Monday, January 14, 2013

I Thought Planes Could Only Fly Under the Clouds


Bonaventure is the fourth from the left.  I do not know Bonaventure's story.  His real story.  He is 20, one of the newest members of Team Rwanda and on Thursday he headed to Tropicale Amissa Bongo (Tour of Gabon) for his first international race outside Rwanda.  

Being 20 he was only between one or two during the genocide.  It is only math, not the story.  I know he was born in Rwanda so I assume he was here during the war.  Anything additional is left to wonder.  

Bonaventure came onto the team through sheer force of will and some savvy riding.  He is a member of the club from Gisenyi, Benediction.  I had seen him around from time to time and we had tested him last year.  This summer during a few of our training camps, I would ask who won the sprints during the training session and the name Bonaventure would pop into the conversation.  Bonaventure wasn't part of camp.  He would cycle along the road we generally use to train on during the time the team was training and tag along.  Smart move.  

During an after training debrief session a conversation went something like this....

"Who won the sprints today?"

"Well, Bonaventure won the first one, then Rocky, then Nathan on the first one.  So Rocky won."

"No, Rocky didn't win, Bonaventure won."

"But Bonaventure is not in camp so Rocky won."

"Bonaventure beat you guys, all you guys, so he won, we need to find him and pay him the preem.  Rocky you got second."

When I would ask Kiki about Bonaventure, Kiki would tell me he is strong but he is not smart.  I thought, "He's smart enough to take you guys out during your training ride sprints."

Sadly, the entire team equated Bonaventure's cleft lip scar with a mental disability.  I would never want to be disabled in this country due to the stigma and ignorance associated with something as simple as a cleft palate.  

So that's how Bonaventure became part of Team Rwanda.  

In October he was invited to participate in the training camps leading up to the Tour of Rwanda and cemented his place on Team Akagera.  He was in, Rocky and Emile were out.  

Ironically, Bonaventure has turned out to be one of the star pupils with learning English and racing.  He is starved for the opportunity to learn.  Unwittingly, he has become an example to the team that physical disabilities or scars do not equal unintelligence.

On Friday I was copied on an email between Jock and Philip Gourevitch.  Jock was telling Philip about the team of new riders heading to Gabon.  

"All new riders with 4 making their first trip out of the country, in a plane, seeing the ocean.... The best comment yet was when we were going up through the clouds when Bonaventure pipes in and says "oh wow, I thought planes could only fly under the clouds!" Well I guess he had never seen any over the clouds?! How was he to know?"

Exactly....how was he to know?

Since coming back to Rwanda after a very nice pre Christmas break in South Africa I had been a little "off".  I arrived back in Rwanda the 23rd of December.  Jock's mom passed away the 26th and he was on a plane back to the US on the 27th.  Camp started the 3rd of January and I was on my own.  Not exactly how I had expected to start the year.  Jock came home the evening of the 8th and left the morning of the 10th to Gabon.  I was left to do another camp this week with our brand new mechanic, Vincent.  He's French.  Yes, it is becoming more and more apparent I really need to learn French.

Last week I spent a bit of time with a couple of my girlfriends here in Rwanda.  Dawn is the head veterinarian for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and Julie, who founded Art of Conservation.  We did not start the year full of excitement, new projects or resolutions.  We started tired, questioning if what we're doing is making a difference, questioning whether we could keep doing what we do.  Julie's been here six years, alone.  I don't think I could have done what she's done.  Life is not easy here.  There are days.....

Saturday morning I hooked up with Julie to go for a run.  I decided to start running a bit simply to try and wear Zulu out.  I met her at her house and we took off down a dirt road towards town.  Along for the run was Fiti.  Fiti, a little girl in her skirt and green, plastic flip flops from China.  Running alongside Fiti I realized how important Julie has been to this community.  A girl like Fiti might never run the NY Marathon, or represent Rwanda in the Olympics, but she could?  She has hope.  Julie is showing her there is another world out there.  Even if she never is a top athlete, maybe, just maybe her time with Julie and the Running Club of Musanze, will teach her education is more important than getting married and popping out babies like a Pez dispenser at the age of 16.  She doesn't need to work the fields.  She could do or be anything.  She could be a runner in the Olympics.

If I just change one life.....then it will have all been worth it.  Here's the deal.  You change one that one will change one and so on and so on.


Adrien is inspiring not only a nation of cyclists but a generation of kids who haven't seen war, who live in a country that is peaceful, a country with opportunities which didn't exist 20 years ago.

So....Bonaventure.....planes do fly above the clouds.....now you know.

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