A couple of weeks ago, Kiki and I made the trip to Rwamagana, in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, under the auspices of visiting Adrien's Cycling Academy in his home town. Our real mission, to retrieve a bike given to a rider who was a potential Team Rwanda member in training. The rider had been MIA for over a year without returning the bike. I had gone through all the proper channels, the Club President, the Federation, even going so far to draft a letter for Adrien's Club President (a different club as the rider in question) to deliver to the police to take them along to pick up the bike.
No luck...stalled...no bike. I had hit the wall and frankly it was an "F it" moment. I looked at Kiki that weekend and said, "Let's go get the bike."
Kiki just smiled, he knows me all too well, and said, "Yes, we go."
Janvier aka Kadona (which means little head in Kinyarwanda...you will see how this plays out) has been in and out of Team Rwanda for years. About 18 months ago, he came to test, again, and was given a bike. It was a SCOTT aluminum bike, probably eight or nine years old, but in great shape, having been the bike under several other riders. He rode for a few camps, did the National Championships in 2011 and poof...he was gone. He never showed up at races, we couldn't get him to come to camp, calls to him went unanswered. He was gone but worse...the bike was gone with him. Members of the team would see him from time to time and he would say he was training but we knew differently.
Over a year ago I told Jock we needed to get the bike. He said the bike technically belonged to the Club in Kayonza and we would need to get the Club President involved to reallocate the bike. "Great, let's do it," I said thinking bing, bang, boom a few calls and we're golden. Yeah....not here.
Calls to the Club President were ineffective. He continued to state Kadona was training. When we appealed to him to at least let us get the bike, repair it and return it for another rider, we were told no, Kadona was still a valued team member.
This went back and forth for months. I think a lot of times people will just think I will forget and move on. Those are the people who do not know me well. I bugged Kiki into inquiring about that bike on a regular basis.
I brought it to the attention of the Federation. I didn't care that it was a club bike and not Team Rwanda. We would repair the bike and reallocate it to a new rider in the Kayonza Club. I wasn't trying to take the bike forever and leave the country with it but it made no sense for someone who would never benefit from the bike to keep it. Think...honey badger when you visualize my tenacity.
About a month ago the riders were talking and I heard the word, "Kadona" in the mist of a Kinyarwanda conversation. I looked over, "What? What about Kadona?"
Kiki said, "Yes, he is in prison."
"Are you kidding me? Can we get the bike now? What did he do?"
Of course, you can never get a straight truthful answer from anyone so I went with the story, "Kadona had beaten up someone very badly."
Great....110 pound pin head took down someone in a brawl, nice, now, can I get the bike?
Back and forth back and forth...Jesus people...can we just get the bike?
So, when I mentioned it to Kiki that day, I think he was relieved to here we would go.
That morning after visiting Adrien's Academy, I looked at Kiki and JB (another Club President) and said, "Great...so, where's the bike, let's go."
JB talks to Kiki, Kiki looks at me and says, "Ok, so we have to go to the prison to speak to Kadona."
"Why would we do that?" becoming more irritated by the second.
"Because, we go, we visit and then he tells his wife to give us the bike," Kiki says.
"And he's going to notify his wife HOW? He's in jail and this is not America where he can make a collect call."
Kiki looks at JB, JB looks at Kiki...hmmm....never thought of that.
"UGH....OK, we go to the prison, let's get this done!"
If you've never been to a men's Rwandan prison, I don't recommend it. The men in orange are your short timers, your men in pink are the long term inmates. All I'm thinking is genocidaires.
The prison was on the edge of Rwamagana and actually looked quite nice, a pleasant farm setting. The guard at the gate took all six of our phones, our ID cards and my passport and in we went. We waited in the office surrounded by groups of men in pink and orange doing their jobs. At one point I whispered to Kiki, "Do you think some of these men killed people in the genocide?" Kiki simply nodded. I thought to myself, how do you go from the kitchens in the largest casinos on the strip in Vegas to a Rwandan prison? At about that time the large gate opened to show the real prison where the men sleep, it was behind this 30' wall and there it was, tents, and dirt, mud and hundreds if not thousands of prisoners. The quickest glimpse I never needed to see.
After about an hour, during which I'm still questioning why we're here and why we need to "talk" to Kadona, we find out he's been transferred to another prison. JB says to Kiki we will go there. I can understand enough Kinyarwanda and body language to know and I immediately say, "ENOUGH, we're getting the bike and I really don't give a rat's ass how Kadona FEELS about this, he essentially stole the bike, I am not Dr. PHIL!"
They missed the Dr. Phil/feeling connection but knew it was time to meet the wife.
We drive to Kayonza about 10 minutes further past the prison. We drove to the center of town and found a single speed taxi driver who knew where she lived and he jumps into the Land Cruiser right in between Kiki and I. We go back across the Kayonza roundabout and minutes later arrive at the house. The wife is outside washing clothes with a gaggle of kids around her of varying ages. I have no idea if they are all hers. If they are she's been cranking out a kid a year for about four years.
Then starts the Kinyarwanda...Kiki and JB and this woman back and forth, back and forth, then she laughs and rolls her eyes. Yep, she knows where the bike is and is completely lying when she says she doesn't. Of course at this point I jump in telling Kiki to translate. I also tell Kiki I know she's lying. Kiki knows too. By this time the crowd is starting to gather. A muzungu in a Land Cruiser with a couple of Rwandans at a locals house is cause for a "gathering". I get more and more annoyed with the whole process.
Then I feel a soft tap on my arm. I turn around to view a girl of about 12 looking at me holding out her hand saying, "Muzun...AMAFARANGA!"
Are you kidding me?! I'm here trying to get my stolen bike back and you're hitting me up for money? "Girl, you have really bad timing! Dejende! (GO!)"
At this point I have lost all patience and I said to Kiki, "Here's the deal, she's got two choices. One, I go to the police now and file a report or two, she gets 20,000RWF ($35USD) to give me the bike NOW!" Frankly, I was never going to pay to get my own bike back but looking at those desperate kids who were filled with worms, hungry, snot running down their faces, hopefully, if she had some money she would feed her babies.
Bam...she might not have understood a lick of my English but she heard, 20,000 franc. The tide turned.
Kiki came over to me and said, "No money, we don't give her money." I told him normally I would never give money but I hoped she would feed her kids. Kiki relented.
Back in the car with Kiki, JB, single speeder taxi guy to pick up another guy. Not sure why but on the other side of Kayonza we meet Gehemba. Lo and behold Kiki and Gehemba go way back to Kiki's racing days long before Team Rwanda. Super, get in the car!
Back to wife of Kadona...more talking more haggling then Kiki, JB, Gehemba, and wife get in the car to go back to the other side of Kayonza (where we had just come from). I had stopped questioning logic hours prior. This was now in the hands and time frame of Rwandans. All four jump out and go down the row of shops and disappear through an alleyway. I wait...and wait...and go buy a mountain dew and cookies...and wait...and go get airtime...and wait.
Finally Kiki comes out and comes to the window. He looks frustrated.
"So Mukeciro...I told them, 'Here's the deal...'" I about busted out laughing but remained composed. I barely heard all the rest he had to say. He had used, "Here's the deal..." Nice....I'm creating a little Mini Me! Kiki goes on to tell me I can go but he had told them he's not leaving without the bike and will sleep there all night. I couldn't have been more proud!
Then Club President called and a little more back and forth and finally he tells me if I write a note, sign it and give it to the men, they will release the bike. I knew it! I knew the bike was there even though they had lied saying the bike was far away. I promised him we would fix the bike, he could send some riders to test and we would put one of his new riders on the bike. Done.
I walked back through the alley with Kiki, wife, JB and Gehemba. I wrote the note on a piece of scratch paper, signed it, gave them my business card and someone nodded, another man walked over to the door of the enclosed compound and came out with the bike.
"The bike!" I said quietly..."The bike...."
Kiki grabbed the bike and took it to the Land Cruiser. I turned to the wife, brought her into one of the shops and handed her 20,000rwf and said, "Feed your babies." She smiled and said Murakoze (thank you).
After we dropped off Gehemba and headed back to Rwamagana, JB and Kiki were talking in Kinyarwanda and I kept hearing "Mukeciro and Muzungu" over and over. Finally I looked at Kiki and said, "I know you're talking about me."
Kiki started laughing. Apparently, the men were mad they had to turn the bike over to a white woman. They said it would have been okay if it had been coach who came to get the bike but not me. NOT a woman! Kiki then looked at JB and said something in Kinyarwanda. I asked him what he said.
"I told them they don't know you, you are like dog who is very, very hungry."
I looked at Kiki and said, "Here's the deal....it's not just a bike, it's some kid's future locked away collecting dust in a room in Kayonza. I can't live with that. You know we don't have enough bikes. This bike could be ridden by the next Adrien Niyonshuti. I couldn't leave without it."
Kiki smiled and said, "I knew we would get the bike....Team is Team."