Monday, February 24, 2014
Land Of Second Chances- The Story of Team Rwanda
I picked this book up at Barnes And Noble a couple of days ago on a whim, and about 300 pages later, have just finished reading this book. So I will do my best to give a book review on it while everything is still fresh in my mind.
This book was written in a documentary style which I believe will one day facilitate in making this story into a short documentary or Indie film. The premise of this story takes place in modern day Rwanda, twenty years after a genocidal war that killed hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of 100 days. Unlike most people who have never heard of Burundi or Rwanda, I am well studied on the subject and count Rwandans among a few of my personal friends that I have made over the years. Therefore this book prompted my immediate interest when I saw it sitting on the bookshelf at the store. The author does his best to describe the current state of affairs in the country, giving readers a glimpse of how much has changed since those tumultuous years in the 90's. The modern day Rwanda has gone from being a poorest war-torn country in the 90's to be one of the most stable regions in the African continent. There are still problems with economic disparity and infighting between classes, and the country as a whole uses a cash driven economy to pay for their day to day expenses. The author goes on to describe the Rwandan people as hard working but satisfied with having their basic necessities met. By the author's account, he presents Rwandans as defining success in being able to provide for their families modestly, without the need to make incredible sums of money or have fame in the process.
This book is mainly about one Rwandan in particular, Adrian Niyonshuti, who went above and beyond what his other teammates were able to achieve and what cultural and societal expectations others might have had of him. Given an introduction to cycling in Team Rwanda by Jonathan Boyer, a former professional cyclist turned philanthropist, he was able to make it into a Professional South African team and went on to compete in the London Olympic games. His other teammates rode their bikes until they felt they could cash in their earnings and live what was considered "making it" in Rwandan society; A house with concrete floors and running water and electricity, a cow and maybe a goat, and a wife and about five to six kids. Nothing more and nothing less. Every man has his price, in Rwanda this is what most of the population in poverty can only hope to achieve. With the average person living off a dollar a day, there are no ambitions for fame and fortune or any wanting of the commodities that are enjoyed in western society.
This book crams the history of the genocide, Project Rwanda, Rwandan customs, politics and tribal and religious beliefs into one book in an attempt to explain the logic, thinking and obstacles behind developing a professional cycling team in Africa. Project Rwanda was started by Tom Ritchey in an attempt of empower Rwandan farmers in their coffee development. At around the turn of the millennium, coffee prices increased worldwide and Rwandans were not benefiting from it. Tom Ritchey invented a bicycle which allowed local farmers to transport their coffee beans to their destinations faster, improving the harvest time and overall quality of the coffee and giving Rwanda an advantage in the coffee market. Although interesting at times, the character development was overly extensive and I personally felt that the book veered off the subject many times due to all the additional facts that were added to the story. The book related a story from the third person and the first person of the actual author writing it rather than giving the reader actual firsthand accounts from the characters themselves. It was easy to get lost in the storyline, however the overall message of the book is what kept it captivating for me. I personally enjoyed it as a cultural education about Rwandan people and it has also helped answer personal questions that I have had about the absence of many Africans or third world peoples in the sport of cycling. As was suggested in the book, cycling could grow more popular in this part of the world if the sport wasn't institutionalized by American or European standards and if Africans were able to develop the sport in a uniquely African style. This book also helps me to appreciate that you don't need to have the $10,000.00 bikes and equipment that the pros have if you want to be a serious cyclist. These guys did it on second hand bicycles, many of them on an old steel Benotto or an Eddy Merckx that was handed down to them with weld repairs and non-functioning gears.
The book suggests that the cutoff age for a cyclist in their peak is in their late 20's. However, I have to disagree. Evidence proves the contrary in athletes like Chris Horner and Jans Voigt, both in their 40's and still winning races. I for one am in my late 20's and feel like I haven't been riding a bike long enough to be at my peak yet. This was an interesting read, it wasn't the underdog story that I was hoping for, rather an objective narrative about Team Rwanda with lots of additional facts in between. This book is a good read for any cyclist, but the non-cyclist types may find it difficult to follow along. Retrospectively, this would have been a good E-book buy or even a Half Price Books find. These are my two cents about Land of Second Chances.Stay tuned for more reviews like these from my blog.