Random Stories from Rwanda

I had a few blog posts in the works that I was not able to load due to lack of internet…but here they are now for your enjoyment! – Laura

My plumbing disaster and Bobby’s amazing negotiation skills for 1 banana

Hey guys!  It’s been a few days and we’re all acclimating a bit to Rwandan lifestyle.  After our muddy bike ride of course our clothes were trashed beyond belief.  Forget any laundry service (they do have one but it’s pretty expensive) here the main method of washing clothes is by hand.  Seriously. Kate and I trekked up to the local super market to buy a few items and one of the things I wanted was laundry detergent – you know since we still have a week left in Africa and I don’t want to smell like the Team Type 1 running team van during Run Across America🙂.  Laundry detergent in hand we go back to our room and I proceed to wash our filthy socks in the bathroom sink.  Well, to make a long story short the drain plug got stuck.  We used various methods to get it “un-stuck” including pushing all of our body weight on the plug, using the opposite end of the toilet bowl cleaner to pry it open, the ends of our razor blades, pretty much anything we could get our hands on!  We were out of luck and late for our next outing so we left the sink full of muddy water.  Later that night I had it in my head that I was going to get that damn thing fixed.  Now, normally in the states if you had something like this happen you press “0” on your hotel phone and maintenance comes to fix it.  Well, here it was late and I was certain that no maintenance crew was around so I attempted a bit of “plumbing” to see if I could jostle the sink plug loose.  BIG mistake.  Rwandan plumbing isn’t really enforced with caulking, extra screws or bolts, or whatever is used (another reason this was a big mistake) so when I went to check out (aka shake) the U-drain I disconnected it from the sink!   Of course this caused the drain plug to some partially open and water poured out on the floor.  I tried to screw the pipes back together but due to the absence of aforementioned screws, weights, bolts, etc. I was out of luck.  Then I hear from Kate in her wonderfully dry-humored British accent, “What in the HELL are you doing in there?!?  Do you need help” in which I sheepishly answered, “maybe…”  Kate walked into the bathroom to find me sitting on the floor trying to sop up the spilling water and try to reconnect the pipes.  Thank god she had the brilliant idea of using a trash can to collect any water that would continue to spill out and convinced me to go to bed that the hotel could help us out in the morning.  The next morning, embarrassed as can be, I told our cleaning lady about my accident in which she smiled her huge wonderful smile and told me that she would get the technician to fix it.  I left her a huge tip that day!

After my fatal laundry mistake I switched to using these plastic wash basins to clean my cycling gear

So onto Bobby’s awesome negotiation skills for one tiny banana.

Meet Bobby Heyer:

Bobby drinking a 'spro (Bobby speak for espresso)

Bobby is a brilliant business man and coffee aficionado from Seattle, WA.  On one of the days prior to the Tour start Bobby, Kate, Branden and myself decided to check out the local Kigali market.  We thought we could come across some cool new souvenirs to bring back home but instead we found was a true authentic market full of fruits, meat/fish, eggs, clothes, electronics, medications, your one-stop-shop for the local Rwandan.

Piles of potatoes

A view into the market (we walked all the way into the depths of the market for the banana purchase)

We are pretty much the only group of umuzungus (white people) in the entire market and of course we stuck out like a sore thumb.  Or, to the young entrepreneur, we were easy targets.  A young boy approaches us and tells Bobby that he would like to show him around, “what would you like to buy.”  At first Bobby says he’s ok that he doesn’t need anything but after some persistence from the boy Bobby decides that he would like to buy a banana.

“One thousand” says the boy (1000 Rwandan francs is about $1.50 US).

“ONE THOUSAND FOR ONE BANANA?!?!”  replies Bobby, “No way.”  After some continued haggling Bobby and the boy agree on a price for a banana.  However, we are at the wrong banana stand and have to go all the way into the market to what we assumed was his mother’s banana shop.  Off we went into the market, getting some interesting looks from the Rwandans…we were brave souls I guess.  We arrived at the correct banana stand and the boy reaches for a banana to give Bobby.

“No!  I don’t want that one, you see it’s all bruised.”  Tough customer that Bobby is🙂  The boy found a spotless banana and Bobby proceeded to pay 400 Rwandan francs (US $0.60).  Ripped off?  Maybe.  Well worth the fun of haggling.  Absolutely.  And while Kate and I are watching this interaction a man passing by decides to cop a feel and give our America/US rear ends a squeeze.  We were shocked but the man just kept walking…wild times in the Rwandan market!

Bobby laughing and haggling for the banana

Man United

[Note: this blog was written and intended to be posted on Thanksgiving however due to the lack of internet it’s a day late, apologies!]
Happy Thanksgiving America!  We are now in Butare which is in the southern part of Rwanda.  Internet yesterday was very hard to come by and we completed an epic stage (well, I called it a day at 40 miles) but regardless the miles are making it harder to think coherently at the end of the day and sleep is vital due to our early mornings.  I have been keeping notes however and will update more about the smaller things as well as get more photos posted when I’m state-side, promise!  (I could handle staying up until almost midnight while we weren’t riding the stages…but now…sleep is crucial and the internet is too painfully slow!)  I’ve got a great story about my attempt to use my plumbing skills in Kigali (of which I have none) and Bobby’s amazing negotiation skills for 1 banana in the Kigali market.  So…stay tuned!

Again, I cannot emphasize enough the encouragement and support we have received along the way.  It’s amazing to see kids running barefoot up the mountains screaming “courage” and “mizungo” (mizungo is what they call white people, I’m guessing similar to Gringo but they say it with huge smiling faces so we take it as a good thing).

We’ve also been able to race with and get challenged by Rwandan men on bikes up and down the mountains (see photo above – this man kept on telling me “Man United” on Wednesday’s ride, I thought that theme was appropriate for a pre-turkey day ride!).  These men are incredibly strong and super friendly…and give us a run for our money while we’re suffering and panting up these hills.  Their bikes must weigh 35 pounds, are made of solid steel, have rusty chains, AND they’re riding in flip flops.  All the while keeping up with us in our shiny 15 pound carbon fiber bikes, it’s pretty humbling.  Today we actually accumulated about 3 or so guys and had a bit of a group ride going for about 30 or more km, it was brilliant (and yes I’ve been rooming with a British woman for the last week)!

Later on in the ride Phil and Bobby began to race with a guy in an Adidas jump suit, launching attacks and pretty much getting their butts kicked.  So all in all, even though we’re not in the race, we’ve found ways to keep ourselves entertained (Rwanda has plenty of county/city lines to race to!) and have had a great time riding the mountains of Rwanda.

And of course an update on the race standings!  Team Type 1 currently holds the yellow jersey by Joey and Kiel is still in second place after Stage 5 (which ended in a group finish for the relatively “flat” 75k ride).  Kiel pulled out an epic finish again yesterday in Stage 4 with Joey coming in 4th.   As the race announcer says, we’re Team Type 1!  Not Team Type 2 not Team Type 3….BUT TEAM TYPE 1!!! [although I do want to correct him and tell him that well, yes, we are Team Type 2  as well representing the many people living with Type 2 Diabetes and with proper diet and exercise and meds if needed you can conquer the disease AND not to mention our racers on Team Type 2 totally kick ass, but, for the race we’re #1 baby!]

The Peloton vs. The Motley Crew

Hello from about 1000m from the Congo border line!! We are still alive and doing well in Africa. Today’s blog post will be short as internet is hard to come by and we are all exhausted from today’s ride – it was the Queen stage of the tour and the most gruesome ride I’ve ever done. It is amazing though how many people come out to watch and support the riders…you really feel like you’re racing in the Tour de France and our group isn’t even racing! The motivation the Rwandans provide really helps with the climbs.  They shout to us “courage” – with a long “o” and an accent on the “e.”  Yeah, we certainly needed courage to get up the mountains!
But the point of today’s blog is to give a little shout out to our safari follow car (it’s an old GIGANTIC land cruiser)….photos to come and when our riders haven’t called it a day, it’s filled with our driver Claude, Chris our amazing mechanic/saving grace, Dr. Edelman, JR Richards, and Min our photographer.  Well today a few of us decided to call it a day early…since really we have 4 more days to go in this stage race.  Go to the tour website and see for yourself: http://en.tourofrwanda.com/  One by one we pile into the car until only Phil, Brandon and Mandy are left and it’s literally POURING down rain. Our safari wagon as you can tell from the photo has a pop up roof and with all the bikes loaded in we could not get the roof closed completely.  In order to keep dry Min McGuiver’ed her umbrella to keep us all dry.  We took turns holding it up and the rain subsided but it definitely made for a few interesting moments!!
In other news and probably most importantly….TEAM TYPE 1 is KICKING ASS in the Tour of Rwanda!  Kiel has won the first 3 stages and Joey won today’s Queen stage in an amazing attack on a group of riders 3 minutes ahead of him….caught them at the end and pulled out in front to win the stage by almost a minute!  Check out www.cyclingnews.com for more coverage!
Happy almost Thanksgiving!

The Impact of Life in Rwanda

For all that it has been through in the past, Rwanda is a really great place. I first came here for the Tour of Rwanda in November last year and really had a great experience. Fortunately, I was able to return again this year and it is already starting to be another great trip.

When people think of Rwanda, they likely think about the time of genocide, roughly 15 years ago. That was definitely a dark time in this countries history and they are still on the mend from it, but I think if feel safer in most places of Rwanda than I do in parts of Atlanta or Chicago. Before coming here, I was not too familiar with what went on during the genocide, but today we walked through the memorial/museum that was constructed to remember the victims. It was one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had.

As we got to the museum, everyone seemed to be in great spirits. We were joking, laughing and generally having a great time taking everything in from the country. But by the end of the tour, everyone walked out of the building with a totally blank stare and jaws to the floor. The emotional impact was phenomenal.

Decades ago Rwanda was colonized and the people here were placed in different ethnic categories. You were defined as “Tutsi” if you owned more than 10 cows and “Hutu” if you had less. There was also a group defined as “Twa” but I can’t remember what got you into that group.

In the 1990’s the majority of the population was Hutu but Tutsi’s held many of the political positions. Ultimately, the Hutu people began to determine systematic ways to execute all of the Tutsi’s. They were completely dehumanized and were thought to be lower class than animals. No Tutsi was exempt. Men, women, or children alike. As far as Hutu’s were concerned, the world was better off if Tutsi blood ran though an living person. The men were killed with machetes, thrown into large pits to be burned or bludgeoned to death with blunt objects. Many were also tortured before being killed to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible. The women were raped tortured and then put to death in similar ways to the men and children were forced to watch their parents die before being put to death themselves in horribly painful ways.

It was sad to read about this, but the emotional response came from the photos and quotes that were also displayed. There was a large screen television that had a slideshow of photos that were so horrible they made you sick to look at and wonder how people could be so evil to one another. There were pictures showing piles of dead bodies that had been horribly disfigured and the Hutu killers walking through them, machetes in hand checking if anyone was still breathing. There were also photos of children that were fortunate enough to have survived, but you could see gashes in their heads from being beaten with a machete, or missing limbs and fingers that you can tell were slowly and painfully removed.

Photo: Joey Rosskopf

There was a sign of a quote from a girl that was 11 during the genocide that basically said “I did not choose to be an orphan. I was forced to watch as my entire family was murdered in front of me and now I see their killers or the children of their killers every single day. It is not something I can forget.”

Once the realization came that this wasn’t some Hollywood reenactment, my heart sank. Seriously, how can people do that to one another?
What a horrible time. Luckily, the country has recovered well, even though it is still an ongoing process.
There is still an incredible amount of poverty all over the country and even in the capitol city of Kigali. Most people live in “houses” that are roughly 10ft by 10ft and have no indoor plumbing. People spend their days working very hard, riding bikes loaded down with over 200lbs of goods, working in fields, or various other jobs. All of this being with the intent of putting food on the table, which doesn’t always happen. Despite all of this, everyone seems so happy. At the end of the day they can spend time with their loved ones and with everything that has happened in the past, which is one of the greatest things they can do!
This is one of my favorite trips of the year because you can go around the country and see happiness that doesn’t stem from material items and exits even through rough living conditions.
This year Team Type 1 brought 100,000 test strips and a couple hundred glucose meters, along with some great educational resources for the diabetes community here. Through all of this work, hopefully diabetics here will be able to check their sugars more than one time per week and ultimately live a much healthier life. Its just a start, but hopefully it will get the ball rolling and eventually the poverty here will begin to diminish and people can have this same happiness, but with full stomachs.
-Alex Bowden

Behind the Scenes in Rwanda by Lauren and Mandy, Day 2

And so, the journey continues. It was difficult to wake up after another night of mutziig ikonge (cold beer). I (Lauren) have made it a priority to try every beer manufactured in Rwanda. So far I’ve tried the mutziig (my fave), primus (pronounced Pre-Muuus and according to Rwandan billboards is the “taste of success”), and skol. It’s too bad that I don’t prefer the “taste of success” over the mutziig. Such is life . . .

That being said, it was priority to get a coca-cola light pre-doctor training session. One of my greatest fears was that there would be no source of calorie-free caffeine in the country. Fortunately, this is not the case in Kigali. They’ve got Coca cola light and red bull sugar free! SCORE! What was unexpected was that the Coca-cola light label was in Arabic script . . . ???

الحمية الكوك هو لذيذ جدا









First order of the day- training of 40 Rwandan doctors in diabetes care. I met Crispin Gishoma of the ARD and Dr. Steve Edelman from UC San Diego in the hotel lobby, and piled into the Mercedes Benz. We arrived at doctors training, and learned that American time is quite different from Rwanda time. We set up the registration table, and had one doctor signed in by the time training was supposed to start. We were told that because of the rain storm the day before, it was especially difficult for the doctors to make it through the clay roads leading into the city. In the meantime, Steve and I searched for something to mount an oversized notepad to. There was no easel. With innovation equivalent to that of MacGyver, we used 2 USB cords to tie the notepad to the window. See depicted:

Success! Steve and Crispin point out the USB cords holding up the notepad.

I peaced out of the doctor training early so that I could make it back in time to go on a training ride with the team. It was awesome. I went for the KOM again, and was cheered on from people lining the streets. The young Rwandan men yelled “avec courage, sister! avec courage, sister!” (with courage, sister!), which gave me a second wind. So, I kept the climbing jersey. This was confirmed by Aleksei Schmidt, he told me that I had enough points.

Post ride, the team went back to the doctor training for a meet and greet:

With Francois and Crispin from the Association Rwandaise des Diabétiques, Adolph from the NCD desk & a woman doctor

Then we were off to the Rwandan Genocide Museum. I’ve studied the Rwandan Genocide in political science and anthropology courses, but never before had it seemed as real as it did at the museum. The Rwandans definitely didn’t censor anything, and we saw some incredibly gruesome pictures, videos and exhibits.  Past the mass burial site was the “Garden of Unity”. Mandy and I took a stroll through the garden, and were asked by an older Rwandan woman asked for money. Since we didn’t have any, Mandy offered her a peanut butter chocolate Clif Bar. She took it graciously, and we hid behind a tree so that we could see if she liked it. She seemed to really enjoy it, and ate every last morsel. Time for Clif Bar to start sponsoring Rwanda.

After the museum, we went to convert our money to Rwandan-Francs, and on a moto-taxi ride to the market. Moto-taxis are super cheap, and the sketchiest/ best way to get around the city.

Mototaxi Ride...Initiate!

At the market, we hustled the natives for cow-bone necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Mandy bought a salad spoon and fork, and a hand sewn basket. She was very persistent, and told the one of the shop-keepers that she was a student, so she needed the student discount. He said that he was a student too, and by the sounds of his English there was no doubt that he was. So, they settled somewhere in the middle. As we were leaving the market, a Rwandan pulled an exotic African bird (after a google image search maybe a crowned crane?) out of his trunk. We offered 5,000 Rwandan Francs, to which he laughed and said “100,000!”. We countered with 10,000, and he came back with 99,999 Rwandan Francs. There was no negotiating with this man for his exotic pet.

The ultimate stare down . . .

We returned on moto-taxis, and I met with Dr. Steve and Phil to go to the best pizzeria in all of Kigali. We met with representatives from the Centers for Disease Control, the US Embassy, USAID, and the management of the Rwandan National Cycling Team. Back in the day (6 months ago), I was a CDC employee,  so I got a lot out of the dinner. We discussed the various NGOs working in the country, and what it’s like to work for the CDC outside of the US. Sounds awesome….you get a body guard! Definitely taking that one into consideration. The night ended on a high note, with a long discussion on non-communicable diseases and strategic partnerships for increasing capacity of healthcare systems to treat such diseases in low-income countries. With stomach full of Rwanda’s best pizza & a few more mutziig ikonge, I headed back to the insecticide treated bed net in preparation for another day of African adventure.

African Ginger Tea Recipe!


African Ginger Tea

This morning at breakfast I inquired our hotel staff on where I could purchase Ginger Tea, it’s so good and I wanted to take some home with me. There’s no specific tea to buy rather it’s the technique they use and it’s sooo easy therefore I wanted to share!

1. Use any type to black tea for your base and add applicable amount of water for the number of tea bags you’re using to a pot or kettle. (note, they use tea bags but I’m sure you can use loose leaf tea if desired)
2. Using fresh ginger root grate it into your black tea and water mixture.
3. Boil the mixture for 30 min
4. When done you can strain the liquid if you want.
5. Pour yourself a cup, add milk and enjoy!

*and if you want to be really authentic you can replace the water with milk.

It’s delicious! I hope you enjoy this tea as much as I am!!


Day 2 – Rwandan Diabetes Association, The Genocide Memorial Museum and Mototaxis!

Hello from Rwanda!  It’s the end of Day 2 and it’s been quite a day if I do say so myself.  I’m not 100% through the jet lag so I found myself waking up at 5am this morning (but I wasn’t alone in this as many of the team found it hard to sleep, however we are suspect of the malaria medication we’re taking, Malarone, and the crazy dreams we’ve been having as a result of taking it!)  It was good to get an early start on the day, however.  We began with breakfast which included the most amazing ginger juice and tea I’ve had in my life.  I’m on a mission to find the tea to bring home!  After completing another ride for the books we lunched and I had the privilege of meeting JR Richards of the band Dishwalla (his song, Counting Blue Cars was a #1 hit).  For a bad ass rock star JR is one of the most down to earth individuals I’ve ever met.  JR’s 10 (almost 11!) year old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 3 years ago.  We spent a ton of time talking about diabetes camps, growing up diabetes and really, it sounds like his son is doing great (he told me that his son is convinced that he’s “way better” at giving shots than JR is).  JR will be playing concerts for the Rwandan people during the tour.  I hope to have more video (internet pending…) in the next few days!

After lunch we departed for the Rwandan Diabetes Association to catch the final portion of Dr. Steve Edelman’s presentation on diabetes.  Approximately 25 doctors came to the clinic to learn about everything diabetes from diagnosis to treatment of the disease.  The current standard of care for Rwandans living with Type 1 diabetes is to use NPH and Regular insulin.  They still “test” their blood sugar levels with urine testing (and I put test in quotation marks as urine testing really only indicates if you’ve been high in the past 5-6 hours, it’s in no means an accurate way of measuring blood glucose).  The 200 meters that Team Type 1 has provided the association with will go to diagnostic testing.  The people who have their A1c tested, including the doctors, is few and far between because it’s far too expensive here.  I will post a video of an excerpt of a conversation Dr. Edelman had with one of the Rwandan doctors attending today’s session; however, in the past 45 minutes I’ve been on the internet the video is now 16% downloaded on youtube so if I can get the video loaded here I will do it, but if not you will have to wait until we’re stateside.

Phil and Francios addressing the Rwandan doctors at today's meeting

From the Rwandan Diabetes Association we next stopped for a visit at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.  I strongly encourage you to visit the Museum’s webpage for a detailed description of the genocide however I will do my best to summarize it here [disclaimer, I

Mass Graves at the Genocide Memorial Centre

am not a Rwandan historian and am only basing my information on my experience today as well as pre-trip research consisting mainly of books and articles written by Philip Gourevitch – two great articles here and here].  Rwanda has lived in peace for the majority of its existence.  It wasn’t until the Belgian colonization of the early 1900s that ethnic separation took place.  The Rwandan people were divided into 3 socio-economic groups: the Hutus, or the farmers, the Tutsis, or the cattle herders, and the Twa or the native pigmy tribe of Rwanda.  Citizens were given identity cards and anyone owning 10 cattle or more was given the distinction of Tutsi, anyone owning less than that was classified as a Hutu.  This distinction created a huge divide among the Rwandan people that only worsened over time.  Encouraged by the Belgian colonists over 700,000 Tustis were exiled from Rwanda as part of an “ethnic cleansing” effort that occurred in the 60’s and 70’s.  After many peaceful efforts to reunite the country the exiled Tustis formed the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) and invaded Rwanda in 1990.  Long story short (aka go to the website to read more) this effort triggered a mass propaganda against the Tustis and resulted in a mass genocide in 1994.  In only 3 months 1 million Rwandans were murdered and it’s estimated that 2 million were affected as a result (either lost loved ones, orphaned children, exiled citizens, and many left with wounds so gruesome it was hard to watch today).

Monkey from the Garden of Reconciliation - he's holding a cell phone, communicating internationally to pass on the lessons of the genocide to the rest of the world (so tech savvy!)

The exhibit brought me to tears and humbled me beyond belief.  And to be in this country today, seeing how friendly the people are and how clean the country is (I heard today that on every 4th weekend all Rwandans stop what they’re doing and spend the day cleaning the country.)  In my short 2 days here I have not seen one bit of litter/trash on the ground.  It’s amazing to see how far this country has come; despite the shortcomings I have nothing but admiration for this country and its people.

Being environmentally conscious is of utmost importance.










After our trip to the museum a few of us wanted to check out the artisan market in Kigali.  Or preferred method of travel was the moto-taxi and an example is pictured below (I did not bring my camera to the market for fear of losing it- this was a taxi at day…we went at night, so double the fun!)  According to Alex Bowden, you have not experienced the “real Rwanda” until you’ve ridden one of those!

Take it easy everyone – it’s late so I’m out!  Until next time!


Rwandan Moto-Taxi...the fastest and cheapest way to get around Kigali!