Saturday, April 7, 2012

April in Rwanda

Yesterday I asked Felix how late the bank was open.  It was 3:45 and I thought maybe I had time to drive into town and cash a check.  They usually close around 4:00 give or take 30's Africa.  He cocked his head and looked at me like I was clueless, "Kim, it's Easter this weekend.  They are all closed today."

What!?  Easter, this weekend.  How did I miss that?  Wow, I know I'm out of touch with a lot that goes on in the world, especially anything outside this continent, but Easter?  It's a Christian event and if Felix hadn't said anything I would have found out via Facebook.  

The only thing I think of now during the month of April is Genocide.  Yesterday, April 6th marked the 18th Anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide.  For me, it is a difficult time to be in the country.  I leave Thursday.  For eleven months out of the year I work with Rwandan cyclists, they are simply Rwandan.  During April there is a rightful palpable sadness and melancholy.  Reality of what these riders experienced eighteen years ago stands directly in the forefront.  It is not that I ignore their past.  I simply choose to focus on their present and future through a constant filter of remembering and accounting for past scars.  As a white American in Rwanda during this month I do not want to be here.  I want to show my respect to the survivors and families, yet I feel almost voyeuristic.  It is their time, their moment to make peace with the past whether they are perpetrators or victims.  As an American, I am embarrassed and appalled at the lack of attention we gave this country eighteen years ago.  I cannot change that.  I can only do what I do today.

Easter is this very apropos.

Camp this week was different and in a good way.  I've been going Mach 10 since the second week in January.  We have only had one week without camp and that was the week I threw together an impromptu camp for the CNN Inside Africa segment.

Last week Kiki asked me if he could bring his three year old son, Jonathan to the last camp before we headed back to the US.  I just took a deep breath.  Really, a three year old at camp, no Jock, no Max I am running ragged and I cannot deal with a three year old on top of everything else.  Those of you who know me know I chose not to have children, no regrets, actually not a huge fan of children.  Some I totally adore, generally it tends to be the children of friends in Africa, they are significantly different than most US children.  Must be the lack of video games, who knows.  Something told me to say yes to Kiki and as I sit here with little Jonathan watching the 2004 Giro next to me, I am so happy I did.  Not only is he a great little boy, but I have witnessed the most loving family of young men all engaged with this one little boy.

For the most part I do not see men, at least rural men in my area, engaged with their children.  That is not true of this team of young men.  Jonathan has been the center of attention the entire week.  He had his papa and nine other uncles/brothers.  The team watched him, fed him, cared for him and played with him.  I have never witnessed so much love between men.  I am blessed to have been a part of this week.  

When I saw Jonathan watching the Giro last night with his dad and Geremie, Nicodem and Nathan's younger brother, asking Kiki question after question about the race I was amazed.  Asking questions is not the norm.  Trying to get the team to ask questions has taken five years.  Here was Kiki's son firing away so many questions it wore his dad out.  Perfect!

We may not be able to change what this team of young men have experienced in their lives, but through them we can influence the next generation.  When Kiki was just a bit older than his son he was running for his life.  Everything in his world was horrific.  Geremie was born right after the genocide.  His mother most likely pregnant during the genocide.  Geremie was born into a world turned upside down.  Jonathan was born into a stable world.  His father has given him his full attention and has taken the time to ensure he has every opportunity.  

Rwanda's next generation truly is the future and hope of this country. Perhaps Jonathan will be the next Adrien Niyonshuti 15-20 years down the road.  Maybe his father will be running Team Rwanda and he will ride for his father.  Now wouldn't that be something?

Monday, April 2, 2012

And the Greatest of these is Love

Saturday evening I watched, "Milk", the story of Harvey Milk the first openly gay man to be elected to a political office in California in 1978.

In 1978 I was a 12 year old girl growing up in Kansas knowing nothing about politics, gays, lesbians or discrimination.  I was a white girl growing up in the white bread basket of Kansas.  I grew up in a religious family, Christian, Wisconsin Synod Lutheran.  I went to church every Sunday, attended parochial school until the 8th grade, was baptized and confirmed in the church.  When I was 21 I was removed from the church because I lived in sin with my boyfriend who, seven years later, became my husband.

I always questioned religion.  I always questioned everything.  I have never been a submissive follower of anything.  That was the beginning of my very long search for God, a God of Grace.

Watching the Harvey Milk story I was struck by two things.  One, how one person can lead a movement to change his or her part of the world.  Two, how much hate and discrimination really is at the crux of all conflict in the world and sadly, how much of that hate and discrimination is religious based.

I am not gay any more than I am not black.  I am not a minority in the US, in Rwanda I am.  Whatever my religious beliefs are, and they are strong, they are my beliefs.  I believe in a God of love and grace, not one of adherence to some man made, man interpreted sense of morality.  I rank Anita Bryant and John Briggs, the anti gay legislation advocates right up there with the Muslim Jihadists.  Both groups hate, both groups discriminate, both groups have forgotten the Golden Rule of Life...Love your neighbor.

I believe gays and lesbians should have a right to the same opportunities as a heterosexual.  Does it really matter their sexual orientation?  I personally do not agree with that lifestyle, but honestly, it is not my job to convert, fix, discriminate, legislate or judge their life.  It is their life and it's between them and God, Allah, Buddha or no one.  As a Christian, I only must show grace and love. 

I respect Harvey Milk and the movement he led against Anita Bryant, John Briggs and Prop 6.  I am happy they persevered and yet, I am Christian. Sadly, Harvey was taken from this world much too soon.  Because of the hate of one Christian man, Dan White, two innocent men left this world much too soon.  It is no different than the hate James Earl Ray had for Martin Luther King Jr., than the Sudanese Muslims have for the Nuban Sudanese Christians, than Hitler had for the Jews.  In the end, the hater always loses. 

This morning as I sat down to write I saw an article on Facebook, "Kansas House Green Lights Anti-Gay Bill"Have we not learned anything?  Does hate have to continue under the guise of legislation?  Kansas is also the home to uber gay and lesbian hater, Fred PhelpsIs it 1978 again?  When I started "googling" this proposed legislation I came across a blog, Joe. My. God.  I don't know anything about Joe, but he had written a blog about this legislation.  What struck me was not the blog, but the following comments:

I wasn't quite "there" yet, but after reading this I'm beginning to really hate christians.

God I get sick of gay people trying to make excuses for Christianity.  Pick a side and show a little loyalty to your tribe.  Christianity is our enemy, and they deserve all the hatred we reflect back at them.

Just more hate....hate on both sides.  Do not lump me in that hatred pile.  I choose to believe in Grace.  For that reason I pray for both sides.  I pray for all the haters in this world.
At every meal Team Rwanda prays.  We stand in a circle holding hands with one another, with Pentecostal Christians, 7th Day Adventists, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims, and guests, guests who are Jewish, Buddhists and unbelievers.  I hold hands with all and we pray together.  We pray in Kinyarwanda, English and French.  We stand together, white, black, two sides, once mortal enemies in the 1994 genocide.  We are one group with many different beliefs, but one thing we all hold in, it is the greatest of these.