I can now piece together why I spoke of genocide in #24 — non sequitur — and within the last five minutes I am aware of a particular Sontag cadence to the heretofore vacant title of #30. I am reading one of her biographies. Similar to a piece of theatre or an engrossing film, I cannot articulate all of my responses into an estimation until after finishing the book. Its authors have made sure to let its readers know about Susan Sontag’s stated aversion to biography so that we may struggle with the umami of form while compelled forward by the content of her story. Just as her 1973 essay The Third World of Women in The Partisan Review leaned into feminism — with various versions of its decibelage for the cause — Trip to Hanoi (1969) served as a Vietnam-era vignette on enabling genocide within the buckshot rant on America that comprised her career.
Bethany and I moved to NYC from Cameroon where we had been Peace Corps volunteers in the country’s East Province. Imagine the Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville borders forming a 90 degree angle, and Batouri — our post — floating equidistant just out from its axis.
In New York I would begin studying at The New School, and we would live close to the East Village for the first year. Our bedroom window would look across to a police training classroom. We would hear about Jay’s death in South Africa vacationing from the DRC in that apartment. I immediately began work for the dean of my department on a project focused on the Southern Caucuses. I would work closely with a range of civil society colleagues and municipal politicians from the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia. Armenia would come into focus, as would the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh. We would meet together in some and be prohibited from others. In some instances we would meet in cities sort of ‘nearby’ such as St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Athens. Places that all participants could travel to.
In 2004 I followed Bethany to Rwanda where she would be a one-year fellow with Catholic Relief Services. Catholic Relief Services — as did many international organizations at the time — filled its ranks with Tutsi staffers and would have the first challenge of integrating Hutus into their organizational ‘visions’ for reform before then ‘working on’ the post-conflict society. I would help Eric Kabera and Daddy Ruhorahoza build a country-wide film festival from Eric’s project, the Rwanda Cinema Centre.
Sometime late that year I must have first visited the monument to the fallen Dutch soldiers in Kigali across from the Intercontinental Hotel and in the direction of the Muslim Quarter. In Rwanda’s genocide a decade earlier, the Hutu had targeted a batallion of Dutch soldiers. Killed them. A message to the West that no holds would be barred in the carnage to come. Armed with french machetes, Hutus murdered between 500,000 and one million Tutsis in approximately ninety days in 1994.
As I remember it, the monument is a relief map of the world that highlights its contemporary genocides, from the Herero and Nama Genocide — a relatively small one — to North America weighing in at 16 million. I was thirty years old, a student of political science, well-traveled — and had never considered a North American continental genocide as such. For 20 of those years I was in such close proximity to a series of highway milemarkers for the Trail of Tears. I knew someone who had hiked this trail … didn’t I?
Somehow the US education system (with private post-secondary at a church school) had sent me off into the world as a Peace Corps volunteer and aspirant humanitarian. I would go to Thanksgiving and other occasions with my fellow expats in a capital city or regional hub — effectively going Dutch — getting by with only a very limited version of that world’s history.
We learned to make spring rolls from a French-Vietnamese couple in the French volunteer service. I forget what they did. But remember that the Italian volunteers with whom we made many festive lunches … they worked on agriculture. Bethany and I were small and medium business ‘experts’. We were close enough to the Chad-Cameroon pipeline however that I began to understand somethings not taught in school. Something pervasive about ‘development’, which was the vocational term for the work I was doing.
From Cameroon I would move briefly to Bangui to make a condom publicity campaign for Population Services International. Bethany was in Yaoundé with Jay who had moved their from his post in Morocco. He was a Catholic Relief Service fellow, which perhaps confirmed this future plan for Bethany.
The condom campaign was in both Sango and French. I almost spoke the latter. We filmed a commercial and used some of its audio for the radio spot. Was there going to be a billboard too? I had arranged this gig at a party a few weeks before with the director who oversaw CAR from the Cameroon headquarters. We were both drunk, and it was on a dare — his posture showed — that I would call him the following day to confirm what I boasted my readiness for at the party.
One of the perks of the job was that Bassek ba Kobhio, a renowned Cameroonian filmmaker was filming his ‘Silence of the Forest’ film with the stellar cast of Nadège Beausson-Diagne and Eriq Ebouaney at the same time I was working in Bangui. I ‘knew’ them from ‘The Balls of the Elephant’ and ‘Lumumba’ respectively. If beautiful people ever existed, it was these two sitting at the hotel bar that we shared at night after our respective ‘days on the set’. Six degrees of separation. I coming for you Raoul Peck. Paul Kagame and I were simply on one of those ‘momentary’ trajectory glitches. He stopped my film festival in Cyangugu by his passing through, and now he’s gonna close the door on everyone waiting outside the Kigali Stadium after he rolls in. I was having a beer within earshot on the night ‘Sometimes in April’ debuted. Which is like being parked outside of Starwood Amphitheater for a Steely Dan show. However, I had scalped all the Steely Dan tickets at a premium, but for ‘Sometimes in April’ was left, ticket in hand. Mr. Kagame, I really did you a solid in Butare, and this is the thanks I get?
In late 2005 Bethany would take a post in Darfur, Sudan with the IRC. Nyala. I would follow shortly to work as an advocacy officer at the Khartoum office, working on a variety of things including the peace accord and build-up to the referendum that would create Africa’s newest country in 2012, South Sudan. I would share a house with a gay man. I was still deeply closeted. I would see Bethany on some weekends or when my work took me to Darfur. I was once a part of the advance team for Condoleezza Rice’s visit to El Fasher. One of my colleagues — Ezra — knew just how much I ‘liked’ her, so after the fact he superimposed her face on top of everyone else in the thatched meeting hut except me, or did he superimpose me atop everyone else? I did not expect anything other than personal compassion from Secretary Rice. One country that would brutally ‘go after’ petrol outside its borders would not be able to able to boldly ask another not to do the same within. No matter the optics.
Someone had a gun outside, but they were easily disarmed. Did that happen?
We’d been told that Andrea Mitchell had been physically removed from the press conference with the president in Khartoum. She lobbed a question uninvited. About Darfur I presumed. And as if the guards had removed Ayn Rand herself, it is rumored that an apology was cabled to the plane en route to Darfur apologizing to Ms. Mitchell, the girlfriend of then FED Chairman, Alan Greenspan.
I would be told that my wife’s group was in quarantine for fear of Ebola exposure. She sounded good on the phone. We played cards on a rooftop in Khartoum. Worrisome. Did that happen? Were we drinking Eritrean gin? Did I make a joke about how the splash of Fanta performed a haboob across the unregulated moonshine in my glass? They say that Eritrean gin can make you go blind. I think I did.
John Garang’s helicopter would go down. The city would be ablaze. Two fellow staffers would be hit by rebar spears. A mob moving through the area of my office. Did that happen?
A nice woman in NYC who we met at church, Casey. Had formerly worked in the textbook industry in her homestate of Texas. There were many of us folks who I found different — queer — not perhaps in sexual orientation — but misfits to Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee. Church states. We met at a church on the upper eastside of Manhattan. It was comforting as we transitioned to New Yorkers and away from our provincial religious communities and constricts.
We could joke with her about her origin … ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ and she would know that we were also joking about our own birthplaces. Casey was aware of her deadpan humor. She boasted a few times — or once very effectively — that for a elementary school textbook to pass muster on the US national market, it first had to be approved in the big states and importantly hers. True, we do not have regional textbook variations — or we didn’t. Did this mean that Texan education policy had somehow limited my learning? All three of my father’s sisters moved to Texas to get away from their father it is rumored.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission ended its work and updated the public around May 2015. It was modeled after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There was a reason for me once to have a festive lunch with Alex Boraine in a botanical garden outside of Cape Town. A family affair with the actor son, wife, grandchild, friends. It was the same reason that I would first speak to the honorable Albie Sachs and then to Justice Cameron over time. But there is not reason enough to go into it here. Except that I really enjoyed working with the son if for no other reason than to enjoy memories of Cameroon, reminded by his role in the ‘Michael Power’ action commercials and films that promoted Guinness Beer throughout West and Central Africa.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission would constitute the largest class action suit paid out by the Canadian government to 80,000 living survivors (out of 130,000 ??) of the residential schooling system perpetuated by the four major churches of Canada with the government’s express permission. The imperfection of the Canadian process is said to be that the same ‘fund’ was also used to educate the perpetrators and normalize society. Young first nations women disappear daily in Canada. What is normal society? What do they learn in their schools? I am not being only critical. There is also envy of a country — and its education system — that would grapple with the latest chapter in its share of the 16 million.
Bethany and I would co-write a study guide for New York high school students on the film, Hotel Rwanda for BAM. Did that happen?
Non sequitur easily reveals its Latin via the Portuguese infinitive ‘to follow’ or seguir. In a similar way as Kiswahili shows numerical indifference to the sequence of night and day. And how Ps and Rs may be seen as tricksters in English by Russian speakers.
I have had a good morning of writing. I did not write what I most needed to write. I seem to be allergic to proposal writing these days. I see George sleeping in bed on each trip to the kitchen for coffee. I enjoy making him breakfast. His alarm has gone off a couple times. He is still sleeping, yet the day is about to jolt full speed ahead. He will prepare for work. I will make an omelette. The omelette makes me proud, perfectly browned. I debate with myself whether the omelette’s success justifies the delayed proposal.