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 Switzerland...is 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.

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