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 YOU...you, 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?


  1. Great question, Kimberly. And even though we know that there are "better ways to do that than others," there's also no way anyone can eradicate the sin, dangers, and harm that remains in this horribly fallen world.

    Begin and guide with Christ from within; guard from the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil from without... and then get about changing the world!

    That seems like the course you all are on. Prayers for the Spirit's guiding and guarding...

  2. Ya, that's a tough one. I found that bringing an economically empowering idea (bamboo bikes, in my case) and then leaving, seemed to work in a small way. I still help with supply chain coordination but no freebies. What other opportunities can you see there that are not obvious to the locals? I see them sometimes in the places I've been.

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  4. I think you answered your main question elsewhere in your blog. You cannot expect to change everyone in a country of 11 million people with their own culture and everything else. It is just one by one. You are not responsible for the guy with the machete.
    In Rwandan society it is tough to be successful. First, undermining others is, it seems to me, a national sport, far more popular than cycling or football. Get a good job and people will be happy to trip you up, get you to sign the wrong thing and get you fired. Ever hear anyone say anything nice about a successful person? Well, negative comments are many.
    Second, if you are the successful sibling or uncle everyone looks to you to bale them out, pay their school fees, fund their wedding etc.
    You need to be tough enough to know that you have to say No sometimes and to take the rough with the smooth. Celebrate the nephew who does well at school and not get too down at the one who turns out not to have gone to school at all and "eaten" the money. Although in fact if you do the admin you can cut down on such things. eg No report no school fees.
    Third well you have to achieve the success and that isn't easy and it will take very hard work.
    I do not think that the man with the machete or the "imha amafaranga" demands are the fault of the bazungu. They are not perfect and just as the sponsor learns on the job the mzungu does too. We all make mistakes it is ok. But we must try to learn from them.
    Sounds like you are doing very well, very well indeed.