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 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