Something a friend said a few days ago has stuck with me and could be the explanation for why I feel the way I do. He said things are different now, meaning with Team Rwanda. Team Rwanda isn’t a few guys anymore and a couple of expats. Team Rwanda is Team Africa Rising, in a new 2.7-acre compound, housing teams from Eritrea and Ethiopia, with 16 Rwandan riders and the daily 2-3 BMX riders who just come to hone their skills and get a good meal. As I look around Africa Rising Cycling Center I realize how far we have come. I realize how much people depend on us and how our responsibilities to the team and the extended families of Team Rwanda and now Ethiopia and Eritrea have grown exponentially in the past six months. And that was what our friend was getting at….Mr. AM and I really can’t leave, not now, not for a while. We owe it to this team, their families and these countries to keep the program going. This is when I think I may vomit.
The past six weeks have been hard, very hard. Our new compound, while incredibly beautiful and the perfect home for our cycling family, is also so much work. Something is always broken, another bed is needed, sheets, towels, pillows. The kitchen now has a mish mash of three refrigerators and two janky stoves, one, which spews black methane the other without a workable oven door. When we have electricity we can use the oven in the office. When we don’t…we don’t. We have a generator but at $35/hour in fuel to run it the oven is not a priority. Throw in a couple of loads of laundry and a necessary Internet upload to the US, and then we flip the switch.
Currently there are 26 riders from three countries at our center, 2 Ethiopian staff (coach/mechanic), 1 Eritrean coach along with our expat staff of 7 and Rwandan staff of 3.5 (Jonathan is only 5). We have another 12 Rwandan staff that does not live on the property but work 6 days a week, lately, 7. We have three cooks who are in the kitchen from 5:45am until 9:00pm every day. We spend $200/day on food.
With everyone involved on a day-to-day basis both Rwanda and expat Mr. AM and I have suddenly become responsible for the well being of 200 family members. When did this happen? Our friend was right.
Even with all the controlled chaos and long days in the 2 weeks leading up to the Tour of Rwanda I am happy. Stressed but happy. I have these moments of such clarity and joy. W said the other day he was driving the motorbike and realized how lucky he was to be living this life. When I watched Eva, one of W’s new BMX upstarts, petting Shaka, once fearful of dogs, I have one of those moments. Eva comes every day he can when he’s not in school. He rents a bike to ride to our center and spends hours riding the pump track and of course gets a good meal in the process. Today as Team Rwanda was coming in from their training Eva was doing laps and the guys, Eva’s heroes on a bike, started shouting and clapping. They were impressed with his progress. Eva beamed. He’s a good kid, kind, committed, just wanting to be a part of this family every day.
This same friend told me not to “stir up any shit” when we were talking the other day about a chronic issue we face. He could tell I was angry and I was. The next morning in my daily devotional I read three things cause anger: hurt, frustration and fear. I am hurt that some people do not listen to us. We’re just the ones on the ground sacrificing everything to make life better for these young men and women. I’m frustrated that EVERY single day is a battle to keep this place open. I am fearful that Beatrice, our cleaning lady, mother of four, who sends her children to school because of THIS job, may not have it if I cannot raise the money to keep this team going.
Yes, I am angry. I’m angry at first world problems. I’m angry that Ebola hysteria has consumed the US and taken away a trip of a very special person to Mr. AM and I who was coming to the Tour of Rwanda, to stay at ARCC and to see his late wife’s new education center. I’m angry at the amount of waste in people’s lives…and they’re still not happy.
Two nights ago we stood in our dining room, 42 people, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Rwandans, Americans and even a Canadian, all holding hands together and praying before dinner. How did I get so lucky?
Today I paid out bonuses to our Rwandan staff….about $400 total. It was like Christmas here. They have been working so hard. They ARE this team and they know it. The other night the cooks received a round of applause for simply feeding us day in and day out. It was initiated by Nathan….he’s such a leader. Beatrice, Joseph, Damascene, Felix, Janvier, Thomas, Cathryn, Kiki, Obed and Protais all had life a little easier today.
If only the world could see what I see.
Team Rwanda cannot compete with the big non-profits of the world. We do not have an M & E (monitoring and evaluation) program in place. How do you monitor the development of a cycling culture in a small country in Africa? What does it mean to this country? Everything…..
Some have taken a chance on us and to those people we are forever indebted to your gratitude.
The other day we sent out a newsletter profiling one of our riders, Gasore Hategeka. We hoped to fund his salary for the year. We got zero. Zero….I cannot even wrap my head around that.
I’m angry…hurt, frustrated and fearful…..and very tired.
I’m also hopeful. I see the good that is happening here. I keep praying and speaking to the universe that God did not bring us this far to fail. It is just part of the test.