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!









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