Monday, December 2, 2013

Your Inner Circle--Who are You Listening To?

Yesterday, Sunday, was the first day I've had to myself in months.  Literally months.  I couldn't tell you the last time there was not a house full of people, riders needing something, work to be done (well, I still have a ton of work to do).  Yesterday only Jamie was here, sadly confined to his bed with an apparent bout of malaria.  Coach and the team are in Egypt, no where near Cairo, for the Continental Championships this week.


I went looking for a sermon on Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and although we did have a small celebration on Thursday, I still felt as if something was missing.  I am thankful, very thankful, I was just craving something more, perhaps a recharge.  While searching one of my favorite preachers websites, I came across this sermon from one of his young pastors, Michael Kelly, "Who are You Listening To?"

Considering the end to my week last week, I clicked on the link and began listening.

If you have a little time, take a listen, it's critical to your future, your growth, your quality of life.  If you don't have a little time, make some.

The premise of the sermon, based on 2 Chronicles 18, the story of Jehoshaphat and King Ahab, is about who you allow to influence your life.  Your friends.  

We have all heard the admonition, "Change your friends, or change your friends," or "Take the top five people in your life, and you will be most like them".  

Pastor Kelly starts with, "Who and what you listen to influences what you say and do."  These are your friends.  Who occupies your inner circle?  Where you are right now is based on who you've let into this inner circle.

Several years ago I had a deadly inner circle.  Several years ago I did things which were wrong, which I knew were wrong, I hurt people I loved and I was spurned on by the people in my inner circle, my "yes" men and women.  I take FULL responsibility and am not saying my friends made me do it, however, my friends, my inner circle, did not share the values I knew I had been brought up with, honesty and integrity.  They were secondary to them.  They became secondary to me.  During that time, I was delusional, I thought I had great friends because I had many friends, people I could always "hang" with.  I shunned time alone thinking I didn't have friends if I had to spend 6 minutes by myself, working on myself.  

Whoever you ally yourself with, you allow them to have influence in your life.


You are not strong enough to run with a poor inner circle and be okay, you will not be.

Some people, myself included years ago, do not want to have friends who challenge you, who ask you the tough questions.  Do you surround yourself with people/friends who will openly and honesty disagree with you?  Who have the guts to speak up and say that's not it, that's not okay?

If those people are not part of your inner circle, you need to change your inner circle.

Today my inner circle is smaller but exponentially more valuable to me as a work in progress.  They challenge me not only in my vision, my goals and my desire to learn and grow, but more importantly in my view of right and wrong, my ethics, my honesty and integrity.  They are mostly people I have met over the last 4 1/2 years in Africa, years I have worked diligently on myself.  I have asked myself the tough questions.  Today I look back on who I was five years ago and who I allowed to influence me and I cringe.  It is so black and white now.  I now have a better core of friends back home as well.  I remember having lunch at Mt. Charleston with three girlfriends I ride with back in Vegas.  It was after my divorce, they are friends with my ex as well, and they looked me straight in the eye and wanted to know the truth.  It wasn't about the dirt and gossip, they wanted to know if I was someone they could trust with their friend, my ex.  They asked me tough questions.  I answered them honestly.  I spoke of the pain I caused.  I did not sugar coat anything.  These three women are still my friends.  

Here is a good question to ask yourself when considering your inner circle.  

Do you still go forward even after you've been made aware of the truth from a real friend, from someone who has told you what you don't want to hear?  Because, what we don't want to hear is exactly what we need to hear.

Sadly, this work on yourself, and culling your inner circle, needs to be done by you and sometimes you just don't see it.  I know, I've been there.  This week I had an incident with someone I really do care about, unfortunately, I challenge this person.  I have said the tough things, I have disagreed with them.  I have challenged their choices.  Not because I want to control them, which is probably what they think, but because I truly care.  I care more for them then anyone in their current inner circle.  But they cannot see that…..not now, maybe never, hopefully it won't be the case forever.  This person heard me say to them, their choice in "friends" was not wise, and it was confirmed by two others who have lived in this culture for as long, if not longer, than I.  We have experience, we have witnessed it first hand.  The response to our words of caution, "yeah, I know, but it feels good, it's what I need now."  Your life will be a mess if you keep with the wrong inner circle.  You will try to fix it by being careful in the mess.  It never works.

Here's the truth….this person will not attract the goodness of life, of true friendships while they are running with what feels good now.  The only way to stop the cycle is to push the current inner circle out and work on themselves.  

Pastor Kelly ended the sermon with "folks who have the most to say are the ones who have the scars to prove it."  I have earned my scars in the arena of the inner circle.  I know how good life can be with the right people in your inner circle and I also know how BAD life can be if the inner circle is filled with yes men and women, with people who have something to gain by the advice they give you.  

I am blessed to be surrounded by a dynamic, honest, truthful and challenging inner circle.  They make me a better person every day.  

Ask yourself today…..

Who are you listening to?

Who do you need to quit listening to?

Who SHOULD you be listening to?

What do you not want to hear but need to hear?

Whose advice are you resisting because you don't like the person giving it?

Thank you to those of you in my inner circle….you know who you are!  

(You know I love you Mel!  Anyone who would do this twice and still love me and laugh is a friend for life!)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Dear Italian Friend…Mjrka

I Love ITALY…. love Italians, love the language, completely enamored with all things Italian.  Most of all I love the photos taken by an Italian photographer, Mjrka Boensch Bees.  Mjrka has been with us all five years of the Tour of Rwanda.  I see him generally once a year.  In 2012 I saw him twice, he also photographed the Tour do Rio.  

His photographs capture the essence of the Team, of the Tour of Rwanda….of us.  

2009….my first year in Rwanda, Director Sportif for Team Rwanda….fear, panic, trying to figure out what I was doing…my friend, Hilary in the background.  He captured it all.

2011…one of my favorite shots...

2012 at the Tour do Rio… of our best…last…memories with Jock, Max and I.  Max left a few months later.  We were hanging out on a jungle gym before the start of a race.

2013…and the most FAMOUS and loved photo I have from Mjrka….Valens win last week in our home town.

Thank you Mjrka for being there every year documenting our lives…our work, our team.

To see more of his work from the Tour of Rwanda 2013….fall in love with Team Rwanda and the country of Rwanda…

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bona's Smile

The day Team Rwanda won Stage 2 at the Tour of Rwanda last week was remarkable not only in the win and the story of Abraham and Valens, but later the same afternoon Bonaventure and I visited with staff from Operation Smile. Operation Smile hosts one to two missions per year in Rwanda and the last one in September was in our hometown of Musanze.  They do much needed operations in the field of cleft lips and palates.  Bona was born with this condition in 1993.

In February, after only four months on the Team, I wrote about Bona's rise through the ranks of Team Rwanda.  I wrote about the stigma engrained even in our own team over a simple scar on his lip.  Over the year, Bona's confidence has risen exponentially at the same rate the team's ignorance has declined in regards to Bona's birth defect.  

Through a convoluted series of emails, Operation Smile was told of Bonaventure's place as a member of Rwanda's National Cycling Team.  On Tuesday last week they came to meet him.

Bona is initially shy, his English is fair, generally he relies a little too much on his best friend and riding partner, Janvier.  Get Bona talking, play some music, get him laughing and he's the paramount "goof ball".  Bona has grown with the Team and every day we learn more and more about him.

Bona's mother is dead.  We are not sure the story behind her death.  We do not pry.  Bona takes care of his older brother, father and pays for his younger sister's schooling with his salary and race winnings.  Bona lives at home with his family when he's not training and racing with Team Rwanda.

The Operation Smile team was so happy to meet Bona.  They were hopeful he would be interested in helping promote registration for their next surgery mission which will take place in 2014 in Musanze.  In Rwanda 1 in every 1,000 births results in a cleft lip or cleft palate.  With a country of almost 12 million people and a birthrate still near six per family, that is an extraordinary amount of children born with this defect.  It really should be no big deal.  Sadly, it still is.  Parents hide their newborn children, embarrassed by the deformity.  If the villagers saw their child, the family would be shunned.  Parents often do not bring their children to register for the free operation because of the stigma.  

When the team from Operation Smile asked when he had had this operation, I said he was born in 1993 so probably sometime around the genocide when western doctors were in Rwanda.  Felix Sempoma, one of the Director Sportifs for Team Rwanda, was there along with Bona's sidekick and teammate, Janvier.  As we started discussing the timeline of Bona's surgery, Felix said he had it done in Congo (DRC).  I looked at him and said, "Was he in Masisi?"  (Masisi was the large refugee camp in DRC where Janvier was born)

Felix and Janvier both laughed and said, "No…NOT Masisi!"

Felix then said he had it done when he was four.

All of a sudden I understood completely.  Bona was four in 1997, the year of the Insurgency.  Philip Gourevitch wrote about Gasore's family in his 2011 article, Climbers.  Gasore's father died in 1997 during the Insurgency.  Bona's family fled to DRC, where at four, Bona received his much needed operation.  

We do not talk about one side versus the other side at Team Rwanda.  To us, they are ALL Rwandan young men, Rwandan cyclists.  However, every so often conversations such as this smack you upside the head with the reality of 20 years ago.  Janvier and Bona, teammates, roommates and best friends were on opposite sides of a brutal time in history not once (1994) but twice (1997), both victims of circumstances beyond their control.  Children.

Bona was unsure when asked if he wanted to help.  Through miscommunication of translation he thought we wanted him to undergo another surgery.  He has had two, his last one done just a few months ago.  When we assured him no more surgery, he began to warm to the idea.  And then Operation Smile played the video of their 2010 Mission in Rwanda for Felix, Janvier, Bona and I.

As Bona watched this I could see it in his face….everything he had already experienced.  His eyes were glued to the screen.  As he saw the children go from deformity to where he is now today, he smiled.  After the video he and Janvier talked for a minute and he said yes, he would help.  We also decided to use the whole team as a support for Bona and these children.  If these children and families see a successful young man, a man who overcame his disfigurement and the associated stigma, a young man who has the love and support of his entire team, then perhaps these families will stop hiding their children and get them the much needed surgery.

Team Rwanda is so much more than a cycling team.  As the video played I stood there holding back the tears, so proud of the young men I am privileged to work with, young men who are changing their country in so many ways on and off the bike….and look at that SMILE!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Most Unlikely Hero

There has been no other rider in the history of Team Rwanda who has had such  steep peaks and valleys as Abraham Ruhumuriza.  In February 2012, Coach Jock Boyer wrote a poignant blog about this complex young man.  For several years frustration and tears consumed our contact with Abraham.  On Tuesday last week, during the 5th Annual Tour of Rwanda, those tears became tears of all consuming joy.

During the very difficult and longest stage of the Tour of Rwanda (156km), from Rwamagana (hometown of Adrien Niyonshuti) to Musanze (hometown of Team Rwanda), all 15 members of Team Rwanda (Karisimbi, Akagera and Muhabura) raced as one.  The tactics the coaches, Jock, Felix and Travis, laid out the night before were being played out in confident precision as we raced up and down the steep hills towards Musanze.  With about 12kms to go, the yellow jersey, Jay Thompson, from South Africa made a break.  Abraham and Valens, a 19 year old upstart racing for Team Rwanda in his first Tour of Rwanda, went with Jay.  This was exactly according to plan.  Jay being a larger cyclist, we knew we would have the advantage on the steep 4km climb to the finish in Musanze.  They raced along the flat road prior to the final climb putting time between them and the peloton.  By the time they hit the base of the climb they had enough time on the peloton to hold off being reeled in by the group.  As we listened to the radio in our team car, I prayed.  I prayed they could ride Jay off their wheel and I prayed for a win in our hometown.  As is always the case, we seldom hear the final finish results until we have parked our car and raced to the finish on foot.  As we arrived we heard the news, Valens had taken the stage win with Abraham directly on his wheel in second.  Jay Thompson was a distant third.

But that is not the story….

Last year Valens Ndayisenga was 18 and too young to race the Tour of Rwanda.  The month prior to the Tour he had come out of nowhere and taken third place at the Tour of Kigali City, our National Championship race.  Valens was the new phenom on deck and he packed a very large ego with him.  
Valens, Hassan and Abraham

Valens went to the Tour of Amissa Bongo (Gabon) in January where he had a crash.  It apparently was his first significant crash and he sat on the ground nursing his wounds until he was pulled off the ground by the support crew and put back on his bike, finishing the race on his own.  At the time his injuries were nothing out of the ordinary, some bruising, some road rash, nothing broken.  Upon arriving back in Kigali several days later he complained of pain in his leg.  He was told by Team Rwanda staff and a Federation representative to go directly to King Faisal in the morning and be treated.  He defied orders, went home to Rwamagana, to a local clinic and received some medicine.  To this day we have no idea what he was given.

The next week Valens was to leave for South Africa for the UCI training camp.  Every year we get one or two slots for this camp from the UCI at a value of $3,500USD per rider.  We simply pay for their insurance, plane ticket and visa to South Africa.  It was imperative Valens was 100% before leaving.  

Unbeknownst to us, Valens condition deteriorated.  He missed his first flight due to confusion over the date and time of departure between him and the Federation.  He sat in the Federation office for an entire day prior to boarding the next flight to South Africa.  Never once did he say anything about the pain in his leg.

At 11:30 the next evening we received a call from the coach at the UCI center in South Africa.  Valens was in the hospital.  His leg had gone septic and he was being pumped full of IV antibiotics.  He was hours away from losing his leg.  Because he never mentioned the continuing problem in his leg prior to leaving Rwanda, the insurance company refused to pay and we were left with a $2,500 medical bill.  After a few days, Valens was out of the hospital and ready to begin training.

And then he fell and hurt his arm.  He fell while walking in his cycling shoes on tile.  Something he has been repeatedly warned not to do.  Valens was being sent home.  Two weeks, $3,500 slot at the UCI gone, a $2,500 medical bill and a kid with a bad attitude.  Valens was done.

As the year progressed, so did Valens.  After a talk with his mentor and role model, Adrien, he slowly began to be coachable.  He began to listen to our instruction, he participated in English lessons, and he became a bit more humble and respectful of the veteran cyclists on the Team.  By June he was back on salary. By the Tour of Rwanda he had earned his spot on Team Akagera.

On Tuesday, November 19th, Valens Ndayisenga became the youngest Rwandan to win a stage at the Tour of Rwanda.

As I approached coach at the finish line that afternoon amidst the chaos and energy of one of the biggest finishing crowds to date, I saw his eyes filled with tears.  My first thought was, "What has gone wrong?!"

A reporter from RFI, Olivier, spoke with Jock at the finish to tell him as Abraham and Valens sprinted to the finish, Abraham pointed at Valens and told him to go, told him this was his day and GAVE him the win.  As we pieced the details together from various sources at the line that afternoon, Abraham had told Valens, he was an old man, he had many wins, it was Valens's day to win…..and he let him go.  Abraham, the initial prima donna of Team Rwanda, nicknamed Punda (donkey) for his stubbornness, had let the new generation stake its place on Team Rwanda.  Abraham was the real hero of Stage 2.

The next morning as I checked Facebook I saw I was tagged in this photo….

The second I saw it I started crying….there is Abraham pointing at Valens…there it is, in front of thousands of cheering fans, Abraham selflessly giving Valens the victory.

Mjrka is not only an amazing photographer, but a dear friend to all of us at Team Rwanda.  This was his fifth Tour of Rwanda, he has been here every year documenting our life, the progression of this race, our worst moments and on this day our best moment.

Coach walked up to Mjrka the morning of Stage 3 and told him, "It was a perfect photo."

Mjrka, a true humble spirit, said, "No, it was a perfect day.  I just took the photo."

Team is Team

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bill & Trixy: Those Moments...

Friends I've never met in West Africa.  We all share one thing in common, mental exhaustion over the realities of a not so easy life doing what we do.  God watch over you Bill & Trixy.

Bill & Trixy: Those Moments...: There is an oft-repeated lament in Cameroon, “it’s not easy.” One mutters it in response to a friend who informs you that she faile...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fighting for Common Ground

I vowed not to go down this road.  I set one foot into the road and some anonymous FB philosopher or blog reader/political analyst will plow into me doing 100mph with the tirade of Tea Party ideology or Obamalover blinders.  I am daring to take the risk for the sake of USA reputation. are welcome to comment, however, it must be free of personal slander, Ted Kaczinski Unabomber craziness, or mindless sheep following love of all things Obama.  Feel free to comment with some critical thinking and documentation to back up your argument.

Don't make me defriend goes:

The government shutdown in the US is appalling from the most basic premise, the government (including the Executive Branch and the House and the Senate) cannot come together to truly represent the needs of their constituents.  There is no give and take, there is no true representation.  If there were, the government would be operational, the budget would be balanced and Americans would have access to health care.  I am sure all constituents represented by their elected official did not vote for the crazy town of self-serving ideologue currently wasting space on Capitol Hill.  

The USA is making African countries, with varying levels of blatant and covert corruption, poverty and greed, look like Utopia.

America you should be politicians you should be ashamed.

I recently read the best book written about what has REALLY happened in our political environment in the US.  It was written by former House and Senate member, Olympia Snowe, from Maine, "Fighting for Common Ground".  Olympia Snowe is a Republican, she is also a collaborator, a truly bipartisan member of politics...or sadly, she was.  Her book is about her heart wrenching decision to leave Washington politics because she felt she could no longer make a difference.  Ms. Snowe is a moderate.  I believe Ms. Snowe actually represents the majority of Americans.  I am neither Democrat or Republican.  I have voted for candidates from both parties over the year.  I vote for the man or woman I believe has the countries best interests at heart.  I do tend to lead more conservative.  I am a personal responsibility fan.  I think there is a place for social programs but I also do not think this is where you camp out for the next 30 years.  I believe in a woman's right to choose but I also believe if you have the choice, you pay for it yourself.  

Ms. Snowe and I would get along fabulously.

From her introduction to her book she recommends the following to getting Congress back to representing us, the people.

"Campaign finance reform, including rolling back Citizens United, is essential to leveling the electoral playing field and eliminating so-called Leadership PACES would help to abate the perpetual fund-raising our lawmakers are engaged in, which is a major distraction from conducting legislative business."

"We will also increase the amount of time members of Congress spend in Washington by instituting five-day workweeks at least three weeks a month, instead of the abbreviated Tuesday to Thursday legislative schedule." about that, actually work a full week?  Like the rest of us?

And my personal favorite...

"Permanently mandate that if Congress fails to pass a budget or appropriates bills are not completed, its members don't get paid--simple as that."

Throughout Ms. Snowe's book you see example after example of her relentless efforts to come to a compromise on various legislative issues and being stymied.  One of her most difficult opponents, sadly, my own Senator from Nevada, Harry Reid, a career politician.  I have never voted for him and never will.  Harry Reid, in my opinion, is the antithesis of crazy Tea Party poster child, Sarah Palin.  Read the entire story on page 32 of her book before commenting.

Did I say I was a moderate?

So, how did we get here?  Here meaning our current state of government paralysis.

Remember the Titans is one of my favorite movies.  The other day, in a South African hotel room, it was playing on television.  When I switched it on the scene between the Quarterback, Gerry and his defensive back, Julius played.  Attitude Reflects Leadership, one of the top scenes of any movie.

In the chapter, Health Care and Partisanship, Senator Snowe talks about the evolution of our current Affordable Healthcare Act aka Obamacare.  I agree with Senator Snowe, this is when the tide turned and an irrevocable division was cemented.  She met with President Obama upon his request.  President Obama was trying to garner at least one Republican supporter for his healthcare reform.  

"Throughout the health reform debate, the President worked with me in good faith....By this point, however, I realized the legislation had essentially been preordained and the majority leaderships in the House and Senate were not going to deviate from their comprehensive packages.  Mr. President, I responded, I sincerely appreciate your offer.  But if I couldn't secure changes in the bill now, it's not going to happen when I'm the only Republican in that conference with all the Democratic leaders.  I did suggest that the President call for a kind of legislative "timeout" and reconvene in January, to allow both sides a "cooling-off period" over the upcoming three-week holiday recess and one final opportunity to convene a bipartisan working group.  Ultimately, the President wasn't convinced that would be a fruitful course."

President Obama had the majority, he knew it and he took it without trying to garner bipartisan support.  Ironic when looking at the Titans video.

"Just days before the vote on the final passage, the Senate received a nearly 400 page amendment that could not be changed or altered.  Instead, the Senate majority leadership held votes at 7am, then 1am, then 7am on December 24 to pass the bill before the self-imposed Christmas deadline -- without a single Republican vote.  Not one single member in Congress--Republican or Democrat--could answer whether the newly created health insurance plans would be affordable, yet we hurtled headlong toward a final voted on a monumental bill affecting every American."

"...Ironically, the large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2009-2010--proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the President.  Just because you have the ability to pass something in the Senate with sixty partisan votes doesn't mean it's a good idea to do so....and it's no way to engender bipartisan entreaties from the opposite side on other issues."

The beginning of the end for any bipartisan consensus on any issue in Congress.  

This is not to say Obama is solely at fault.  There are many contributors to our current government shutdown.  However, he did set a precedent which, if he could do it again, perhaps things might have been different during his second term.  Sadly, the us vs. them mentality has spurred the emergence of the Tea Party, which in my opinion, has significantly damaged the Republican Party.  Hey, I'm all for being able to own a gun, I just don't think we need to own 15 AK-47s and another ammo to take down every elementary school in the US.  Stop fighting for stupid thinking in the name ideology.  

We all need to give and take, everyone...we were the greatest country on earth, why are we so divided, divided in class, politics, even race.

The only way things will change is that we, the collected we of the voting American WE, need to put OUR differences aside, come to the Table of Common Good, and vote in change.  Not the Obama, "Hope and Change", the real change, in all areas of government, for the good of all.  My friend Lori Bean, formed the "Latte Coalition", sometime in the last year or so, for all of us "moderates" (she's a left leaning moderate and I'm a RLM and we're still friends).  Maybe all of us moderates need to moderately radicalize some much needed change so we can get back to the business of being a country that could be great again.  Right now, not so much!

When I was in the US, Zulu too was apparently agitated with the idiocy of American politics and government.  We are all feeling the stress of us vs. them.  I think I'll be staying in Rwanda/Africa for a bit longer, but will still proudly vote for the people who really will represent the Common Ground.  Senator Snowe...thanks for fighting the good fight!

Monday, September 16, 2013

We are the Fixers

This morning Rocky walked through the gate of the Team Rwanda compound carrying his bike, apparently there was a deraillur issue.  Rocky was supposed to be here yesterday and Kevin, Travis, Jody and I all stuck by the house to make sure someone was here when he arrived.  He never came.  Not the first time a rider has done this, nor will it be the last.  It is a constant teaching/learning process with even the simplest of tasks.  

When I asked Rocky why he was disrespectful of our time and why he did not at least call us to let us know he would not be here, he shook his head and said things at home with his son were very, very bad.  He said a doctor had come to his house yesterday and told Rocky they would need to amputate his five year old son's leg.  A couple of staff were standing next to me listening to Rocky and one gasped in horror.  I turned and said, "Do NOT do that, do not."  The look I received was read by me as, "Wow, you are a cold hearted bitch."  I could have been completely mistaken.

Almost four years ago I was on a motorcycle trip from South Africa, through nine countries, to Rwanda.  On the last day of the trip, approximately 300kms from the Rwandan border, in the middle of no where Tanzania, on a rain soaked, slippery clay dirt road, I came off the motorcycle landing squarely on my right upper back.  The force snapped my right collarbone like a dried out Thanksgiving wishbone.  As I writhed in pain in the mud in the middle of the road I screamed, "My collarbone is broken, my collarbone is broken!".  Jock ran over to me after getting himself untangled from the motorcycle and lifted up my helmet visor and quietly said, "It is not broken, you're fine."  I yelled back, "Unzip my jacket and look, it's broken!".  Silently I thought to myself, what an asshole, he's not even upset or worried and we're 300kms from nowhere.  He unzipped my coat and quickly zipped it back up and said, "Yep, it's broken."

Zero emotion.

Jock did something I didn't realize until much later, he was calm to keep me calm.  If he would have gasped in horror, I would have completely FREAKED out.  Because he was calm, I was calm and then a methodical series of events and logistics took place to get me home.  A little over 24 hours later I was home in Musanze, with a bicycle inner tube as my figure 8 brace and sling.  

I do not know all the details about Rocky's son's injury.  It happened when I was in the US and it is so difficult to get accurate information especially regarding the substandard medical care in rural Rwanda.  I did not know it had continued to decline until today's conversation.

Rocky was stressed, very stressed as only a father could be.  I simply said to him, I will call Dr. Albert in Kigali at King Faisal and we will make arrangements to bring his son to an orthopedic specialist at the only hospital in Rwanda I would consider entering.  Rocky looked at me doubtfully, already resigned to his son's fate.  I told him I would handle it and we would get him seen by a specialist.  He still shook his head in doubt.  I reminded him who was the one who finally made his glass eye happen.  He smiled and

By the time he left he finally had a glimmer of hope.  For the moment his stress subsided.

I walked over to the two staff members and explained why you can never show emotion as the one did.  I explained how if you're calm, they will be calm and not stressed.  I said.....We are the Fixers.

In our documentary, Rising From Ashes, there is a line spoken by the narrator, "to build a cycling team in Rwanda would require more than just attending to their physical needs."

Every day I am faced with medical issues, family issues, visa and passport issues all of this within a culture where everything must be extracted by painfully, agonizingly piece meal conversations.  I never have all the facts and I never will yet I make decisions to "fix" whatever in their life is "unfixable".  

Lack of emotion?  Deep inside I mainly feel a tremendous amount of anger.  In Rocky's situation I am angry at the pathetic medical care his child has received. I'm angry Rocky, a rural, poor cyclist, cannot provide for his family's needs because he does not have the same access to things wealthy Rwandans do or even worse, white people like me have access to.  

His son's situation is dire.  His son may still lose his leg.  I will not know what can be done until we get him to Kigali.  I will use every resource we have to save his leg and no matter the outcome we will be here to help his family face whatever the outcome.

We are the Fixers....

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Secret Millionaires and Average Joes

Saturdays are my down days.  I really try not to work, to just be, enjoy the moment, whatever moment I'm living.  I do not check email (that much), and generally respond to no emails on Saturdays.  This Lutheran by birth has embraced the 7th Day Adventist Sabbath and is better for it.

Yesterday I rode, I walked the dog...three times.  Zulu is genuinely fond of Saturdays when I am home.  I did yoga and went out to dinner with Travis and Kevin.  And....I watched several episodes of the Secret Millionaire.  When I was home in the US a friend mentioned one of the upcoming shows featured a millionaire he knew and encouraged me to download the episode when it aired.  Luckily, I downloaded most of this current season before I left the US.  Download time in Rwanda for a 42 minute show.....5+ hours, if I'm lucky and if the electricity stays on and if I don't go over my monthly internet max.  I had almost forgot I had downloaded eight or nine episodes until I had my down time yesterday and remembered they were on my computer.

The premise of the Secret Millionaire is a millionaire volunteers to live incognito within a community to search out opportunities to volunteer.  He or she explains the accompanying camera crew by telling the organizations they are doing a documentary on volunteering.  The millionaire gives up all their luxuries and conveniences, home, car, cash, phone, credit cards and travels to an unknown destination where they are given, oftentimes, very sketchy living accommodations and a car which would rival the car you bought at 18 when you had $500 in the bank.  They are generally given money equal to the food stamp allowance for a week.  For two people it is $71.30.....for the week.

In some of the episodes the millionaires put on a brave facade, however, you have the feeling, if they could bolt their first night in the "hood" they would.

The next morning they hit the streets looking for organizations where they might be able to volunteer.  It is interesting to see the millionaire gravitate to an organization which has a personal draw to it, sometimes, unbeknownst to them, the attraction.  In one episode, two millionaires, the founding members of Anytime Fitness, volunteer at Oklahoma City Warriors, a wrestling organization which not only teaches the sport of wrestling but provides mentorship, education and keeps over 300 at risk youth off the streets.  

At the end of each program, the millionaire visits the organizations they had volunteered for and reveals his or her true identity and gives the organization a check of varying amounts.  The amount is strictly up to the millionaire.  In the case of the OKC Warriors, the millionaire had learned they needed $39,000 to fund a year.  The two Anytime Fitness founders gave the two men running the organization $39,000 plus a franchise and start up costs for an Anytime Fitness gym.

Waterworks....every episode complete waterworks.

If there was only one television show you could watch for the rest of your life, it should be this show.

We have been one of those recipients.  Not of a show millionaire, but of a very generous person in the life of Team Rwanda and Team Africa Rising.

This past January/February, coach and I visited Ethiopia to see if we could help the cyclists and supply equipment, coaching and mechanic training and improve relations with the UCI.  We visited the Ethiopian Cycling Federation, met an outstanding, passionate advocate for cycling in the Federation, and then traveled 900kms north to Me'kele, home of Ethiopian cycling talent.

The afternoon of our second day in Me'kele we visited all three major clubs in the city.  At the last club, as coach and I had just got back into our SUV, one of the riders, one of the cyclists we knew from the Tour of Rwanda, grabbed Jock's hand and looked us both in the eye and said, "Do not stop this program. You must come back.  Please do not stop this program."  This young man was hanging on for dear us, to a couple of average and ordinary people just trying to give African cyclists a future in the sport and beyond the sport.

We had a little over $20,000 in the bank....what were we thinking?  I will never let any of these young men and women we work with see doubt in my face.  However, there are times when I pray really really hard to keep us going.  I would stop taking a salary to make it happen for these young men and women.  We are the average joes on the ground.

In every episode I witnessed hero after hero give everything they had to protect children, to help seniors, the disabled, the poor and the down and out.  The common thread among these heroes was their own lack of financial resources.  Diane Latiker, an amazing woman, founder of Kids Off the Block on the South Side of Chicago is one of these people.  

At the end of the episode, when Steve Kaplan gives her a check for $100,000 she is speechless.  I love what she says...."The Power of One".

I remember the morning we received word via email from our very generous donor.  I remember Coach and I reading it over and over in disbelief.  We cried, just like we were on TV.  We could expand into Ethiopia and Eritrea, we could help more riders.  The Power of One very generous person.  We might be the ones on the ground in the trenches doing the work, but without our "secret millionaire" down to the individual donating $10, we couldn't change the world we inhabit, our world in Africa.

Another thought this show has left in my mind...there are so many really good people in the world.  It is so easy to get cynical, negative and lacking in hope, faith and belief.  Every where you look there is a hero like the men and women fighting the fight against or with whatever is their passion.  These people give me hope in America.  

As you drive past the bad parts of town in the next few days, stop, stop and look around and ask yourself, what the Power of you can do.  And for God's sake, stop watching the Real Housewives!

Monday, September 9, 2013

DOING Good....Do it...don't write about it on FB!

Last night after spending about 2 hours going through the 50+ emails that needed some sort of action, I was just about to shut down my computer when my friend Mama Bean, messaged me on Facebook....

Holy shit-- wanna add to the shitstorm on my wall? I know you enjoy a good pot stir.

Of course I love a good discourse when it is about something important and knowing Mama Bean, it's generally a very relevant topic. This was her post:

You shouldn't have to tell people you're a Christian. 

Today rather than praying for good, hearing about good or talking about good try DOING good.

I bet those extra coats jammed in your closets could keep someone warm this winter. And all those shoes... there are people that need them. The cans of food that have sat in your cupboards-- someone is hungry.

Check in's at churches don't impress anyone. Check in's at hospices, food pantries, homeless shelters, protests against social injustice, the VA, nursing homes- that's impressive. Those are the peacemakers.

Church services are great-- they can be inspiring, uplifting-- I get it. Go. Pray. Sing. Be Joyful. Just don't forget to Do.

I think the world would be a better a place.
Peace be with you on this Sunday morning.

Forty-four (44) comments later the debate rages on. Now, before I start receiving the same amount of comments from anonymous people who thankfully read my blog, think for a throwing sand in the sandbox!

Mama Bean wasn't bashing churches or church goers, she was simply encouraging an attitude of "doing" rather than "talking". Personally, church hasn't been the most positive experience for me. I am deeply religious, not just spiritual, I am religious. If someone put a gun to my head and demanded I renounce my faith and become let's say, a jihadist, I would take the bullet. Again, pro Muslim/Islamist people...simply substitute, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan whatever "faith" you'd like.

The challenge I have had with churches has been the ironic lack of grace. I read a book a year or so ago by Philip Yancey, "What's so Amazing about Grace?" The book begins with the author talking to a prostitute about getting some help and he asks why she doesn't try going to church. Her reply is simply at church she is judged, she is not accepted, she is seen as the prostitute she is. Is that grace? I left the church, actually I was kicked out of the church in the 80's when I started living with my boyfriend. Shouldn't the "church" have worked to keep me in the fold, to accept me as I am, a sinner and given me a little grace, the same grace God grants us every single day?

I see many church groups come through Rwanda. Frankly, I have not been impressed. I know I'm going to get nailed for that comment, but hear me out. I have actually had people on a 10 day mission trip say they converted many Rwandans to their religion, they have been saved? First of all, how do you know they needed saving? You hold four services and spend a few hours with them and they're saved? How about teaching them a skill, living with them for years, helping them from the grassroots level? Oh, you have a life back in America? I have lived with the riders for four years and there are still things which we go over and over and over, the same thing for four years! I truly believe, often times, the thrill of the missionary group is not necessarily in "helping" or "saving" a Rwanda, it's in their personal feeling about what THEY did. Jesus never bragged on Facebook about how many souls he saved. Now, I could see Peter doing that if Facebook had been around back in the day.

Please, do not get your undies in a wad. I TRULY believe most people have very good intentions, they just get really lost at times. I still believe in the good hearts of most people, even after years of seeing some very disheartening, cynical invoking behavior.

If you have found a church which inspires you to be the best you in God's eyes you can be...Hallelujah, you have an added bonus in your life. But if you sit in the pew and look around and judge who's the better Christian, why someone else gets the accolades of "volunteering" to lead the choir, or kudos for teaching Sunday school then your heart is in the wrong place. The best way to receive grace is to give grace.

I encourage you, if you're having a bad day because one of your kids forgot their lunch and your boss chewed you out of work and the dog pooped on the carpet, go volunteer somewhere....any where, get a reality check. People are hungry, lonely, suicidal, frightened, homeless, people need the "community" you and your church (if you are a church goer) can give them.

This week, coach and I were able to secure two slots for the World Championships for two very promising Ethiopians. It doesn't seem like a big deal in the realm of professional cycling, it's two races. But for two young Ethiopian hopefuls it means a shot at a future, a future to affect change in their family, their community and their country. This is the note we received from one of them:

I hope you are well!!!  Mr shiferaw said me I have to contact with you about world champion. 
So i want ask you one thing.  Are you coming to Florence?  and I  am confirmed for both ITT and road race?
Mr Shiferaw said me. He confirmed me for ITT and road race.  So I just want make sure it is that 100% true. Now I am in Italy Lucca am looking forward to world championship
Thanks so much for helping us!!!

That's it...that is exactly what my dear friend, Mama Bean was suggesting in her post.  The time people took to rant over and over on the post they could have gone out and helped someone.  Instead they word volleyed over what they thought Mama Bean "meant".  In the meantime, someone went to bed hungry, cold and disheartened with life.

Just go very simple.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My World of Abnormally Normal

It has been difficult of late to write.  I chalk it up to my busy travel schedule, my heavy workload, and my sheer exhaustion at the end of the day.   In actuality, I find it challenging to decipher the “topic” of the day or week.  Oh, and I am a procrastinator.

A few weeks ago I was having a much needed cut and color upon my arrival back in Las Vegas.  My hairdresser is not only a master of returning my hair to a presentable level; she is a cyclist as well, a very good one.  She is also, unbeknownst to her, one of my biggest encouragers.  We were catching up on life, mostly my life, and she remarked how I had not published a blog in a while.  I said to her, “I’m not sure what to write as things are beginning to seem so normal.”  To which she quickly voiced, “Your life is no where near ‘normal’”.

I see posts on my friend’s Facebook pages about life, their lives, going to their children’s sporting and school events, taking their kids to the pool this summer, getting ready for the new school year, their family vacations to places like Ohio, Utah and any other state in the US.  To me, in my world, that is so far from normal.  To 90% of America, that is life.

I write this from my hotel room in Geneva, Switzerland.  Just another hotel room.  Really it is….it is a Holiday Inn Express across from the Geneva Airport.  This morning as Coach and I were grabbing some coffee in the lobby before heading to the airport we met a lovely couple from Minnesota.  They were probably in their mid to late 60’s.  Being in Geneva, the French part of Switzerland, I honed in on this couple speaking English, Hallelujah!  Of course the first question when meeting an English speaking person, especially of the American variety is, “Where are you from?”  The woman asked us if we were far from home.  Of course most tourists assume if you’re American that is where you live.  When I responded with Rwanda she looked puzzled.  In a two-minute span of time she knew we ran the Rwandan National Cycling Team, I was headed back to Rwanda on Monday, Coach was headed to Nice, France this morning, then to Eritrea on Monday, then back to the US, and I had a couple more days in Switzerland with Nathan and Abraham at a race. 

I cannot remember the exact words she said, but it was something to the effect of what an amazing life, perhaps adventurous life?  To me 50,000 miles of travel these past 12 months had become normal.  Not in a mundane, normal sort of way, but simply….normal.  For people who work their whole life to retire and do a little traveling, my life is no where near normal.

Yes, my life truly has been amazing lately.  The things I see, the places I visit, the people I meet (only to be told in my eventual book), are stuff of dreams. 

For me, living “abnormally” is sometimes, oftentimes, difficult.  I would never complain.  I have zero to complain about and this is not a complaint.  It is, as with all things, often fraught with trade offs. 

Separation is constant, separation from family, from loved ones, from the people I work with, the riders, from my dog makes me sad at times.  This morning I said another goodbye, a month long goodbye.  With that month long goodbye comes more work, more living outside my comfort zone, me just being the touch, strong, emotionally impenetrable me.  I’m not a fan of driving in foreign countries but I will spend the next couple of days driving around Switzerland.  I know, ridiculous after spending seven months driving around Nairobi, Kenya!  It’s Switzerland.  Thank you GPS. 

I will go back to Rwanda to regroup after being gone for 5 weeks.  I have 5 weeks of accounting to catch up on, luckily I had some help at home this time.  New camps and trainings to deal with, some personnel issues to work through, a work visa to renew, a new one to secure, a plethora of government/Federation issues to deal with and another trip to South Africa to schedule.  I will be heading to South Africa with our assistant coach less than a week after I get home to Rwanda.  We will be visiting the UCI in Potchefstroom, picking up loads of supplies in Johannesburg and hopefully seeing the Cheetahs at DeWilt (a personal quest for the past four years).  I get to do all the driving in South Africa….on the wrong side of the road.

Sometime in October I will say hello to the one I said goodbye to this morning, only to put him on a plane to Ethiopia shortly thereafter.   I know I will see him in November for the Tour of Rwanda!  We will finish out the year with a motorcycle trip to Uganda and a trip to Germany to see family around Christmas, a first for most of our family to be together in the past four years.

Throughout this I constantly monitor the escalation in the DRC fighting as it is across the border from where we live in Rwanda.  I feel a deep responsibility to the people we employ to keep them safe.  I worry about the riders most of all.  Our expat staff can simply leave, the riders cannot.  I feel for the government of Rwanda.  They are in a no win situation.  One of the four or five factions is currently lobbing mortars over the border into Rwanda (Gisenyi) and they have struck civilians.  Rwanda cannot retaliate or they will be seen as the aggressor.  We feel the effects of this constant conflict over the border.  It affects the ability of the government to support to the level they desire programs such as sports, particularly cycling.  Our Cycling Federation President has been extremely busy with these matters.   Being our Cycling Federation President is his “side” job.  It is an honor bestowed by the President of Rwanda to be selected as Federation President.  His real job consists of working with the Rwandan Diaspora for the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Kagame’s party.  He is quite a remarkable man.

This is my normal.  To me this is just part of life, my life.  This is like most of you dropping your children off in the drop off gauntlet at your local elementary school. 

The other day I was trying to access one of my bank accounts online and because I was doing so from yet another IP address, this time in Switzerland, I was asked those annoying security questions.  You know these questions?  The ones you can never remember the answers to?  They are not “what street do you grow up on?” anymore.  They are questions such as, “What was your best friend’s name in second grade?”  Does anyone remember second grade?  I can’t remember last week?

My question was….”Who is a famous person you have met?”

Okay, I know I had to answer this question the last time I jacked up this account security system, which was probably months ago, however, I had absolutely no clue to the answer.  Trust me, it is not me saying, “Look who I know”.  It’s just this bizarre part of my normal life whereby I meet a lot of people, some famous, some infamous, all very part of normal.  Last week I stayed with a lovely couple.  Yes, incredibly famous, but perfectly normal with a deep commitment to family and maintaining normal in a life of extreme abnormal.   I was asked to take a picture by a friend back home.  I did not.  I did not want to.  The time with them was memorable which no photo could have captured.

I have spent time with authors, photographers, journalists, actors, actresses, musicians and world leaders.  I have seen places most will never see.  This is all part of my work.  I do not call it my job, as it is not a job, it is my calling.  African Cycling is my calling.  These people all move in this circle.  This is normal…my normal.

Needless to say, I kept answering the question incorrectly and was locked out of my account.  When I called the 800# to reopen the account online, the woman on the other end of the phone asked why I was calling and I told her I couldn’t answer the question about famous people because I simply couldn’t remember, there had been too many.  She laughed….she probably thought I was a poser.

Some things I do not write about to protect people’s privacy.  Some things I cannot write about for security reasons or governmental reasons.  Some things I will take to my grave, those are my private moments.  One of my staff said to me…. “people think they know you from your blog and in all actuality, most people have no idea, you are very private.”  She is correct.

Time to start writing more about my “normal” life.  When I write I tend to be calmer, more introspective, the nature of writing.  I must stop thinking about what any readers might think.  If it’s boring…so be it.  But maybe within my rantings of normal, someone will find the strength to step into the life they have always really wanted but are afraid to enter.

So…like a proud parent at a school play, here is my moment of the week.

Wednesday night after dinner we should our documentary, Rising From Ashes, to the teams at the Swiss Epic.  Afterwards, Coach, Nathan and Abraham got up to say a few words to the very moved audience.  Coach spoke first, and then Nathan.  Nathan talked about how much he appreciated Thomas Frischknecht and his family for making Nathan and Abraham feel so welcome.  He talked about how Momma of Thomas, arranged for Abraham to see his sister who drove from Belgium to see him….it had been 16 years since they last saw each other.  He thanked everyone.

And then Abraham spoke….the most emotional moment of the entire evening, for me.  We have been trying to get Abraham to learn English for years.  Abraham is stubborn.  His nickname is Punda (donkey in Kinyarwanda).  Abraham stood in front of a group of about 25 people and said, “My English is small, small.  But I say thank you, Switzerland is very different from Rwanda, Swiss is good.  People are good….Team is Team.” 

Abraham spoke English….how much more normal does it get?

...yes, that's Kiki and Abraham with Clive Owen.  Clive was the answer to my security question.  Sorry Clive, I forgot!