Tag Archives: pioneering

In Rwanda, colline is French for hill

red

The collines rolled 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.

up

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.

john

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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Louder

This do I swear:
that if at this very moment You were
to reach out with Your hand
and still my beating heart,
louder would it pound in Your heaven!

I wrote this poem in March, 1982, while en route to Rwanda from my home in Canada. I was making my way through England, Israel and Kenya to move to Africa to teach the Bahá’í Faith—to go, as it is said in my religion, “pioneering.”

I was, unfortunately, incredibly ill at the time. What started out as a small headache as I took off on the first leg of the trip quickly blossomed into a high fever and heavy chest infection; I ended up being very sick for a full week and still quite weak for longer after that. Thank heavens I was not superstitious!

Did my illness have anything to do with this poem? If it did, I wish I could get sick like that more often. Happiness is a characteristic of the body, but joy is a characteristic of the soul and on that journey, despite my illness, I was joyous!

It was, I have no doubt, the finest moment of my life and a time and a memory I will always treasure. Thank God for allowing me that moment.

Thank you for reading Louder. 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.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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That boulevard

We walked hand in hand,
the first time I had ever touched a man
and kept hold after the first embrace.
We must, I suppose, have talked of much,
although of what I cannot now recall.
But nothing said more
than what was said with that hold
as we strolled down that boulevard
like we owned it.

Your culture is not your language, what you eat or what you wear. You can learn the first, get used to the second and wear anything that’s decent, and still not be assimilated into a culture. Your culture is the instant, without thinking way that you react in a given situation…the “from the gut” or “knee jerk” reaction that you not only cannot control, but is so instinctive that you do not even realize that is is controlling you.

In North American culture, people of the same sex do not touch in public, or if they do, only briefly. Opposite sexes touch in public, and can remain touching. In Africa, it is the exact opposite. People of different sex never touch in public, while people of the same sex display friendship by holding on to each other continually. While you will rarely see a man and a woman, even if they are married, touching in public, you will often see two men or two women strolling hand-in-hand and talking. So for me, taking hold of an African man’s hand and walking down the street talking with him was not just an act of friendship and trust, it was an act of culture bending unity. On that day, in that time, we did own that boulevard.

Thank you for reading That boulevard. 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.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Upon a time

I went swimming once in Africa
to defy the water demons there—
bugs, hippos, worms and crocs, who,
(and this is true) do indeed fake it very well.
And as I dove in I thrilled then to think
“Hey Mr. Hippopotamus, where are you!?
Are you afraid to take me in your jaws,
to mix with me in my post?
Are you afraid to dance with me,
to roar me loudly home?
Come on Mr. Hippopotamus, where are you!?”

It all seems so silly now, I know,
yet there are times when cycling
when the sun starts pulsing through the trees
and the light starts dancing on the edge that soon
all I can hear is my muffled heart, in rhythm;
it gets cold and everything goes dark
and I start flailing to and fro
looking up and around
holding my breath,
treading water
and waiting,
just waiting…

Africa is beautiful, tragic and wonderful. Years ago I went there to live—first in Rwanda and then in Tunisia—for my religion. I am a Bahá’í and in my religion, the place you go to serve is referred to as your “post.”

I really did go swimming in Africa while I was in Rwanda, something ex-patriots seldom do because of the water born diseases and dangerous animals there. It was at Lake Kivu, high up in the hills (called locally moraines) where the dangers, although lessened, were still real. We stayed at a small, simple hotel run by an order of Belgian nuns; the area is close to the famous mountain gorilla habitat, although on that trip we did not go searching for them. I fear that after the Rwandan genocide, the hotel and a chance for a like experience, are now gone.

Thank you for reading Upon a time. 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.

john

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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