Shifting Gears Towards a Brighter Future
Sometime back in August of 2013, my friend Frederick Ndabaramiye (who I originally met 11 years prior at the Imbabazi Orphanage) contacted me and said he had a new message to share. Frederick lost his hands in a nasty civil war soon after the genocide, when he was just 15 years old and since then has been sharing his story, which is one of forgiveness & hope. I have been with him at some of the speeches he’s given in the past (to raise money for the Ubumwe Community Center, which is a center for the disabled that he and my friend Zachary started years ago). When you hear Frederick tell his story, you’re heart can’t help but go out to this man who with each speech has to relive that day when his hands were taken away from him. Needless to say, when he shared that he had a new message, I was delighted. I thought this might be an opportunity to help him move forward, showing others what he over came rather than just repeating his story over and over. Even before I had a chance to ask what the new message was, I could hear the excitement in his voice. He told me that he wanted to ride his bike across Rwanda. He said, “You know how you ask me things like, how do you ride a bike, motorcycle, play guitar, etc. Well, I want to show people! You come to Rwanda and I will show you!” Even though we were skypeing at the time, I didn’t even need to see his smile to know that he was grinning from ear to ear as he told me this. And, me… I was smiling big too. I continued to listen as he told me that he wants to show others that we are all able and that disability is not an inability. I loved the idea! At first, he thought he’d attempt this as a solo mission, but more and more he’d contact me with more updates and changes to his plan as things progressed. I found myself getting more and more calls from him over the next few weeks and I couldn’t help but be excited for him. I had no doubt in my mind that he’d be on his bike within a year and I was hoping to join the 2nd annual if by chance he choose to open it up to others at that point.
In the meantime, more and more correspondence continued between us and soon I was introduced to his friend Innocent. Innocent owns a eco-tourism company and when he learned of Fredrick’s dream, he immediately wanted to help and join in his efforts to help others in their community. Their mission was to inspire others to help themselves and raise awareness that we are all able and that disability is not an inability. Soon thereafter, they started asking for business advice on how to set up the project and promote it, etc. I cautiously offered some of my Westernized background and came up with some logos and the such for them but ultimately this was their vision and I wanted them to make sure they were staying on track with what they wanted to accomplish. Frederick did say he wanted to ride with a few others at this point and they hoped to complete their first annual ride sometime in September. But, one day in late Setember or early October, I got another call. This time they explained that their ride would be postponed till November or December and they wanted to know if I’d like to join them. While we were still on our Skype call, they sent me an itinerary titled, “Look Mom No Hands, the 2013 I am Able Rwandan cycling tour.’ When I saw this, I couldn’t help but laugh. Not only was the title itself a fine reflection of Frederick’s fine sense of humor, but I was currently working on a project for my own company, Laughing Hands Studio… and if you aren’t already aware, my last name is Abel. So, knowing that they were going to postpone the ride till December and that I was wanting to reunite with the kids of the Imbabazi Orphanage at their reunion in late November, I knew the universe had brought that same silver platter with my dreams right under my nose once again. How could I say no… All I knew was that I better start training!
So, about 2 or 3 months after that call, I found myself back in Gisenyi meeting with the I am Able team, excited to test the waters with our preliminary ride…a trial run you might call it. It was a casual plan, but today we would head towards the Congo Nile Trail to test our legs, bikes, lungs and heart along some of Rwanda’s ‘Land of a 1,000 Hills.’ Innocent’s tour company donated the bikes and we started our day with a few delicious bananas and lots of excitement. I couldn’t wait to see how Frederick was going to ride a bike. I was curious as to how he’d stop… especially along the descents of these hills.
As we started our day, we tested the bikes, made sure our brakes were working well and made adjustments along the way. Knowing the villages that we’d be biking through would have water and snacks, we opted to travel light and eat along the way if necessary. These stops actually turned out to be quite fun because it gave us time to mingle with the villagers and people along the way. There were plenty of looks of wonderment once they saw that Frederick had no hands and that sparked the questions and conversations. He explained that he was training for the ‘I am Able’ cycling tour and that he was determined to ride his bike across Rwanda to show others that disability is not and inability and that we are all ABLE! As each spectator followed Frederick along the tarmac and red African volcanic roads, the excitement continued to rise and I couldn’t help but be filled with a tremendous amount of joy. Frederick continued to amaze others (and myself) as he fearlessly descended among the fast hills, passing moto taxi’s, lory trucks and many folks making their daily trek to and from the markets.
As I watched my friend cruise down these hills with no hands (and not even his stumps on the handlebars), I often found myself chuckling. Nothing can stop that ‘kid.’ (Mind you he is an adult, but I often find myself calling him a kid because his smile and zest for life is just like it was when I knew him at 19 years old! And, his smile and enthusiasm is just as contagious as a kid’s! Ever since he found forgiveness and entered into a space of love, courage and hope, the world has been his oyster. Once this ‘kid’ sets his mind to something, there is no stopping him!) Eventually, I figured out a way to brace my camera with my jacket on the downhills so that I could take my hands off the handlebars for just enough time to catch a few shots… untill I started accelerating way faster than I wanted to be going. (And, that actually says a lot because I like speed!)
On the way back to Gisenyi town, we came across a family selling sugarcane, mangos and peanuts along the side of the road. I was so happy to see this as my banana breakfast had worn off many kilometers prior. This ride was a preliminary ride to see what we would need for further rides and one thing I realized was we would need a bit of a back up plan for some extra fuel and water. When you’re trekking up these hills and over bumpy volcanic roads, it’s good idea to have a small surplus of fuel if necessary. When we stopped for mangos and other goodies, barely anyone was around. But, by the time we finished our snack and some photos, the crowds seemed to come out of nowhere and we were quickly surrounded by many sets of curious eyes. Everyone was talking about the guy who was riding his bike without hands and that a female ‘muzungu’ (white person) who was part of the mix. Lots of chattering and laughter seemed to follow us everywhere, but this stop in particular had heads turning whether they stopped to say hi or not. As I embraced the moment and continued to try to capture a few moments on film, I found myself amazed by Frederick once again. Not only did he pass on a smile to everyone that he met, but he also shared his food (peanuts, sugar cane and mangos) with the little kids that surrounded him. I have witnessed his giving nature before, but this man continues to lead a fine example of trusting that we will always have enough and sharing for the better of all. Even after hours of pedaling, he didn’t show any hesitation in sharing his grub!
For the remainder of the ride, trying to keep up with my friend, I would courageously let go of my handlebars, grab my camera and just hope that wherever I was pointing the lens, he might be in the frame. I could only take a few until I had to quickly place my hands back on the brakes and control my speed. But, even if I didn’t have a camera on me, I would’ve still be in just the same amount of awe finding it hard to describe how happy I was to be with them today. Although I was somewhat familiar with the roads we took today, there was something about being on two wheels along these roads that brought a much brighter perspective than the previous times when I traveled these roads in a car or moto-taxi for that matter. There’s something about the full view (without a frame of a windshield or a face shield to confine your experience) and the opportunity to hear all the birds chirping, people talking and signing, and of course all my friends yelling, ‘Muzungu, Muzungu’ that adds a little extra life to the ride. So many smiles and ‘murahos’ (hellos) were exchanged as we pedaled and cruised along Rwanda’s hillsides and I was not only reminded of the beauty of the country and people I left 11 years prior, but the beauty of being a part of a team and a beautiful project in hopes to inspire and spread trails of hope throughout the world. Innocent, Frederick and I exchanged just as many smiles and shouts of joy and laughter as we did with members of their community. As we finally pulled onto the lakefront drive along Lake Kivu, a great sense of accomplishment, joy and camaraderie came over us in a way that was somewhat indescribable.
Still in awe of my friend’s courage and determination, I am incredibly proud of him! As he often reminds us, we are all able and we are all one. Even after one preliminary ride with my friends, I know today was the start of something big. So, while you wait for the updates on the next rides and our development of the I am Able foundation, please help us spread the word that we are all able and that we each have a purpose! Don’t give up ya’ll… keep pedaling and enjoy the ride!
In the next few blogs I hope to share a little more about the new direction that the ‘I am Able’ project has taken and some of the accomplishments they’ve already made. As I was working in Gisenyi with the team, our mission and vision changed quite a bit, but they continue to amaze me in how they are changing things for the better. We are still a work in progress but with your help we hope to continue with Frederick’s dream and start shifting gears towards a brighter future for all.
To learn more about the ‘I am Able’ cycling project, please visit.