Thursday, February 25, 2016

48 Hours in Team Rwanda's World

I have written and said this countless times...

"Life in the US is like a small slightly wavy line of ups and downs."

Think this....
"Life in Rwanda is more like straight up and down.  You can have your best moments and your worst moments within minutes of each other all day long."

Think this....
Nothing exemplified my statement more than the 48+ hours spanning from Monday morning to Wednesday evening.

This is life within Team Rwanda....

Monday morning, after getting the team off to Morocco for the Continental Championships on Friday and regrouping and preparing for the new week of training camps with the team going to Cameroon, I decided to go for a ride.  I hadn't ridden in over a week.  When you run a cycling team there is no time to actual cycle.  I had seen Sterling, our coach, ride by my office window on the way out and thought, time to go.  

Riding alone for me in Rwanda is difficult as the crowds, people and bad drivers make for a not so relaxing few hours.  The complete opposite of what most cyclists derive from a ride. But it was election day so I figured the roads would be a bit quieter.  And they were.

11:30am....Seven miles out of town at the top of the first hill towards Gisenyi my phone rings.  I never answer my phone while riding and I never answer my phone if I don't recognize the number.  For some reason I answered the call.  A Rwandan woman told me her husband had taken one of our "team members" to the Musanze Hospital.  I'm kicking running through my mental rolodex of the riders coming from that direction.  Then she said, he's from California.  Sterling....

I call Simon, our Belgian coach and tell him to meet me at the hospital with the car.  I turn around and race back down the hill into town.  When I arrive Sterling is yelling for pain meds, the orderly and "doctor" are trying to assess the injuries.  We are in a disgustingly dirty room, with blood stained rags on the floor and Sterling laying on a not so clean table with swollen wrists, a continually swelling left ankle and a variety of scrapes and road rash. Of course, every single item needs to be paid for before they will do anything.  Pain meds, 3,000 RWF run to the pharmacy across the hospital grounds.  X-Rays?  Run to reception, stand in line, pay 16,000 RWF then they will X-Ray.  It's insane.  

I keep calling an American friend who is a doctor working at the hospital.  She's not there but says there are some Belgian doctors on the grounds.  I ask about the Belgian doctors and no one knows anything about them.  Ok....they are white, there are about 6 white people and over 300 Rwandans on the grounds.  We kind of stick out.  Nope...nothing.  They take X-rays, looks like broken bones, they put him on another dirty bed in another disgustingly dirty section of the ward and I'm trying to figure out where the Belgian doctors are.  No one, no doctors, no nurses, no one is doing anything.  Well, unless you count 7 nurses/orderlies texting and Facebooking in the nursing station across from Sterling.  I see the Belgians...I grab them and show them the X-rays and immediately they went to work talking to the insurance company and figuring out the best course of action.  The Belgian nurses start cleaning his wounds after spending 30 minutes looking for gauze and antibiotic wash and ointment.  

They redo the X-rays and he needs to get to another hospital, to Kigali.  He needs surgery.

The insurance company after numerous calls into the two hospitals cannot get an ambulance arranged to transport him.  

Sidebar....after 7 years of working with cyclists, breaking my own collarbone in Tanzania I have learned to stay calm and go into triage mode.  I don't show much emotion, outside of anger for the lack of ineptitude and sense of urgency.  I show no fear.  Looking at his situation....I had fear.  He needed to get to another hospital in another country.  

With the help of a angel of mercy Rwandan doctor not even on duty at the hospital I finally got all the transfer paperwork arranged to get Sterling to King Faisal in Kigali.  Then...the ambulance.  We're waiting...waiting, a patient in the ward is WAILING in pain, stressing Simon, Sterling and myself.  They couldn't give her pain meds because the family could not pay for pain meds.  At one point I said I would pay for her pain meds....the nurse laughed.  I almost slapped her.

Where is the ambulance?  I go out and see the doctor at the ambulance with the hood up.  He says, "I am doctor and mechanic.  The battery is dead and they cannot find the key to unlock the battery cage."   UGH....yes, in Africa we lock our batteries in our vehicles...theft. As people are running around trying to find the ONE person with the ONE key I realize the realities of the third world in which we live.

Another hour passes and finally, 8 hours after Sterling's accident he's on his way to King Faisal in Kigali.  I go home to pass out after dropping Simon off to grab dinner and drinks in town.

By this time I feel like my right eyeball is going to pop out of my head.  A friend in Kigali is meeting Sterling at the hospital, the insurance company is updated, I take two Tylenol PM and pass out about midnight.

5:00am (Tuesday)...I wake to numerous text messages.  I'm on the road of death to Kigali by 6:45 to hit King Faisal.  I grab our new English teacher/Development person/Tourism person who just arrived late Saturday night.  We might as well submit all her work permit info as this is day 3 of the 5 day window we have to do so.

8:30...changing money for Sterling's medical expenses at the Forex the Federation, grab Francine to go with Lacey to Immigration

9:30...drop them at Immigration head to King Faisal

10:00ish...I'm at Faisal...NOTHING has been done other than he's there with our dear friend, Martin, who met him there the night before.  There is one doctor I trust at King Faisal, Dr. Albert...he's out of the country.  Sterling and Martin tell me there are no parts to fix Sterling's foot.  We need a special plate.  

10:30ish...I barge into the office of Dr. Albert's boss.  I show him the X-rays.  He says he thinks he has the part.  He'll call me in the afternoon.

11:00...Lacey calls me, they won't take her paperwork for the work permit because her University diploma is in Latin...for fuck's sake.  

I meet up with Lacey at the US Embassy.  They want a notarized translation of the diploma.  If I send that email to St. Lawrence University I'm thinking they might think we're a bit nutty here in Rwanda.  We go to a cafe, google translate it on my iPad and I call Francine to meet us at the Federation to print off the document.  

"I will be back at 2:00 I'm at lunch."

It's 11:45am.

"You will meet us at the Federation in 15 minutes!!!!!!!!!"  I got the stink eye from six Mzungus at the Mzungu cafe.  I have zero Kumbaya.

Taking lunch is a very UNAmerican thing unless you're closing a major business deal.  Who do you know in the US who takes 2+ hours for lunch?  I don't think I've ever taken lunch.

We head to the Federation, print the document, head back to the US Embassy, get it notarized and at 1:00pm Lacey is at Immigration to submit the paperwork.  They try to tell her they are closing for lunch.  Seriously, what is up with LUNCH in Rwanda?  She forces the paperwork on them and they take it.  SCORE!!!

Back to King Faisal...talking to the insurance company on and off the entire time.

Security Guard tries to block my way into the ward. 

"It's not visiting hours."

"Stop me...."  I get back to Sterling.  "Ok...we're working to get you out of here."

After a quick bite for lunch...less than 45 minutes...back on the road of death to Musanze to beat the darkness.  As I start driving...Jeanne d'Arc has taken Silver at the Continental Champs in Morocco, a historical day for Rwanda.  I can't tweet/FB anything for the next 2 hours while I'm driving.

....she did it...only missing Gold by 1 call Sterling.  I can hear the change in his voice.  We did it!!!

We had asked for Sterling to go to the Continental Championships...instead they took someone from the Federation instead of the coach.  Sterling should have been there.  The irony of that decision, out of my control, was not lost on me at that moment.

I grab some dinner and spend another 3 hours on the phone with the insurance company.  They are sending Sterling to Nairobi.  Hallelujah.

After several SMS/calls, the doctor in Kigali finally messages me back, they have the part.  Sorry....he's going to Nairobi as not only Team Rwanda but the insurance company has had enough with the inability to make a decision, relay information and give any indication he is getting the best care in Rwanda.

I pass out about midnight with the phone in my hand. rings, it's our guard David...he's caught a thief.

I throw on my clothes fully expecting to see some stranger they nabbed coming into our compound as we've had a few lately.  He shows me two boxes of produce and two bags of eggs (60).  Our Team Rwanda cook has been stealing.  We thought he had been but never had proof.  Wednesday morning we had our proof.  At least $10 worth of food.  He wasn't stealing to feed his family he was steeling to profit off the back of Team Rwanda.

I pounded on Simon's door, "Cook Breakfast!"

I'm not about to let a petty thief interrupt our Tour of Cameroon training camp.  

After several hours, getting all the witnesses in place, we had enough.

I looked at Thomas and said, "You didn't steal from a Mzungu, you stole from Team Rwanda.  You're a disgrace."

We escorted him off the property.

He came back 20 minutes later asking to be paid for the day.

It's the closest I've ever come to slapping someone.  I told him he had two choices...leave and never set foot on our property again or I would call the police commissioner who I have on speed dial and have him arrested.  He took option one.

He had stolen over $1,000 of food over 4-5 monhts from the team....I was sick.

The riders have been learning about integrity, discipline and character in English class.  I'm walking back to my house and I pass Bosco getting ready to head out for his training ride..."Mukecuru, Thomas has bad, bad character."

Yes, Bosco, he does.

I start sorting out Sterling's bag.  He's leaving at 6:10pm for Nairobi.  I arrange to get a bag and money to him with a driver heading to Kigali.  We live two hours away.

Little Eric comes back from training as I'm walking back to the office and hands me this photo.  He says, "From Mama, for you."

It is a photo of his mother and his three siblings.  It was a thank you for giving her food money every month.  I walk away holding back the avalanche of tears.  

Then I get the message....Valens has won the Continental Championships U23 ITT.  Rwanda's first gold medal in the history of the Championships.  The Rwandan national anthem is played for the first time.  

A couple more phone calls to the insurance company and a Facebook photo and Sterling is on his way to Nairobi for surgery.

54 hours later from when it all began....

My last chat with Sterling today, another 18 hours later....thank you for insurance, good hospitals, doctors and getting me through another day.

Tonight. Surgen(s) have all talked to me
Its like an episode of House
They know their shit

You cannot make this up...


  1. Quite an eventful 48 hours, huh? Sad though about the thief part. But as what I've always believed in riding, you got to take the good with the bad. Especially if the good far outweighs the bad. :)

  2. Roller-coaster of note - what a blog post! Well done on those results - just rewards for all the efforts. Hope Sterling recovers quickly.