Encounters with conflict and peace

A journalist's story

Fergal Keane travelled through Rwanda in June 1994 during the last weeks of the genocide. WIth producers David Harrison and Rizu Hamid, sound recordist Tony Wende and cameraman Glenn Middleton, he was there to record a documentary for the BBC's Panorama program. His book Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey was the winner of the 1995 Orwell Prize. In this excerpt he describes waking up on the morning they are about to enter Rwanda...
Fergal Keane
The news out of Rwanda was bleak. As the rebels advanced, they were discovering more bodies, thousands of bodies in churches and community halls.

The siege of Kigali had intensified and there was frequent mortar and shell fire. At the end of the news David switched off the radio, looked across in my direction and said with classical understatement, 'It should be an interesting few weeks, old boy.'

I turned towards the wall for a last few moments' sleep but instead found myself thinking back to something that was said to me by a friend in Nairobi. He had just come out of Rwanda and was sitting at the terrace bar of the Norfolk Hotel, drunk and tired and lapsing from one long silence into another. Around us were groups of tourists either going to, or returning from, safaris in Kenya's national parks. They were happy and excited, exchanging tips on insect repellent, sunburn, the best times of day to see different animals. I wondered if they had heard anything about the genocide taking place a couple of hours' flight away in Rwanda.

Misty hills, Rwanda
Occasionally my friend would pipe up and begin to say something about Rwanda but he had passed the stage of drunken fluency. There were now only bursts of words, scrambled and squelched out in an agonising rant. He knew he was too drunk to make much sense and got up, weaving through the tables towards the hotel lobby. I followed him, guiding him towards the elevator, where he turned to say goodnight. As the lift doors opened, he put his hand on my shoulder and blurted his goodbye message: 'It's in the soul, man... spiritual damage is what it is...'

Strange talk even in drink. The soul. Spiritual damage. As a group foreign correspondents are not given to discussions of a metaphysical or existential nature. We are trained in the school of the present, taught to analyse the tangible. There are men and women with spiritual beliefs, but these are rarely if ever discussed with colleagues. I could only conclude that something had changed inside my friend. Something that he had seen or experienced, perhaps the collected images of weeks, had prompted this hard-headed reporter to contemplate the soul of man.

We drank and ate our dried biscuits in silence. Afterwards we trooped out and saw that a thick mist had come down overnight and spread itself like a curtain across the road south to Rwanda.

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