Thursday, March 29, 2012


"And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

There is a song in the Team Rwanda documentary, Rising From Ashes which, when I saw the final copy, was seared into my soul.  Today I received an email from the producer telling me the name of the song.  He also said how fortunate we were to be able to use this song in the film as this is generally not common for this band.  Every piece, every moment of life is not accidental.  We are all traveling interconnected on this planet. Everything happens for a reason.

The response I have received from friends and acquaintances in regards to my recent post about Gasore, Inside Your Head has been incredibly helpful and encouraging.  When you throw up the SOS flag amazing who pulls up to your island.  Gasore will always have a special place in my heart.  I first wrote about Gasore (or at the time we thought his name was Alex) in 2009.

Jock talked to the riders in Morocco last night about their performance.  A little "come to Jesus" meeting so to speak.  This morning Nicodem took charge and laid out a plan.  One of the "tweets" from MTN Qhubeka 49 minutes ago said, "African Brotherhood of South African, Eritreans and Rwandans driving hte bunch at steady temp. 115km done."  What clicked?

This afternoon when the Team in Rwanda rolled in from training I immediately knew something had happened.  I asked Kiki, "How was training?"  He curtly responded, "We will talk at team meeting."

Kiki had the training program for the session and apparently some of the riders deciding to be their own coaches caused a serious riff within the Team.  I have never seen Kiki take control of the situation like that before.  He said, "You disrespect the program, you disrespect me and if you disrespect me you disrespect Coach and Mucecuru" (I'll discuss in another post what that's my nickname from the team).  An hour later apologies were given, hands were shaken, team intact.  

This has been one of the most difficult weeks of the year.  I feel like I'm on an endurance treadmill and someone kicked it into overdrive.  Physically I'm wiped...mentally I'm worse.  

The passage above I received on my daily devotional emails.  Don't tell me God doesn't speak directly to us.

And the song....the song is Timshel by Mumford and Sons.  This is the song I needed to hear....TODAY...

Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And I will tell the night
Whisper, "Lose your sight"
But I can't move the mountains for you

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Inside Your Head

Riding is and always has been my sanity.  I ride to keep from going postal.  I am like a Siberian Husky who goes stir crazy when not exercised.  If I'm not out on a bike, I just might eat a flip flop from all the pent up energy coursing through my veins.

Unfortunately, for the most part, riding is complete insanity in Rwanda.  I am never alone.  It is stressful looking for the next potential pedestrian/bicycle collision.  Nothing about riding here calms me....except for the few minutes I am riding with the Team.

When I ride with the Team in the peloton I am protected.  There are no annoying "hanger ons", no "Muzungu Amafarangas", generally no rocks, sticks or corn cobs.  There is just the Kinyarwandan banter of the boys and the quiet of pedals turning, and the gift of appreciation for their physicality, the muscles clearly defined through their blue/black skin.  In these moments I am at peace.  I let everything go in my head and for a few precious minutes all is calm.  Yesterday the moment lasted 42 minutes and 47 seconds today only 13 minutes and 52 seconds.  We clearly know which day was the easier warmup for the Team!

It is hard to get lost in quiet thought after I see the team slowly increase the gap, their colorful jerseys getting smaller along the horizon.  My brain starts shooting rapid fire thoughts along the synapses.

Wow, it is absolutely gorgeous today, no rain, bright sunshine.  The mist in the valley is thick.
Squeak, squeak, squeak....dude, get off my wheel.  Oye...distance.  Murakoze.  Please, oye...dude BACK OFF!
Why is that bus in my lane coming directly at me?
Why is everyone driving so fast, don't they know how many people are killed in pedestrian/vehicle accidents?
Dude...hissss......rumva....LOOK OUT!
Does any Rwanda EVER look before they step into the road?
Perhaps we should start a PSA campaign, "Look Both Ways!"
Why can I NOT get my heartrate above 155 today?  I'm pedaling as hard as I can.  Fatique.  Sure sign...this and no appetite.  At least I'm thin...hmm, not good though.  Just don't want to eat.  How much did I weigh in high school?
Crazy lady with pipe to my she going to twirl out into the road today?  No, she only takes a few steps toward me.  All clear.
Maybe she likes being crazy, life is good, no problems.
UGH....Muzungu, muzungu...don't make eye contact, don't engage, keep riding.  Don't get suckered in to the pleasant "Good morning, teacher!".  I'm not their teacher.  Ok, I'll relent..this one time.. "Good morning."  "GIVE ME MONEY!"  Damn....I knew better.   
Time to play blonde German tourist pretending I don't speak English. 
Ich spreche kein Englisch....good thing I took that one semester of German in college. can I get a second passport?
You throw that corn cob at me I'm going to jump off this bike, chase you down and give you the spanking you should have had years ago you little snot!
Do NOT pull in front of me...seriously?  Nice move Matatu!
I miss Max...miss riding with him, he always makes me laugh.  Miss his "Frenchness"
Did that kid just yell, "F(*& You?!"
Ah....Rocky's town, wonder how Monique is?
Gitarama road or Sashwara...considering my lame heart rate maybe I'll turn around AT the Gitarama road.  That's the ticket.  28 miles is better than 0....that's my motto.
Ugh...I have to pee.  

The loop plays over and over and over while I ride, but it always comes back to...Gasore, what are we going to do about Gasore?

Gasore is having a very poor race in Morocco, horrible would actually be a better word to describe his performance.  He just came back from two months training and racing in South Africa.  Physically he is fine, emotionally, mentally he is lost.  He gives up.  I saw him do it a couple of times in the Tour of Rwanda but it has gotten worse.  Out of the six riders in Morocco, Gasore is 6th out of six.  Joseph and Emile in their first big international race are ahead of Gasore...all because Gasore has something going on inside his head which we may never be able to address.

It is frustrating...heartbreaking.  We have invested so much financially and emotionally in helping him become a great rider, to have a better future.  Do we want it more for him than he wants it for himself?  Is this it, as good as it gets for his life?

The thought crushes me....but I have learned to accept I cannot control the outcome.  I can help.  I can provide an example, support, patch some potholes along the way, but ultimately it is Gasore's choice.

How do I get inside his head?  There are no good Kinyarwanda speaking sports psychologists I know of.  Doubt any exist.  Language barrier aside, we are also dealing with the cultural atmosphere of half truths, omissions and lies.  Gasore may just tell us what he thinks we want to hear and not the truth.  Without the truth how can we help him?

No doubt Gasore has seen his share of trauma, death, sadness, poverty.  He has also seen the other side.  He has visited Switzerland, the most beautiful country on this planet.  Is it all too much for him?  Is it just a slow methodical self sabotage of his life?  

Gasore has been pulled from the next two international races, Gabon and Eritrea.  His racing career is hanging in the balance.  

When I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), I advocated for a teenager who had been placed into the system due to neglect.  I worked for years with this girl.  She had her ups and downs but I looked for every opportunity to break the cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect.  At one point, due to changes in the system, we lost touch.  And then I received a call, she was graduating from high school.  Hallelujah!  Maybe just maybe she had seen the other side and was making choices to not lapse back into the generational welfare family role.  I went to her graduation.  She was making plans to go to community college.  She was the first to graduate from high school.  Less than a year later I received a call from her telling me she had just given birth.  No baby daddy, living in Section 8 housing, WIC, food stamps, the cycle had repeated.  I clung to the hope she would at least not abuse and neglect HER child.  I never heard from her again.

I will try to find someone, anyone who can tap into the mental force eroding Gasore's confidence and his career.  I will exhaust every avenue.  In the end it comes down to God and Gasore.  

Time to get off the bike.....I am just too sad to ride.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

So Far Removed...

Today is Sunday.  Once again, it is cold, rainy and dreary.  The rainy season has gripped Rwanda.  I used to think of Sunday as the end of the week, looking back on the past week I let out a long, exhausting sigh.  It is over.  Sunday, biblically, is the start of the week.  I should be looking at this day as a new day, a new week and I will start fresh, but not without looking back on one of my most stressful, full, frustrating and joyous weeks in Rwanda.  As I started to think about writing one thought was always at the forefront.  I have had several moments during this week where it has struck me how far removed I am from the old life I used to live.  I reserved my return plane ticket for April 12th and although I want to see my family, some friends, have a moment of peace on the bike, cut and color my hair (yes, a total shallow event) I return with more trepidation than at another other time. 

Without going into all the gory details, my week started with trying to get Jock, Max and six riders on a plane to the Tour of Morocco.  They were scheduled to leave on Tuesday around noon.  On Monday we were still missing three passports for the riders and had to coordinate Gasore and NicNic's passport pick up at the airport when they came back from South Africa on Monday evening.  

Our riders generally travel on service passports.  Service passports stay with the government.  When the riders are invited to a race, we petition the government for their passports with all the race documents and approval from the Cycling Federation.  The passports are returned to the Federation for travel and when the riders return to Rwanda they are held at immigration upon arrival.  The challenge with Gaso and Nic's passports were that they would be retrieved Monday evening and sent to the Department of Immigration Tuesday morning and would not be available in time for their next flight.  We had to make sure we could pick them up when they came in from South Africa.  

By late Monday afternoon, we had Abraham, Nathan and Emile's passport, but Joseph's passport was missing.  There was also a change in flights due to a missed reservation so now the team was leaving at 6:55am Tuesday morning which would necessitate a 2:00am wake up call to leave our home in Musanze, drive to the Federation in Kigali so Max could pack the bikes and then to the airport.  We got Joseph's passport right before Immigration closed, the Federation managed to hold Gaso and Nic's passports when they arrived that evening, however, the team was still missing the official visa arrival paperwork for Morocco.

After 29 hours of travel the team arrived in Morocco and visas were at the airport.

In the meantime, after dropping off the team and running a few errands in Kigali to nab supplies for the coming week I get a call about Obed's visa.  It's not ready, he leaves for South Africa for massage training on Friday.  It's Tuesday, visas take 5 in story details....I arrive back in Muszanze at 5:00pm Tuesday evening.  I've now been working, driving, stressing and calling people in South Africa, France, emailing Morocco, non stop for 36 hours on a fitful two hours of sleep.  

As I drift off to sleep Tuesday evening, I get a call from the Cycling Federation President.  CNN is in town and wants to do a story and they want to see a training camp.  We have had training camps every week since January 9th, except THIS week.  When do they want to do the story I ask?  Thursday, he says.  Thursday...this Thursday, like the day after tomorrow Thursday?  

Wednesday I start calling riders to come to "camp".  Kiki and I manage to get six riders to come Thursday.  Kiki and Obed come up Wednesday night.  Obed is still sans visa for South Africa.  I bribe them and love on them with lasagna.  My secret food weapon with the riders!

Thursday morning CNN arrives at the Team Rwanda house.  The show is CNN Inside Africa.  I loved watching this show when I lived in Kenya.  CNN was the only channel I could get so I had a steady stream of CNN news and this show was the highlight of my CNN loops.  Errol Barnett is the host and he was totally engaged in showing everything about what it takes to be on Team Rwanda.  Inside Africa shows the authentic Africa; the people, the reality of life for most of us on this continent.  The show for me was not easy.  I'm the behind the scenes girl, not the front woman of the team.  In my last blog I talked about my extrovert on/off switch.  This day it was taped in the "on" position.  

Friday morning I regrouped, did laundry, cleaned the house, answered about 50 emails.  My assistant Felix was in Kigali all day.  I rode.  I reset. 

Friday morning I woke up to an email from the South African Embassy.  Obed's visa was ready!  Hallelujah.  Friday I spent most of the day going back and forth with the Federation to make sure Obed secured his plane ticket to Cape Town and got on the plane Saturday morning.  I called Obed to go retrieve his visa.  He was so happy.  Over and over again, "thank you Kim, thank you and tell coach thank you.  I will do good.  I will do good for Team."

On my ride that afternoon I thought about Obed, about the enormous opportunity we, us, the Federation, the Ministry of Sport, Megan Leigh, his yoga instructor, and Line' Griffiths in Cape Town had given Obed.  His life is forever changed due to this one moment, this convergence of love and support and belief in him.  He met us half way with his commitment, his work ethic and his consistency.  Whether it was that thought, or all the events of the week or a combination....I cried.  I actually sobbed riding towards Gisenyi on my bike.  

Obed called me last night when he arrived in Cape Town.  I cannot begin to explain the emotions I had as he told me how happy he was finally landing in Cape Town.

And this is where I realize how far removed I am from my old life.  Last weekend I wrote a blog, Cleaning Out My Facebook Closet.  Friends are becoming more spread out throughout the world, while I seem to be losing touch more and more with friends back home for a variety of reasons.  

I do not do what I do for kudos, for admiration, for CNN Inside Africa or even for the controversy I tend to fuel with my views on life in Africa.  I do what I do for the boys on this team.  Period.  I have never felt that kind of love before.  I will not "give" them a better life.  I will help them earn a better life, become better men.  I will kick down doors and remove life altering obstacles for them.  When I think about the remote possibility of instability in this country, I now know, should something happen, I will not leave until I know they are all safe. 

Friday night at dinner my friend from Texas who was staying with me, received a call from her assistant, Thomas, a Rwandan.  He asked where she was and told her to go back to the house immediately.  There had been a bomb threat in our town of Musanze.  We joked about it for a minute.  Yes, there have been several grenade attacks in Kigali over the years, but we're in Musanze, 100kms from Kigali, a small town, a tourist town.  This is the town where people stay to trek the gorillas.  Saturday morning before any of her crew was up and about she showed me a story on her iPad.  One killed and five injured at a bus stop in Musanze.  I have been there hundreds of times.

This is my world....most people cannot relate, nor do they care to.  That's fine, I do understand. 

Yesterday I posted a story about the possible budget cut of the Child Abuse Act on my Facebook page.  Two of my friends felt compelled to state their political views in the comments section.  The political atmosphere in America sickens me.  I simply wanted to make people aware of CASA, an organization I volunteered with for over a decade, a group near and dear to my heart.  Yes, I guess, as one pointed out in an email response, that my wall is an open forum.  I would have hoped however there would have been some thought to how I might feel about the post.  There was none.

Sadly, I sent both women an email.  An email not "scolding" as one put it, but as a simple statement of how it made me feel.  I had hoped for a little empathy from my friends.  Instead I received an "and but, apology".  The apology and then reasons why I was wrong, or the other person was wrong, or Facebook is an open forum, or I should have put a caveat on my post.  Really?  Walk in my shoes for one second....I need your love and friendship and understanding not a confirmation why you think you were right.  Can we not just stop at, "I'm sorry."? 

Of course the tone of a message can always be misconstrued on emails.  Unfortunately, I live a nine hour time zone away and calling is not generally an option.  Although, I did try and arrange a call with one a month or so ago.  Note, if I reach out to you from Africa, if I need a phone call which is rare and never easy to do from here with time zones and connections, it must be pretty important.  I must need you for some important reason. 

I know the longer I'm away the more difficult it becomes to hold on to friendships back home, the more the chasm grows between life here and there.  I need that grounding though.  I need friends who will let me voice my fears and frustrations.  There are a lot of scary things in Africa.  I see things most will never imagine nor care to.  I need friends to help me have perspective.  I live in a world of intense emotions 24/7, extreme need and extreme greed, but a world where a small commitment may have a huge impact, a life changing impact.  I want my friends at home to be part of this journey whether they ever get on a plane and come to Africa or not.  I do not want to feel so far removed...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cleaning Out My Facebook Closet

Facebook seems to have invaded every part of our lives.  Facebook is a noun and a verb (I'll facebook you.) that didn't exist until the last decade.  Facebook for me started out innocently enough.  My sister had a doctor friend who was starting a non profit to provide medical care and supplies for Sierra Leone.  I joined Facebook as a way to keep up with his events somewhere around 2008.  It has been a meteoric slide ever since.

Facebook is just this really bizarre beast to me.  I am an introvert by nature.  When you see me out and about in my old life of selling and in my new life of promoting a cycling team, that is me with the extrovert switch in the on position.  I would much rather be hanging out with a few friends, or even alone with a good book, or on a great ride solo.  To do what I do in the public eye is exhausting....for me.  And so much of what I do these days centers around the social media world, an interesting dichotomy for a somewhat un social (not antisocial) person.

Facebook is part of my job promoting Team Rwanda.  It has been instrumental in helping us raise money for certain crucial items such as Rocky's glass eye and the magnitude of dental work the riders needed.  It has helped put Team Rwanda on the map and for that I am thankful and will continue to grow that aspect of our social media.  Unfortunately, the constant changes and "improvements" simply add to my work load and in some ways they are not improvements.  I am a change embracer but sometimes, less is more.

Facebook for me personally though has become this oddity of life, of friendships and acquaintances and people who I have no idea how we became "friends".  I have been thinking about this blog a lot over the past few days.  The things I see amongst my FB "friends" are disturbing to me in a variety of ways.  

First is the simple notion of friendship.  There is one person who "friended" me years ago who was never nice to me in high school and frankly is still a self absorbed popularity hound.  Why is she part of my FB world?  Why did I accept?  Did I want to be in the "in" group for once in my life?  Through Facebook?  I believe it was as much my slide back to the hurt I experienced in high school as it was her desire to stay on top of the popularity heap.  I bought into just like a sixteen year old being accepted at the cool kids table.  My error in judgment, my temporary moment of insecurity.

Second is the negativity and hate and miscommunication that occurs in status updates.  Frankly, I am thankful I do not live in the US at this moment with as much hate from left and right that I see happening throughout Facebook.  I'm sure it has infiltrated into daily life as well.  Politicians have won the game as I see it.  It is simply a game everyone has bought into and the price exacted is hatred.  I cringe at the things I see "friends" post.

Third, I'm out there, Jerry!  I have had several friends visit Rwanda who have remarked that they don't see me being able to live in America.  It's "too quiet, too normal, too boring" and a variety of other adjectives.  Perhaps they are correct.  I do find myself becoming more and more separated from life in America.  I cannot relate to the FB "friend" posting pictures of her dresser that is overflowing with so many clothes she doesn't know what to do with them.  I see that and I think about my rider Rocky and his wife Monique and two young children who had every bit of clothing stolen by a jealous neighbor.  Not like they had much to begin with.  That one dresser drawer could have clothed an entire Rwandan family.  I cannot relate.  I cannot deal with that.  I understand it is not her fault, it is her life.  It's just so far removed from my life, the world I travel in, I cannot begin to feel for her dresser space issues.  Again, I know this is my issue, not hers.  I do not pass judgment, but I also cannot have that in my Facebook "face".  

I believe friends come and go for a reason or a season and some are never really friends.  I don't say that in a negative tone, it's simply a matter of fact.  Those people are acquaintances.  Friends have commonalities, similar ethics and belief systems.  When did "defriending" become a verb?   Can't we all just agree it was nice to meet and move on or take the time to actually initiate and grow a friendship? 

So, just like I did years ago when I moved to Africa, I'm cleaning out my closet.  My personal set of FB "friend" rules are simple.  If I wouldn't walk across a crowded room to say hello, if I wouldn't go have a drink with you are we really "friends"?  Do not take it personal.  Before you become angry ask yourself the same question about me.  I'm okay if you don't want to have a drink with me.  You're honest, I'm not part of your world and that's fine by me.

Currently I have 740 "friends".  I culled this list about two years ago and I'm still amazed at the 740 number.  I truly do not know 740 people.  Where did these people come from?  Maybe Zuckerberg should create Acquaintencebook.

My life here is not easy.  I need people to reach down and give me a hand up once in a while.  I need people to help inspire, encourage and make me laugh.  I admit at times I need help.  I need love in my world.  I need compassion, empathy and I need to be surrounded by people who see the world outside their world.  That's just me.  I need friends not Facebook.

My ex husband said his life is so much better now that he has left Facebook.  I still need that connection as my life is isolated from my friends around the world and it is part of my work with the team.  His decision is valid, however.  I think it's time I get back to the real friends who have been along with me on this journey.  Somehow we all got lost along the Facebook way.