Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas in South Africa

No blaring Christmas music...no 57 covers of Jingle Bells. No over the top decorations. No people camping out to buy more stuff to add to the storage locker of stuff they don't use but had to have. No stress of buy, buy, buy, wrap, wrap, wrap....no competing with who got the most or bragging who gave the most.

Just a quiet beach and time with friends....and thinking about the real meaning of Christmas.

Isn't this how it should be?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mille Colline -- Hotel Rwanda

I never come to the Mille Colline in Rwanda.....it is Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda.  Today, for some reason I had a few hours to burn before I head to the airport to pick up Jock, Obed and Kiki.  I stopped into the Mille Colline for a drink.  I've been here two other times, pre and post remodel.  Preremodel still had the original pool.  Today it looks like any other modern hotel, however, I still have visions of desperate people drinking from a polluted pool in 1994.  I look around the bar....I am one of the few expats (translated white people), and that's good.  Very good.  They have a band, playing a mix of very American music mostly old, Otis Redding currently.  It is nice.  I still see desperate people at the pool.

When I walked into the lobby I noticed a photography exhibition they were having.  As I walked down the stairs to the pool area I notice the quote above posted on a wall near some photos of people who have impacted African over the decades.  This quote sums up why I am here.

I talk to the bartender about the Team....Adrien Niyonshuti, he exclaims, he is a hero.  The Tour of Rwanda?  I want to know more.  You work with the Team.  We love our team.  This is the new Mille Colline.

This country has come so far since 1994.

I look at pictures from Napa and the school visits Kiki and Obed have been attending with our documentary, Rising From Ashes.  They talk to the young people about conflict resolution as only people who have lived through a genocide can.....

They are inspiring teens half way around the world.

Andy, our UK volunteer tells me in the car on the way to Kigali he wants to come back and stay to help grow a small farm for Team Rwanda to not only feed itself but to feed a community.....

Sometimes I am so caught up in the laundry, the search for money, keeping the riders fit and healthy I forget the impact all of us are making on the world in our own unique ways.  Jock and I are not easy people to work for...we set the bar high, we are not warm and fuzzy...well Jock is, I'm not, but still people like Andy and Jody want to come back and stay, stay for a long time and help.  

When Andy told me he wanted to come back to stay I laughed.  Perhaps a bit too loudly....our life is not easy but I've come to believe some of us continue to search for meaning over convenience.  

I believe we are not wanting to just visit Rwanda...we want to live Rwanda.  

I say this with a moment of incredible hopefulness combined with a big black cloud of sadness hanging over me.  That is how Rwanda and this experience has always been...incredible joy and crushing sadness within the same moment.  This is the saddest week of my 3 1/2 years of living in Rwanda and being with the Team.  I have been trying desperately to hold the tears at bay, but it just doesn't seem to be working anymore.....and the difficult part is I cannot even talk about it.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Team Rwanda Values

Last week I sat down with the team to talk about what is important to us, to the entire team.  Part of this came about with the fall from grace of Lance Armstrong and the apparent lack of integrity in the cycling world.  Another reason is we are heading into the Tour of Rwanda, and another Team came to train with us from another African country.  We have no idea where they are as a team.  We just wanted to be clear about what is important to THIS team, these cyclists.

First, conversations like this do not happen generally in Rwanda, a free flowing group discussion about values.  We started working with the team this year in our after training meetings to help them become comfortable expressing whatever is on their mind whether it deals with the bike or other more personal issues.  Secondly, this is their work.  They talked about examples and I helped them put it into words.  

Respect is the word used most often within this team.  They live this word.  The other day when the Minister of Sport came out to our training camp (this never happens a HUGE deal for us), I spent most of the day organizing the house, the office, the reception for the Minister, his staff, the Rwandan Cycling Federation and the dozen or more journalists who were here to cover the event.  As the Minister was taking a tour of the Team home, Nathan asked me why I didn't ride that morning.  I told him I just had too much to do with the Minister coming.  I wanted to make sure everything was perfect, or as close to perfect as possible.  Nathan looked at me all serious and said, "These guys, you know, they respect you.  These guys, they do."  I smiled.....really, that's all I ever need.  I work hard to earn their respect.  It is a two way street and I will continue to earn their respect every day just like they earn mine.

A few days after we wrote these values, I opened up Facebook to see David George from 360 Life, a South African mountain biker, a person our team knows and looks up to, tested positive for doping.   Adrien raced against David George in the Cape Epic and the Cape Pioneer.  Nathan just looked at the article over my shoulder and said, "He has no integrity" and he walked away disgusted.  David George and all the rest of the dopers are everything wrong with the sport....Adrien and Nathan and the team is everything right.

Today on Twitter as I looked at all the positive tweets about the screening of Rising From Ashes at the Napa Valley Film Festival last night I see there are people who still believe in the sport.  The film won best documentary voted by the audience.  People still want to believe in these values.

One of the tweets read:
@TRwandaCycling @rfathemovie we really loved your story.  Your team has something to teach us all.

I continue to learn every day from these young men.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Storylane: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? 20 Years

I received an invitation to this website,  Storylane

I decided to give it a try...perhaps it would start and keep me writing me.  The very first day, I receive a request to answer the question in the title.  So, I did:

No Where Near Where I Thought I Would Be


I've always been a goal setter...my entire life.

My grand plan at the age of 21?


Become a business owner, have lots of success, grow and expand the business, start another business and start making money...lots of it.


I was going to be a millionaire by the time I was 40 and retired by the time I was 45. Then I was going to travel and see the world.


Everything happened exactly how it was supposed to, the master plan orchestrated and on the path to fulfillment....until at the age of 35 I lost it all.


I lost my business, which ironically I hated anyway but never had the balls to confront my feelings due to the haze of Benjamin's which poured into my bank account.


I lost my second business simply for bad business decisions. I filed bankruptcy and a year later I gave my house back to the bank a victim of the housing freefall in Las Vegas.


And then I lost my marriage...still the saddest part of the whole master plan.


At then, 42, if you would have said this was going to be my life when I was 32, I would have arrogantly scoffed at such an erroneous thought.


So, I moved to Africa, a bit on a whim, a bit running away, a lot searching for my soul as I was beginning to doubt I ever was in possession of a soul.


Where do I see myself in 5 years? Hopefully surrounded by great friends, love from family both natural born and otherwise and at peace with my life and how I live it. Money, location, stuff really none of it matters....been there, done that.


Where do I see myself in 20 years? Really? The best I can say is....riding a bike, somewhere. 

 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Two Steps Forward One Step Back

Someday I want to leave Rwanda...for good.  

Understand, I love what I do.  I am blessed beyond measure to work with these young men and to see the change in their lives because we are here, because of Team Rwanda.  Leaving is not eminent.  My shelf life in any job, career or busy is about seven years, give or take a year.  I like new challenges.  I like to see things develop, evolve and continue without me as I go on to the next adventure in life.  Here's the problem I see on the horizon..."continue without me".  

When I say me I really mean all of us here on the ground in Rwanda.  Unlike the majority of NGOs we operate more like a business, setting the bar and expecting at some point for the riders and the people we work with to reach and hopefully surpass it.  There have been a few brilliant moments when I exhaled and thought to myself they can do this.  Without a doubt Adrien will be successful in whatever avenue he chooses after cycling.  I also believe Obed is on that cusp as well.  But for every Obed and Adrien I have a dozen others who in my dark moments of realistic shock, will never rise that high.

I am at home this morning while I should be at the National Championship race in Kigali.  I threw out my back picking up Rocky's little girl.  Guess she wasn't so little.  Luckily, I had gone through everything with Dave, our new temporary coach from the US, yesterday and we were dialed in.  Kiki left Friday night to go to Kigali with Jonathan, his almost four year old son.  Kiki was supposed to be at the race this morning riding in the car, helping Max and Jimmy with any mechanical issues and showing Dave the ropes of African racing.  He was a no show.  No show, phone turned off...I want to shake him.  This is typical behavior with people I work with in Rwanda.  If they know they have made a mistake or they want to avoid confrontation they turn off their cell phone.  Mind you, most people in this country have two separate cell phones, two numbers and are on the phone CONSTANTLY.  Sadly, this is not the first time Kiki has done this.  Kiki is the team representative with the Federation and we are teaching him mechanics as his international racing career has come to an end.  How can I ever trust Kiki to lead this team?  

The other day another associate of ours who took over the cargo bike program from Project Rwanda failed miserably.  This gentleman has been asking for help to get the spare parts and new bikes into the country for months.  We have facilitated every step of the way, introducing him to the people in the industry who can help bring more bikes to Rwanda, even paying for his lodging at the WBR (World Bicycle Relief) African Summit in Lusaka this week.  On the morning the entire contingency left for a warehouse and assembly plant tour (the single most important reason for this person to be there), he overslept.  His excuse...because there's ALWAYS an excuse, was he ate too much meat the night before and couldn't wake up.  Just imagine saying that to the owner or CEO of your company in America.  Things like this make me just want to give up and go home.  

....but then there's Obed who has learned so much in America, most importantly, he has learned leadership, self reliance and a no excuses mentality.  I can hear Obed yelling at Kiki right now...and that's a good thought.  I am sure Kiki is sound asleep oblivious to the world and to the damage he continues to do to our trust in his abilities.  Maybe Obed will be the one to help him see the ramifications, maybe coming from another Rwandan will be more powerful.  I frankly do not have much more to give Kiki at this point and need to distance myself from his disappointing self induced behavior.

Next...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Debaters and the Haters

Dictionary.com defines Debate as:


to argue or discuss (a question, issue, or the like), as in a legislative or public assembly: They debated the matter of free will

to dispute or disagree about: The homeowners debated the value of a road on the island.
 

to engage in formal argumentation or disputation with (another person, group, etc.): Jones will debate Smith. Harvard will debate Princeton.
 

to deliberate upon; consider: He debated his decision in the matter.

I am trying to figure out when the ability to debate a point, present a clear, concise argument, listen to the response to our argument, and rebut digressed to the personal attack peppered with words which include symbols i.e., a*^, c(*t, etc. 

When I was in high school I wanted to be on the debate team.  Unfortunately, my wallflower nature at the time prohibited me from ever attempting such a forefront feat of extrovert-ism.  I would listen to debates in high school or on TV and quietly formulate my rebuttal, using facts and my super hero powers of persuasion.  It was high school and I thought I wanted to be a lawyer.  Instead I grew up to manage a Rwandan cycling team, but I still enjoy a good debate.

When I was in the US this past month I had the misfortune of being subjected to the swing state mudslinging propaganda as a resident of Nevada.  The commercials and the newspaper stories (which are never reported objectively in Nevada), never listed actual issues.  It was attack attack attack.  I just wanted to know the facts on each candidate's platform.  Why was it so difficult to find?  I am an intelligent well read woman.  I don't need to be beaten over the head with the ferocity of a sledgehammer of "your" views.  Let me see the facts on both sides, weigh the effect it will have on my life, my views and make an educated decision.  Being called a Mittwit because I disagree with Obama on many points does not sway me toward your viewpoint.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about the UCI and the work they do in Africa against the framework of the current situation with doping.  I was shocked at the amount of traffic the blog generated, definitely a hot button of cycling and sports.  What surprised me most were the comments.  I received a few on the blog site itself, two I kept, including an anonymous one, which as a rule I never allow (if you can't own it you can't post it), one I deleted.  The two I kept I disagreed with on some points, however, they articulated their position and stated it in a coherent adult manner.  The deleted one did not.  

People will never agree on everything all the time...duh.  Because I don't agree with you doesn't mean we can't debate the issue and agree to disagree on some points, on others come to a consensus and some even be swayed to the others point of view.  

This was not the case on the Bike Radar Forum which posted a link to my blog.  

One comment:

"Of course, I disagree with what the author is basically saying about sweeping it under the carpet. But it's good to see some evidence of the UCI doing good work."

In my blog I never said sweep it under the rug.  I absolutely agree with most people, something needs to change at the UCI regarding the doping issues.  We need to learn from this era of rampant abuse and make changes to insure a fair future for all cyclists.  However, calling for the heads of UCI executives is not necessarily the answer.  Calling them names really doesn't work either:

"Mcquaid has been a c*nt ever since he ignored a worldwide sporting ban on competeing in South Africa in the seventies."

Using words which include symbols instead of letters, i.e., s(*t, f32k, etc does not validate your point nor does it encourage people to rethink their position.  For me personally, it makes me mentally delete your point entirely due to simple ignorance.  Do you personally know McQuaid?  How exactly does a c*nt symbolize McQuaid.  He's not a female.  C*nts, speaking from a female perspective, are fairly specific bodily organs.  Not getting the relationship between a vagina and McQuaid's alleged violations in the doping scandal.  

Someone (Obama fan) said to me when I was home in America, "Mitt's wife is a bitch!".  Really, and you know this how?  Did she come into your home, sleep with your husband and then blog about it?  If not, can you really call her a bitch?  Perhaps you could have said, "I feel she is out of touch because x, y, & z (real life examples which have been documented to be true).  I would have at least opened my mind.  Instead, I simply thought, "Wow, really?  You've always been so articulate about your political views, why the lapse?"

Election frenzy gets the best of most Americans, especially those of us in the infamous swing states.  Stay off Facebook!

If I do not have personal knowledge of a person, events, background OR I haven't done independent research based on factual documentation (twitter and Facebook do not count), I keep my mouth shut and simply listen until I can make an educated comment.  I try to choose my words carefully and from this vantage point.  However, I have also been known to stick my size 10 foot in my mouth and then beg forgiveness, it's a human thing.

Also, if you want to quote my blog, please actually use the real words which I wrote.  This is not anywhere in my blog yet the "poster" put it in quotes:

That blog is rubbish 'Please make all this drugs stuff go away so things can carry on as they are'

I have no problem you thinking my blog is "rubbish" obviously you might not be able to make the "rubbish" assumption because you clearly did not read it and are putting your words in my mouth.  You wrote those words not me, why?  It shows your opinions are entrenched not open to debate.  Fine, next.

As I read through the comments I wondered why we as adults cannot seem to make coherent arguments.  I am old school, literally.  When I went to school we had to write term papers and present our thesis and back it up logically, coherently and based on a factual foundation.  I came across an article last night in the October 1st, Atlantic Monthly, "The Writing Revolution".  I think this is behind the crazy posts on blogs, forums, twitter and facebook.


I appreciate all the comments, pro and con, about my blog post and my views on the UCI.  I also appreciate varying viewpoints.  My viewpoint comes from a 3 1/2 year stint in Africa.  Of course I will view things much differently than someone in the West.  These years in Africa and this filter have had a positive, unexpected benefit.  I come at everything in life with a little more compassion, a willingness to see the other side and a humbleness that perhaps we in the "western world" do not have all the answers all the time.  The most dramatic shift in thinking however, has come from the harshness of this place.  While a significant portion of the cycling world is fixated on bringing Lance, the UCI and others down, I am figuring out how to get a talented new 18 year old on a decent bike so he can start to race with Team Rwanda.  Priorities shift, reality sets in.  Life on the bandwagon of crucifixion is simply not part of my world.  Hopefully by the time this young rider, Valens, gets to the big leagues, it will be clean.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The REAL Union Cyclisme Internationale -- UCI in Africa

I have tried most diligently to stay out of this whole Lance Armstrong scandal.  I want no part of the most negative spin on the sport I love so passionately.  However, it is difficult working in the cycling world, everyone wants your opinion.  Yes, I do have more personal inside information than the biased media fire hose blasts the public with on a streaming basis.  Sadly, I just want it all to go away.  It erodes the essence of the sport, what makes cycling so personal, public and passionate.  It is a mudslide gathering momentum minute by minute taking out land, trees and houses in its path.  A house in this path is the UCI, the international cycling body of the sport, the world governing body of cycling.

I am breaking my silence, giving my view of things from my wooden chair in Rwanda because of this phrase posted on Facebook by yet another person who really doesn't understand the full scope of the UCI.  

"UCI is going down.  Its about time" (Yes, another bad speller too...should be "It's")

This phrase is spouted out of ignorance, no offense to the speaker.  Ignorance is lack of fact or knowledge.  The media does not give us facts, they give us their spin of the facts especially in today's world of "journalism".  

Let me give you facts about the UCI.

Team Rwanda would be at a significant disadvantage without the support of the UCI.  The UCI has supported us whenever we have requested and even when we haven't known to request.  This summer when we were in Switzerland, Jock called Pat McQuaid and Frederique Magne and asked to meet.  Two days later he walked into the offices in Agile, Switzerland and sat down one on one with Pat, the unfortunate mis-target of "Lancegate".

UCI is instrumental to cycling in Africa.  Without UCI, African cycling would struggle to continue growing at the current pace.  UCI goes down, African cycling will be the collateral damage.  Ironically the person who posted this is African, Nigerian, riding in the US.  

UCI provides not only equipment -- all 12 of our race bikes (Merckx and Canyons with Campy Record 11 gruppos) are donated to us through the UCI.  They also provide coaching assistance, sending us a coach with 30+ years of experience last year to us for two weeks.  Team Rwanda paid zero for his visit.

The UCI has provided a Rwandan with the opportunity to train at their coaching course in Switzerland for two months.  Again, Team Rwanda paid zero and this Rwandan coach will now be the Director Sportif at the Continental Championships in Burkina Faso next month.  UCI is helping Team Rwanda build sustainability.

In the summer of 2011, Gasore and Nicodem trained for three months at the UCI Center in Agile.  Our cost?  Two plane tickets to Switzerland.

Every year, twice a year, we are able to send two riders to the UCI Training Center in South Africa.  Right now Janvier and Joseph are there for the second time.  At this center they have the opportunity to perfect their race skills with weekly racing in and around Johannesburg, something we could never give them in Rwanda.  Our cost?  Two plane tickets and rider insurance.

Next year, Jock, Max and I will be heading to Ethiopia to assist the Ethiopian Cycling Federation with equipment, training, nutrition and setting up a mechanic training program.  The Ethiopian's talent rivals and perhaps surpasses the natural God given talent of Rwandans.  The UCI has offered an additional coach and bicycles for a junior program in Ethiopia.  Our cost...zero.

The UCI has helped us start two UCI sanctioned races in Rwanda, Kwita Izina and the Tour of Rwanda.  They provide us top notch commissaires and have also initiated a commissairies training program in Rwanda.  The President of the Jury personnel they have sent each year are professional, experienced and also patient with teaching all of us (African Director Sportifs) the rules of the race.

And yes, we have dope control at our races and it is taken seriously.

On any given day, we can email, pick up the phone or walk in the door at UCI and there is someone who is there to help us including Pat McQuaid.  

This is our UCI....you take them down you inadvertently take down Team Rwanda and the developing cycling nations in Africa.  

The only response I will give in regards to Lance et al....they were all adults, made adult albeit incredibly selfish decisions to do what they did....ALL of them.  UCI did not force them to dope, did not condone it and did not cover it up.  It is not a JFK assassination level conspiracy.  Adults doped, adults got caught and it is a hen house feeding frenzy interpersonal attack of epic proportions.  Each one throwing the other under the bus.  It is pathetic in my view and sadly, the prima donnas of the sport in their quest to place blame on any and all accept themselves could wipe out the chance for the most talented and most in need in the sport....the Africans.
 


Friday, October 12, 2012

Olympics and Everything Else Happening Summer 2012


Every day I sit down to write and every day the task seems so daunting.  Where do I start?  How do I begin to put into words the places I have been, the experiences I have had, the feeling of epic joy and crushing sadness?  I read a book by Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird” about the craft of writing.  If you want to write, write every day.  Where did the past two and a half months go?  There are times on rides, my quiet rides in America where all the thoughts come rushing to the surface, thoughts that I feel must be expelled or I might just spontaneously combust on the road to Red Rocks.  And then, I return and life begins again.  My life never seems to slow, never time to just think, to breathe, to write. 

Once again, I am on a plane.  I am flying back to Rwanda.  Generally I cannot seem to do anything on planes other than watch movie after movie to suck up the mindless hours.  I am not inspired to write.  I am counting the minutes until the wheels touch the earth.  Tonight somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean I decided to write.

In April I came back to the US for a short three-week trip and as I type I cannot remember why…..it was for our documentary Rising From Ashes.  At that time we still didn’t have a film festival berth.  We were just showing the film at private engagements with people who had been long time fans and other recently introduced to Team Rwanda.   During those few weeks I was in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Southern California and Phoenix.   


I returned to Rwanda hopeful that perhaps somewhere along the way the film, the story about Team Rwanda had inspired a bout of much needed generosity.  

I worry about money constantly.  I have never been able to change that feeling.  Sometimes we are three months out with available funds; sometimes it stretches to six months.  It doesn’t matter, I still am always thinking about what is next….$10,000 for tickets to Eritrea?  Olympics for Adrien?  Who is going to pay for all his training?  Camps?  Will our sponsor in Rwanda commit to another year?  Somehow we always have just enough.  Funny how God works.  Trusting in the future, a future that is based on telling our story and hoping people believe in what we are doing with some young cyclists in Rwanda, is never easy. 

If I can change one life than it has all been worth it. 

Adrien Niyonshuti was that life, that person.  So was Obed Ruvogera.


The Olympics were such a mixture of emotion.  The question most often asked when I arrived home from London was, “So…how were the Olympics?”

The Olympics were stressful, beautiful, magical, heart wrenching, frustrating and left me somewhat cynical and hopeful all at the same time.  Adrien rode of Cinderella story race.  The five days leading up to the race were anything but Cinderella, more like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas….and at this time, that is all I can say about that, someday, the book will explain it all.

Adrien’s race was epic.  He one of the greatest stories of the Games and he handled it all with a serious attitude of grace under pressure.  I have always had great respect for Adrien as a cyclist and more importantly, as a human being.  I am privileged to have share this moment of time with him.

He finished the race…..39th.  He rode exactly as he had trained for months.  It was textbook.   He was the first black African to have finished an Olympic mountain bike race.  He made history. 

I witnessed it.

The next day I was back on a plane to Rwanda and the depression rolled over me like a slowing building wave crashing on the shore.  I landed in Rwanda on a Monday night; Tuesday we started camp.  There was no time to celebrate, decompress, savor the moment, and come to terms with the fallout.  We had nine days before heading for the Tour of Rio.

I am not quite sure if it was the post partum like depression after the Olympics but the Tour of Rio plunged me from the highest pinnacle of my three years in Rwanda to one of my lowest.  The Team was a disaster.  As much as Adrien had risen to ride the race of his life, the rest of the team simply lay down and gave up, literally.  I was left trying to figure out how we could be so right and good and so wrong and pathetic in the span of ten days.  All the fight Adrien showed at the Olympics was vanquished in the six riders who raced Rio.  It was tragically disappointing.   Crash after crash and not one got on their bike to fight to get back in the back.  By the end of the race, two riders were in the car and the other four occupied the back of the peloton.  Jock, Max and I rode in the car at the end of the race caravan (position is determined based on Team’s overall performance) and talked about our future, all of us completely at a loss at the spectacle we were witnessing. 


I am thankful Rio was so beautiful and the race and organization top notch, the hotels wonderful, the beaches living up to their international reputation.  The Brazilians I met were friendly, helpful and exuded a spirit of adventure and living for the moment.  For a country, which has serious challenges with violence and crime, the people were extraordinary.  My favorite evening of the Tour was in Rio de Otras, a beach town the day before the final stage.  We sat around the pool with the Chocque (Brazilian bad ass police force) playing their guitars, singing and drinking.  All of us from all around the world getting to know one another and enjoying just a bit of down time.  Times like this is what makes all my travels so memorable, random, spontaneous people and events.

Team Rwanda’s performance and our time in the car solidified our plans to start diversifying throughout Africa.  Jock, Max and I are a team, a team that wants to do what we were able to do in Rwanda, for other countries.  In January we start with Ethiopia.  We are not leaving Rwanda.  Rwanda will have another full time mechanic and a rotating group of coaches and Max, Jock and I keeping our home base there, however, it is time for the riders to step up and take responsibility for their team.  We have given them all the tools to be successful; they must now seize the reins.

I returned to Rwanda from Rio, spent four days working, packing and trying to get my body on the current time zone and then got back on a plane to the US.

The US…..what has happened?  I am at a loss.  When did the attitude of entitlement begin to grow exponentially?  I am shocked at the health of Americans, for the love of Buddha people, get a grip.  Put down the McDonald’s, get your ass off the couch and quit blaming everything and everyone for the reason you are fat. 

There’s a new You Tube video out that summarizes everything that is wrong with America….young adults made a video protesting the school district’s decision to serve fruits and vegetables and to limit the fast food garbage.  In the video the teenager’s act like they are starving, they complain and they throw the healthy food into the trash

…..I do not even know what to do with that visual.

The young kids in the rural areas of Rwanda who never get a shower, who eat rice and beans, who live on dirt floors….the riders….their families….this is what I see day in and day out and you don’t like your fucking carrots?   I am disgusted.  If I was a parent to any one of those students I would have them on a plane so fast, plunk them down in Rwanda or Kenya or Somalia for that matter, let’s try the Daddab refugee camp. 

On the flight from Kigali to Brussels on September 10th the plane stopped in Nairobi to change crew, disembark and add new passengers.  As the plane began to fill up I noticed the back third of the plane was still empty and then I watched as Somali after Somali began to board.  They were thin, striking in their appearance.  Each person was carrying a white plastic bag with blue letters, USRP, United States Refugee Program.  They carried blankets with the USRP blue letters.  Their shoes were all exactly the same, standard issue.  Everything they owned was in those white plastic bags. 

Imagine….you have just walked days, perhaps weeks, trying to get into Kenya from Somalia your home country, dodging rebels, fighting starvation, dehydration, watching family members, friends, strangers die along the route.  If you are a woman, you are on constant alert for the errant rebels who believe rape is the best form of warfare. 

You make it to one of the worst refugee camps on the planet and you are one of the lucky ones, your number is picked to resettle in America.  You do not know the language, the culture, you have never seen a map and have no idea where the city in the US is in which you will now call home.
I watched each refugee settle into his or her seat, with each one who passed my seat I became increasingly more emotional.  Life comes down to the ultimate birth lotto.  I am blessed beyond measure.

You want to feign starvation?  Perhaps little miss spoiled over privileged fast food eating whiner, you would like to show your video to these Somali refugees?  Sadly, I fear it would have zero impact. 

Even as I write this and rant my disgust with these young American teenagers and the sad state of affairs in the US, I am not ready to go back to Rwanda.  I am not sure if it is simply because I face a daunting next six weeks, full on camps, a trip to the Continental Championships in Burkina Faso (Jock will be in the US so that makes me the Team Director/Coach), the Tour of Rwanda and now a pending trip back to the US in December, our only month in which we are able to take a break. 

Things are good…the film is winning awards, gathering momentum, we are getting more and more support financially and volunteers are appearing from a myriad of countries.  Perhaps I fear the unknown, the next step for this team.  I fear not reaching the current team and new members.  Rio seriously tweaked me.  I wanted it more for them then they wanted it, never a good place to be.  Am I missing something?  Are their fears getting the best of them?  Or the ever-present African Fatalism? 

I think about Obed returning to Rwanda after being in the US since July.  He has seen and experienced so much.  His future is wide open; he can take it as far as he dreams.  I just need to fuel his dream, easy in America, near impossible in Rwanda. 

As I obsess about all of this, making sure all these guys have the shot in life they need to have a better life and worrying about them, pushing them, setting the bar high, not backing down on expectations a smile comes across my face.  I am reminded over and over again by a very dear friend of the new Alanis Morrisette song, Guardian.  Yes, I will always be their “warrior of care”. 

So…that is what I did this summer….the Olympics, Eritrea, Great Britain, Switzerland, South Africa, Brazil, Uganda, Rwanda, the US….everything I wished for four years ago realized.




Friday, July 27, 2012

Coffee with Cream and Other Rules of Life

My blogs have been way too introspective, serious and a bit self-help preachy lately.  Cut me some slack, I am decompressing from months in Rwanda and life altering days.


Today when I was having my coffee, looking for a photo on my iPhone, I realized the way in which I live my life can be boiled down to a few pictures and  just a couple of somewhat off the wall rules of life...my life, my rules.


1.  Take your coffee with cream, knock off the skim milk BS!


Life is simply not worth living if you don't partake in the best ingredients.  I used to be a "skim milk kind of girl".  No fat, low fat, no sugar (well, I still don't use sugar never really have), which also equates to no taste, no enjoyment, no fun.  When I moved to Rwanda I started using cream in my coffee, probably because most of the milk was a bit suspect.  It is surprising what a difference real flavor makes.  Coffee with real cream is my favorite meal of the day.  I look forward to that first cup and savor it.  


A few years ago a book came out entitled, "French Women Don't Get Fat".  It talks about the French paradox, French women eat bread, drink wine, indulge in three course meals and do not seem to get fat.  Ultimately, they still eat less, eat more satiable calories and they walk everywhere.  I am going with French on this one, pass the butter.


I watch what I eat, but I move...a lot.  Yesterday I splurged, splurging is a good thing.  I had a lovely lunch with my girlfriend Patricia at a restaurant up the valley about 2 miles.  We walked her three dogs to the restaurant.  We had bread, pasta, a small bottle of wine and a desert of coffee over ice cream with Kahlua.  It was decadently heavenly.  And then we walked back.


There's a great part in the movie and book, "Eat, Pray, Love", which sums up our relationship with food:


2.  Wine Goes with Any Sport


Last month my friend Steve was visiting me in Rwanda.  As always, my life was consumed with work and the preparations for London.  But sometimes, most of the time, you just need to stop and go with the moment.  Max was going to play tennis.  I looked at Steve and said, "Grab Zulu, the bottle of wine, and let's go watch a tennis match."  It wasn't yet 5:00pm, my self imposed time barrier for my first glass of wine for the day.  I think it was 4:00pm...close enough, it was one of the best moments with Steve the entire trip.  


If the opportunity presents itself go with it and don't forget the wine.




3.  LAUGH every day!


Relish in the stupid s*(t in the world.  This was embroidered, well actually it may have been printed, on my bedspread at a hotel in Kahama, Tanzania.  Yes, Kahama is a typical, crap hole trucker town on the road to the port city of Dar es Salaam.  I am not sure even what this means exactly but whatever it does, it's hilarious.  


Is "Beaustful" a word?




4.  Spelling matters


One of my biggest pet peeves with the younger generation (yes, this statement officially makes me my mother) is their inability to spell due to spell checker, tweeting, and a whole new language of words and spelling.  I'm old school.  I still believe in capitalization, punctuation and complete sentences.  I'm crazy like that.  AND, I am the spelling Nazi for reasons such as seen on the sign above from a recent race in Davos, Switzerland (bad spelling is not just an American epidemic).  This was supposed to say "Colnago", which is an Italian bike manufacturer.  Instead is this the Italian word for Colonoscopy?  Does this have something to do with our colons?  Or does this refer to a colon from years past, i.e, a long time AGO?


5.  Stop blaming others


I am so exhausted with the general entitlement, blame others mentality.  Stupidity is not an excuse or in this case a disability although I am sure someone in the US has currently filed a lawsuit claiming they were not responsibility due to a momentary bout of stupidity, which is actually the fault of their genetic code and outside their realm of personal control.  


Don't be stupid in the world.  You know what the right and correct thing is to do, it's that voice in your head, which speaks to you, for f(*&k sake LISTEN to it!


6.  Put the Cart Back!


Basically this follows the principle, "Do unto others...."  My girlfriend has the single best blog on this subject, "Putting Back the Cart and My Tao of Life".  It is a MUST read.  This goes back to Rule #5...remember that voice, telling you to do the right thing....here it is in action, or in the case of this photo, inaction. Notice the proximity of the store with all the carts up against the store window in their proper corral.  Then notice the two carts and their proximity to my vehicle.  What, that 25 feet you need to walk to return the cart was just too taxing?  That heart rate of yours spiking to 105?! 


My mom always said, "Leave it better than you found it."  If I borrow your car I will return it washed, full of fuel and clean on the inside.  I appreciate you lending to me.  If I stay at your home I will strip the sheets and wash them when I leave.  And if I use a cart at the grocery store, even if my car is parked in the next county from the store, I will return it.  Perhaps that's why I don't have a problem with Rule #1?


7.  Be Kind to Animals, Save a Kite


A few months ago when Rafiki and I were walking to the other house for lunch during a team training camp we came across this injured bird.  It is a Kite, perhaps part of the Eagle family.  I am not sure, I really don't do birds.  Birds freak me out just a bit, those talons and beak hurt!  Unfortunately, when we found the bird, Jock was not in the country.  He's the bird whisperer.  I am the bird runawayer.  I couldn't leave the bird lying there in the road.  We needed to get him to the vet and figure out what was wrong.  So, Kiki scooped him up and we took him to the vet where he was examined and given some medication for mites.  There was nothing visibly wrong with the Kite so we took him home and kept him quiet for a few days.  Every night he slept in a basin at the end of my bed, Zulu keeping a fatherly eye on him (or her, not sure).  Every morning we put him in the yard where he would walk around and then sit on the compost pile.  After about a week he started to fly and within 10 days he flew up and out of our compound.  Perhaps he just needed to rehab, or was tired of all the Rwandan kids throwing rocks at him.  We all need some down time.  It was the first time I had to care for a bird, a rather large bird with clawwy talons which could rip your eyes out and a sharp beak, and I learned they are not so scary after all.  There is something about helping those who are the most vulnerable in life whether they are animals or people.  We all need to save more "Kites" in the world.  


8.  If your belly can be used as an armrest, it's time for a change.


Everyone...do NOT get up in my face about this rule.  These are my rules, not yours, I am just living by my rules, you are free to make up your own and I will respect them.


The reason for this rule is simple.  God gave me one body.  I want to take care of this gift the best I can.  I do not believe everyone needs to be a certain weight based on their height, but I do believe we all need to feed our machines well, exercise the machines and do regular maintenance.  It makes all of us happier, healthier and less taxing on everyone in the system of life.  Just be the healthiest you, you can be.  


9.  Sleep Well


I think if everyone got more sleep in the world we would be a much happier planet.  Turn off your phones, Blackberries, iPads, computers, the TV.  Go to bed at a decent time wake up refreshed.  Most of us need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night consistently to operate at our maximum potential.  Americans, on average, get less than 7...consistently.  No wonder there are so many crabby people!  Maybe we would all put the carts back if we weren't so tired to walk the 25 feet back to the store....just sayin'.


10.  And finally....Pet a Cheetah


Looking at this picture I realize, maybe not the smartest move in the world.  I entered a cheetah cage alone with only a Kenyan animal caretaker's assurance the cheetah was a "nice" cheetah.  The caretaker was also on the other side of the fence.  


I remember the feel of the fur on this amazing cat.  The sound of it purring.  The look in his eyes.  I was assuming it was a look of "you're fine, I already had dinner tonight."


Really this rule comes down to doing something you fear every day and you will have an amazing experience filled life.  We all need a bit more structured fear in our lives and the opportunity to overcome these fears.  Because, the more you face your fears the more fears you tackle with less and less...fear.


Go find your cheetah....