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 him....it'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. Thud....thud...as 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.