In its current issue, the editors of Spectrum magazine tell something of the “back story” of my engagement in African issues. The magazine also publishes a revealing photo of me — with a fellow primate!
Archive for May, 2007
“Decentralized economic and social forces will provide more satisfying answers than the tyranny of elite misrule that has characterized African politics for so long.”
– G. Pascal Zachary
I am sitting in the fourth floor restaurant of the most famous hotel in the world, looking out at the verdant hills that honeycomb the city of Kigali, capital of Rwanda.
The guy serving me coffee this morning is tall, dignified and speaks French fluently. He wears a dark suit, and a brilliantly-knotted tie.
I don’t speak French and I don’t care what the man is saying. I just feel something speaking to him, something I canâ€™t name.
I am in Hotel Rwanda, and this man lived through the genocide in 1994. He began working at this hotel in 1982. During the genocide, he worked for the Rwandan character played by Don Cheadle in the movie. Don Cheadle played the hotelâ€™s manager. The occupants of the hotel mainly survived the genocide through a combination of luck, judicious application of monies and the efforts of the hotelâ€™s manager, the Don Cheadle character.
The name of the hotel is actually Mille Collines.
I am staying here as a guest because I am following people around â€“ â€œfly on the wallâ€ reporting â€“ because they are staying here.
I thought staying in the real Hotel Rwanda would give me the creeps â€“ and I was wrong.
April is the month of mourning in Rwanda. The month when the genocide occurred thirteen years years ago. I arrived three days ago and the mood in Kigali remains somber. On my first day I visited the memorial to victims of genocide in the city center, and I felt the cries of the dead souls around us. Our guide said that the remains of 250,000 people are buried in the â€œmass gravesâ€ surrounding the memorial building. After touring the memorial exhibits, our guide took us outside and we watched two men digging a new mass graves.
There were so many killed in the genocide in 1994 that they are still burying the dead thirteen years later.
Our guide is a tall woman, stylishly dressed and attractive. Her father and mother were killed in the genocide, which occurred while she lived in a neighboring African country. Her name is Harriet, and she once appeared on Oprah Winfreyâ€™s television program.
I ask her to spell her name for me. She has worked in this memorial center since its opening two years ago. A British group, devoted to promoting awareness of the Jewish holocaust, funds the center. I meet the director, visiting from Britain, near one the graves. He always visits in April, he says.
Our guide, Harriet, is standing nearby. Her eyes are sad. I ask her whether the task of working at the memorial is difficult, because it is so easy to remember the horrors while in this center.
She says she prefers to remember. She says she likes working here.
I tell her she is good guide and then I turn away. I am afraid I will cry in front of her and I do not wish too.
On the way back to the Hotel Rwanda, I feel foolish. I once thought that staying in the hotel would cause me misery. Now I am relieved to return here.
This morning, I see the head waiter again, and he serves me coffee. The sun is shining, and through a haze I can see the hills in the distance. I no longer try to engage him in conversation. I simply tell him, â€œBonjour,â€ and he smiles at me. It is a Saturday and a large group of guests â€“ 60-person delegation from the European Union â€“ is checking out, so the restaurant is empty except for me and another white man.
The milk is warm and the coffee is good. There are two fresh butter croissants on my plate, and raspberry jam that seems home-made. When I finish the croissants, I ask the waiter for another pot of coffee, and I go to the buffet table and get another croissant. I should not eat a third but I want to linger, I want the waiter near me again.
He brings the coffee. â€œMerci,â€ I tell him, and he smiles.
He lingers near me in the bright sun. I know now to stay quiet and let the moment pass. Did this man remain on the job, cooped up like chickens in the hotel with hundreds of guests fighting for their lives. Did he abandon his post? Was he one of the killers?
I bite into the last croissant and pour another cup of coffee. I take a sip, and I look out at the green hills. Now the head waiter is gone and my questions are too.