I literally have thousands of pictures of places and people that have had an impact on my life, especially the last two years. The places I have seen, the people I have crossed paths with and the experiences that have enveloped me have shaped me into a much different person. I am no longer chasing the almighty dollar, reaching for that ever escaping goal of "success". I have learned to live simply, appreciatively and quietly. Make no mistake, I still have an enormous fire inside to right the wrongs that I see, to do everything in my power to give people a hand up in life, a shot at a better life mostly through the bicycle. However, Africa has changed me more than I ever could change Africa.
Two years ago when I landed here I had all the typical naive visions of what I was going to do to make things better, to "save the world". Two years later I have improved a few lives for a handful of people and ironically, saved myself.
As I am starting to look at the prospect of returning to the U.S. in April for an extended stay I am fearful. Life is so different here, so raw, there is no man made distractions. Will I end up falling into the trap of hiding among the "distractions"?
A typical day in Africa is a struggle to stay safe and healthy and you are thankful for the simple things, for electricity and water. In America a good day was closing a big sale, getting a big bonus check and celebrating with a good bottle of wine. In Africa a good day is having electricity and internet all day, a great day is having a hot shower after a ride that leaves you covered with dust and diesel soot. I am so thankful for so many little things. I am closer to my friends, friends I have met here in Africa will be part of my life forever. We have all gone through so much and had to rely and trust more than you would ever in America. I have learned to appreciate my friends back home for standing by me, for their support and encouragement. They make me realize how blessed I am.
Africa has taught me to be more aggressive than I ever thought possible, and that's a lot for me! At the same time I have also learned more patience than I could have imagined I had in my resources. What is funny is that the aggression and the patience can happen within minutes of one another and knowing when to employ each is the trick. Aggression serves one well on a ferry crossing the Zambezi having to exchange money with the tawdry money changers trying to give you 1,000 less Kwacha for the dollar. Aggression got the five motorbikes on the passenger ferry to Zanzibar, patience got us back to Dar es Salaam. Aggression is needed when changing money at the bank with 50+ people crowding around one desk all trying to do their banking with no visible queue. I walk confidently up to the desk, weaving through the crowd, slap down my passport with US dollars visible and off they go to grab my shillings, kwacha, or franc. Patience is keeping my mouth shut at the Rwandan Department of Immigration while I wait for one of the riders or Max's passport. That is a miracle in action.
Africa has changed me in ways I never imagined. I have become more thankful, calm, reflective and humble. Yes, humble. I'm humbled by the struggles and resilience of people like Gasore. I am humbled by the huge smiles and joy you see among people who truly have nothing. How can I possibly ever complain about anything ever again? I cannot.
Africa has also taught me to take risks, to leap and God will provide. As I was telling a friend here in Rwanda the other day, my life this next year is one big question mark. I have no job to go back to and no home. I will be couch surfing, house sitting and working hard to keep Team Rwanda afloat through a fundraising campaign I am entirely unprepared and unskilled to pull off. And I will do it all out of love for these boys because there is no money, money to pay me is money that could be used for a camp, a plane ticket to a UCI training center, or a new bike. I will survive. And at 44 I feel strangely calm about the whole year. My friend Amber said to me, "People like us will never really go back to "real" jobs again." I would have to agree.
Africa has been the biggest detour in my road of life. It is my road less travelled.