Monday, January 23, 2012

Stories Within Team Rwanda

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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Team Rwanda Training Camp Week 1...1.5

It's already Wednesday night of our second week of camp.  I was hoping to write about camp each week.  One of the reasons I need to write more often is that so much happens in one week, one day, one waking 12...18 hour period that if I don't it piles up and writer's block sets in.  It's more like writer's panic as to which story should I tell.  I have said before, never have a lived a life like this where every night when my head hits the pillow I marvel at the thought that it was only one day.  How possibly could that much happen in one day?  I'm a week and a half into our 2012 Season and I'm thinking, how did that all happen in the last 10 days?

We started our first training camp of 2012 last Monday, January 9th.  We had thirteen riders, veterans Kiki, Obed, Nathan, NicNic, Gasore, Rocky, Emmanuel "Boy" and Abraham, more about him in a minute.  We also have our newer riders some of whom rode in the Tour of Rwanda in November, Jacques (who now writes his name as Jock) and Kadona (super new kid), and Tour riders Emile, Janvier and Joseph, the winner of the final stage of the Tour.  This year started off very differently.  We came off such a great training season prior to the Tour and then incredible success at the Tour.  The riders stayed in shape and trained during their six week hiatus and all came back ready to amp up their training and eager to learn more about the effects of nutrition and their new found love of yoga on their racing.  Everything seems easier, in a typically exhausting way.  We have limited camps to only 13 riders for economic and staff bandwith issues.  We continue to live in four month financial increments and we do it with only the three of us.  This time, however, the rider's have definitely pitched in more, especially the veterans, teaching the newer riders.  

Abraham is back and he's makes us all happy.  2011 Abraham spent most of the year off the team and only returned shortly before the Tour.  It was a tough year for him emotionally and financially.  For us, it was hard to watch him battle the forces around him.  Finally, near the end of the year he came to us and asked for another chance.  This is Rwanda, Team Rwanda forgiveness is granted.  This man has a story that I believe no one has ever really heard.  I think he still battles demons.  He was a teenager during the genocide, he lost his first wife to a mysterious death and then had to put their newborn up for adoption.  Abraham is stubborn, more stubborn than anyone I have ever met, that is probably what has saved him in the long run.  But, Abraham seems very different and he is here and he is laughing, riding hard and embracing yoga, he is the total team player again.  He has the best laugh.

Obed, Kiki and Nathan are all leaders.  It is so comforting to watch them handle situations that even two years ago, we would have to deal with.  Tonight Nathan led the stretching class.  We used to call it stretching and then when our volunteers extraordinaire Mel & Jess started leading "yoga" in October of last year, the boys latched on to it and now I'm teaching 45 minutes of yoga every evening.  Very happy I had all those yoga classes in Kenya last year and a handful of old DVDs.  

Janvier is excited about heading to South Africa to train for two months in February and March.  He also just bought a new house for his family from his Tour winnings.  Today we got his passport!

Rocky is well, Rocky.  He got his glass eye, he still kills it in the sprints every day during training.  He is the jokester of the bunch, his English improves daily and he finally can touch his toes in yoga.  Today he was riding "wheelies" in the lawn at the Team house on a mountain bike and biffed it.  I just shook my head and told him no more doctors (he has major dental issues we're still dealing with).  He just kept laughing, all the riders watching him were laughing saying, " is finished!"

We spent the first couple of days last week laughing at all the pictures of Joseph's win where he collapsed in a spread leg position immediately after the finish line.  He had never seen the pictures.  At first I think he was embarrassed but then really, how could you be, it truly was the funniest finish ever.  Don't think Lance Armstrong has ever had such a classic finish!

The riders come in on Monday afternoon.  They train Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and leave Friday morning back for their homes throughout Rwanda.  After their training rides we have lunch, our team meeting, 2-3 hours of down time and then yoga, core workout, dinner and then bed.  We generally head to Kigali on Friday's for supplies and then regroup Saturday, do all our paperwork, accounting, admin on Sunday and we all start over again on Monday.  It's week two and camp fatique has already settled in.  

My days start at 6:00 making breakfast for half the group, then helping with rider testing, slamming out emails, coffee, coffee and more coffee, feed the dog, the cat, make sure Felix knows what he needs to do for the day and has money, get the laundry off the line from the day before.  Get the Cytomax made, the water jugs out, bananas, find my bike, fill my bottles and try to find my clothes in the pile of 13 rider kits.  I usually roll out right before the boys, sometimes with them depending on how brutal I want my ride to be.  I get home about an hour to an hour and half before them, grab a shower, do my marketing/logistics work, make the hard boiled eggs and recovery drink right before they walk in.  When they get in from their training the riders have it down.  Within 10 minutes I have a bucket of dirty kits, and the riders at this house are already in and half way through their showers.  I get the laundry started, head to lunch, sit in during the team meeting, yes, the riders all want to know how my training was and why they dropped me on the hill.  I did attack them today on the flats!  Then back to the house by 3:00, try to do some writing, you can see that's not going so well, get the laundry out on the line, thank goodness for dry season.  Then answer all the questions, "Kim, can you print a picture for me?  Kim, can I use Facebook? Kim...."  Then head to the Team house for 6:00pm yoga and stretching, 7:00pm dinner and back to work at my computer by 8:15pm.  Welcome to my glamorous world!  I would not trade these days for anything.  Today during yoga, when Nathan was leading the class, I just thought about how far we all have come, that we really are building a sustainable team.  I am so lucky to work with these guys.

But, I'm tired....very, before you armchair internet quarterbacks throw in your two cents about, "Why don't you not ride and save a couple of hours a day?"  I ride for two main reasons, my sanity and freedom from my bitchiness for those around me.  The third would have to be respect.  Respect from the riders that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to cycling and that I'm willing to train hard for no real reason.  Not like I'm going to be starting a racing career at 45!  Plus, they see I do that and take care of them.  It ups the respect factor in a traditionally patriarchal country. 

The best thing lately on my training rides has been the women.  The women walking along the roads I ride.  The young girls are generally quite obnoxious and sometimes even rude, but the older woman, the ones hauling 50 pound bags of potatoes on their heads are my biggest fans and I am theirs.  They always make my day when they see me coming up the road on a long climb and they're looking and looking and then they smile and wave and cheer, Komera, Be Strong.  Lately, we are starting to pass each other at the same time and place every day.  They make me thankful for growing up as a woman in America and to never take my lot in life for granted and hopefully I show them that women can do more than haul potatoes.  That we all have opportunities.  I love these women.  

The regroup Saturday last weekend was not so much.  Monday came again too soon and here it is Wednesday.  One more day of training and then Friday back to Kigali.  Tomorrow NicNic goes back to the dentist in Kigali and Janvier goes for the first time.  I truly opened a Pandora's Box in the dental arena with these riders.  After Janvier we might need to take a break, a financial break!  NicNic goes to the hospital on Friday for xrays on his ankle he broke in the 2010 Tour of Rwanda which continues to plaque him.

Next week we have a Dutch journalist from South Africa coming along with a photographer.  Philip Gourevitch is also going to stop hopefully for a day or two to catch up with the team.  NicNic will go one afternoon (3 hour off road round trip) to a doctor in Butaro who just happens to be an American Foot/Ankle Orthopedic Specialist living in Rwanda and working at a Partners in Health Hospital.  We went there the first Wednesday of camp to take a Brazilian ER doctor up there to meet Dr. Geoffrey Tabin who was here doing cataract and cornea transplant surgeries.  She had heard of us from the Tour of Rio, small world.  We also have a real yoga instructor coming to teach some Rwandan girls to be yoga instructors.  Our boys will be the guinea pigs for a few nights.

If this blog seems like story arrows shot from all directions, it's because it is.  I seriously can't even remember everything that's happened in the last 10 days.  I guess the most important thing, however, has been the announcement of Forest Whitaker as the narrator of our Team Rwanda documentary which hopefully will be premiering in the US in April.  Keep your fingers crossed and I will keep you posted on when and where.

6:00am comes is finished....oh, and I haven't even told you the story of Celestin, our new cook.  For another day....

Monday, January 9, 2012

Gasore Gives a Cow

Dowries are alive and well in the Rwandan culture.  Well, technically it would be the "bride price" according to Wikipedia because Gasore, the groom in this case, forked over a $700 cow to the uncle of a young woman named Marceline.

According to Wikipedia:  Bride price, also known as bride wealth, is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom. (Compare dowry, which is paid to the groom, or used by the bride to help establish the new household, and dower, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage.) The agreed bride price is generally intended to reflect the perceived value of the girl or young woman.

Either way, Gasore is getting married and none of us knew about it.  So begins the untangling of misinformation, lack of information and withholding of information and Gasore admitting to the truth, a very painful and embarrassing experience for Gasore and his new bride to be.

A few weeks ago we heard that Gasore had bought a new house.  The reason, we found out, is that Gasore and Janvier asked for an advance on their January salary because they had spent all their money on a house and didn't have anything left for food.  Forward thinking is not their strong suite.  However, we were happy they had taken their race winnings from the Tour of Rwanda and put it towards a house.  We also believed they bought the house together.

A few days after giving them an advance, a group of us rode up to Sashwara, Gasore and Janvier's home town, to see their purchase.  Gasore took us to his new house where the current owner was still living.  He told us they were moving in the next day.
Last week Jock was talking with Felix Sempoma, Gasore's cycling club president, and he asked if we were coming to the "cow giving ceremony".  What?  That's when Felix filled us in on the real story.  Gasore and Janvier bought separate houses and Gasore was getting married.  Felix had found out through the grapevine about this "marriage".  Gasore had told no one from the team, not coach, not even Kiki.  When we asked Felix why he was getting married he told us Gasore said when he travels his stuff gets stolen and he needs someone to look after things while he is gone.  (Gasore is an orphan)  True love, Rwandan style.  He most likely was afraid to say anything because we are always talking to the boys about working hard, saving your money and not having children out of wedlock and not getting married until the end of their careers.  Family drama is the worst thing for a cyclist and family drama in Rwanda rivals the lives of Jerry Springer guests, especially when it comes to money. 

I saw Kiki lose a year in his short cycling career dealing with his 16 year old girlfriend who he truly loved and adored and who was the mother of his child Jonathan.  Kiki wanted to get married and have a happily ever after family.  Instead, Kiki's girlfriend took the baby and essentially exhorted money from Kiki using the child as the pawn.  Team Rwanda riders make over ten times the national salary of an average Rwandan.  In the eyes of the local girls the riders are their ticket out of the field and into a better life.  Kiki was a mess for such a long time we thought he might never find his way back.  Today he has full custody of his son and is a good father.  The girl, paid off.

Adrien says his girlfriend is his bike.

Gasore knows how we feel about this subject.  To think, however, that he could hide this ended up costing him weeks of agony.

We didn't attend the cow giving ceremony as we were not invited.  Instead we set a time this past Friday to meet with Gasore, his bride to be, and Felix, who also has a vested interest in Gasore's career.  Here's the brutal honest part, I did not want to like her.  I figured she would be like all the other girls who are rider groupies.  I understand these girls have few options, however, snatching on to a rider and popping out babies is an option that I will stop at nothing to squash.  

Gasore most likely had the worst week of his life waiting for our "meeting".

The afternoon before we went up to Sashwara I simply said a prayer asking for calm, patience, understanding and an open mind.

We met Gasore at his old place (we found out the other owners hadn't moved out yet) and there was Marceline.  She was an attractive young woman who impressed me from the first hello....she looked me in the eye, that rarely happens with women in Rwanda.  The conversation was all in French and Kinyarwanda which isn't necessarily a bad thing for me speaking neither language.  I'm able to tune in much more intently to body language and Gasore's spoke volumes.  He was embarrassed he didn't tell us and the guilt he was feeling was evident in his downward gaze and hunched shoulders.  

Marceline is 22 and is also an orphan, that is why the cow went to her uncle.  She works for the government and speaks French.  She is an Adventist, same as Gasore, and she has been to secondary school, a feat for a girl in Rwanda, especially an orphan.  She essentially was interrogated by Jock and Felix with questions such as:

Do you know what a professional cyclists life is like?
Do you know he will travel for months?
Do you plan on continuing working?
When are you getting married?
What do you plan to do for Gasore to help him?
How many children and when?

Again, since I could only understand body language I was impressed by the way she answered every question, looking the men in the eye and also asking for help.  She said she would like to learn how to help Gasore with his nutrition and I offered to have her come to a training camp and work with one of our cooks to learn the best meals for Gasore.  She asked when she could come.  She admitted what she did not know and she showed initiative in learning more.

Through translation I learned she was unaware Gasore had spent all his money including his monthly living money, which bought food, in order to buy the house and cow.  She also had no idea Gasore did not invite us and she was embarrassed and a bit upset with Gasore.  She understood the Team is Gasore's family and that she was essentially marrying into this melting pot of people.  She invited us to the wedding....sometime later this year.  I think she might be just what Gasore needs!  

In the end, Gasore looked over at her and she smiled.  Her smile is radiant.  Without understanding any of the language I understood one thing.  It's more than just someone to watch his "stuff".  He really cares for her, his smile and the way he looked at her said all I needed to hear.

Meanwhile, Janvier was sitting behind us the entire time and I'm sure he learned a very valuable lesson, best never to hide anything from us.  We will always find out.

When we were leaving, Gasore was back to his normal self.  The stress of lies and omission had taken their toll these past couple of weeks.  He pounded on his chest and said he could breathe again.

As we were leaving we headed up to see Janvier's new house.
This house sits up on a hill as you head down out of Sashwara.  The view is gorgeous and when it is finished he will move into this house with seven of his family members.  It is not more than 500 square feet, no running water but it does have electricity.  Janvier appeared a bit embarrassed that it was such a small house with so many people.  He has nothing to be embarrassed about, this is a culture that for better or worse, takes care of family. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

“Be awesome! Be a book nut!” ― Dr. Seuss

I love books...I used to be a semi avid reader and now thanks to moving to Africa sans television I am now a voracious reader.  When I was thinking about writing this blog I "googled" quotes about books.  I was looking for a title for this blog and found thousands of quotes that made me think, laugh, want to read, however, the best quote about books I found is attributed to the great filmmaker, John Waters,  

“If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!” 

This reminds me of a time when I knew my friendship with a girlfriend I regularly hung out with on the ropes.  She said, "I don't read and have no desire to do so."  That was the beginning of the end of our friendship. 

The hardest thing I had to do when selling my house in Las Vegas with its office with a wall of books, was to give them all away.  It was like parting with a litter of puppies.  

Equally hard was moving to and living in a country that has NO books...Rwanda.  For a country touted for its stance on education I am continually stupefied by the lack of books.  There is, I think, one book store in Kigali which I haven't been able to actually locate.  Nakumatt (the Walmart wannabe of East Africa) has a few books, mostly religious, not that there's anything wrong with that unless it's televangelist religious people you only hear about late at night when you don't have cable.  Oh, and they charge you, on average, $50 to purchase one of these mesmerizing tomes.   

Yes, I have heard of Kindles, iPads, iPhones and I can download everything I need in a nicely weighted electronic gadget, but remember, I am 45, old school, I like books, their smell, the feel, writing all over the margins.  It is just not the same experience.  So gradually over the past 2 1/2 years I have started amassing a library in Rwanda.  It's only a small bookshelf but I actually had to get a bookshelf....a start.

Since I don't do resolutions as you know, I will set a goal for 2012 and books.  I want to read more, will smuggle more books to Africa and most importantly I will write about the books I read in hopes that they inspire some of you to read more.  Also, I want to be more diverse in my reading.  When I lived in Las Vegas I was a member of an incredible Reading Group which still thrives.  I loved that it made me read books I most likely never would have picked up.  The Red Tent, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, South of Broad were all books I read as part of this group.  However, I did still boycott the Jane Austen months.  Sorry, have always disliked Ms. Austen, nothing personal, just can't do ancient chick lit.  Sorry Jane....

So, if anyone has suggestions please feel free to share.  I hope to write about a book at least monthly hopefully more.  

What do I read now mostly?  African history and current events.  In the last month I finished two very different books on Zimbabwe, The Fear by Peter Godwin and The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers.  I first traveled through Zimbabwe via motorcycle in December 2009.  The trip originally was not planned for a jaunt through Zimbabwe, however, a friend, Linda Davidson, who runs the Zimbabwean Cycling Team in Harare said everything was fine as they had just gone onto the US dollar currency.  Little at that time did I know the violence that occurred just a year or so prior during the 2008 elections.  

I had read another of Peter Godwin's books, When A Crocodile Eats the Sun back in 2007, before the horrific violence of the 2008 elections.  Zimbabwe is a sad place under the rule of Robert Mugabe.

The beauty about books is they cause you to think, they challenge.  They can be controversial, in your face, emotional shaking to the core.  That being said, here are some facts you learn from books that you won't hear on CNN.  Zimbabwe was originally Rhodesia.  Rhodesia was under white rule and there were issues as there always are when the minority rules the majority.  But where the BBC and CNN were reporting that "whites owned seventy per cent of the land in Zimbabwe" and "white farmers had seventy per cent of the fertile land in Zimbabwe." the truth is "Commercial farming makes up only 28% of this country's land.  But there's a black farmers' union that represents 6% of that.  The Development Trust, which is government, has 3%.  There are black tenant farmers with 4% and Forestry has 1%.  That leaves whites with about 14% of the country's land...and that 14% produced about 65% of all agricultural produce and 50% of foreign earnings, and employed or supported almost two million people.  But all you ever heard about was us greedy white farmers."  When the MDC, the opposition party, tried to secure political seats through real democracy they were met by the terror machine of Robert Mugabe who has been in power after changing the constitution and rigging elections for over 30 years.  Zimbabwe was once the bread basket of Africa, today they rely on World Food Program.

This is the stuff you don't learn from television or in school.  This you learn by reading books such as these.

The Fear, which I read first, was a depressing read.  Well written but sadly depressing with graphic descriptions of the reign of terror on any person even suspected of opposing Mugabe.  I left that book feeling completely helpless and hopeless for the people of Zimbabwe.  Their fate cannot even be compared to the seven levels of Dante's Hell!  Peter Godwin depicted a tough contingency of opposition leaders and supporters, but the violence they lived through was mind numbing.  

A friend in South Africa told me about The Last Resort.  It is a book about living in Zimbabwe as a white family from before independence until the present day.  The author's father hadn't left Africa until he was in his 50's.  His family had been on the continent for 350 years.  He was Zimbabwean.  I left this book feeling hopeful and knowing why I love Zimbabweans so much.  They are the toughest most resilient people you could ever hope to know...white or black.  It is a country that despite being strangled by a power hungry, out of touch, greedy, excuse making leader, they survive and they stay and they fight.  

I remember being at Linda's house in December 2009.  She lives in this nice house her and her husband built themselves.  They have three children and a South African Boerboel who guards them to the death.  Buster has to.  They hadn't had power for days, it was cold and rainy and when they don't have electricity they don't have water because the pump cannot run.  They sleep behind a locked gate inside their house which is surrounded by a barb wired wall and guarded by Buster.  Can you imagine locking yourself and your family inside your bedroom with an iron gate?  That is their life, yet they stay.  They're Zimbabwean.  Just like the couple in The Last Resort, they stay because this is their home.

I think I will take a break for now on African history and current events.  I need a breather.  It is a heart wrenching genre.  I'm thinking about reading, Hell on Wheels, by Amy Snyder next.  Fits with my 2012 goal of riding 6,000 miles this year and racing in the Race Across America in 2013.  

I'll just finish with a quote which sums up my thoughts on books from one of my favorite authors:

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
Anne Lamott,
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rocky Gets a New Eyeball

This past summer, Innocent "Rocky" Uwamungu lost his right eye in a freak accident.  He was walking back to his rural home behind the Gapco station on the road to Gisenyi when he passed by a man pounding and pulverizing volcanic stone into gravel.  People actually get paid to do this in Rwanda for the roads.  A split second later, a shard of volcanic rock flew into the air and torn into his eye. Within days he had completely lost his eye.  

Who knows if proper access to good medical care could have saved his eye.  Unfortunately, we will never know and we had to move forward.  Rocky did not stop riding.

Philip Gourevitch wrote a blog about Rocky in July.  As an aside, interestingly, when I went to find this blog for this blog I realized it appeared in the Sporting Scene of the New Yorker and this is the only blog Philip has written for the Sporting Scene.  Rocky Uwamungu, a former Rwandan farmer turned Team Rwanda cyclist is on the same pages as pro US football, baseball and basketball players.  

During the Tour of Rwanda, Pierre Carey from Cycling News interviewed Rocky about losing his eye.

I wrote a blog about the Soul of a Team right before this year's Tour of Rwanda where I talked about Rocky's request in front of the team for help in getting a glass eye.  The meeting with the team happened right after lunch during a training camp.  Rocky asked for financial help in getting a replacement eye.  He had some money saved but could not come up with the initial $800 required by a doctor in Butare, Rwanda.  I went back to my computer after the meeting, posted Philip's blog and asked for help from our Facebook fans and within 30 minutes I had the money.  

This was October....

Fast forward to December 28th.  Rocky still was without an eye.  I was so beyond frustrated.  We had spent over two months dealing with a doctor in Butare who said, "Just send him with the money and we will work it out."  My response, "Yeah, that's a NO!  Give me details, specifics and we will meet you in Butare."  After two trips to Butare by Felix Sempoma, Rocky's Cycling Club President, we were told there were no eyes available.

Felix then took Rocky to King Faisal, the main hospital in Kigali along with two other hospitals and was told that there were no eyes and they don't handle glass eyes but to wait and perhaps if they do they will call.  Yes, that's what I'm going to do, wait around for a call from someone who will never call.  I'm just going to wait until Rocky's 87 and I'm long buried in America.  Yes, that's exactly what I'll do.

This is when my American can do, frustrated in Africa alter ego takes over.  

Seriously, we can't get one glass eye for one Rwandan!?

On December 28th, I was out riding and venting to Jock about how much I can't stand this country sometimes (debilitating frustration talking), and why can't we get one (F*(&ing) eyeball, when he mentioned a friend of ours, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin.  I met Dr. Tabin here in Rwanda a couple of years ago when he was in country conducting much needed cataract surgeries.  He's a cyclist which is a plus.

As soon as I got home from the ride I emailed Geoff and with God like serendipity, I got an email the next day saying he was actually going to be in Rwanda in a couple of weeks and he copied Dr. John Nkurikiye, a Rwandan ophthalmologist at King Faisal and told me to contact him.

Two more emails and a couple of SMS messages later, Rocky had an appointment at King Faisal with Dr. John on January 3rd.

Yesterday at 11:00am Jock, Rocky and I walked into King Faisal, an hour later Rocky walked out with a new prosthetic glass eye.

When we went into the examination room and Dr. Nkurikiye began looking at Rocky I figured he would be measured for an eye and then we'd have to wait a few weeks to a month to get an eye, then come back.  When Dr. Nkurikiye walked over to his desk and pulled out a black case and opened it up to reveal several dozen glass eyes and all of them the dark brown of the Rwandan eye, my heart literally skipped a beat.  This was it, after months and months of frustration and diversions and time and expense, Rocky was getting an eye.  When Dr. John put the eye into Rocky's empty eye socket and Rocky looked over at me and smiled I lost it.  Tears were right there.  Sometimes I mask all my emotions with fierceness and I push and push and fight for what these riders need and then, in a split second when I see it finally happen I become human again...and I have a good cry.
I will not know why we were able to finally get it done.  I'm afraid to ask the questions.  I believe Felix really tried, did he not ask the right questions all these months, did he not push hard enough?  God forbid, was he told there were no eyes for another reason?  I hate to even think about it, although I continue to wonder why it only took me a couple of emails and Rocky had his eye, an eye we had been waiting for months.  

All I know is it is damn good to see Rocky smile, really smile and have this burden lifted off his shoulders and feel good about himself again.  Of course, we have had quite a few good laughs from the team and others wondering if Rocky can see again....I just smile.  Rocky sees just fine....with one eye!

Monday, January 2, 2012

How to Wash a 130 Pound South African Boerboel

It's that time again.  Zulu is scratching a bit too much and the thought of a potential flea infestation along with the continuing war against ticks, bed bugs, Nairobi flies and a variety of other bizarre African biting insects is just too much to take.  So, time for a bath and another dousing of Frontline Advantage Flea and Tick control for Zuboy.  Bath, yes, how to wash a 130 pound South African Boerboel who is not particularly fond of getting wet.

1.  Wait for the weather to clear up.  It is rainy season in Rwanda, raining everyday, mud everywhere.  A sunny day is a must as all the blankets he sleeps on must be washed which requires sunlight to dry the blankets.  Yesterday the sun came out, the first time in four days....Hallelujah, it's bath time!

2.  Go for a bike ride.   Yes, this is part of the overall strategy.  First, to plan the military maneuvers necessary to complete the washing task, secondly, to psyche out the dog.  He feels the "wash the dog" energy and is already becoming a bit tense, if you go for a ride you throw him for a loop.

Plus, it's sunny today and I need a ride...see #1.  Also, after two hours on the bike in Rwanda, 16 Muzungu Amafarangas (Whitey give me money), two near miss collisions with clueless taxi cyclists turning directly into your path and one bus/cow accident, you have enough adrenalin cursing through your body that tackling a 130 pound dog is akin to lifting a 2 ton vehicle!
3.  After ride, go for a quick mountain bike ride to wear the dog out.  A tired Boerboel is a washable Boerboel.
4.  While one person is taking the dog for the mountain bike run, another person must prepare the washing theater.  This particular Boerboel, disdains the shower so a large wash basin, pitcher and bottle of shampoo must all be in place when the dog is sneakily ushered into the bathroom after his run.  It also pays to have a really crappy bathroom/shower area so nothing is destroyed in the process.
5.  Wash dog.....once Zulu gets wet, generally it becomes a bit easier, however, no camera was allowed in the bathing room as it wouldn't have survived the onslaught of water and soap.

6.  Assess the noted in step #4, a crappy bathroom is a must if washing a Boerboel indoors.

7.  Let Boerboel dry in the house...make sure all doors to the house are secure as once the dog is released from the bathing room the first order of Zulu business is to race into the muddy yard and rub his body "dry" on the wet grass.
8.  Make peace...with lots of love, brushing and a good long walk.  Zulu is clean, Frontlined and now sound asleep in his half eaten banana leaf bed with two clean and DRY blankets and all trauma is forgotten....until the next time!