Writing about Rwanda
Of all the places I wrote about in Inside, Rwanda is the only one I’ve never seen for myself. I was (and am) very nervous about including it, for that reason.
In the book, a Canadian aid worker struggles to recover from his experiences working in Rwanda in 1994. Like many people, I’d read Philip Gourevitch’s heartbreaking We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, as well as other accounts and news stories, and watched the PBS Frontline special Ghosts of Rwanda on the ten-year anniversary of the genocide. But the section of Inside dealing with Rwanda came specifically out of listening to interviews with U.N. peacekeeper Roméo Dallaire.
Dallaire was shattered by the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide—both the tragedy itself and the political gamesmanship that prevented the U.N. forces from acting decisively to avert it. He could not get over his own guilt over this. He went to therapy, he tried to commit suicide, he brooded and cried and drank. He has gone on to write and speak extensively about Rwanda, but he will forever, it seems to me, be haunted by it.
I strongly recommend Dallaire’s book Shake Hands with the Devil. You can also listen to an interview with him here.
Inside is about attempts to rescue people who are in trouble. What drives us to try to help others? What does it mean to be the witness to other people’s trauma? How does it affect those on either side of the equation? Including this section that touches on the Rwandan genocide was, for me, part of writing about that theme on a larger scale.