In most college classes it is common to leave class feeling very indifferent or unfazed by the content, the course and its life lessons. Attending my first QU 301 South Africa class was my first opportunity to open my eyes and realize this class isn’t about going through the motions, it’s about preparing and planning to make a difference in a few short months.
The beginning half of class focused on the concept of reflecting and its role of importance throughout the semester and our journey abroad. The idea and practice of reflecting is one I feel very strongly about because it gives concrete value to experiences. Reflecting in writing is the physical manifestation of the emotions felt during, and in response to, experiences. To reflect is to learn and to appreciate not only for that moment in time but as a basis in the rest of life’s experiences. I have spent years keeping journals and travel logs and through these writing I can relive the experiences and feel again the emotions I felt then. When this journey is said and done I feel that I will look back at this very blog post and be able to see, through the reflections, a time line of growth, knowledge and experiences. In other words, this is only just the start!
At one point during the class Professor Gallay presented us a South African book of humor about the United States. The name alone caught my attention because it’s hard to hear- The Racist’s Guide to The People of The United States of America and not be a bit curious just how much is more accurate than we ourselves would like to admit.
To test just how shockingly accurate the book was (although humorous) Professor Gallay pulled up some maps and asked us to locate some countries. In alarmingly poor fashion we struggled with each country and resorted to a sort of guessing game. What’s sad to me is that we weren’t fazed by this lack of knowledge; we instead laughed and joked about it. We as Americans are taught to be close minded about the world and are never given the experience to learn with others. Through independent learning only can one have access to the happenings of the world past and present. We should take pride in our ability to gain knowledge and not gawk at our lack of it. It is as if our minds are restricted to the borders or our nation, our state and even sometimes our community as if we live in isolation from the rest of the world.
After being thrown into the depths of reflecting and the lack of humor in A Racist’s Guide to The People of The United States of America, we were given the task to watch and reflect on a movie called Shake Hands with The Devil. In all honesty I was a bit apprehensive about this movie since we were warned of its graphic nature and subject matter. I will say however that at the end of the movie it wasn’t the graphic nature I felt uncomfortable about but the absolute disregard for human emotion and rights given not only to the people of Rwanda but to Romeo Dallaire as well. We went over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in class so I viewed the movie with those rights in mind. It was shockingly obvious that there was little care for the rights of the humans in Rwanda leading up to and during the genocide.
The pain between the Hutus and the Tutsis is hard to accept and comprehend but what isn’t as obvious is the pain Dallaire experienced and still experiences. At one point in the movie my heart ached for him as he stood before the people of Rwanda and said that he felt as though he had failed them. Just minutes earlier in the movie Dallaire stated the pain in feeling “the loudness in silence” and in the silence following his statement I felt that pain he talked of. He was the outsider, he did not have to help them but he chose to put his life on hold and forego his pristine reputation for these people. Dallaire entered Rwanda with little support from the UN but he came with respect for the people and a willingness to press forward. Although I had previously learnt about the genocide I had never heard the story of Romeo Dallaire.
Seeing Romeo Dallaire’s struggle and his perseverance to push forward regardless of his own personal hardships really moved me. Dallaire saw the beauty and fought for the beauty that no one else seemed to understand or value. He was the hero for acting morally, for disregarding the critics and for fighting for what was right and not of popular option. At one point in the movie they showed a collapsed church filled with human remains and debris which was shocking in and of itself but what struck me above all else was the fallen Jesus crucifix. This broken and dirtied statue lay on top of the massacred Tutsi people in what I believe to be sheer symbolism of the struggle these people went through and how easy it could have been to lose faith in such a trying time. As the credits began to roll I took a minute to myself and felt an overwhelming compassion for Romeo and wished I could reach out and give him a hug for his generosity and perseverance.