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 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 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. 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....

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Friendship Born out of Tragedy

In May of 2009, I was still finding my way in Africa.  I had only been in Rwanda  a little over a month, not sure about anything, anyone, life in general.  I met a woman from the UK, Suzanne, who introduced me to David Pluth, a photographer in Rwanda shooting a tourism video for the government tourism board.  

Here is the rest of the story....

Since posting this story over three years ago, it has remained one of my most often read blogs.  

The end of the story began today.

David's widow, Patricia, a Canadian by birth and now a Swiss resident, lives near Zurich.  I met her shortly after David's death.  I remember thinking how incredibly strong she was.  How do you deal with the death of a spouse, in a foreign country, a country not cooperating with arrangements for the release of his body and still maintain composure?  Perhaps she was in shock, she was the ER doctor handling a triage situation and she did what she needed to do to bring David home.

Over the years I have seen her from time to time in Rwanda while she tirelessly and tenaciously made sure her husband's work was finished and delivered to the Tourism Board.  Along the way, the path was never made easy for her, but she finished it.  

When I learned we would be spending time in Switzerland this summer with Adrien she was the first person I reached out to.  It had been quite a long time since we had seen each other but we have never been far away thanks to Facebook.  Patricia has become a huge fan of Team Rwanda and an ever present fountain of support for myself and Jock.  

Today she drove 2 1/2 hours from Zurich to St. Moritz with her three gorgeous huskies, to reconnect.  It was a perfect day.  It was the best weather I have seen the entire time I have been in the country.  We walked the dogs up the valley to Spinas, this gorgeous mountain lodge.  We had a gourmet lunch, a bottle of wine and splurged on the most delectable Affogato to ever pass my lips.

Personally, it was the day I most needed a friend.  Patricia understands Rwanda and the craziness of a life lived there.  She had spent time in the 80's in Sudan and was evacuated during the US/Libyan crisis.  Today I had to do my own triage of life events.  I handled what needed to be handled, made changes, arrangements and emailed new schedules.  I did it all like I saw her do the first time I met her.  Today I learned from Pat, every day in the last three years she has been scared, scared of what needed to be done, how to do it, how to move forward.  I never knew.  My experience today does not even compare to the loss of a spouse.  But I guess we are very similar in that respect.  I am the ER doctor in the triage ward of Team Rwanda, the Queen Fierce Mama Bear with Ninja gear.  I am the glue that holds things together as my friend Johnny said today.  But for a moment today, my armor chinked and Patricia was there to cheer me forward and at the same time simply honoring the space in which I needed to pound out the chink.

Friendships evolve from a myriad of paths.  For a few days I met a fascinating man....

....and several days later I met his widow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Get Busy Living My Friend

A few weeks ago a "friend" of mine had the following status update on Facebook, "It's so disheartening to go to a job every day that one dislikes."  When I read that statement I pictured myself dressed up in my newest suit, hair flat ironed to straight perfection, sitting in my cubicle at Sysco Foods wondering what the hell was wrong with me.  I hated my perfect job.  It wasn't the job, it wasn't the people in my corporate America life, it was me.  There was nothing that was going to make me happy going to that place every day for the next twenty years.  I knew I was at the end of my ability to adapt and settle in.  There were nights I would cry silently in bed begging God to make me "normal".  There was nothing in my life that was bad, it just wasn't the life I knew I was meant to lead and as the years progressed the panic increased exponentially.  I knew my window of opportunity was closing and so I quit.  

I told this "friend" QUIT.  (I say friend in quotations because this is a person I do not actually know via any other avenue except for Facebook.  I am not sure exactly the connection but when I purged "friends" a few months ago, Eleanor (not her real name) remained.)  Actually I said, "QUIT...I did 3 years ago and have never looked back.  Life is way too short not to live a life you're passionate about."  Life is not only is really, really, really short.  

Today Adrien, Jock and Max left St. Moritz and headed to Zurich.  They leave very early tomorrow morning for the Opening Ceremony in London.  As I hugged Adrien so tightly and whispered how proud I was of him, I took a deep breath and inhaled the moment, never wanting to forget the hug, the smell of Adrien's clean clothes, the rain that was falling lightly.  This is what living passionately feels like.  I went from a sterile cubicle in Las Vegas to hugging the first Rwandan Olympic mountain biker.  To know I have had a very small part in helping this young man achieve this pie in the sky dream, that is all I need.  Money cannot buy you...that.

Those of you who have read my blogs in the past know one of my all time favorite movies is Shawshank Redemption.  I was reminded of this movie recently from a dear friend of mine.  One of Eleanor's other friends, probably a real friend, someone she actually knows, with all good intention commented, "It could be worse, you could have no job."  Would that really be a worse thing?  Ironically, in the next sentence this same friend says, " should come to SF and open a bakery."  Hmmm....Eleanor's true passion?  Her gift?  Her authentic life?  But, there will always be the life you currently lead that needs to get left behind and it is never easy to leave what you know for the unknown.  The walls of institutions are comforting in a claustrophobic, life sucking way.
There are days which are difficult, most days are difficult.  Choices I made three and a half years ago had ramifications.  I currently make a quarter of what I used to in the corporate world.  I will probably never have enough money to retire and God knows, time is flying by for this Mukecuru (what the Team affectionately calls me...means old lady...with respect).  I no longer have a home.  I have a 13 year old SUV with 240,000 miles on it and everything I own fits inside of it.  Yet, on Monday when all of us were in Livigno, Italy, about 30 miles from St. Moritz, Switzerland, to get pizza I realized how having "things" actually makes me anxious.  Livigno is a nice enough Italian town with an excellent take out pizza place but it is also a tax free zone.  It was the European version of Branson, Missouri (sorry my southern Missouri friends).  Outlet store after outlet store with the same items in every location which you don't need any way.  You just don't need stuff, unless the stuff is what you use to fill the void of not pursuing the life you were meant to live.  A closet full of clothes bought with the credit card you have maxed out keeps you living the life you may not want.  It is never the stuff in the end, it is the places and people, the memories you take with you.   I have ridden the roads of Switzerland and Eritrea.  I have friends all over the world with such amazing lives.  And today I hugged an Olympian. 

This April when I did my tax return I had made less money than I did in 1986 waiting tables in college.  I also have traveled to most of Sub Saharan Africa, went to Eritrea, which I will write about soon, and am currently staying in Switzerland. In two weeks I will be watching Adrien at his event in the UK.  I am going to the Olympics in London!

When I return to Rwanda I will head to Brazil for the Tour of Rio the end of August and then back to the US the beginning of September.  Next year it looks like I will start the year assisting the Ethiopian Cycling Federation with their marketing, media and nutrition programs for their athletes.  I have never been to Ethiopia.

On June 13, 2008, I wrote in my journal three things which were important to me.  This was actually an exercise assigned by my therapist at the time.  I wrote down:

I want to travel
I want to do something around my love of cycling
I want to help people

I never knew the "how" but I trusted the catalyst would present itself given an open mind, an open heart and a little bit of fearlessness to answer the call when it came.  

I do not tell my story for the people who are happy with their lives exactly as they are.  A lot of people, probably most people do not want to see the world and live this far outside the box.  However, I guarantee, in those alone moments, maybe in the middle of the night when you cannot sleep there is something you want to do which you continue to suppress.  There is something that pulls at you, a dream unrealized, a dream not even expressed.

I was fortunate in some ways.  Even though I could look back with regret at some of the people and relationships which were collateral damage in my desire to live my life on my terms, I do not because the people who matter most, the opinions I still value, the relationships I still hold sacred will not let me.  I was reminded of this with an email...the end of which had another excerpt from Shawshank Redemption:
I am thankful people I loved let me fly.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It Takes More Than a Village to Raise an Olympian

Yesterday afternoon Jock, Max, Adrien and I went in search of a mountain bike course in which to race.  Adrien does not have any races lined up from this point until his event August 12th at the Olympics, not the best scenario.  There is a race in France this weekend, however, Adrien is the flag bearer for Rwanda at the Opening Ceremony on Friday so will not be able to make the race.  There is no substitute for race training, so we decided to stage our own race in St. Moritz.  When we first mentioned it to Adrien he just laughed and shook his head no.  Adrien should know by now we are all a bit crazy tweaked and once the seed was planted we were going to race.

Adrien's long journey to the Olympics began in Kibuye, Rwanda in the fall of 2006.  Jock Boyer was invited by Tom Ritchey to help run the first Wooden Bike Classic race in Rwanda.  The winner of that first mountain bike race....Adrien Niyonshuti.

In 2007, Jock returned to Rwanda to search for additional talent and to help develop riders like Adrien.  At the beginning there was talk of the Olympics.  The 2008 Olympics.

It was a long shot but it was possible.  In 2007, the team attended the Mountain Bike Continental Championships in Namibia.  Adrien lost the bid  to a Zimbabwean by one place due to a broken freewheel and two flats.

As the Olympic qualifying races for the 2012 London Games came around, there was talk about Adrien and the Olympics.  It was still his dream and the dream of his coach and the dream of his country.  His first opportunity to qualify was at the 2010 Continental Championships in Rwanda.  Rwanda was the host country, Adrien knew the roads, we had all of our riders to support him, it was the perfect dynamic, until his chain broke near the end of the race. Dan Craven from Namibia was in, Adrien was out.

In early 2011 at the Continental Mountain Bike Championships in Stellenbosch, South Africa, Adrien had his final shot.  He had to place in the top two outside of South African cyclists.  He placed fourth behind two South Africans and one Namibian.  He had qualified for the Olympics.

Adrien is the first Rwanda cyclist in history to qualify for the Olympics.  At the 1992 Barcelona Games six cyclists were selected from Rwanda to participate in the Road Race.  

From that qualifying race in early 2011 until this moment everything in Adrien's life has been in preparation for this one day in August.  He switched his focus from road to mountain bike. His team at MTN Qhubeka, based in South Africa, designed his 2012 schedule around races which would prepare him physically for the Olympic course.  They also invested in sending Adrien to races throughout Europe for him to gain points for seeding purposes at the Games.  The higher his rank the further up the pack he will be at the start.  This is crucial.

Since the end of May, Adrien was taken in and cared for by Team Rwanda Cycling board member, former World Cup Champion and Olympic Silver Medalist, Thomas Frischknecht.  Thomas who retired a few years ago now runs the Scott Swisspower Mountain Bike Team in Switzerland.  Two of his cyclists, Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel, are representing Switzerland at the same event.  The effect of training with Thomas, his team, in altitude, at European races has been priceless.  Adrien became part of Thomas' family.  For that we are grateful.

Going to the Olympics is a huge financial commitment.  To give Adrien the best training costs money, a lot of money.  Douglas Ryder, the owner of MTN Qhubeka, Thomas Frischknecht and Team Rwanda Cycling have spent tens of thousands of dollars on this one Olympic race.  There are times I question the money.  I am always weighing the rate of return on any investment, project or program.  There are times I have thought about what else could have been purchased, which project we could have completed, how many other riders might have benefited from this investment, but then I realize, Adrien and the Olympics is more than just a financial deal.  It is the hope of his entire country, the hope to stand apart from its past, to be known as the country with the first Rwandan Olympic mountain biker and not the country known for the genocide.  Adrien at the Olympics is showing the good which comes from Rwanda.  There couldn't be a better example than Adrien.

From the beginning when one of our now board members from South Africa started funding the rider's salaries so they could focus solely on cycling, to the South African team who gave Adrien a shot at the professional level, to all the donors in the US who have helped with donations small and large, to the country of Rwanda who has committed to the sport of cycling, to our new friend in the UK giving Adrien shelter and quiet during the chaotic Opening Ceremony weekend, to the Swiss champion who took Adrien as one of own riders, everyone is a part of Adrien's moment.  It took an international community to raise an Olympic cyclist.

Adrien will not be on the podium in London.  He is good, but unfortunately, he is not the best.  Our goal with Adrien is to finish the race and give a solid performance.  That will be victory.  Actually, the victory is partially in the moment when he walks into that stadium this Friday evening carrying the flag of a healing country, walking in as an example of what is good and right about his home.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shootings in Colorado

On Thursday morning I flipped open my computer and opened to my home page, Facebook. I saw two posts about the shootings in Colorado.  I was in my bucolic Swiss apartment, peaceful, removed from anything remotely resembling violence, aggression or the evil of the world.  I was also seven hours ahead of the US so while most Americans were blissfully asleep, I watched the minute by minute evolution of the events of that night on CNN.

The first thing I thought as I watched this unfold thousands of miles away, was how soon would this event spiral into a platform for gun control, religious views and political firings.  Sadly, it was almost instantaneous.

News in America is all about the sensationalism.  If you have doubts about that statement, why do the news reporters (they cannot be called journalists) always find the least credible and unintelligent examples to relay the events from their unique view point?  

I am not discounting any of the experiences people in the theater that night witnessed.  It was horrific at the most basic level of evil.  Sadly, none of the events surprised me.  What does surprise me is we do not have more of these attacks.

American society is violent.  It is violent with a point the finger at someone or something else mentality.  This did not happen overnight.  It will not change by stricter gun control laws or blaming the presidential candidate.  It is not about the President's policies or an attack on Judeo Christian beliefs.  It was a sick man who reveled in the planning of a violent attack on an epic scale.  Our culture of violence comes at a price.  You cannot continue to be shocked by violence when it is the diet on which you are raised.  I have been living outside the US for three and a half years now so I am not familiar with recent movies for the most part.  However, a friend of mine posted an article about this film The Dark Knight from Jenny McCartney a journalist with the UK newspaper, The Telegraph.  The author of the article quotes, 

"If I were the parent who relented and took a 10-year-old child to seeThe Dark Knight, would I be sorry? Once again, you bet I would. It's different from other superhero films, as fans are quick to point out. Certainly, there are surprises in its swooping camera angles and darkened, ominous screen.  But the greatest surprise of all – even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic – has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film."

Diane Sawyer from ABC news interviewed a young couple, victims of the attack in the story, Couple in Colorado Theater Shooting Escape with Baby and Toddler in Tow.  In the interview it shows the young couple holding their 4 month old infant, crying about what they had just experienced.  Never once does Diane Sawyer ask the question at the tip of my tongue during the entire interview, "Why are there children at the midnight showing of this film?"  Am I the only person who finds this abusive and neglectful on the part of the parents?  I am not a parent, however, I would venture to guess if you begin exposing your children at four months and four years to violence of this level and think nothing of the effect on their young psyches, wouldn't you be in turn possibly be raising the next shooter?  People shoot and kill when they have become numb to violence.  I live in a country where there were NO guns, yet 800,000 people were slaughtered with machetes by their neighbors, neighbors immune to violence, thinking nothing of hacking their next victim to pieces.  This young couple are idiots and we as a society who do not question this are dissolute.

My friend Sven (not his real name) has two teenage daughters.  I have known Sven for most of my adult life.  He was born and raised in Kansas.  We are both from the same era.  He lives in Colorado only a few miles from Columbine.  His babysitter years ago was a Columbine survivor.  His daughter, Margaret (also not real name) is a senior now.  She posted on her Facebook page about how she now understands why her parents are so strict.  She understands why they do not let her go to a midnight movie.  She relayed their sentiment nothing good happens after midnight.  This was the exact same thing my parents said to me 25 years ago when I would beg for a later than midnight curfew.  When Sven was visiting me in Rwanda a while back he received an email from Margaret asking if she could go rock climbing with some young men from her school.  Sven said, "No, not until I've met them and feel comfortable with their climbing skills and their characters."  Sven is a real parent.  

This couple interviewed are not.

I am thankful I have had the opportunity to step out of America and see it more objectively.  I love being an American and will always remain an American in heart, spirit and legally.  Yet I grieve for the country.  Until Americans start taking responsibility for their actions in all areas and stop blaming the government, their parents, their teachers, each other and religion these events will be more and more commonplace.  Gun control is not the answer.  Yes, I agree you should not be able to buy that much ammunition without question, however, the problem lies more in Americans attitude towards violence.  Stop thinking the information you feed your children doesn't matter, it does.  Turn off the television, unhook the video games, get invested in your children's lives, in your community, make dinner, eat together, worship together in the religion of your choosing (another taken for granted freedom) and be responsible.  Then and only then will the violence stop. my most humble opinion.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Switzerland Does Not Suck

When you live in Africa, when you live in a third world, sometimes you forget how nice, simple, orderly and clean life can be.  

Switzerland is the antithesis of Rwanda.  It is white and black....literally.

I am a direct person.  I like rules, law, order and justice.  I have traced my family tree, I am not Swiss although most people who know the Swiss would question otherwise.  I am always a whirlwind in motion.  I do not sit well.  If I am not contributing to the GDP on any given day I question my place on the planet.  Ambiguity, passive aggressiveness, bureaucracy are my targets of annoyance and waste, waste of time, waste of energy, waste of moving forward in life.

....yet, I live in Rwanda.

Our host in Switzerland, Andreas, is a doer.  When I left Rwanda we had a volunteer from the US working with us, Jody Nathan.  She was teaching English to the riders and generally pitching in around the compound.  She noted on several occasions my constant state of motion.  I make people tired just being around me.  I do know this.  Andreas has me beat.  The first couple of days we were here he worked his job (he works for Ritchey handling the display booths for large trade shows in Europe), mowed the lawn, did our laundry, baked bread, a chocolate cake, made us numerous cappuccinos, worked out every morning (every other day is his "run" day), rode in the afternoon, printed off our train schedules and made us a pasta dinner.  I think that was actually day one.  Now I understand why people are exhausted by my constant movement. Andreas made me look inefficient and slow.  Andreas also speaks English, French, German and Italian.  He drove to Italy this weekend to buy cheese from the local farmers and fuel up the car as fuel is half the price in Livigno, Italy.  Of course he did.  This is the genetic make up of the Swiss.

I am in my happy place.

The thing is, you cannot truly appreciate the good and see it as extraordinary unless you live in a place where simple, easy and good is not the norm.  

The two days prior to leaving for Switzerland we did not have water for more than an hour a day, usually coming on between 0600 and 0700.  Laundry piled up, hot water tanks were emptied (making for no hot water when it did return), drinking water was depleted and toilets...well, you can imagine.  When the water did return to start the laundry the electricity would go out.  It took two days to do two loads of laundry.  Just doing the basics in Rwanda is a study in frustration, anxiety and inefficiency.

I have taken the longest, skin blasting showers since I have arrived in Switzerland.  I hope Andreas doesn't freak when he sees his water bill.  I cannot help it.  A hot, strong water pressure shower is one of THE greatest segments of my day...a simple shower, that in Rwanda is not so simple most days.

Riding....riding in the closest experience I have had to heaven on earth.
For most, it would be a beautiful place to ride.  If I had come here from Las Vegas for a vacation I would have been a bit "wowed".  Coming from Rwanda this experience is deeper, richer, more appreciated.  The lack of people riding my wheel with their stinky banana beer and odorous bodies heckling me for simply being a woman on a bicycle is most evident.  I have no people yelling, "Whitey give me money!".  There are no corn cobs thrown into my wheels, no errant children darting in my path as I barrel down a descent at 40mph, no belching diesel trucks, no smoke from fires clogging my lungs.  It is just my bike, my thoughts and quiet.  I have missed the quiet.  I crave the quiet.  My soul needs quiet.  

Switzerland and the Swiss people with their adherence to order, efficiency and directness makes sense to me.  My aggression has subsided.  In Rwanda everything is a fight.  A fight to get things done, a fight for your place in line, a fight for the riders to have what they need and it is all fought over a ever changing landscape of ambiguous "rules" and protocol.  I am simple, tell me the rules, I play the game.  Change the rules fifteen times during the game and I will take your head off.  You can give me the most difficult task in life, inconceivable in accomplishing, and I can make it happen.  When the task is almost accomplished you cannot change the rules to stop me from accomplishing said task.  Perhaps that is the mode of operation of Rwanda.  I am given something which is technically not achievable and when it appears I will achieve the task, much to their surprise, they find it necessary to pull the carrot out and move it in another direction.  It is exhausting and it is not unique to Rwanda it is endemic in Africa.  

Adrien is still battling his lost passport issue.  After repeated attempts at securing a new passport in Rwanda, five hours of interrogation and days of lost training he left Rwanda without his new ordinary passport.  We appealed to "higher ups".  We still do not have a passport.  He now has to return to Rwanda after the Olympics hopefully to pick up his passport and not go through the entire process again.  There is a high likelihood he will miss the Tour of Rio the end of August unless he gets the passport the day he arrives back in Rwanda.  I am not hopeful.  In one of the they asked why the haste.  It is only Adrien's future, that's all.  

Here's the deal though....I was talking with my bestie, Johnny Muzungu on Facebook yesterday.  He has gone back to life in America after a bit of a "snafu" in Rwanda.  He has gotten married, become a step dad (there is no "step" in his mind) and settled into life.  He is happy, but there is something which still tugs at his heart.  Africa is still there.  We started chatting about all the funny things we experienced in Rwanda.  Sadly, most of the stories revolved around bodily function issues, but they were stories we would never have back in America or Switzerland or any other first world country.  When we get ready to write our books, we will sit down with some banana whiskey, bad beer and a tape recorder and have a conversation.  This is why I choose to live where I do and work in Africa.  Life is a story and the more you battle, the more difficult and challenging life is to your abilities, your psyche and your soul the better the experience in my humble opinion.

I appreciate so much in Switzerland, but the appreciation would be muted if I had come from America.  To experience this is a gift, a treat.  To go back to Africa is the life which has chosen me.  

Yesterday, Max arrived from Rwanda and Adrien, Max and I skyped with Obed in America.  The experience was priceless.  Obed is in America training in massage and yoga.  He will be there until October.  Every day is a first for him, a new experience, a new challenge.  When Obed appeared on the screen he was wearing this hilarious cowboy hat with a metal heart in the middle.  He was gnawing on a ear of corn and he looked like a Midwestern farmer....if they have jet black farmers in the Midwest!  The twenty minute call was filled with so much laughter I don't think we even had a conversation per se.  

We all appreciate how nice life can be, but in the end, we will all go back to life as we know it.  We will just try to take a few others along with us on the next ride into this magnificent first world.