Monday, February 10, 2014

Conversations to the Breaking Point

December 27th -- Entered Rwanda after a holiday break in Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

46 days I've been in Rwanda 

16 days past my current mental expiration date

A new rider, Patrick, is scheduled to go to South Africa for the UCI training camp tomorrow, provided he gets his visa.  Currently we are on the hook for plane tickets.  He has a booking on an airline which shall remain nameless for tomorrow night.  The challenge, paying for that plane ticket.

This morning's conversation with a representative from said airline (SA, not related to South African Airways SAA):

Me:  Hello

SA:  Hello

Me:  Hello

SA:  Hello

(This is typical of most Rwandan phone calls the Hello Volley I like to call it)


Me:  OK…hello….what do you want?  Who are you?

SA:  This is SA we received your email about the booking.

Me:  Yes, do we still have the booking.

SA:  What?

Me:  The booking….for Patrick Byukusenge….is it still valid?

SA:  The booking?

Me:  SIGH….is he scheduled to be on the plane tomorrow night?

SA:  Yes, Yes

Me:  Good, do you have an office in Musanze?  I need to pay for the ticket.

SA:  No….but may I make a suggestion?

Me:  Yes?

SA:  You come to Kigali and you can pay for ticket at our office.

Me:  Musanze is 2 hours away from Kigali?

SA:  Yes, you come now

Me:  May I suggest that is the most idiotic idea I have ever heard!  You want me to drive 4 hours roundtrip, spend $50 in fuel and half my day on the road of death to bring you $561USD because Kigali is your only office and you don't take credit cards online or over the phone?

SA:  Yes, I know

Me:  Bad suggestion

SA:  So you come now?  The plane, it is very full, not many seats

Me:  SIGH….can you figure out some other way?

SA:  Ok, I call you back

This is why everything in Africa takes an inordinate amount of time.  Things that should take you 2 minutes and 47 seconds online (on normal internet, not Rwandan internet) gets moved to 5 hours.  You would think after 5 years I could purchase a plane ticket without spending 5 hours in the car and traveling 130 miles to do so.

Me:….thinking….thinking…thinking…a ha!  I will just put money in the Federation's account and they can pay for the ticket this afternoon.  I have the cash so it will clear immediately.

Me dialing Federation….

Me:  Federation….good morning…when are you picking up Patrick's visa?  (I have been told this, however, every day things can change so always best to reconfirm hourly)

Fed:  Tomorrow at 9

Me:  I need to purchase Patrick's ticket can I send you money into your account and then you can withdraw it in Kigali and pay for the ticket?  

Fed:  No, not possible.

Me:  SIGH….(seriously, everything is either "not possible" or "no problem" which actually means "big problem, not possible")

Me:  Why?

Fed:  Two people who can get money are in Burundi.  You can come to Kigali?


Me:  (Releasing frustration verbally)….NEVER mind!


In the end I called our friend Felix Sempoma who owns a tour / car company and lo and behold he's headed into Kigali this afternoon to drop off a client and will pick up my money and purchase the ticket at the airport.

No return call from SA with any other solution.  It has been two hours.  Not that I really was expecting it but I still like to maintain some sort of hope for efficiency.  Hope….it's a fraying thread most days.

This morning's conversation reminded me of Wednesday.  Wednesday, the day the earth apparently slipped off its axis.

Wednesday morning started with an early training ride.  The riders needed to roll out at 8:00 for a four hour session.  I have been trying to get Jean Bosco's ordinary passport application in for days.  Finally we decide, since he has to go back to his District office and the office is along the training route, Felix would take him up there with his bike, they would submit the application and Bosco would wait for the guys on the road when he was finished.  Simple….SIGH…

Bosco shows up at 6:50am.  I told both him and Felix 7:15.  Felix shows up at 7:30…SIGH

Later that morning after returning from my ride Felix tells me the person who accepts the passports was not in today.  Apparently, no one else at the District office can accept passport paperwork.  There is only one person.  What if that person suddenly died?  Would there be no more passports for that district?  

Felix:  We can come back tomorrow he said

Me:  No, we can't.  Bosco has 4.5 hours tomorrow and they are training on the Kigali road the opposite direction.  Can you call and find out if they are there on Friday?

Felix:  They do not work on Friday

Me:  Of course not, silly me!

Felix:  Laughs….(he's used to my sarcasm)

Me:  Ok, give Bosco the paperwork and he goes Monday on his way to camp.  (I lose yet, another week in the process)

Late morning Felix gets a call from Felix Sempoma.  Felix Sempoma was on his motorbike training with the guys since Jock and Jamie are both in South Africa for the next 10 days.  There has been a big crash and Jean Pierre is in the hospital in Kabaya and FS needs 50,000.  

Me:  Does JP have Mutual?  (Rwandan National Insurance)

Felix talking to FS on the phone determines yes, he does.

Me:  Use it please.  We cannot pay for this if they already have insurance.

Felix hangs up:  You must go now

Me:  Go where?  

Felix:  Kabaya Hospital

Me:  Where is that?  (Felix knows me, knows how to give American directions and draws me a little map complete with kms to the turnoff).  Where is the hospital?

Felix:  I am not sure, in town maybe?  You ask when you get there.

Me:  SIGH….(not good….this will not end well as Kabaya is in the boonies, I'm a white chick, Kabaya is the town in which Gasore was attacked and his Oakleys stolen while training with the team in December…..I am supposed to just ask for directions….big problem)

45 minutes later I'm in Kabaya attempting to find the hospital by asking directions from the locals.  Two men I wave over refuse to come and my truck is surrounded by people staring at me saying, "Mzungu, amafaranga"  Frustrated I call both Felix's trying to figure out which way to go.

Me calling FS:  Felix, I cannot find the hospital

FS:  Just give someone the phone I talk to them

Me:  Are you kidding me?  Hand over my $300 iPhone to the same group of people who had no qualms about beating up Gasore, a Rwandan, their National Cycling Champion, for his $200 Oakleys?

FS:  What?  I don't understand.

Me:  (Why did I not learn French?)  Never mind….

People are now staring at me from all directions.  An old man starts knocking on my passenger window, the door is unlocked.  I reach over and lock the door as he's becoming more and more agitated.  I can't figure out what he's saying. He runs to the other side of the car and starts saying over and over "Hopital Hopital" (Hospital in French) and pointing up this really rocky, craggy dirt road.  

"Are you serious?"  God bless African Toyota Land Cruisers!  

At one point the road has become so treacherous I pull into a small courtyard to turn around thinking there is NO way this is a road to hospital.  At that point Felix Sempoma calls me saying, "I see you I see you".  I turn around and see him standing on a hill about another km up this road, waving.  The entire time I'm thinking, "HOW could you possibly put a hospital in a place like this, what does it feel like to be injured or sick and being taken up this hill?"

As I pull up to the hospital Felix is waiting for me and takes me back to Jean Pierre, who's laying in bed with bandages wrapped around his head covering his mouth.  I'm thinking….can he breathe like that?

DR:  Bonjour

Me:  Sorry…only English (damn, there's that we are Americans and English is the ONLY language everyone should speak education again!)

DR:  Teeth….5 teeth….(holding up his fist, sign for 5 in Rwanda, and waving like they are gone.

Me:  You took OUT 5 TEETH!

DR:  Yes

Me:  Top or bottom or both (pantomiming like a braying horse, showing my teeth)

DR:  Teeth 

Me:  (having an oh, shit, moment…what do I do know?…thinking…thinking…if it's teeth he has damage possible to his jaw, might be broken)  Did you do an x-ray

DR:  X-ray?

Me:  Picture (again showing my teeth like a horse) snapping like a camera

DR:  No.  Broken

Me:  Of course it is….(snarkiness thankfully did not translate)

Me:  thinking….if this kid has lost a bunch of teeth I need to get him to Kigali asap.  I start dialing friends, acquaintances and even an ER consultant we sold a bike to.  My only thought is to get him the best care possible.  

After numerous phone calls, favors called in and even a plastic surgeon found (a rare feat in Rwanda as there's only 1…how I long for the days of Las Vegas where there's one on every corner), I go back to the Doctor one more time to get a few more details.

Me:  So….what teeth are gone?

DR:  Teeth?  Teeth?  Teeth ok….

Me:  What?  Exsqueeze me?  A baking powder?

Interpreter:  (woman who speaks a bit more English than the doctor and someone who should have been there during round 1)…He has sutures.  His teeth are ok.  It was cut in mouth, sutures.

Me:  (whispering under my breath)….I feel like an idiot!  I just mobilized all the medical ex pats in the country to fix this kid's mouth and he has SUTURES!

Me:  Okie Dokie then…can we go now?

DR:  Yes, you go now.  Go to hospital in Musanze

Me:  (turning to Felix) Well…since I already called in my favor with Dr. King in Musanze, we might as well have him checked out.

Felix:  That is good.  

As I follow Felix out, we take a different, much better road which then dumps us right out onto the main road only 2kms from where I was trying to ask for directions.  I couldn't help but wonder, "Why didn't they just say, 2 kms from the Arch, turn right, follow the signs about 1km to the hospital?"  

African directions make perfect sense to Africans and zero sense to Americans and vice versa.  It just is the way of the world.

45 minutes later I'm in Musanze.  It's now almost 2:00 in the afternoon.  It feels like it's 8:30pm.

As I drive JP up to the Urgent Care, the doctor I'm supposed to see, greets us immediately, and then turns us over to his associate.  As JP is sitting in his wheel chair Dr. #2 says to me

DR2:  WHY are you HERE!?

Me:  What?

DR2:  WHY are you HERE!?  

Me:  I was told to come by Dr. King and Dr. T was expecting me.

DR2:  But WHY?

Me:  SIGH….can you just look him over for me.  We were at Kabaya, not Johns Hopkins (I am past the point of no return of snarky), I just want you to check him out and let us know it's all okay.  The doctor at Kabaya said he might need to spend the night.  

DR2:  I will examine and tell you if he spends the night.

Me:  (thinking….wow doctors can be the same all over the world!)…SMILING…super thanks!

As I'm sitting there waiting two police officers come in and the rather rotund one sits down next to me on the creaky wooden bench I'm sharing with two school girls.  As he sits down the bench almost gives way and the boards pinch all of our asses as the pieces separate and come back together.

We all start giggling.  He stands up and says

PO:  I guess I stand it is better

Me:  Possibly

PO:  (caressing his belly like a 9 month pregnant woman) I guess I need to lose a couple of kilos

Me:  You think? 

PO:  Yes…what do you think?

Me:  (well, he kicked the door open)…yes, sir, I do think you need to lose some kilos.  It's not healthy.  Do you exercise?

PO:  Yes, I swim.

Me:  How do you swim?  What is your heart rate?

PO:  I swim with my arms (imitating breast stroke)

Me:  Hmm….you probably need to up the intensity.  I would try doing the crawl and time yourself on laps.  You should feel your heart rate increase.  Keep your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes.

PO:  But if I swim like that my legs sink

Me:  You need to kick your legs harder

PO:  You use your legs when you swim?

Me:  (thinking…I'm OUT!)  Yes, sir, you use your legs.

PO:  Maybe I should just eat less

Me:  You think?

PO:  What should I eat?

Me:  SIGH….reduce your carbs, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes all should be at a minimum, lots of fresh vegetables, raw salads, lean meat

PO:  I can eat meat?  

Me:  Yes of course (although I wouldn't touch any beef, pork or goat in the country personally)

PO:  And Fanta?

Me:  That would be a NO

PO:  Ok…maybe I swim more

Me:  Smiling….okay, I need to go now, see you around!

Thankfully, we were called into the exam room where apparently, the doctor did find some more sutures which needed to be done inside JP's mouth.  As the doctor hands me a piece of paper he says

DR2:  Go get this and I suture

Me:  What?  I need to go buy sutures…and gloves….?

Felix:  Yes, we go to pharmacy

Me:  Can't you just suture him and I pay for it?

Felix:  No, we must go to pharmacy at hospital

As we walk across the compound to the pharmacy there it is…the line.  One stall open, 15 people in line and one person working at the speed of a snail on valium.  I look at Felix and say, "We have to wait in this?  JP needs stitches now.  It will be all closed up by the time we get through this!"

Felix:  Yes, we wait

Me:  (handing Felix the keys to the car)…no Felix, I'm finished, I'm chewed up and spit out today, you stay, here's the car.

Felix:  Sorry?

Me:  Never mind….I'm walking.  Call me when you're done.

(Felix didn't get done until 6:30 that evening)

Of course, by this point it's raining.  I walk a mile and a half back to the house in the drizzly mist (remember, they had a film called, Gorillas in a Mist…there's a meteorological reason for that in Rwanda).  

As I open the door to the gate, there's Kongo's pink cat bed in the rain full of mud, piled in a heap in the middle of the driveway.  Tuesday, Jock, Mr. Alpha Male of the house, left for a motorcycle trip up from South Africa.  It happens EVERY time.  Mr. AM leaves and it completely upsets the testosterone balance within the house.  Zulu and Kongo obviously had a battle of supremacy with Zulu the apparent victor in dominance, at least for a Wednesday.

I walk into the house, dirty dishes piled in the sink.  Zulu hasn't been fed.  Difficult to miss a starving, sad eyed 140# dog walking around with no food all day!  The vegetables which I asked to be prepped before I left for Kabaya were only 1/4 done.  I guess that peeling and cutting in half had caused potential carpal tunnel syndrome.  The motorcycle which had been in use when I left was back on the patio but the cover was still on the chair…ah yeah, cover on motorbike not on chair! I walk in the bathroom the rider's clothes had made it to the washer, however, the dryer fairy must have been off duty that afternoon because they hadn't made it to the dryer.  As I'm moving the rider's kits to the dryer I'm thinking….where are my clothes from earlier today?  No…No…tell…no….they are not still on the line?  In the pouring rain?

I ran outside with Joseph nicely snug as a bug in his guard shack watching it rain on my clothes….it had rained for over an hour.  SIGH….f*&k it SIGH

Mind you, I had three capable (or so I thought) men around "helping" me.  I'm telling you, when Mr. AM goes, the testosterone goes askew.  

It was 3:30pm…..I walked to the refrigerator and poured myself a glass of wine breaking my 5:00pm rule, texted Mr. AM, "I quit"

And then I went back to work….

UPDATE:  As I said at the beginning I still like to hope.  One thing I know is every time the riders here someone tell me know, or that it's a "big problem" or it's "impossible" I make it happen.  They see me challenge the status quo, ask questions, problem solve, go around or through obstacles and they are the recipients of the good which comes from not taking NO for an answer.  They now are learning to do the same.  I think any country's people need to challenge the status quo on a daily basis.  It improves everyone and everything.  We can always do it better.

Thank you Gisele at SA (Rwandair)!  After waiting to hear back from the customer service rep who said he'd call back, I received a call from Gisele.  I explained the situation and within 10 minutes I had a secure link to input my credit card (I had to burn through 4 cards before it took….that's going to be a security night mare with 3 credit card companies) and got it done.  Patrick's ticket is purchased and provided the visa comes tomorrow, he's going to South Africa.  

The other day, Janvier said to me, "Mukecuru, thank you, thank you very much." He said this as he was laughing and shaking his head as I was throwing them in the car to be taken to the bus to go to Kigali and get on the plane to South Africa.  We had finally gotten the call his visa was ready.  For days he had heard me call the Federation…where is the visa?  When are you getting the visa?  Janvier and Bona have to be on that plane!  

I'll keep doing it…for them, but there are days, days like Wednesday when I wonder what it would look like if I wasn't pushing, following up, picking up the pieces.  

46 days….time for a break

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