Thursday, November 03, 2005

So, I saw Paul Rusesabagina last night.

Thank you, Meg, for making that possible.

Here he was - it wasn't statistics, or a well-acted movie. It was Africa, in the flesh. Indeed, Paul often talked about Africa as a whole entity, remarking that "Africa is crying" in the state of the world right now. The idea that we in the West think, "I am because I am", the African sentiment is almost always a notion of "I am because we are". Paul exists because of the people around him, and he repeatedly identified those that assisted him during the 100 days of hell.

I don't want to turn this into another political rant, but it's hard to talk of Rwanda without getting political. I will say this, though: Paul Ruesesabagina is a modern-day hero, and in the face of being turned down and deserted by all the Western superpowers, he holds no ill will towards those that abandoned him. He kept perservering, until he was able to, in the end, save over 1,000 people from being slaughtered.

He is the definition of reconciliation. South Africa did this process in 1994, after apartheid, and it is being practiced, as we speak, by a man and a country who were left to die while the world watched. In the movie Hotel Rwanda, Joaquin Phoenix's character, an American journalist, tells Paul that when people see the horror of the genocide on TV, "they'll say, 'that's horrible'. Then they'll go on eating their dinner."

There is no easy way to go from here. Students at UWEC asked Paul for help in distinguishing what to do. We always want answers to problems, which sometimes helps us soften up the problem itself so that we can deal with it in a manageable way. This is completely valid. However, sometimes I think we just need to sit in this. Allow our minds to wrap around the absolute demonic display of human interactions that rivals the sickness of the Holocaust. Yet one must wonder, in the wake of continuing warfare in the Congo, Darfur (Sudan), and still in Rwanda today, if - as my friend David Tietze said - when people gathered around in the wake of World War II and 6 million dead, saying "Never again", what they should have said was: "Never white people."

Africa is a place of so much beauty. It is the beginning of human life, the birthplace of great civilizations, and yet, within its roots, there is suffering on a level I think is hard to even comprehend. Paul reflected this dynamic, bearing witness to the mass graves, the 'smell of death' that seemed to be infused in the air throughout Rwanda, and yet the hope that can come when people commit to getting things done.

Paul Ruesesabagina watched the fields turn to blood, a result of Belgian colonizers dividing the country into the 'desirables' and 'undesirables' - basically shaping Rwanda in their own unequal image, a country that was relatively stable and united before - and yet responded to the crowd with love and compassion. It's funny how Africa is looked upon today, yet it is a continent deeply affected by the decisions and outright actions of the so-called "First World".

As Paul said, "Behind every African dictator, there is a Western superpower." That is absolutely right. Maybe we can stop wondering how Africa can solve all its problems, and instead look at what we and our governments in the "developed" world have been responsible for.

In the words of Tony Blair, "If what is happening today in Africa was happening in the developed world, we would be falling over ourselves to help."


At 4:25 PM , Blogger PL said...

all right already, i'll watch the movie. you did leave it here, didn't you? i'm glad you got to go....


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