Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Everyone Leaves

"Everyone leaves," Jock Boyer said during my first month in Rwanda.  

"Get used to it."

"Five years ago this May"....this is what Johnny Muzungu typed as we were chatting on FB the other day.  Johnny left five years ago.  He's in Ohio now, married a good woman who had a son.  His life couldn't be more far removed from Rwanda.  My first birthday in Rwanda, June 2009, he was the one who hung with me, who celebrated with me.  Just Johnny and I and some wicked banana whiskey.  Johnny was a realist about Rwanda, that's why we got along so well.  Simply no Kumbaya, heart for Rwanda, between us two.  

Some people leave when their scheduled time is up, some leave because they simply get burnt out or burnt, some leave because they have to....something we do not talk about.  Johnny left because he had to.  I still miss his big ass laughter and how he was never afraid to make fun of himself, this place, what we do.  

Everyone leaves...


When Johnny was here so was Jan and Molly.  Jan came as the Head Veterinarian for MGVP (Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project).  Her contract was for two years and she stayed for 2+.  Molly was also working with MGVP at the time.  I miss these two women.  A friend who does work in Rwanda but does not live here full time stopped by the other day at our compound and remarked, "Everyone is gone, how do you do it?"

If I had a dollar for everyone who said that to me.  

Molly has a great new job in the US, a man, Boots the Rwandan dog she rescued.  Life is good, we've seen each other several times in the US but it's not the same as riding bikes yelling at kids to "BACK OFF" as we traverse the back roads of Rwanda.
(Andrea (volunteer for MGVP who left), Molly & Jan)

Jan came back two years after she left.  She came back in the same position she left, Head Vet at MGVP.  A year later she left, a year short of her two year contract.  She had to leave....we'll just leave it at that.

Early on there was this quirky Brit who I adored.  Suzanne.  Suzanne left after her friend David Pluth died in a tragic event in Nyungwe Forest.  I had only been here a month, had only known David a week.  They both left May 2009.  

Team Rwanda's first full fledged mechanic was Max. Max came the month after I did, speaking little to zero English, me speaking ZERO French.  Jock was our go between, unless Max and I were angry at each other which happened often.  Then we communicated quite well by yelling at each other in our respective languages.

Max hit burnout three years later.  Serious burnout.  I don't think he's dealt with things yet.  Max was a "had to leave", ordered to leave.  For Mr. AM and I that was by far one of the hardest "leaves" for us, full of anger, disappointment, frustration, and love.

When Max departed, Jimmy arrived.  Jimmy always made me laugh.  I remember Jimmy at the 2013 Cape Epic, 6:00am in the morning, him riding a bike racing around the start line with a 40# pack of tools on his back, jumping over the start gate chute fence to fix someone's flat.  He was insane.  Never give Jimmy coffee...EVER.  Jimmy left in 2013, came back for a bit and then left for good.  We used to do these "selfies" in the car during races when our team was derailing and we could do nothing about it, watching the carnage unfold, we made the best of it.  We laughed and regrouped.



Volunteers and short term staff have come and gone.  That's just the way it is at Team Rwanda.  They were never expected to stay long term, to stay forever like Mr. AM and I.  Some I miss terribly, others...well, I hope they are happy.  I truly do.  Rwanda, long term, is not for the faint of heart, although it is MUCH easier now than it was in the beginning.  Rwanda causes you to strip away all the distractions.  You must face your worst self, your best self and sometimes that can be a road people are not ready to walk down.  Rwanda pushes you down that road.  Some of us have one more pot holes on that road than we like to admit.
Rev Mel was a great volunteer who with her traveling companion, Jessica, taught English, worked the Tour of Rwanda and helped paint our last house.  She came back the next year for the Tour of Rwanda.  
She married Mr. AM and I.

 Jody was our English teacher for a bit...she took beautiful photos and showed me how much I love what I do and love these young men.

Dave Mac was a coach for the Tour of Rwanda 2012.  Dave is still one of our biggest fans and supporters back in the US helping us find coaches and is our spokesperson at film screenings in Colorado Springs.  He helped us find our 2014 Coach, Daniel Matheny.

Jamie Bissell is still with us, racing with the team in Algeria this month.  Jamie's quirky enough, like us, to last.  Jamie has been the best mechanic for this team, with incredible patience and a desire to teach our Rwandan mechanics, Kiki and Issa.  When Jamie leaves...he will leave a huge void.

Travis Nicks...I truly sobbed when he left.  I cried because he was the one who helped me so much that year while Jock seemed to travel every other week for the film.  I cried because he had a world of opportunity in front of him and went home and bought a Volvo.  I miss Travis.

This was our crew in 2010 at the Tour of Rwanda..Cedrig, Max, Matt, Ted, Jennifer, Scott, Clark
Scott came back in February of this year over 4 years later.  What a gift to all of us.  People do come back, once in a while, for a short while.

There are so many others who have helped us along the way.  So many friends outside of our work with Team Rwanda who are no longer here in Rwanda with us...Julie Ghrist, Dawn Zimmerman, Katie Scrafford and all the newly departed Team Rwanda crew from last year.  I miss those days but know there are more people on the way to meet.

One person said to me, "It doesn't matter that much that I was here."

Tell that to 16 year old Eva who started out on a BMX track and is now racing for a spot on the junior road team....it mattered to him.

Everyone who has come through our lives in the last 6-8 years has mattered.  


"I don't know how you and Jock do it," TC said to me on the phone the other day.  TC is the filmmaker who made our documentary, Rising From Ashes. 

We just do it.  We stay and meet new people, form new relationships and stay.  At some point, we will be the ones who leave.

I came here for three months in 2009 and I am quickly closing in on six years this April.  The other day, as I was running haggard, conducting camp for 16 new boys, 1 girl and no coach, no help, two teams of veterans off racing in far away places.  I sat at the dinner table and never felt more blessed to be sitting where I was able to watch Gasore, one of our older riders, take over behind the dinner buffet counter, my usual spot,serving the young riders who all look to him as what is possible in life with Team Rwanda.  He is taking over so someday, I too can leave.

I live by Philippines 2:3...Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain concept.  Rather in humility value others above yourselves.

I am thankful for everyone who came and stayed for awhile and made a difference.

That is why I stay.


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