Monday, July 18, 2016

We Don't Need Any More Bitches

In recent days my social media feed has been inundated with the "fat-shaming playmate".  When I first saw the photo I was shocked.  No where in the world are we safe from hate, not even in the privacy of a locker room.

Dani Mathers, a Playboy Playmate, snapped a photo and sent it out onto snap chat of a woman obviously at the end of her workout getting ready for a shower.  "If I can't unsee this, then you can't either."  Cruelty has stooped to a whole new level.  

I thought about this event quite a bit over the past few days since it went viral because I am hosting a women's cycling camp for the next month.  I have Eritrean, Ethiopian and Rwandan women here at our center training.  It is actually very nice to NOT be the only woman on the compound.  I'm loving all the female energy and have been buoyed by these young women.

Right now, I am really out of shape.  3-5 hours of riding a week at 50 doesn't even maintain my fitness.  I have been sliding backwards for months.  Too much work, travel, stress, can't deal with riding and the hassle in Rwanda on the roads... yada yada yada.  The other day I rode with the Eritrean women and a young Ethiopian woman named Eyerusalem.  I promptly got dropped on the first climb.  I knew I would.  That's what happens when you don't train.  When I met them on the road after they turned around I was able to hang with them on the flats and still crushed it on the descent but frankly, the climb was exhausting.  The next day I rode with Jonathan.  He's seven.

I was talking with Eyerusalem yesterday after my ride with the 7 year old and she was telling me about her teammate on her Italian team, who is also the French National Road Cycling Champion.  She is 49 and her name is Edwige Pitel.  She did not win the Masters category.  She won the National Champs at 49!  I smiled and said, "I'm 50."  

Eyerusalem said, "Then you cannot stop training."

Eyerusalem is coming off of a very lengthy illness which has kept her off the bike for months so she is frustrated as well at her fitness level.  She was telling me how she still has it on the flats and descents but not on the hills.  Welcome to my world.  Eyerusalem is 25 years younger but a very old soul on a bike.  We are pretty much in the exact same place, worlds apart.

Today the Eritreans and Eyerusalem and the coaches were heading out for an "easy" 1.5 hour.  I literally went back and forth a gazillion times about going.  They were heading towards Kigali which is a fun descent out of town but a long 4+ mile climb back to the center.  But then I remembered Eyerusalem's comment, got on my cycling clothes and headed out.  I stayed with them for about 8 miles and then the first little pop.  I'm off.  I kept riding, even after they passed me on the way down while I was going up another climb.  The day was nice, nobody was hassling me and I needed to suffer a bit.

When I was heading back on the flat section I saw them coming back towards me again.  I was surprised as I figured I was on my own the rest of the ride.  As we rode easily along the flats I was paired up with Eyerusalem.  She said she was glad I was riding today.  I told her I have to, even though I will be dropped EVERY ride, I still needed to ride.  I told her it was her chat yesterday that got me on the bike.  

Then she laughed and said, "At least you have not big fat."  (Not a fat shaming response....a simple matter of fact from one cyclist to another.  We know this world!)

True that sister....I'd rather be a smaller unfit person than be lugging another 20 pounds up these hills!  

So tomorrow I will be out there again getting dropped, coughing up a lung and feeling better than I did the day before.

Why can't we as women encourage each other more?  We get torn down enough by gender bias and living in what often feels like a "man's world".  Why do it to each other?  We should be bonded like Wonder Woman gold bracelets when they are crossed over each other.  We should be each other's biggest cheer leader.

I am not going to go on a personal rant on Dani Mathers and her snapchat.  I don't know her and I'm not going to stoop to her level.  All I know is that woman either has some serious insecurities or is simply a mean girl.  Her apologies were more about being caught and trying to save her job then real empathy for her victim.  

What if she would have said to that woman, "I've been watching you at the gym for weeks. You're doing really well.  Your fitness is definitely coming along."  Maybe that woman is a single mom, working two jobs, trying to make ends meet in her stress filled world yet scratches out a few hours a week to simply take care of herself.  We don't know.  Maybe we should think before passing such a mean judgment, especially on our own.

Imagine if that woman had heard those things instead of having a very invasive, inappropriate photo of her going viral due to the snapchat judgments of someone who has not walked in her shoes.  She could have left the gym feeling like a million bucks, instead, she's probably hiding from the internet as I type.

Could we just take the time today to help each other, encourage one another as one woman to another?  What purpose does it serve to tear another woman down?  None.  In fact, it does more damage I believe then we get it from a man.  You're a woman you're supposed to understand your sisters.  The pain is so much more intense coming from one woman to another.  The knife plunges deep.

Take a moment today to reach out to a female friend and offer encouragement, love and support.  Simply let her know you have her back.

Then....we can take on the world together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Why this Republican is Voting for Clinton

I am not oblivious to events in the US.  Social Media does not allow me to be.  Over the course of the past few months, dealing with things in Rwanda, watching the hate spew like a long dormant volcano I have simply chosen to focus on the issues directly affecting my life here.  

I thought I could do that, however, with the Orlando shootings, the black men shot by police, the police shot in Dallas there was no more compartmentalizing it.  I do want to go home at some point.  I will always be an American by birth and in my heart.  My heart breaks for my country most days.  

This morning I woke up and saw President Obama had given a speech at the memorial service of the fallen police officers from the recent Dallas protest.  I generally don't watch speeches.  From the mouth of my favorite Rwandan child, Jonathan, it is just more blah blah blah.  I saw all the nasty comments back and forth "analyzing" Obama's speech.  And so I listened to it.  All 41 minutes.  It was the best, most hopeful 41 minutes I've had for my country in so long I cannot even remember.  

If you haven't listened to it, do so.

I did not vote for Obama either election.  I am Republican and have been my whole life.  I am fiscally conservative and mostly middle of the road when it comes to social issues.  I think government has gotten too big and mostly run by special interests...on both sides of the aisle.  The government of the people is now government of the banks and big businesses.  Don't believe me?  Watch the Big Short.  I was one of the millions of victims of the 2008/09 housing crisis.  

I believe in term limits for ALL elected officials.  The House and Senate need a thorough house cleaning.  For whatever faults real or imagined by Obama from his opposition and even within his own party, frankly his hands were tied by the real "rulers" of the country, the legislature.  Need proof?  How about the Senate rejecting four gun bills after the Orlando shootings?

I am so over the gun issue in the US.  I have owned guns and would own a gun again should I live in Wyoming but we cannot stand back and live with the current state of gun violence in the US.  No where in the world, currently not at war, are there so many deaths, accidental or premeditated, by guns.  

However, for 41 minutes this morning, I had hope.  There was nothing in his speech which was negative, accusatory or predicating an us vs. them mentality.  I felt his grief.  I believe in his heart he feels he has let his country down.  

He is right about racism in America.  We have come a long way.  We have a black President which wouldn't have been possible even 30 years ago.  We have made progress, but I will never know what it feels like to be a black man in America.  I know what it feels to be discriminated against due to my gender.  It sucks, but generally I will not die for it or because of it.  I will just lose jobs or positions or never have respect for the work I do.  

Today I decided I would vote for Hilary Clinton.  This speech was the deciding factor.  I have gone back and forth mentally too many times to count.  I am not a Hilary fan, never have been, probably never will.  If I vote for the Libertarian candidate I essentially split the democratic vote.  I cannot risk that.  Because for all of the, for lack of a better word, "blech" I feel about Clinton I refuse to have more of the same hate filled rhetoric jammed down my throat by Donald Trump and his ever increasingly hateful group of followers.  

I want the America Obama talks about in this speech.  He quoted from Ezekiel 36:26, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;  I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

I want to believe America can be great again.  I want to believe we can stop the gun violence.  I want to believe all races can come together.  I want to believe the police will protect and not abuse their power.  100% unrealistic for 100% of the country.  But, I know, to the core of my soul, it will not improve at all under Trump.  It will get worse.

I will not stand by my party and vote for the Republican nominee simply because of allegiance to a party and shame on you Republicans who do.  If you vote for Trump because you believe in his ability to be President that is your choice.  But if you vote for Trump because he's Republican then you are not exercising your right to vote, the right so many people gave their lives for you to have.

Republican Party....if you want me to come back and vote Republican, you need to do better...WAY BETTER than a candidate like Trump.  Stop your infighting and get back to basics and give us people who will bring the country together and not tear it apart.

Do I believe Hilary Clinton can bring America together?  I honestly don't know.  But I do know, Trump won't.  

President Obama you made me proud to be an American today....thank you from the other side of the world!
**I will not tolerate any political bashing back and forth on this blog.  If you have a point you are free to make it, state it with intelligent backed dialogue.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Froome's Punch

During Stage 8 of this year's Tour de France, Chris Froome, two time winner of the TdF, punched a fan.

Social media went into a frenzy, right, wrong, throwing blame this way and that way.

Right or wrong I will not say, my thoughts are about how he came to that moment in time.

I have never met Chris Froome.  I was at the Tour de France final stage when he won the first time.  That was as close as I got.  I do not know him, only from what I've read, which as we all know, is biased and tainted at best.

He seems like a quiet guy.  I wouldn't be surprised if he was an introvert.  He comes off a bit aloof, but as an introvert, I get it.  He's focused on his wife and new baby and being the best cyclist in the world.  Everything else comes after that.

In an interview with the UK Mirror in July of last year he stated.

Cool, calm and collected Froome credits his iron will to his upbringing, saying: “Probably something from my parents or, who knows?
“Just the way I was brought up, I think. Generally I am quite thick skinned.
“You’ve got to do something quite severe for me to lash out or to actually get pissed off if you like.
“That’s just the way I am.”
The fan a few days ago simply became the accumulation of every thing Froome has dealt with on the bikes for years.  

There's a quote by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness:

“the mind of man is capable of anything--because everything is in it, all the past as well as the future”

How true that is....

For 7+ years I've been riding my bike in Rwanda.  It started out pleasurable enough but after 7 years I have found out, first hand, how capable I am...of anything.  Several months ago I was riding up a long 8 mile climb.  A young child, probably around 8-9, a boy, starting running alongside me.  Not that this doesn't happen every single ride on every single day of my life in Rwanda.  Usually I get the "Mzungu (white person) Amafaranga (money)" or my all time favorite, "Give me MY money."  Yes, they actually say "my" instead of "your".  It's constant.  I was doing the math in my head the other day on my ride and figured I have been yelled that at least 50 times a week or 2,600 times a year, or 18,200 times since I've been here.  Take out a few thousand for weeks gone, or holed up in my compound but you're still looking at upwards of 15,000.  

So back to the moment....the boy kept yelling, "Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money."  I did my normal routine of simply ignoring and not making any eye contact, not letting him see any movement from me in acknowledgment of his presence.

"Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money."  

"Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money.  Give me MY money."  

In one fell swoop I leaned over as his head was waste level to me and gave him a smack on the back of the head.  

Silence.  He just looked at me in shock.  He wasn't hurt.  I think he just couldn't believe someone had done that to him.  Aren't all Mzungus just supposed to rain down Amafaranga?  I rode away.

I do not condone violence.  If I had to replay the entire episode again I would like to think I would have done it differently.  I do not honestly know.  I have these moments of out of body experiences here which I look down at myself thinking, "Wow, who is that woman?"

....everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future....

I get it...Froome snapped.  The brow beating media and armchair social media quarterbacks have never been in his shoes.

Mr. AM, finisher of 5 Tour de France, said for the most part he never saw the invading hoards of spectators.  He was in the zone.  He also said, it is significantly worse in today's world thanks to everyone's desire for 5 seconds of fame.  

Personally, after being in many races in the follow car, I fear for the riders' safety.  While you're taking a selfie, and your friends are filming the thong wearing Borat running beside the yellow jersey, these riders are simply trying to make a living and race.  The fan antics and narcissistically inappropriate behavior jeopardize the safety and the financial livelihoods of the riders and their sponsors.  In Froome's case the spectator he hit, almost put a flag into his wheel.  Millions of dollars were literally hanging in the balance in that moment.  What would have happened to the spectator?  Nothing.

I appreciate the fans but stop trying to make this about your 5 seconds of fame on the NBC Sports Network highlight reel.  


Understand how he did what he did...absolutely.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Consequence of Abuse....What Happens When You Poke the Leopard

There have been an increasing amount of fleeting thoughts the past few weeks... "It surely can't get any worse."

I am now shelving that phrase because it just keeps coming.  It can get worse.  It does get worse.  

My self imposed mantra is now, "Toss me a bone."

I have been trying to formulate my thoughts, my roller coaster of emotions into something coherent which I can write about, with the necessary censorship needed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent along with my place abroad.  Why would I protect the not so innocent?  The innocent around them who suffer because of their chronic abuse.....that's why.

This is not a rant about everything that has gone south lately and a whoa is me.  It's a lesson in coming out the other side without cynicism, hate or frustration.

That journey has come in stages.

Abuse comes in many forms, outright physical violence running the gamut through silent passive aggressive narcisstic abuse, the kind that makes you feel like you're slowly going crazy.  Abusers love this form as it keeps their reputation intact.  

For me, I liken chronic neglect and lack of appreciation to a subtle form of abuse.  Take my love, my caring, my desire to help, to make your world just a bit better or at least give you a world of opportunities you otherwise did not have, stomp on it repeatedly and you have poked the leopard one too many times.  This video sums up what "poking the leopard" means.  It's our African sense of humor to explain away the frustration and anger.

In November of last year, the team went on strike over money and insurance.  It was one week before the Tour of Rwanda, the biggest race in the country.  After a weekend of negotiations, they came back.  We won the Tour.  Victory...hardly.  It was just the beginning of an 8 month journey of lies, demands, bad behavior, disrespect ending in yet another strike.  I saw it all unfolding over the past months and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  I tried, repeatedly.  I worked tirelessly on their behalf to make things right.  In the end, they did it Colombia, at the biggest race of their career.  To the coach and mechanic's credit, they righted the ship and they finished the race.  The race organizers were thrilled by our attendance, our professionalism and were thankful they invited us.  We were like swans...smoothly gliding across a quiet lake, while our staff was madly paddling underneath.

That was the final poke.  The leopard came out swinging.  Anger does not even begin to describe the depth of emotion I felt.  My first thought was, "What the fuck, I just wasted 7+ years of my life....gone, wasted, can't get back. FUCK!"  

Several days passed with gradually decreasing anger...then the lethargy set in.  Why bother, really?  In the end their demands consisted of enough money to buy a cow.  $500.  They didn't see a future in racing.  Adrien Niyonshuti was simply lucky...don't even get me started on how UNlucky that man has been.  They wanted to buy a cow, farm and get married.  

Again...."What the fuck, I just wasted 7+ years of my life...." but now a more contemplative WTF.  A friend of mine going through something very similar with a cycling program in another developing nation said to me, "I wondered if it was my ego which was a factor."  I thought the same thing.  "Was I doing this for me in the end?" am not your "savior Barbie" kind of girl.  I actually thought they wanted this, wanted opportunity.  I was just opening a few doors.  I expected them to ride through them.  Then they didn't like the color of the door.  It was too small.  It was not hinged properly.  They focused on the door and not what was on the other side.  They couldn't see past the threshold.

Then....sadness, bone crushing sadness.  Not for me, but for these rider's parents.  These were parents who lived through the Genocide who fought to stay alive to give their infant and unborn children a Rwanda they never knew growing up.  These stoic and proud parents, embarrassed by their children who race $12,000 bikes and complain.  I wanted to apologize.  I still do.  Somewhere along the way I had a hand in nurturing these prima donnas.  One father raced bikes before the Genocide and after.  He wasn't riding a Pinarello decked out in LG and Sidi shoes like his son.  I am so sorry.....

I am also sorry for how the original members of Team Rwanda have been treated by this group.  My heart aches for Adrien some days.  He gives back so much to his local club, his national team, to Jock and I, to all the promising young cyclists.  He is a hero.  He has done what no other Rwandan cyclist has done.  Instead of being treated as a source of experience, a pinnacle of pride and aspiration, he is discounted.  I am so sorry....

In the end, after thinking about writing about this for weeks, this is not a blog of defeat.  It is about change.  Change in how we do things for the future.  Change for the new riders coming up through the system.  I don't quit.  I get vehemently angry, lethargic, sad and depressed, but like in any tunnel, you come through to the light.  This has just been a really long tunnel.  

I do not know where the future will take some of these riders who remain prima donnas.  I hope they enjoy their cows.  

A couple of weeks ago, President Kagame hosted a Youth meeting in Kigali.  Over 2,000 youth leaders attended this gathering.  They are the young men and women who are the future of this country.  I took solace in his statement to the youth,

 "They called us a small failed state but we refused to fail, we refused to be small we are not small. I am asking you to make one clear choice, the one that costs us a lot, because being big is where we belong."

I will not be defined by the cyclists who cannot see opportunity, who want to ride small instead of riding big like Adrien.  The past 8 months have taught me to move on quickly from small thinkers.  If they don't get it, they can go ride for a club.  They do not get the Kagame purchased privilege of riding the best bikes in Africa.  I do not care if you want to be small.  You just can't do it here.  Next....

I thought I had become cynical, but after reading the definition I realize I really haven't.  I still have hope.  I will trust cautiously and should my trust be taken advantage of the repercussions will be swift and decisive.  There are no more second chances, no more "I'm sorry, please forgive me."  

Everyone will work on this team.  I tried making things easier so riders could focus on their sport and be the best.  In the end, they thought this was Club Med.  My mistake.

There are hundreds, thousands of young cyclists who still believe in the dream Adrien is living, those are the riders we simply need to find.  The riders who want to race big.  

I also believe the women are the future of this sport, not just in Rwanda.  We are having an Ethiopian, Eritrean and Rwandan women's camp for the next month.  Given less by the world simply because they are women, perhaps these are the true change makers in the sport.  

The anger, lethargy, sadness and depression have lifted.  If I give up now, I will be playing small and the ones who want to remain small win.   

My license plate at home for the past two decades isn't LIVLRG for nothing!