Before training camp started a couple of weeks ago I was in a bit of a panic. Petty, our cook who has been preparing meals for the Team for almost a year, was unavailable until mid February. She is employed by another organization who is currently renting out the front portion of our Team house and they needed her to cook for their volunteers for six weeks. Who was I going to find, in Rwanda, to cook nutritious, very unlike Rwandan, meals for 15 hungry riders five days a week? I also had no additional staff to assist with teaching another cook our way of menu planning and meal preparation. Seriously, I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and go to sleep until February.
And then came Celestin.
Celestin was the former cook for the French family Jock lived with in Butare his first year in Rwanda. He's an older gentleman, okay 60ish but that's really old in Rwanda, and after this French family left he worked for a couple other people but really had fallen on difficult times. Jock has always stayed in touch with Celestin and every year when the Tour of Rwanda stops in Butare for the day, Jock and Celestin always reconnect. He is a very nice man, of course I have no clue what he's saying because he doesn't speak English and I still don't speak French.
This year when we stopped in Butare Jock met up with Celestin and found out that his former boss, a Rwandan, skipped the country unexpectedly and apparently "forgot" to pay him his salary for the month. Celestin never asked for money he was simply stating the simple truth of his life. He told Jock he had faith God would provide as He always had and he was thankful he was able to reconnect with Jock again. Jock came back to the hotel in Butare where we were all staying and told me he was going to give him $100 just because that's what friends do.
Celestin was surprised and grateful.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks prior to our first camp and my stress freak out about no cook and Jock mentions Celestin. He did not have consistent employment, he wanted to work and we could give him a job, a good well paying job. But, all I thought was, "He doesn't speak English!"
Celestin came the Sunday before our first camp and has been here every week since. Whenever you have one of those moments when you think everything is going south quickly, sometimes, when you least expect it something truly amazing happens.
Celestin is a phenomenal cook but that is just the surface of why he will remain with us for as long as he will have us. He actually knew Abraham, Nathan, Kiki and Obed from the early days when the riders used to train in Butare. The guys were so happy to see him that first day. He has this amazing quiet, calm energy. We need that. There is never stress over when the meals are going to be ready. We show up and they are ready. The kitchen is immaculate, and the pride in his work, his meals is unmistakable. He orchestrates the most incredible salads, tonight the riders went back for seconds....on salad? His food is infused with love for these riders. We give him purpose again in his life, and he gives us the fuel to race and perform, and it's all done with his calm energy, his calm, hopeful energy.
Celestin's life embodies hope. During the 1994 genocide Celestin, fearing the worst, sent his seven year old son to stay with an aunt. The aunt was murdered during those 100 days in April. Before she was killed, the son was sent to another Aunt. After the genocide Celestin had no idea where his son was and if his son was still alive. Many people took years to reunite with family and loved ones after those horrific days of summer 1994 in Rwanda. Celestin took 14 years.
His son had ended up in a tea plantation in or around the Burundi border south of Rwanda. He was a slave at the plantation. He had no idea if his father, Celestin was still alive.
Celestin never gave up hope.
Fourteen years later his son came home.
Celestin encompasses everything that is this Team....Hope is an amazing ride.