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!