We asked our new writer Sharon Bayingana to regularly share her thoughts and experiences in her own words 'behind the scenes with the team'. We hope you enjoy them!
“I was so scared of going to South Africa alone! I think the main reason was because I was afraid of white people. I lived with Jock and Kim, but I didn’t think they were like regular white people. So when I reached in South Africa, I was welcomed by a white man. I freaked out! We drove for over an hour and I prayed all the way! Everyone at the camp was also white, until a team came in from Eritrea and I finally broke out of my shell. It turned out that they were just normal people with a different skin color!”
On our second day journaling, Jeanne d’Arc and I talked about being left in the house alone. I told her I would never be able to fall asleep if I were left in a big house alone. She told me how she once was given a room with seven beds inside and had difficulty falling asleep! We laughed and talked about our cowardice for a while, until we remembered to start journaling.
Somehow, the question of “how did you get here?” came about in a way I can’t remember. This was her response;
“I wanted to become a soldier. My big brother was a soldier, so I thought it was a nice job. I never liked to ride. My mom would send me to buy something at the market and I had to ride my bike to go there, but I didn’t like it. The first race I watched, Adrien was riding. It looked like fun but not something I would do. I was neighbors with Nathan [Byukusenge], whose wife kept asking me, ‘are you sure you don’t want to become a professional cyclist?’ I never answered."
“One day, I decided to ride my bike as far as I could. I went from my home, Rwamagana to Kabuga. When I came back, I couldn’t even stand up straight. I was tapped out! My mom kept saying, ‘I told you not to go but you refused to listen!’ But again, I didn’t listen. There would be a race in Bugesera later that week and I decided I would go.
“I went to the race just for the sake of satisfying my desire to be part of cycling on any level, for once. I raced that day and won first place!" At this point, my eyes grew wide and my smile wider.
“I was so surprised!” she proceeded. “That day, the president of FERWACY gave me a new bike, but I did not plan on coming back. I participated and showed up only when I felt like it, until I heard that I would go to Egypt!” we both laughed.
Continuing, she said, “I went on a plane for the first time when I was going to Egypt. But still, when I came back, I had no intension to continue, until I heard I would go to the United States! I kept coming back because of these opportunities to travel, then actually became passionate about cycling.
“It is hard for other girls to get where I am, because of our cultural limitations. For them, thinking that they could become professional cyclists is too idealistic. I had to overcome the cultural ideologies that deemed women unable to do sports. That is why I hope to be a role model to other girls, in the sense that they can also do sports and be empowered."
If, God forbid, something happened and you couldn’t do cycling anymore, would you become a soldier?” I asked her. “Eh, oya!” she replied. “Soldiers live in the harshest conditions ever!”
We then continued to journal. That night, the last sentence in her notebook said, 'when I ride, I feel pain in my leg sometimes, but I have to endure the pain if I want to win.'