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?