liars in Rwanda!

Laundry + Rainy never fails, every time I have 15 loads of laundry, sheets, towels and bedding after a camp it rains.  
It has rained all afternoon.  I am now down to piles of clean laundry in buckets around the house.  The upside at least is that it didn't rain once during the four days of camp....little blessings.

Here's to loads and loads of wet laundry!

Stupid s&%t that happens on our rides.  Today was a prime example and why tonight I'll swig back some swill.  I have decided that common sense is not really common sense.  It's all stuff we learned from our parents early on.  Some of us learned a lot and had very engaged parents therefore hopefully leading to a wealth of "common sense".  Others unfortunately either never got the lessons, refused to assimilate the lessons or were not given the gene to convert lessons to common sense.  In Rwanda the lack of common sense (early learning) is, I believe, a combination of poverty, patriarchal attitudes and women who pop out babies like an unhinged Pez dispenser.

Today I listened to the kiss kiss sounds made by numerous young men.  I was whacked by a stick wielding little girl who promptly ran off into the field when I slammed on my brakes and three close calls with people walking in front of my bike.  I only rode 25 miles.  Jock and Kiki had to beat off a crowd while repairing a flat.  It's exhausting and makes riding stressful.

Remember the first thing your mom and/or dad said to you when you left the yard for the first time solo?

"Look both ways before you cross the street!

As adults we chalk this up to common sense, however, it really was learned at a very young age.  This is a lesson obviously lost on the majority of Rwandans young and old.  It is mind numbing how many people step into the road and you watch them and they NEVER even look.  I can't imagine walking into a major road without looking both ways.  Our number one accident potential is ignorant pedestrians.  How do you begin teaching something so simple?  Public Service Announcements?

As far as the stupid, nasty, rude and degrading smacking sounds made by the young men...again, lack of education.  Our riders are being taught to not only be great cyclists but to be even greater men, and now women.  If they won't learn it from their parents, guardians, or adult caretakers they will learn it from us.  It has really begun to disturb Kiki and Obed how Jock, Max and I are treated here by the locals on the road.  I am glad they see it, hopefully they can be the agents for change.  

To that....I drink!

Bureaucracy.  Once again we wait for Jock's work visa so he can go to South Africa to meet with Adrien and his MTN Team for contract signing.  Not only Jock but so many of my other ex pat friends are in the same boat.  I don't mind rules, I'll follow the rules, but stop changing the rules as we go!  Molly went two months with Immigration holding on to her passport.  The website says a three day turn around.  Hmmm......

Give me two...

Breaking everything.  In the last 13 days we have had the toilet repaired five times a combination of riders breaking it and incompetent plumbers.  I have been using a toilet for at least 43 years and have never actually broken a toilet.  Pedals that have lasted years for me are destroyed in 6 months.  My cycling shoes are 8 years old, most riders blow through shoes in 8 months.  My guard is not allowed to wash my car anymore after we have replaced every wiper on the vehicle at least once.  I've never yanked a wiper completely off a vehicle.  How do you do that?  I come back from the US and the center console of the car has been completely broken and just hangs in between the seats.  What?  Seriously?

Why does it stress me out so much?  Impossible to get quality replacement parts, no competent repair people and is always at the forefront of every thought.  We don't have it, we need it and every bit is precious.  So, for the love of God, quit breaking s&*t!

That is why I drink cheap South African boxed wine!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grace in the Midst of a Rwandan Melee

This morning started out stressful as do all first mornings of training camp.  It was compounded this morning by the addition of five Tanzanians who arrived late last night and still had to unpack their bikes.  We are now working with four native languages, English, French, Kinyarwanda and Swahili often taking three different translations to get our point across.  I speak to Jock in English.  Jock speaks to Max in French, Max speaks to Felix in French, Felix speaks to the riders in Kinyarwanda and now Kiki speaks to the Tanzanians in Swahili.  Kiki unfortunately gets the brunt of constant translating as most of the new riders know very little English. 

I had Kiki speak to the three girls who would be training with me this morning as English is almost non existent.  I had him explain where we were going, what the plan was for the ride and what I wanted the new girl, Angelique, to do....hold onto my wheel the entire 2 1/2 hours.  She had ridden almost 100 miles yesterday to camp and she needed to do a light spin.  

Another girl, Janet, showed up at camp another two kilos heavier.  It is a constant battle with Janet and her weight.  She's a decent rider, however, she weighs the same as I do and she's 6 inches shorter.  That's a lot of junk in the trunk to move up these hills!  

As we got a mile and a half down the road, Janet looks at me and says panting, "Kim I am sick."

I say, "Janet, you are not sick you are out of shape.  Dejende!"  (Let's go!)

Janet settled into the ride obviously knowing I was not going to have an ounce of sympathy for her.  Cycling and racing involves pain.  She needed to embrace it.  Today, my patience was wearing thin.

By the time we got to the 10% gradient hill up to Sashwara I had had enough.  I looked back at Angelique who was still on my wheel and I knew didn't have it in her today to attack and then I looked over at Janet who proceeded to launch a semi attack and I geared down, stood up and rode away.  It did not make me happy.  These girls have a race this weekend and 45 year old me beat them.  

After I crested the hill and soft pedaled another mile down the road I turned around.  Sashwara is a fairly busy little town with people everywhere.  Sashwara is Gasore's hometown so they are very familiar with Team Rwanda.  I guess that is why I'm still in a state of shock.

As Janet and Angelique saw me pedaling in the opposite direction they quickly looped around.  Then it happened.  Directly in front of me on the side of the road I spot a young Rwandan man with what looked like an inner tube from a bicycle.  He raised it as I approached and within a split second it went whipping across my back.  My first thought was you have to be fucking kidding me, he did not just do that!  My back smarting, I slammed on my brakes and spun around.  Two other older men had seen the entire incident and when I stopped the assailant took off with the two older men in hot pursuit.  He ducked into a little store front but the pursuers saw him, charged in and dragged him out slamming their fists into the back of his head.  As they brought him towards me, my first thought was to just slap him across the face.  An eye for an eye.  And then I just stopped.  

I am about half way through, "What's so Amazing about Grace?" a book by Philip Yancey.  Last night I finished the chapter, Getting Even.  It talked about how situations can be diffused simply by grace.  As the young man came closer, being pummeled under the fists of the pursuers and the crowd yelling, obviously wanting me to strike back, I didn't.  Although I'm sure he did not understand English I told him I would not hit him.  I told him to simply say he was sorry and to never do it again.  

He looked at me and repeated, "I'm sorry".  

I said, "I forgive you." 

I grabbed his hand, shook it and rode away.  By this time the crowd was easily over 100 people all racing over to see what was happening with the "Muzungu".  I left the scene with a clear head, all the frustration from the morning erased, not even angry at the man who hopefully will never pull a stunt like that again.  Grace....

It could have ended so differently.  Earlier this week I read a blog, Reality Check,  Matt is a friend of mine who now has the job I left with Project Rwanda.  I feel for him.  He battles the same issues I did with the organization and that coupled with an incident similar to mine resulted in a very different outcome.  I could have been Matt.  I have been Matt.  Every day it is a struggle here.  Rwanda is not the Kumbaya place people make it out to be.  I used to ride alone.  I do not anymore.  I bury myself in the training camps and stay close to my compound and wait for the day I get to travel to South Africa or Kenya for a reprieve.  

And I pray for grace....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs Challenge

This morning before our training ride I was checking Facebook and sadly learned Steve Jobs had passed away.  I learned about his passing from a post on my friend's Facebook page.  She had a quote on her page from Steve Jobs which hit home, at least for me, and I believe for many others in the deep dark corners of their mind and heart.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become." ~Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs changed the world.  He pretty much touched all of our lives in one technological way or another.  I pray he went peacefully surrounded by friends and family.  Not many people change the world, that is a unfathomable feat.  Steve Jobs did and his legacy will continue to shape all of our lives.

I thought about the impact he had on the world while I trained with Angelique this morning.  When I was younger I wanted to change the world.  The older I got the more I forgot about changing the world.  I went through the motions of jobs and businesses until one day in April 2009 I had the "courage to follow {my} heart and intuition.  They somehow already {knew} what {I} truly want{ed} to become."

In June of 2008, wrestling with the frustration of where I was at in my life and realizing I still had dreams of changing the world, I wrote down three things in my journal which were most important to my life.

1.  Helping people
2.  Travel
3.  Do something around my love of cycling.

April 2009 I was on a plane to Rwanda.  

Every day I do something around my love of cycling.  I have traveled more in the last three years than the prior 42.  Best of all I help people...I don't change the world.  I don't change Rwanda.  I don't even change this entire team.  But if I can change one life, just one, they just might be the one to change the world.  

Angelique's life would consist of working the fields eeking out a meager existence on her tiny plot of over farmed land.  She's 22, time to get married and to start cranking out the babies and continue the cycle of birth, birthing and death that all too many Rwandan women believe is their fate in life.  Instead she has the opportunity to win the next race sponsored by the Federation and make more money in that one race than she could make in 6 months.  In a month she will be representing Rwanda at the Continental Championships in Eritrea.  She's never been on a plane, hasn't seen an airport.  Hopefully she will not fall victim to a lack of education and the patriarchal hand that proliferates Rwanda.  Hopefully she will earn enough money to attend school, to make good decisions, to not have seven children, the average currently in Rwanda per family.  Hopefully she will be a role model to the young girls of Rwanda, perhaps she will be the one to lift up the girls in this nation.  Maybe she will change the country I could never change.

If I can change just one life it will have all been worth it.

The phrase I hear most often that causes me such heartache is, "I wish I could....(insert any applicable personal dream)."  Which is always followed by, "But..."  You can do anything you want to do.  I believe Steve Jobs was spot on.  We all know it deep down inside.  Our challenge is if we have the no excuses attitude to go after what we really want.  Or will we settle for less?  

And what a life you could live....
Riding in Rainy Season in Rwanda...

Battling chiggers and all other sorts of strange diseases...

Sitting inside on a rainy afternoon listening to Nathan talk to the younger riders about how you can have a future with the Team even after your legs are finished!  It was really nice to listen to him as the prior hour I sat here listening to a rogue rider, one who had all the same opportunities as Nathan and who chose to throw it all away.  Not taking responsibility for your own actions is universal in case you were wondering.  

And two of the best moments of today....

A quiet moment in the sun (7.5 minutes of sun this afternoon after the torrential downpour training ride) with my boy, Zulu

....and why I will never regret the decision I made to listen to my heart and intuition...
A picture Nathan drew me this afternoon of his house...his very own house!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Life with Team Rwanda

So life is back to normal, or at least the normal I've been used to for the past couple of years.  When I was back in the US enjoying all the amenities and nice weather and just ease of life people would ask me, obviously questioning why I had so much "time off" in the summer, what I do working for the Team.  One very animated and curious woman at a fundraiser in Colorado Springs this summer told me, "I'd give anything to have your life.  It's so glamorous."

Now, glamor would not be a word I would use to describe working for Team Rwanda.  The now 20+ chigger bites all over my body making me itch out of my skin I'm thinking is not so glamorous.  The bucket bath is not my idea of hygienic much less glamorous.  An Italian super model world...that's glamorous.   

Let's start with reality Wednesday.

My day started at 6:30am, with four more chigger bites on my side after bathing in a shower of DEET therefore shortening my life span by a good five years.  There are 13 boys and 2 girls at camp this week.  They will be here until Friday.  I also have one large dog and one tiny cat who are very vocal about the fact that if they don't get food in the next 10 minutes they most likely will die of starvation.  Breakfast takes me about an hour to prepare after laying everything out the night before.  Breakfast consists of:

1 kg of rice
2 loaves of bread
2 kg of beans
45 eggs (all cracked by hand)
15 cups of tea
Umpteen bananas

Generally I can get everyone fed within an hour and the riders are great about cleaning up.  That's the rule, you cook, you don't wash dishes.

I actually love the mornings with the riders and the controlled chaos of the Team Rwanda house.  The boys all have such great laughs and the energy is always good.  

Today, we were running behind as Max, who had been in the garage since 6:00am, had so many bikes to repair, tweek and shake his head in frustration over.  For example, it took him 20 minutes to unscrew the cleats from Samuel's shoes because they were so worn down after working for over a month in them on the road between his house and the tarmac.  This was after we told Samuel to not walk in his cycling shoes.  These are our typical and many battles with keeping equipment running.

Finally by 9:15 we are ready to roll out.  I am taking Diane and Angelique with me.  Angelique is a new rider who tested very strong on the Velotron last month before Jock left.  This is her first day on a "real" bicycle.  The biggest challenge we are facing this morning is getting her to clip in and out of her pedals.
We head out staying with the boys for the first couple of miles.  Angelique actually does incredibly well and on a morning I'm feeling like I'm 80, this 22 year old girl makes me work every mile of the ride.  We did 37 miles with the first 18 having over 2,600' of climbing.  She caught on quickly with the gears and thank goodness she still can't descend and I was able to still beat her home.  Not for long though.  She's the real deal.

After the ride I shower, wait for the boys to return and walk over for lunch.  By now it's 2:30.  I knock out all my emails, register the team for the Continental Championships in Eritrea, secure hotel rooms in Eritrea (try calling from Rwanda to Eritrea and explaining what you need!), make fish and rice for the dog and cat and do four loads of laundry.  I manage to squeak in a 30 minute power nap and then knock out a few more emails and go to dinner.  After dinner we have a meeting and I get back to the house after 9:00.  I wash the remaining dishes, try to write my blog, talk to Kiki, Obed and Nathan, get all the cups ready for tea in the morning, feed the cat...AGAIN and grab the remaining three loads of laundry off the line because once again it is raining.  Did I mention how much I really despise rainy season?

So, it's 10:30pm and I have to get up at 6:30am and do it all over again...this is my glamorous life.  

At least we had water and electricity all day today!  And I did get to ride...

Always the little things!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I have spent more months this year within the borders of the United States than outside them.  This is the first time in two years I have done this and now I know why.'s always a little bumby, however this time I feel like my fuselage is on fire and I'm losing those all important reentry tiles needed to halt the potential for complete fire ball combustion.  

Let's face it, America is nice, really nice.   For all of you complainers, whiners, and entitlement whores sucking the life out of the greatest country in the world, get a clue, get a life, get a reality check.  You have it made!  Hands down, your life, no matter how difficult is easy compared to living in a place like Rwanda.  I am not complaining about Rwanda or having a pity party about being back here.  I just need to adjust to the fact that everything requires enormous energy, persistence, patience and a nicely placed dose of aggression here and there.  I make the choice daily to live here and I still choose to do just makes me appreciate how Getting in last night after 20+ hours of flying, Max, Jock and I drive the 1 hour and 45 minute trip home, which takes us over 2 hours because of the rain, pitch black darkness, random Rwandans on the road walking into oncoming traffic and the inevitable road construction.  Plus, when did Kigali start resembling Nairobi in the traffic department?  

The best part of coming home to Rwanda...Zulu, without a doubt, my 130# lean, mean ripped guard dog and unconditional lover and "oogler", Zulu.  Aren't dogs the best?  I'm gone for 3 months and for him all is forgiven in 3 seconds.  He is my baby and hasn't left my side since I walked through that door.  Except for the 20 minutes after I gave him a bath where he was busy rethinking that unconditional love thing.

Kongo is here too...I've never been a cat person but Kongo is not really a house cat, more like a tiger cat but only 7 pounds.  He slept in bed with me all night.  Zulu right next to me in his bed snoring away.  Kongo, sporting a large gash across his face, had obviously been in a bit of a dust up with some local animals.  I'm sure he won!  While Zulu also has an unexplained injury to his rear right paw.  It looks like he got it stuck in something and yanked it out ripping into one of his toenails.  He appears to be on the mend however.

In the span of 20 hours, we have unloaded over 300 pounds of gear we brought over from the US.  We are experts at getting through bag check in slightly overweight (our bags, by the way generally they let 52 pounds slide) and generally carrying 50+ pounds in our carry ons.  When we were boarding in Brussels for the flight to Kigali they had the bag Nazis in place.  Luckily for us, a woman directly in front of us started arguing with the SNB employee and caused such a distraction we slipped through the line and onto the plane.  The best lines I have ever heard during an airline employee/customer exchange:

Flyer:  "I have two carry ons, my purse and this bag, they let me have them on my United flight here.  What is the problem?  I can have a purse and a bag!"

SNB Employee:  "Ma'am we are SN Brussels!"  With complete Belgian authority to her voice and a very heavy accent.

I'm thinking that meant she was not going any further.  

As the flight attendant watched me stroll through the aisle to my seat I kept thinking how I was going to hoist this 35+ pound bag up over my head like it weighed no more than 22 pounds, the allowed weight.  Saved again while she attended to the elderly woman a few rows up with her significantly lighter carry on.

So back to the past 20 water, Max lost TIGO internet card so I can't get to the internet until I got Felix out of bed and to the house this afternoon, bathed 130# dog, wondered why the piles of filing that had been filed in June when I was here were now back and on MY desk, rained all night and morning, washed clothes and washing machine backed up again and flooded the bathroom, hot water faucet doesn't work in the kitchen, clothes put on the line this afternoon are still wet, drove into town almost running over 17 various Rwandans not looking before they cross the street (it's a mile and a half to town), car is not running right AGAIN, realizing we're almost out of power because someone forgot to pay Cash Power to load up on electricity for the weekend (we pay as we go for electricity) and finally breaking down and buying a bottle of wine.  So much for my "Rwandan Resolution". Oh, and no riding because it's raining...AGAIN.

But, tonight I get to see my friend Molly who is in town for a week before heading to Zimbabwe (lots of previous posts about Molly).  I also have my big lug of a dog following my every move and who will be joining me for a pizza at Volcana this evening!  And Tuesday camp starts and all the riders will be here and THAT is why I do what I do and live how live over here.   

So...a couple more words about my time in America.  America is the most beautiful, most diverse, friendliest country I have experienced and I'm sure it's because I'm biased as an America.  I'm also brutally honest when it comes to how I view America after spending a few years living abroad....Americans need to stop this attitude of entitlement.  Americans built the greatest country in the world with unprecedented freedoms, why are we letting it fall by the wayside?  Why is America not GREAT anymore?  No one owes any one anything. 

If you've's the Preamble to our Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 

No where does it say we provide your Section 8 housing, your food stamps, your WIC.  We don't provide for bailing you or your mortgage company out of bad loans and bad choices (yes, I lost my house too!).  We don't guarantee employment, we offer the opportunity to build a business and create your own employment.  Quit waiting for the President, for Congress, for your employer, your spouse, your parents to bail you out.  It's not happening.  Our government, frankly is pathetic at this point!  I have talked about all the corruption in Africa, however, at times its easier to deal with because you know the corruption rules, it's in your face corruption.  Make no mistake the US is one of the most corrupt governments in the world.  We just do it "legally" with lobbyists. I think it's time Americans fight a little more for what they want in life.  Perhaps it's a good thing I am not living in America at the moment! I have totally veered off course with my "Rwanda sucks at the moment" blog.  Really I think it is what we make it in the end...our attitude, our fight, our desire to live out our lives how we choose...this I choose, Rwanda....for now.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Will Never Forget this Day

"I will never forget this day." 

How do I even begin to put into words the events of the past few weeks?  The blog would be pages and pages and would most likely only cover a few days.

How do I capture the feelings and experiences of two young Rwandan men during their stay in America?

Obed, experiencing his first adventure in America captured it perfectly with these six words....I will never forget this day.

Obed and Kiki have been in America since August 11th where their entry hung in the balance for a few nail biting hours and by the grace of one accommodating Immigration Officer in the San Francisco airport.

In just over two weeks they have helped pack up a warehouse filled with the decades of cycling memorabilia of their coach, traveled to Wyoming spending a week at a ranch in the middle of nowhere (Population Savery, WY--25), training on spectacular roads leading to the Continental Divide, riding horses, driving four wheelers, having cook outs on the Rim, seeing their heroes of cycling at the Tour of Colorado and taking pictures and signing autographs with the fans who have multiplied exponentially due to the New Yorker article in July.  

This morning as I awoke before the sun to catch my flight back to Colorado from Massachusetts I listened to a voicemail from their host in Colorado, Geoff Cooper.  Geoff picked up Kiki and Obed last Thursday night and took them home with him after the Coors Classic/7-11 Reunion in Vail.  Geoff asked if there was any way Kiki and Obed could stay a few extra days with his family once I am back in Colorado because there are so many more things they want to do and they have been having such a great time.  

I knew they were loving their Colorado adventure when talking to Kiki the other day to tell him my plane had been delayed a day due to the Hurricane. He told me Obed wanted to talk to me.  Obed never wants to talk.  Obed does not like to "speak" English.  On the phone?  The thought of actually speaking English causes him a bit of distress which we have been working on every day he's been here.  Obed wants to talk?  Obed? 

Obed gets on the phone and with the enthusiastic voice of a 12 year old boy says, "Kim, do you know gondola?"  

"Yes, Obed, I know gondola?"

"Kim, we ride gondola, right now, gondola." And then he bursts into laughter.

"Kim, you are good?"

"Yes, Obed very good."

"Kim, I miss you."

Kim melts here....

This afternoon I'll get to Denver and jump in my car to head to Boulder where we have a fundraiser ride at 5:30 and I get to see the boys.  They have become mini celebrities and are such admirable and humble ambassadors for their Team and their country.  They are what is good about Rwanda.

Imagine being 10 years old again and having all those first time experiences as only a child can have.  Imagine experiencing them through the eyes of an adult and with all the prior memories of that experience.  This has been my last couple of weeks.  I am fortunate to relive all the amazing adventures of my childhood through Kiki and Obed.  I get to see things for the first time....again.

As we sat around the fire after a day of cycling, horseback riding, quadding and our rim cook out, looking up at the Milky Way which you actually can see when there are no city lights, people or traffic obscuring your view, Obed smiled at Kiki and coach and quietly said in Enlish...

"I will never forget this day."

Neither will I Obed....
Obed & I mugging it up for Kiki & Coach

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Now I See It....

Some mornings I wake up, wondering again what city I'm in, what country and thinking about how I got here.  It was definitely a epic combination of Divine intervention, work ethic and fearlessness...the ability to jump off that false ledge of life security.  I wake up ready to start another day but deep down inside some mornings I wake up and wonder if this is a dream that someone will come and rudely shake me awake back into their reality.  You know that feeling, when everything you ever wanted is laid out before you and you have the "too good to be true feeling"?  Why would I doubt that this is exactly where God has put me and where I am supposed to be?  

A little over a week ago I flew to Austin, Texas to view a cut of the Team Rwanda documentary, Rising From Ashes.  This movie has been a major labor of love for so many people, sitting for years on the shelf when there was no money to finish it.  However, the powers that be would not let it continue to collect dust.  Through some passionate pleas of a couple of Team Rwanda board members to a very generous and equally passionate investor the movie is in its final stages, hopefully to be completed by the end of October and released in early 2012.  

I flew in on a Monday, met with TC, the filmmaker and Greg, the producer to talk about the long term marketing strategy for the movie.  We do not want people to just see the movie, be all warm and fuzzy and perhaps inspired and then do nothing.  We want to move people to act, to be part of this movement to build cycling in Rwanda, Africa and to eventually be a part of supporting the first black African team to ride in the Tour de France.  This year, above all years, when I watched the Tour all I saw was a sea of white.  I want to be a part of changing that for future generations of riders.

Tuesday I met with some talented men in Dallas who have also become part of this movement and want to help the Team with our Strategic Plan and marketing for the future in conjunction with the movie.  Often I am overwhelmed by the talent, experience and knowledge of the people who offer to help us.  This is not my area of expertise, I sold food for a living, what do I know about marketing a National Cycling Team?  All I know is this is a story that needs to be told and all I'm going on is my passion for telling it.  I believe I'm just being put in front of all the right people.

Last Tuesday evening I saw the film with five other people who were there to see it and provide feedback to TC and Greg.  I was not going to provide any accurate feedback as I am way too close to the story which was evident in the first three minutes when I started to cry.  I started to cry when I saw the scenes of Rwanda.  Just the country.  I make no secret of my love/hate relationship with Rwanda.  It's not really a "hate" per se, it's more an extreme frustration, an inescapable exhaustion that at times hits me like a wave crashing on the shore.  I want so much to help these riders but their pasts, their lives even today are so tremendously difficult, crushingly difficult, painful.  When I see them smile I am overcome with emotion.  There is not a day in Rwanda I can make it through where my eyes don't well up with tears....frustrating tears, pain tears and the best of all...joyful tears.  And so I watched the film and sobbed.  I am shocked by how much the boys have changed in five years.  They are young, confident men who speak English, lead younger riders and laugh...they really laugh!  I am also struck by how much Jock has aged.  Rwanda, this Team, this life has not been easy for him.  My admiration for what he has done, for him as a human being has increased exponentially.  

This morning I'm sitting in a generic Starbucks in Park City, Utah.  I am here at Dealer Camp, here to tell the story of the team to anyone, any vendor, any potential sponsor who will listen and want to help.  Jock, Max, Nathan, NicNic, Boy, Gasore, Kiki and Obed are in Brazil at the Tour of Rio, the team's first invitation to a race outside of the continent of Africa.  

Adrien is in London getting to ready to race on the course he will race in the Olympics next summer.  Yesterday afternoon I received an email from Greg, our film producer who is in London filming Adrien for the ending of the film....

This marks day 3 in London with Adrien, and we're so thankful to be here. Not only as filmmakers but as men who have grown to admire and respect Team Rwanda and Adrien as heroes. I'll tell you, this is a HERO moment for Adrien. From never riding in a car to riding the Olympic course. Epic.

Now for the first time Adrien is able to truly imagine what this opportunity means for him. Tonight was particularly special, we went to a special event in Trafalgar Square where the Olympics put on a one year until the Olympics event. There were about 30,000 people packed into this square, they unveiled the Olympic medals, and formally invited the Olympians to come to London. Adrien was in the crowd, his eyes were huge, and he turned to us and said... "Now I can see it."

We are spread across three continents at the moment, spread as thin as we always are, but I know we have support and that support continues to grow daily.  I see pictures like this of Adrien and I know to the core of my soul, this is exactly where God put me.  I will do anything to see Adrien, Gasore, NicNic and the others get everything out of life they were destined to receive...and I will never stop being emotional when I see pictures of joy like this....this is real.