Thursday, December 31, 2015

Racing is LIFE...Everything Else is Just Waiting

I have started to write something about 15 times over the last week....why can we not get people to help this team?  I'm so frustrated.  I wish you all could see what I see, experience what I experience, live what I live....this team is everything to these riders, their families, the young hopefuls and this country of Rwanda.  Everyone can help these guys and girls...why don't you?

I just read what Sterling Magnell, our coach for Team Rwanda, wrote about the team on his Facebook page, obviously feeling similar frustrations.....90 seconds.  Take 90 seconds and read this...then tell me you can't help.  Thank you Sterling....

"What am I gonna buy it with? My good looks?!"
When I was little(r) my pops used to rebuff requests for things us kids didn't exactly need like that.
I used to wonder how plausible that really was, even though I knew he was being facetious and I hated him for it...
Shit. my team would be flying around 1st class.
You unequivocally tell someone how much you value their work when you pay them. I know that.
This shit has really been on my mind all season. And I hate it.
The height of hypocritical, materiel guilt driven giving.
Happy Holidays! Am I right?
I haven't bought a Christmas gift in 10 years.
Everybody wants to tug on your heart strings.
We project onto the sturdy members of our society guilt, indicting their station in life, their hard work, their privilege. 
Philanthropy, charity, tithing. Dirty fucking words you never wanna hear.
As a result not very many people ever actually cough up the beans as it were.
What is so special about these East African opportunists on bikes anyway.
I ask myself this shit everyday. 
What's all this bike racing crap really good for? 
Why is it worthwhile? 
What makes it essential.
What else besides the basic come up for a few lucky individuals is happening?
I grew up poorish. Okay, we were broke.
My house had wheels under it.
I was home schooled, I was as nerdy and underprepared for world as they come. 
20 years of cycling later and I've been all over the world.
Cycling changed my life. And because of that
I get to change other people's lives.
None if that happens without the people that dug deep in their pockets to put me and keep me on a bike. Nada.
I have very little formal education. Barely a G.E.D.
No saucy social connections, no nepotism, no wealth.
I got an education you can't buy.
Personal, worldly, about myself, about sport, about humanity, 
About politics, about nature, about culture, about family, about strangers, about struggle.
It fueled absolutely everything about who I am today.
And here I am pouring my life into repeating that cycle for the next kid. 
Look at us. Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic social homo sapien miracles we are. 
Look how able we are... look how advanced we are. So privileged, so blessed. And look how sick we are.
We're eating our tails. We're using up the planet. We're so well off we're inventing diseases. 
We're so bored we're fighting over shit that has no bearing on anything. 
We live vicariously, we live remotely, our lives are virtual. 
We're intellectually inbred, we have every resource in world, every need met and still can't figure out how to love. 
And we still can't figure out how to stop killing each other. 
Every tangible force of nature has been measured, bought, sold, resold, dividends, bets on bets, fiat money, fiat love, fiat existence. 
We're doing wrong.
So much of progress, of inspiration, human evolution comes from things that are pointless... that have no tangible value. 
Bike racing.
Intrinsically priceless. 
This is how we learn. This is how we grow. 
What happens when you play against yourself? Who wins? 
What happens when only one story gets told? 
What happens without diversity and color, and challenges and models for conflict? 
We need each others help, we need each other to live and learn and win and be in the game. 
We literally cannot afford to skip this step. 
We need stories. We need input. 
We need re education.
So do what you want with your piggy bank.
Do what you want with your christmas bonus.
Do what you want with your hedge fund. 
Help, don't help. You earned it. 
Ball till you fall man, I'm rooting for you. I hope you win at life. I hope you win at love. I hope you have everything you need. 
I hope you live life to it's fullest.
I hope you die happy. 
I hope Team Rwanda taught you something in 2015.
I hope we plant seeds of hope and inspiration in in your life and that it's takes you places. 
I could no more compel you to give me your money than I can compel the moon to produce light. 
But I can be light. 
I'm gonna fly as close to sun as I can get away with.
I'm betting big. I'm better on my team, I'm betting on us. 
I'm betting on humanity. 
This isn't bike racing, This is life. Life IS racing.
Everything else is just waiting.
Gaze deep into your crystal ball and tell me I'm wrong.
Happy New Year friends.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

America....We are Better Than THIS!

One of my many jobs with Team Rwanda Cycling is handling all the social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and keeping our website up to date.  If this was not my job, I would never set my digital foot particularly on Facebook ever again....or until all the politicians in the US move to the grave.  I use Facebook and other social media to bring Team Rwanda and all the work we are doing on the continent of Africa to the world.  The world needs to hear about these amazing young men and women who have nothing, yet ride for everything.  In my view, social media should be about telling inspiring stories, relaying accurate information, bringing the world together.  Instead it has become a forum of hate mongers, armchair politicians and frighteningly a base to spew an agenda of hate, exclusion and fear.  

Have we learned nothing from history?  Why has the world, as viewed from my seat in East Africa, seemed to have spun off it's axis?  Shouldn't we as the advanced human race be more able to resolve conflict instead of fueling it?  

I never wanted to write about this as I did not want to open up my world to the internet trolls and for that reason your comments should anyone feel compelled to make one, will be monitored and approved or denied.  Monitored, not censored.  What made me decide to voice my thoughts?  This statement:

I wish all the Syrians were as honest and sincere as this young boy. Not all Syrians are going to be terrorists, but even one is too many.

This statement was in response to a video shared on Facebook of a young Syrian boy, a refugee, who speaks about coming across the Mediterranean and how he misses home and his life and his toys.  I wrote about my thoughts on refugees earlier this year.  I know Eritreans who have crossed.  I think about the lives of these people and how much they just desire hope, safety and freedom.  They will risk everything for it.

Donald Trump recently stated all Muslims need to be moved out of the US and not be allowed to return, even if they're American.  Didn't we do this to the Japanese in WWII?  Well, I guess we just moved them onto camps and took their livelihoods.  Are we really going to revisit that horrible time in history and repeat it?  

But even one is too many....written on a Facebook page of a friend who posted the video as they were trying to be a voice of reason.  Look at the situation from all sides.  A white guy posted this.  A white guy who also said Obama is a closeted Muslim.  Seriously America, you have not let this go?  And so what if Obama is a Muslim?  I don't care if he's a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or even an atheist (although I will pray for his soul).  I care about his job performance not who he worships.  

Oh, and by the way "white guy", just so you know, according to CNN, referencing Mother Jones,

According to data compiled by Mother Jones magazine, which looked at mass shootings in the United States since 1982, white people -- almost exclusively white men -- committed some 64% of the shootings.

Is one "white guy" coming back into the country after his business trip to the Middle East "one...too many"?

This is perpetuation of fear.  The unknown being controlled by people like this "white guy" or Donald Trump.

Here's the face of a Muslim in the US...

Adrien Niyonshuti

Adrien, our rider who was the first to sign with a professional team back in 2008, the only Rwandan to date who races for a World Tour team, the ONLY Rwandan to race Tour of Utah this past year.

Adrien is a devout Muslim.

Is this who you refer to Donald Trump?  Should he have not been allowed to race because of his religion?  Or is it just Muslims from Syria?

Obed Ruvogera

Obed, an original member of Team Rwanda, the first Rwandan who aged out of international racing and parlayed his experience into a new career in cycling.  Obed, our masseur and yoga teacher, who learned his skills and English in the US for four months back in 2013, who lived with several American families and now supports a wife and two children in Rwanda thanks to his work with Team Rwanda.

Obed is a Muslim.

Is he the "one too many"?  Is this who you speak of Donald Trump, a man who was and is married to an immigrant.  

Although Donald Trump is truly shocking (and by the way most of the rest of the world thinks Americans are complete fools for allowing him to get this far in the election process), what is more shocking are the people who follow him.

USA Today just said, 

Poll: 68% of Trump’s supporters would vote for him if he bolts the GOP


The hate rhetoric he spews should be enough to bounce him....out of the country!

And he still leads in the polls with 10% over his nearest rival.

My great grandparents on my mother's side came from Germany.  On my father's side they came from Poland.  Didn't most of us Americans come from somewhere else?  If we didn't we are Native American.  

That's the some point, somewhere along the way in our family trees we came over to America.  Where has the spirit of acceptance of differences gone?  We, America, are a melting pot.  

Stop embracing the fear and hate.  Do your own research.  Meet families different from yours, you'll see they are actually very similar.  We all just want to raise our families in peace and safety with opportunities to be educated and to be productive members of society.

Yes, Muslims in San Bernardino killed people, but so did a white kid in South Carolina.   

If places like Rwanda can come together peacefully, why can't we in America?  On this team there are young men from both sides of a brutal conflict 21 years ago.  Today there are also Congolese, Kenyans and a Ugandan here.  Rwanda and Congo have a very long history of conflict.  Not here within these walls.  

Our prayers are said by Christians and Muslims together, all of us from different places, lives and backgrounds.  Think about us next time you are afraid and instead of fueling your fear with hate speech from politicians, simply extend an offer of peace and grace to those you fear most.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Intruder with a Machete

There are so many days I am thankful we live in this beautiful compound surrounded by banana trees, bamboo, and flowers everywhere.  There are roses, sunflowers, cool looking pom pom things, orange trumpet like flowers you suck honey out of (Jonathan taught me that).   Obviously I simply enjoy the flowers. The last people here before us planted them as I really have no idea about anything horticulturally.  One thing I know, this has always been my haven.  When we moved into this compound (1 hectare of land about 3 acres) I knew it would help secure all our longevities.  This place allowed me to handle all the other "stuff" that was my dose of daily difficult.  Outside these walls is a constant stream of "Muzungu, Muzungu, Amafaranga, Give me My MONEY! Agacuba (water bottle), Iminake (banana), Give me MY BIKE! and a few expletives picked up from us frustrated white people yelling back over the years.

But within these walls I was safe.  We could train riders, control the day to day, it was....home.

Friday that changed.....a bit.

Friday around noon I asked Mr. AM if he could feed Zulu.  I told him to whistle when it was ready so Zulu would go down to the house.  I was up at the main kitchen getting banana bread ready to go into the oven.  I heard a whistle which normally was the call for Zulu to come but something wasn't right.  I started to walk towards my house, only 135 steps from the main kitchen, and there was Mr. AM looking very odd.  He said, "I just fought off a robber in our house."

"What?  What are you talking about?"

Our compound is surrounded by a 10' bamboo fence with rolls of nasty, rusty barb wire wound throughout the outside of the fence. 

"There was a robber in our house, with a machete.  He was hiding behind the kitchen door."

"Seriously?" I was still not grasping what had just happened.

When I walked into the house I saw the scuff marks all over the door and dirt on the floor.  Mr. AM showed me what had happened.  He had turned around and seen him hiding behind the kitchen door.  He grabbed his neck and his wrist to keep his arm from raising the machete.  They struggled for a few seconds and the robber got away running around the corner of the house and climbing onto the lookout pole by the fence.  Mr. AM grabbed him and he kept swinging the machete and then jumped over the fence.  All in all...probably not more than a minute.

I am not sure if my "give a shit/fear radar" is faulty or simply overloaded as I still haven't wrapped my head around my husband struggling with a machete swinging thief in our house on a busy Friday afternoon.  

Why would he even attempt it? This is the home of Team Rwanda, everyone must know that by now, especially now with all the publicity of the team's epic win a few weeks ago at the Tour of Rwanda.  We have guards and people and riders and dogs and it's Friday afternoon!

Mr. AM called the police and they came up and took all the information.  They were extremely concerned about what had happened.  The plainclothes detective kept asking Mr. AM who else lived in the house.  Mr. AM said I was his wife and lived there with him.  It raised the ante.  The police, knowing a female could have walked into the house and encountered a thief, were even more concerned.  Within the hour they were scouring the village behind our compound.  The police and military in Rwanda are good, very good.  They take keeping their country and its citizens safe, quite seriously.  

What would I have done if I had been the one to feed Zulu that day?  I think about it often.  What could I have done?  Would I have done?  It could have gone so wrong and for what?  What was he looking for?

And that's the strange part.  I told my sister what had happened and she said it was mostly likely because he was desperate and wanted to feed his family.  I am not so sure.  Who knows how long he was in the house? We suspect not very long.  In the main room of our small one bedroom 500 square foot house there were seven visible iPhones, two Apple computers, 10,000RWF of airtime ($15) and my bright purple wallet.  The only item which came up missing was my Kindle.  Really?  A Kindle?  What was he going to do with that?  And it was in the bedroom.  I keep looking for the Kindle every day.  It is still missing. This wasn't about feeding a family.  He could have fed his family for an entire year with what was in my wallet alone.  Not that I wished he would have stolen my wallet, that would have been a major hassle!  But really?  What did he want?  

Today made me think perhaps it's something more sinister.  Could it just be simple envy induced anger?  

The team heading to Morocco next week (Janvier, Bona, Bosco, Joseph, Camera, Patrick) plus Valens, were training this morning.  About 7 miles out of town the group of riders came up to a rider on, of all things, an old Project Rwanda Cargo bike, who tried to block them.  He started to insult them, insults were traded and then he said if he did not get money he would come to Patrick's house and stab him.  Patrick knew the guy.  The riders circled around him and made him keep riding at which point Mr. AM came upon the riders on his motorbike.  Janvier had called the police chief at the station up ahead.  Within another 5 miles the police had come down from the station and immediately took control of the situation and arrested the man.  

I am really struggling with trying to find a way to protect us and more importantly protect our riders.  What is the answer?  There is such a skewed perception that our riders are "loaded".  Yes, they make more than the national average, they have built homes with concrete floors, but yet Bosco, in his new house still needs to walk a kilometer or more for water.  He has no plumbing!  But, Bosco's house is a DREAM house....he rode for THAT house and it's gorgeous!

And even to just be associated with the "Muzungu" is an issue.  Jeanne d'Arc was riding the 4kms up from town on a BMX bike from getting her used sandals repaired on Sunday.  She had a group of guys all following her asking her for money.  Why would they ask Jeanne d'Arc for money?  She said it's because she rides for Team Rwanda.  My heart just broke.  I thought the hassle from local guys towards women wasn't only targeted to old, white ladies like me...not the case.

Jeanne d'Arc also told us after being interviewed by a documentary film crew from Spain last week, that after they left, her neighbors harassed her for over a week saying that since white people were at her house, she must have money or they must have left money.  She needed to given them that money.

We, white people, created this.  Not "we" as in me..but as in, the short termers, or guests in this country.  You, the people who gave money because you felt "sorry" for Rwandans.  You created this unhealthy expectation of money from white people.  You, the ones who come on $750 an hour gorilla treks, who then feel guilty and give money to children running beside your SUV who then don't go to school because they have enough money for the day.  

The longer I'm here, the more I see the influence of the Muzungu and the negatives brought to Rwanda.  I think there have been many good programs but, unfortunately, an equal number of really bad programs into this country.  Rwandans should not be short changed.  They could use a hand in some things, like the team, in access to sponsors, to teams, to organizations, but they can do this themselves.  These people put their country back together after a genocide.  Who are "we" to know best.

In the end, "we"...Mr. AM and I and the staff here at Team Rwanda need to figure out how best to keep all of our staff and riders safe and that is an extremely complex question.  When does our influence become detrimental to our riders, this team and this country?  

How do you raise people out of poverty without angering the people who remain?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mamas of Team Rwanda

Toughest people I have ever met in my life....Rwandan mothers.  Not new, young mothers, not the Kigali mothers with means, I'm talking about the mothers who have lived their whole lives in a small Rwandan village, raising way too many kids, doing way too much of the work, and most of the disciplining.  The Rwandan mothers who have lost husbands, sons and daughters in the genocide or who have been left without husbands due to prison terms handed down to their husbands who were part of the genocide.  These are the toughest women I know.  These women are my "go to" women when dealing with issues which arise with their sons on Team Rwanda.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, we had no team.  Team Rwanda had walked out on the prior Friday.  On Monday morning we went to try and bring the team together, it was our last ditch attempt.  After meeting with several of the riders and putting them in Felix Sempoma's car we headed back to the center.  Then we stopped for bags, then we stopped again, each time I was thinking, "This is it, they changed their minds, they're getting back out of the car."  The last time we stopped it was in front of Bosco's house.  Bosco had not been up in Sashwara when we met with the team.  He was with his mother at home.  I sat on the motorcycle watching Felix up ahead talking with Bosco and a woman.  It was Bosco's mother.  I'm praying...praying...praying...please Bosco, come with us, please...then he runs towards a house of the edge of the road and my heart sinks.  I get off the motorcycle and walk towards Felix and he says, 

"He is coming."

"Who was that woman?", I ask.

"His mother."

I need to meet her, to thank her.  The last hour had completely wiped out all my ability to keep the stiff upper lip.  I just started to cry and think to myself...thank you.  I walked up to the side of the house and Bosco comes out and introduces me to his mother, Odette.  I hugged her and cried and kept saying, "Thank you...Thank you...Thank you..."

Rwandans are stoic, relatively unemotional in the face of crisis, except when they're nervous or not sure what to do and then they laugh.  Odette just kept laughing.  Here was this crazy Muzungu crying and hugging her over and over and saying, "Murakoze, Murakoze cyane" (Thank you, Thank you very much).

When Bosco came back to camp I asked him the next morning, "Have you talked to your mama?"

He said, "Yes.  She is happy I am here."

Odette wanted her son to race and told him so.  And he did...and he won...and he will forever change his family's life.

Odette is young.  Way younger than I.  Bosco is the oldest at 22.  His father died in the 1994 Genocide.  Odette was probably 17 or 18 in 1994 and had a little baby, her husband killed, she running with her baby.  Bosco's birthday is November 4, 1993...he was 6 months old when the genocide started.  She kept herself and her infant alive during the worst 3 months in Rwandan history.

She wanted him to race, to have the opportunities never afforded her.  

He raced...he won.

Today, Mr. AM and I went to visit Bosco and Odette at their home just outside of Sashwara.  Bosco built a home for his mother and another home for himself which is not quite finished.  I baked her a banana bread which seemed way too insignificant for what she did for us, for the team, and for Bosco.  Odette with her support and encouragement for her son to rejoin the team and race the Tour of Rwanda, essentially changed the country.  The country rallied around her son.

My other favorite Rwandan mama is Mama Elizabeth. That is her name...Mama Elizabeth.  She is the mother of Rafiki and grandmother of Jonathan.  Her oldest child is 32 and her youngest is 6 or 7, the same age as Jonathan.  Whenever we've needed guidance on things with Rafiki and/or Jonathan we always call Mama Elizabeth.  She speaks zero English and zero French...only Kinyarwanda but that has never stopped our connection.

Mama Elizabeth is all of 4'10" and has a smile as wide as she is tall.  Do not mistake her size as a disadvantage.  This 4'10" Rwandan mama can deliver the biggest smack down I've ever seen.  She is fierce, beautiful and committed to the future of her children and grandchildren, a future she was never afforded due to life in 1994.

Stage 7 ended at the Regional Stadium in Nyamirambo.  I hate this place.  Have always hated this place.  Rafiki says, "It is the place of thieves."  Considering this is where our 2nd and 3rd iPhones were stolen I cannot discount his assessment.  Security at any race ending here is bad, the Tour of Rwanda finish is horrific.  As Sterling pulls our team car into the completely chaotic, zero security controlled area, I brace for impact.  People are all over our car.  As I jump out to make it to protocol to make sure Bosco is okay (Valens had his helmet and shirt stolen under the tent in 2014), I see Mama Elizabeth.  She's screaming, literally screaming and jumps onto me.  She's jumping up and down, total and pure joy, exuding from this woman.  I hug her repeatedly and then she pushes me to protocol.  I feel her in the small of my back as I push through the dense crowd that simply would not budge.  I'm yelling at people to move and I hear Mama Elizabeth yelling in Kinyarwanda.  I don't think I've ever heard a Rwandan yell?

As I push through the crowd I yell at the Skol protocol guy to let me through.  I know Mama Elizabeth does not have an accreditation but I think to myself, doubt that will stop her.  I hit the barrier and am let through and behind me I hear a shouting match of Kinyarwanda and then there is Mama Elizabeth there to take her place with her Team Rwanda "son" Jean Bosco.  

Do not mess with the Rwandan mamas.

These women lived without hope...their sons and daughters are their hope and they are not about to let that slip through their grip.  

God...I love these women!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Aftermath of the Tour of Rwanda

The Tour of Rwanda ended a week ago tomorrow.  If you're not a follower of Team Rwanda to bring you up to speed...we won...BIG.  We took first, second and third in the General Classification.  We won three stages and took home the top team.  It doesn't get much better than this.  We did what we came to do.

I'm not sure if it's due to the drama the week preceding the Tour of Rwanda, the chaos of the event itself, the crashes, the sickness, the aggressiveness of the crowds, the three stolen iPhones, the one stolen pair of Oakleys off Jeremy's face after the final stage, but I have struggled with why is a sense of joy and celebration completely void in my world.  There is simply nothing....

I am proud of our staff and coaches who led these young men to victory.  I am proud of the boys themselves who pulled together after walking out on strike a week before the race.  I never thought we would do what we did.

Why then do I still feel...empty?

Throughout the entire tour I was praying we could simply keep it together.  I had no idea whether the team was still a team, we didn't have one 8 days before the event.  It was the proverbial wait for the second shoe to fall.  It didn't.  

We also had always finished with our complete teams.  This year we didn't.  Ephrem ended up in a crash on Stage 2 which caused yet another concussion, his second in two months.  He raced another 3 stages before being pulled by the race doctor.  

Valens collapsed after Stage 5, 166kms from Musanze to Nyanza.  In the race Valens came to our car and said, "Coach, I am not okay, no power."  Sterling just told him to hang in there.  In a show of solidarity his teammates, Bonaventure, Janvier and another Team Rwanda Karisimbi cyclist all gave Valens a much need hand to the back, a slight push, to keep him with the peloton.  In the end Janvier and Valens were both fined 20 seconds for the push.  We didn't care, that's just what these guys did to help their ailing teammate.  Unfortunately, Valens passed out for over 20 minutes at the finish and although he recuperated over the next couple of days, his Tour of Rwanda was over.  The 2014 Tour of Rwanda champion was finished.

On Stage 6 from Muhanga to Gisenyi, a very controversial crash happened only 800meters from the finish taking out Patrick and Joseph Areruya.  We heard it come over the radio.  Luckily it was in the 3km rule so as long as they both finished they would be awarded the same time as the group they were in.  When we got to the scene of the crash, Joseph was already gone, Patrick, however, was on the sidewalk with the doctors already attending to his gaping wound on his head.  Patrick was sitting 4th in the GC.  He just needed to finish and he would retain his time and position.  And so he did....

As the week went on, the pressure built as we had held the yellow jersey since Bosco's record breaking Prologue win on Sunday.  Finally, on Stage 7, Bosco sealed the win by riding away on the rain soaked cobbles of Kigali.  Stage 8, the final stage, simply became a formality.

And then...on a rain soaked Sunday in Kigali, around a 10 lap 12kms circuit, Team Rwanda won...again.

At the finish all the staff worked to protect the riders and the bikes from a crowd that had simply gone mad with enthusiasm.  Frankly, it was scary.  There was no Team Rwanda staff at the protocol to celebrate the win as they were all trying to find riders and bikes and keep the crowds at bay.  The Rwandans all celebrated and we collected transponders, found bikes, escorted riders to a waiting car....we did our job.  

And then that was it....

In the end I wondered why had no one even taken the time to simply say thank you.  I struggled with that immensely.  I know this is my job and I don't do it for anyone other than, in the end, the riders, but nothing...

And then today, Mr. AM read me this from Oswald Chambers:

We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes. It’s one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. If we are not looking for halos, we at least want something that will make people say, “What a wonderful man of prayer he is!” or, “What a great woman of devotion she is!” If you are properly devoted to the Lord Jesus, you have reached the lofty height where no one would ever notice you personally. All that is noticed is the power of God coming through you all the time.

And on Monday we start camp again....

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Concrete Falling on the Casket

A little over two weeks ago I stood in a cemetery in Rwanda, the light drizzle slowly becoming a steady rain, and I watch as a small community of Rwandans buried a cyclist.  His name was Yves Iryamukuru.

As I walked through the family's house at the viewing, his mother was wailing, "It's not's not him" as they opened the top of the casket, a window into the world of the already gone. It wasn't him. He was gone.

A 22 year old young Rwandan man with hopes of being on Team Rwanda killed in a local race just kilometers from the finish.

I wasn't at the finish. I heard about it hours later. Why did no one call me to tell me? Janvier came upon him after he had hit the bus. I cannot imagine what he saw. We still have not talked about it.

I did not know Yves personally, but his loss still darkens every corner of my existence.

In the misty cemetery all I can hear is the sound of the concrete hitting the coffin. A loud slushy thud on the white wooden casket. A young girl looking up at me in the rain. I cannot see the grave, I am several levels removed. The girl and her friend are trying to open a lollipop. the shovels bury this rider....I look down at the girls and smile. Did they know Yves? They are ready to toss the wrapper on the ground. I hold out my hand....thud...thud...I take the wrapper and smile. They call up Team Rwanda to lay the wreath on the grave. I walk to the front and lay the wreath on the freshly laid concrete stepping my black cowboy boot onto the grave. I am lost.

On Sunday afternoon he's racing to be known by Team Rwanda, by Monday evening he's under concrete.

And we keep going.....

Two weeks later my "family" of riders walks out of camp.

14 riders go on strike a week before the Tour of Rwanda.

My family walks out on a rainy Friday night....very similar to the night we stood in the cemetery.

The why is not important, the details irrelevant.

They were gone. I didn't care about the race, the bikes, the preparation. I just wanted them to still have a future.

After days of back and forth, people making demands on both sides, people simply letting them vent with no guidance. I did what a mother would do.

Monday morning I woke up, grabbed a coffee and looked at Mr. AM and said, "We need to try one more time. I dreamt about it this morning and if I don't see the team, talk to them and encourage them to come back I will know I didn't do everything I needed to do. If they don't come back, they don't, but they will know I love them anyway."

An hour later we were on the motorcycle on the way to Sashwara. We stopped about a kilometer from the town and Mr. AM made a few phone calls and when he hung up I said to him, "Let me do the talking. There's simply too much "male" in this group. I just need you and Felix to translate for me."

As we pulled into a parking lot in Sashwara I saw Bona. He was standing alone. I jumped off the motorcycle and walked straight toward him. He just stood there. I stood right in front of him and then put my arms around him and said, "I love you. You are like a son to me and I will love you no matter what happens. If you stay on strike or you come back, I will ALWAYS ALWAYS love you. That will never change."

And then Mr. AM and Felix rounded up most of the rest and I knelt down and told each of them the same thing. I told them how I needed to hear from each one individually.

And some of them came home....and then the rest.

Like a family we came back together, resolved our issues, forgave and came out the other side much better people and a much stronger team.

Everyone had ideas and thoughts about everything going on around the riders, pleading, meeting with them, sympathizing, commiserating. In the end, while I was hugging one of the rider's mothers as we were picking up her son to bring back to the center, I knew...only a "mother" who loved unconditionally but still held them accountable could have moved the needle.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Blessed be the Bona Moments

There are events happening every day, things which I face in my 42 prior years I never had to really work through.  I have said many times, life in the US is like a small wavy line going across the screen, some ups, some downs, and with the exception of a major tragedy or death to a family or close friend, relatively pretty smooth.  Life in Rwanda, working with the cyclists and their families, with governments in not only Rwanda but also Ethiopia and Eritrea is akin to a heart beat, a quick spike up, then down, a bounce and repeat sometimes these ups and downs coming more rapidly, depending on the heart rate.

If I let my emotions (besides the anger emotion) bubble to the surface every day I would without a doubt have a good cry daily.  I call them my “All Righty Then” moments.  When I say “All Righty Then”, it is something that grabs my heart and soul from body, rips it out and drop kicks it across the floor. 

Eric, 15, junior rider for Team Rwanda, 3 years of school, father dead, mother raising him and 3 siblings by another father who left, living in a mud hut, dirt floor, no bed, no money for clean water or bananas to train, handing his mother $40 to feed her family better so Eric can race better and she saying God Bless You…..All Righty Then.

Rocky losing his eye, his daughter almost losing her leg, his brother dying last month…All Righty Then.

Here’s the deal.  If I let the tears come they don’t stop.

When I got on the plane in April to head to South Africa,after minutes prior to boarding and learning about Bona’s blood clot in hisbrain I started to cry.  For 4 hours Icried.  Luckily the lights were out and I was in a window seat so I curled up by the window and softly sobbed for the entire flight.  I thought about Bona every second, how fragile my strong, funny, talented rider looked in that bed, how he couldn’t even squeeze my hand as I held his.

It was a big big cry as Jonathan says.  The kind of cry when you wake up in the morning and your eyes are three times their normal size and stuck together with gunky eye cry snot.

I have only cried like that two other times since being here, one when my divorce was final, divorce will ALWAYS suck, even if amicable.  The other when I was in Kenya living alone, almost being arrested and missing the team.

Last week Bona went to the US.  As the photos have been coming through from Mr. AM in the emails showing Bona riding along Carmel beach, riding in Wyoming at the ranch and petting horses for the first time I get so emotional.  He almost died….we almost lost him.  I treasure every second of Bona’s life…every second he is here with us.

Today Bona is with me at the Little Savery Museum in Savery, Wyoming.  He's learning about the history of Wyoming and I'm pounding out emails and writing blogs because this is the only place I can get internet...9 miles down a dirt road from the ranch.

Bona spent the morning training and then driving the Polaris around the ranch.  He loves to drive!  

This past weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Bona raced like a cyclist who had been training all year round and not laying in the hospital 5 months ago.  Every minute I spend with Bona I am happy.  He makes everything good in my world.  I love sharing my world with far from Rwanda.  We are the lucky ones.

Thanks Bo Bickerstaff for capturing these moments for us this weekend.