Monday, August 23, 2010

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche

Cover image © Vintage.
I've travelled to Rwanda twice in the past two years and the events of April 1994 are obviously inescapable. People who I now count as my friends survived the Genocide and so I have become not just well-informed about the Genocide, but also quite protective over how the story is treated by the West.

The Genocide started two days after my 10th birthday, although, being born and raised in the UK, I didn't know anything about it at the time except a few new reports showing long lines of people leaving a city.

It was with some scepticism that I approached A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali (2003), especially having read an extract from the first chapter that made excessive references to ‘asses’. My initial worry was that this would be another westernised narrative that unduly sexualised the suffering of people of colour. I put this to one side and tried to read on.

It is not long into the novel that you realise that Gil Courtemanche is in fact not just another westerner debasing Africa. Also you find that he is not just another westerner “consuming the ‘other'" or trying to extrapolate the West’s guilt for doing nothing to stop the massacres.

The storyline, following the love between Canadian journalist Bernard Valcourt and a bargirl Gentille, gives warmth to the heart, then devastates the heart, before leaving the reader numb.

Without giving too much away, this is a powerful read and deserving of the attention of anyone who cares, provided they remember that there are Valcourts and Gentilles in the world today who are still being ignored by the West.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Gower in May


A very windy day on the Gower, in Wales, in May. I had been there for a camping trip. It was very cold as you may expect and my ears were freezing after a coastal walk to the pub in Rhossili. After a meal there the drinking continued into the night before a drunken stumble home.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Les Journaux Africains: One Love Bar, Kigali, Rwanda - 20.01 03/04/2010

Another thought provoking day, as every moment in Rwanda seems to end up being. To avoid clichés about devastation, horror and disbelief is impossible. To use the word 'another' in front of 'thought provoking' seems unfair and seems to debase the point - this isn't my intention at all.
The coaster at Nymata.

We have visited two different Genocide memorial sites today. Both of these are a long stretch from the sanitised environment if the main Genocide museum, in all its government- and internationally-sponsored glory overlooking the the dust and murk of L'Avenue de la Gendarmerie. These were time capsules.

The first site that we came to was Ntarama Church, about an hour outside of Kigali. The building, upon first glance, looks intact, but it is upon closer observation that one sees the hallmarks of war; a grenade hole in the wall, missing windows, bloodstained shirts and, finally, a glimpse of row upon row of human remains.

Inside, there is a strange smell, sweeter than the musky smell of an English church. This smell, you soon realise, is the smell of death. Death on clothes, on bones, on the floor. Death in the very molecules of clay that constitute this building that has long since ceased to be holy. The students are startled. One runs from the main building, covering his eyes, shouting. There is silence.

One of my students meets some locals.
A few rumbles of thunder roll in from the distance and the wind picks up. Some raggedly dressed kids come begging The heavens open in a great act of pathetic fallacy. Its time to leave. The rain continues all the way Nymata.

In Nymata, leafs are still heavy from the rain but life is starting to return to the muddy streets as Chris, a friend of Peter's, introduces us to Charles Mugabe - suddenly the Genocide's victims have a face and voice.

With Chris' soft tones translating Charles' even softer Kinyarwandan words, we are taken around the church building. Every scratch, shrapnel scar, row of stained clothes, broken door, cut on a leg, has a strong and shocking story.

Home of a sister murdered by Interahamwe.
Charles recounts how, as the Interahamwe Genocidaires systematically toyed with and killed all of those taking refuge in this House of God, he eventually had to hide, covered in the blood of his family members and the limbs of dead strangers, playing 'dead', in order to survive. He eventually escaped, but not before 2,000 other Tutsis and moderate Hutus had died immediately around him. How did that little boy recover from that? The tours must only be a mild form of catharsis as an adult. He eventually found a grandparent to care for him.

In the darkness and back in Kigali having procured an MTN sim card, I'll call home. The night is destined to take us to the One Love Bar - a Marley-esque evening of dancing and music with a slightly tipsy guide will help to take the edge off the afternoon for all of us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Les Journaux Africains: Genocide Museum, Kigali, Rwanda - 11.37 03/04/2010

So we had a microscopic lie-in today before piling into a 'coaster' bound for the town centre. The weather is so un-British here that it is hard to imagine how cold it was before we left for Africa.

This is my second visit to the Genocide museum, but this time we are closer to the 6th April anniversary of the Genocide's commencement. Everywhere around us there are people wearing the purple ribbon that is symbolic of those who lost someone during the Genocide.

From over the brow of a hill, in amongst the memorial gardens, there is the sound of music. As I peer over the edge I can see around ten women wearing identical pastel-blue dresses. They are stood facing one of the mass-tombs with an immediate crowd of around them of around three hundred people, all wearing purple. Many more, people removed from the sorrow such as us, people busy working such as the Rwandan policewoman with her rifle stood next me, and gardeners tending to the plants are all stock-still listening to the music.

The songs they are singing I cannot understand, but it doesn't make them any less moving. Everyone is silent whilst watching. All silent.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Les Journaux Africains: Youth for Christ Hostel, Kigali, Rwanda - 21.13 02/04/2010

I have remembered that strange feature of African evenings; the sun setting so early. It was at 6.30pm that the light quite suddenly gave up on us and left us - students and staff - playing football whilst shrouded in darkness.

The pitch could not have been more beautifully situated. Half-way down the hill from the common room and students' dormitories, there is a flat mini-plateau on which there are two goals. It was here that a kick-about with a Ugandan teacher working at Youth for Christ, Judith, and a local boy, Ghenghe, evolved in an all-out footballing tussle between two throngs of WMSF students and teachers.

Who knows what the score was. Many goal-scoring opportunities were squandered, many knees grazed and many arguments started over who had scored what and how.

When the night finally came, it was time to head off back up the hill for another African buffet and a few games of table tennis.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Les Journaux Africains: Youth for Christ Hostel, Kigali, Rwanda - 16.10 (CAT) 02/04/2010

I am now beyond tired. The journey and the four stops and starts that the flight entailed was a little too much for my body and mind to take - i have been in four different time zones in 14 hours!

A very rapid unpacking job in Kigali.
We've arrived at the Youth for Christ Hostel in Kigali and our rooms are somewhat basic. I must admit that I kind of like it - shabby chic it would be called in London. The fatigued iron of the beds, the carpet-less floor of the room and the distinct lack of light seems strangely reminiscent of HMP Long Kesh, or at least what I expect it would be like.

Another feature of the endless flying has been the steady succession of meals... rounded of with our first African buffet of the trip. It seems the same in Rwanda as in Uganda and consists of rice, matoki, chicken ground nut sauce. Terribly monotonous, but strangely comforting. So with the weather hot I am preparing for the next challenge - eating another African buffet at 9pm.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Les Journaux Africains: In the Plane, On the Tarmac, Entebbe, Uganda - 13.15 (EAT) 02/04/2010

This has come as something of a surprise! Upon arriving at Addis Ababa, Liz announced that our connecting flight actually stops off at Entebbe in Uganda. We therefore have a rather unique and epic journey unfolding: London, Rome, Addis Ababa, Entebbe, Kigali, Kabale.

Addis Ababa we only had the chance to witness from within the Bole International Airport terminal. The terminal was nice, but the slight sleep deprivation from the flight - they keep waking us up to feed us - was creeping up on me so I just took the opportunity to sleep. I hope to experience more of Ethiopia on the return trip.

Back in Entebbe, whilst waiting on the tarmac for the wild hoards of Ugandans waiting to go to Kigali, who turned out to be just one guy, we were permitted to stretch our legs on the steps to the plane overlooking Lake Victoria.

There was an immediately familiar dampness to the air which felt as comforting as a Sunday roast in Warwick. Added to this is the unrelenting heat of the near-equatorial sunshine. It feels good to be back.

Now for the 35-minute flight to Kigali.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Swinging Googlies Almanack 2010

A project that I've been working on for frankly too long has finally been completed today with the uploading of the Swinging Googlies Almanack 2010 - a book for my cricket club that documents our 2009 season in black and white.

For anyone who is interested, the cost of the paperback edition is a very inexpensive £5.99 with all profits going to the Kigezi High School Partnership and other Kabale-based charitable causes

If there is enough interest then it will be just a short matter of time before the 2011 edition is started upon. For now, a preview can be seen below.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Les Journaux Africains: In The Sky, nearing Rome - 23.00 01/04/2010

So we've been in the air for what  doesn't seem like a long time at all, but now we're descending for our short 'bounce' into Rome. 

The flight is exceptionally peaceful compared the thunder, lightning and heavy rain that was pouring on the journey to Heathrow Airport. Having left Starbuck's in Earls Court, I caught the District Line to Barons Court and waited on the platform for the Piccadilly Line train with Jeff and Tash on it. The rain was such that however far under the canopy one retreated, getting damp was an inevitability.

Back on the plane, at first glance there is something decidedly retro about the Ethiopian Airways plane we are on. It lacks the very modern features of air-travel, such as multi-channel entertainment screens mounted in the seat in front of you... but who cares?

We were all actually engaging in conversation with each other and being sociable. What's more, unlike British Airways, they actually had a 100% wheat-, barley-, rye- and lactose-free meal. Thank the Lord!

After Rome, and with the aid of a small glass of red, I will hopefully fall asleep. Thankfully, I have Carrie next to me so this shouldn't be a real problem.
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