In Rwanda, colline is French for hill


The collines roll on to the horizon, green drifting into dark,
verdant into resigned and all of it into the red quivering sunset.
And me there thinking it back literally for as long
as we have measured it: up eye, down eye, see-us-all bloody eye,
never-stop-rising eye, blind to it all; the victims begging,
their wide eyes screaming, the yelling, the weeping,
the hoarse men grunting, excited to be on the hunt.

Thus it has gone and thus it goes still, repeating ever so,
their echoes floating up and down the valleys below—
les pauvres, the ones we sit and watch go home
to the cool, cool dark—the loam of them drifting off into green,
resigned into verdant, and all of it under the crimson sun,
literally for as long as it has watched us.


My home in Rwanda (I was there as a Bahá’í to teach my religion) looked to the west over the collines (pronounced cull-LEANs) directly into the most spectacular sunsets. Beyond this, the poem ties together a number of other thoughts and memories of Africa:

• it’s beauty. The vista of rolling, green treed hills fading into black at the horizon was stunning.

• Rwanda is close to the equator but in the highlands of Africa. The sun at that latitude often seemed to be a big, red eye burning into the horizon as it set.

• Africa is the birthplace of humanity. We do not know the exact region where homo sapiens first evolved, but it was probably close to Rwanda, in Central Africa. In any case, it is in Africa where we, as a species, first developed the concept of, and started measuring, time.

• it would be comforting to think that the 1994 Rwandan genocide was an isolated event. Sadly it is not, and not just in Rwanda but throughout the entire continent. Tribal dominance and warfare have been and is, in Africa, just as unrelenting as every other form of political violence has been, and is, throughout the rest of the world. What makes it so disheartening in Rwanda is not only that it happened in 1994, and before that in the early 1960s, and is still happening today north of Rwanda, in Uganda, and over the western border in the Congo.  Moreover, the very personal nature of this kind of violence typifies African conflicts: up front and personal, usually machete, and often, neighbor to neighbor.

May we all look forward to a day soon to come when the cries of those poor victims of violence—nos pauvres—will no longer be heard anywhere in this sad, beleaguered world, nor will anyone be put to rest in the dark, loamy soil earlier then the time when God calls them.

Thank you for reading In Rwanda, colline is French for hill. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at Eastern Point Beach in Groton, Connecticut. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


Poem and notes © 2013 by John Etheridge; photograph © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.


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8 responses to “In Rwanda, colline is French for hill

  1. Elan Mudrow

    Nice writing! I enjoyed it a lot.
    check out:

    • Thank you for the nice compliment, I appreciate your taking the time to drop a line. And also for the reference to Passion Torn, which I immediately started following because I was blown away by it. Is that your site or one that you are recommending? In either case, thank you so much for the reference! Just the fact that you read my poem and thought to link me up with Passion Torn is a great compliment.

  2. This is a powerful piece. I really enjoyed the sharing of information afterwards. Beautiful and educational. =)

    • Thank you! As I grow older I value my time in Africa more and more. What happened there is a tragedy beyond words that hurts every time I think of it. I can only deal with it in poetry.

  3. Wow. You brought an amazing sunset to your blog, along with a good poem. T

  4. Beautifully done, John. Loved the background to it as well. Not for nothing is Africa known as the ‘dark continent’. Its peoples can be quite vicious, cruel and unforgiving. In fact, although I’ve lived here all my life, I find it can be quite barbaric and am not sure whether it can ever be saved. Of course not all fit that mould and there’s always hope…

    • From my time in Africa, I think the main issue is one of desperation and hope. I firmly believe that if you give a society decent jobs with decent wages and a chance for its children to be educated, there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome. Africa is so beautiful…it is so sad what it is like right now. But as you say, there is always hope…