“I am Broken”
In the film, Rising From Ashes, Adrien Niyonshuti is interviewed about the Cape Epic mountain bike race, the first race for Team Rwanda in 2007. He says at the start of the interview that he “may not live to finish the race”. Adrien does finish the race and in the Top 20, however, he also says at the conclusion of the interview, “I am broken, really broken.”
Last night when I sat in the Sci Bono Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa, watching Rising From Ashes for the 25th+ time and heard those words I understood what I have been feeling for weeks.
“I am broken….really broken”
There is never any one event or situation, which drives me to the edge, rather the insidious accumulation of all the components of life in Rwanda, in a country, which is still evolving from its broken past.
I compartmentalize. There are things around me every day which I see but I cannot internalize or acknowledge. To do so would open the flood gates of emotions.
There is a Bible verse John 12:8, “You will always have the poor among you….”
I know this. I see this. I live this.
The Team always struggles for money. Struggling for money is one thing on a personal level, but a much different burden when you have so many young people whose future rests on your ability to provide. This is a family of 20, with an extended family of hundreds.
I do not personally struggle with money thanks to zero debt and a frugal way of life. However, I do struggle with the American view of money determining your worth. After a week of camp in which Mr. AM was gone along with our American mechanic I figured out I averaged $6.46 per hour. I don’t think I will do that math again. I was tired, in a bit of an exhausted spiral, $6.46 calculations did not help my attitude. I love what I do. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just need to let go of what you make dictating your worth in the world.
The hours, the stress, the 8.5 weeks, the Muzungu Amafarangas the daily obstacles, which really are daily and in multiple forms, chipped away at my compartmentalized dam.
And then it sprung a leak.
An associate, someone tremendously passionate about the team, the cycling federation and the sport in Rwanda, caused the dam to burst.
I asked him to help Jimmy assemble some bikes for Adrien’s center. I did not tell him how much I would pay him or even if I would pay him. I just asked for his help and he did.
105 bikes assembled in 5 days.
Jimmy said he couldn’t have done that many without this young man’s help.
We stopped at the Federation to see the bikes and to pay him. As I counted out the money, a completely fair wage in Rwanda (drastically underpaid in the terms of the Western world), he looked at me astonished. As he took the money for his 5 days of work, he said, “This is how much I make in two months. Thank you, Mukeciro, Thank you!”
And then it hits…..this overwhelming rush of “Oh shit here it comes!” The tears are there like geysers ready to erupt. I smiled and looked at Mr. AM, same look on his face. “We need to go now!”
I get in the Land Cruiser and I start crying and it’s not going to stop. Poverty doesn’t make me sad anymore it makes me very angry! I do not have that “oh, isn’t that sad, that poor person/child/situation, sentimentality” I have that “FUCK this, this is wrong, this person has done everything right in his life, loves the team, would do anything to help any of us and he still eeks out his existence. I HATE this world!”
Immediately, every injustice, every bit of poverty our riders, staff and committed Rwandan fans face becomes my self imposed burden. What can I do more of? Why is it like this? As we pass fancy SUV after fancy SUV on the road out of Kigali I just become more and more angry. I realize, in the grand scope of life, there’s actually very little I can do.
A few days later I head to South Africa and not a moment too soon. My $6.46/hour allows me to escape, to get on a plane, to reenter the first world to get my hair cut and colored, to spend half a day at a spa.
I am not in a good place.
We land Monday night in Joberg. Tuesday morning I have a little quiet time in my friend’s gorgeous, peaceful home in Pretoria where we are staying. I do a little yoga. I read. I try to regroup.
Tuesday night, after a nice dinner with the Rwandan Ambassador and his First Secretary and the two incredible women who are putting on our fundraiser later in the week, I check my email before bed. Bad move. I know better.
There’s an email from someone who misread an email. Some days I hate email. He says he’s disheartened by my us vs. them mentality and reminds me Team is Team. Are you kidding me? You’re really going to go there? Could you just give me a swift kick to the head while you’re at it?!
There’s an email from Felix….if we don’t pay the full quote from a company we didn’t use we don’t get utilities for our new place until June. Seriously? We have to be out of our current homes in 34 days. We have 3 days to pay this quote. We are in South Africa for the next 3 days. Can they do this? Is this legal? We are going to have to pay for something we did not get? We are already thousands and thousands of dollars in the red of money we don’t have in the budget.
There it is….the final obstacle, the final challenge thrown in my path.
“I am going home. I’m taking Zu, Shaka, Kongo and I’m going home. That’s it. I cannot do this anymore. I am finished. I know you will never leave but I must leave”
Mr. AM lets me just cry and talk and then says to me, “If you go, I go. It would be no fun without you.” He doesn’t try to talk me out of it. He just lets me leave in that moment with the reassurance “we” are more important than anything else in our crazy lives.
He holds my hand as I eventually fall asleep.
I am broken….really broken.
…..to be continued.