I’ve been waiting a month and a half to type this up…
I get off the smelly, dank overland bus from Kigali and my first feeling is overwhelming loneliness. I’m standing there in a dusty, vast taxi park in God-knows-where, suburb of Kigali, with a phone that doesn’t work and an extremely awkward pack-sack. The guy who sells me my Rwandan sim card (“You need a sim card, Africell doesn’t work in Burundi.” “Well why’s it called Africell? It should be called Burundicell!” “It should, shouldn’t it.”) lets me stick my charger in his outlet and I have to stand there an hour while it charges. The dialogue between my inner voices went something like this.
“What am I doing here? I’m tired, broke, alone, I can’t afford this goose chase and and I don’t even know what I’ve come to see. I feel totally alone and I wish Antoine was here.”
“You wish Antoine was here? What happened to Miss Independent? Weren’t you alone in Vilnius and Riga and Minsk?”
“That was different…that was Europe.”
“Vilnius and Riga maybe, but Minsk? The big ugly concrete Soviet hotel with the mean floor ladies?”
“But in Minsk I had a guidebook!”
“Guidebook? Are you a tourist? What happened to being the next Ryszard Kapucsinski? Ryszard Kapucsinski would laugh at you!”
Not wanting to disappoint my imaginary ghost of Ryszard Kapucsinski, I take a deep breath, give myself a shake and go off in search of some grilled goat.Eating makes me feel better immediately.
Then I am lucky enough to find a cybercafé to check my email. I’d asked Sarah, my CouchSurfing host, what I could do to kill time before she got off work.
“Well, you could go to the Gisozi Genocide Memorial I guess,” she had written. “Then we’ll meet up at six.”
I didn’t even answer her. Two minutes later I had already hailed a moto taxi and we were whizzing through town with the wind rushing all around. As an entirely new city rushed by me, I felt this perfect sense of balance and for the first time I was excited, really excited. My whole body relaxed and I knew, everything in Rwanda was going to be all right.
When I got off the motorcycle in front of the arch to the genocide memorial, it hit me. ‘Why am I here’ was the stupidest question imaginable.
Why am I HERE?
I’ve said this before, but two of my professors, Allan and Jeff– the two I worked the closest with and respect the most– were in Rwanda as journalists during some of the genocide and its aftermath. they heard the shots and the screams, saw the bodies of menand women, girls and boys, elderly people and babies. they listened to General Dallaire’s increasingly bitter press conferences. They learned about the radio broadcasts that the extremist interim government used to manipulate members of the Hutu majority to kill their Tutsi neighbours and any Hutu who might have sympathized. They knew– the world knew, or at least said it knew– something had to be done to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. They helped where they knew how, setting up the first wing of the Rwanda Initiative– workshops to train responsible young journalists.
If Jeff and Allan had not seen what they saw, heard what they heard, none of us would have gone to Africa this year. I would not be writing these lines. And Eugène would not be in Canada. But Jeff in particular paid a terrible price mentally.
I’m here to put myself, even in the most distant and vicarious way,in Allan and Jeff’s shoes.
I’m here out of respect to them and also to Dallaire. I’m here to put some pictures in my mind next to his forceful, harsh, carefully chosen words. You could not listen to those words without them echoing in your head forever.
I’m here out of respect to Eugène, who was born and raised a refugee. To all my students who lost their parents in the war…Dieudonné, Médiatrice, Emilie, Quiet Michel, Paul-Marie. The sweetest and kindest of my group. Médiatrice was a refugee for ten years.
And finally, I’m here to feel closer to Cameron, Mbonisi and Jean-Sébastien, who I’ve been missing. To stand where they stood.
TO BE CONTINUED