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.