I started riding again. I stopped riding not only because of the 15-16 hour work days in the two months leading up to the Tour of Rwanda, but also because I had become disillusioned with life outside these walls.
My rides consisted of young men taunting me, hassling me, getting sideswiped by Matatus (overloaded mini bus transports), kids throwing things at me, the constant “Mzungu Amafaranga”, and my all time favorite….the spitting. The spitting was always done, with remarkable accuracy, by girls in the 12 – 21 age range. The old ladies…the Mukecurus….my biggest fans, no problems, ever.
I am riding again and, since the Tour of Rwanda, there is a noticeable “shift” in attitude and interaction from and within the community. I asked Mr. AM if he had experienced a similar feel outside the walls and he agreed. There is REAL love for their team.
We have always said, “This is your team”. We say it to everyone from the local shop keepers we buy our food from, to the local single speeders trying to keep up with the team on training rides. We tell the Federation, the Ministry of Sport, business leaders…Team Rwanda is YOUR team.
Rwanda believes it now.
This team embodies the resilience of Rwanda. To come from nothing 8 years ago to being the heroes to their country, this is Rwanda.
The first editorial I read after the race was in the New Times, a Rwandan paper, written by a Rwandan entitled, “What Tour du Rwanda Success can Teach Us”.
“I think that the answer is obvious. The Rwanda cycling federation put in place a long-term plan of action and then EXECUTED it. They got a successful coach in Jacques Bowyer and let him do his job. They discovered potentially good riders and gave them the support, both technical and material, to train properly. They built a cycling school of excellence in Musanze District and they helped finance Team Rwanda’s European sojourns. Finally, they sought and got sponsorship from the private sector so they did not have to depend on government handouts.”
If you read the entire article the author, Sunny Ntayombya, nailed it. He truly understood our work.
Just last week there was another editorial about the power of sport, which happened to include mention of Team Rwanda. Sport, National Spirit and Progress in Rwanda was featured in the New Times on December 9th.
“Valens Ndayisenga’s win and the performance of Team Rwanda in the Tour du Rwanda has shown that a competitive spirit, a winning mentality, the desire to excel and resilience exist among Rwandan sportsmen and women as they do in the rest of the population.
That is what has brought the country to where it is now and what will propel it forward – whether in sport or other spheres of national life.”
This is the new atmosphere in Rwanda. There is a belief in their team. There is hope Rwanda can compete on the international stage. And it’s not just about the bike. It’s about these young men representing the good of Rwanda. When you speak to Team Rwanda cyclists the number one thing they say is they want Rwanda to be known for cycling and not the past. Although the past will always be with Rwanda, Rwanda does not have to be defined by it. There is a new view of the future: a team of Rwandans coming together to work for the common good of their country.
And so my riding has been filled with shouts from young men yelling,
“Tour du Rwanda, Team Rwanda”
“Valens, Valens, Valens”
To which I respond Mzungu Mukecuru, to which they all laugh.
The other day several guys followed me on taxi bikes, the ones who normally heckled me. They came alongside me, passed let and me me draft up the long slow climb to home. They loved it.
The kids yell, “Rwanda”
The Mukecurus smile and wave.
And yet, the young teen girls still spit. Perhaps I need to do more work building up women’s cycling? 2015 sisters 2015, I promise….just stop spitting at me!
One of my favorite passages came to mind as I began writing this blog days ago in my head on a long ride:
I Peter 4:10 says: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Mr. AM and I do not like the limelight. We prefer the actual work. Building this team has not been about building our resumes and our careers. This has always been about these young men and the country they represent. We are simply stewards of this team.
The only thing we have ever wanted is to have this country love their team as much as we do.
Now they do.
Thank you Mjrka Boensch Bees for this beautiful photo!