I’ve come across some weird and wonderful people over the years. So much so, I often wonder if my life isn’t really just a Truman Show style experiment. I’ve come across far too many characters for it to be random and imagine that somewhere out there, two TV producers are high-fiving one another for a job well done.
Or perhaps all these colourful characters, wonderfully whacky and brilliantly bold people I encounter are simply fodder for great blog content.
When I left home at the age 17, I picked the furthest point from my home town (while still being in the same country), and went there. Invercargill. From the moment I stepped off the train in my Waikato rugby jersey, I basically flew solo into a Wizard of Oz style tornado full also sorts of different people. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
I’m not sure where or how I first encountered Dave*, he kind of just appeared and then continued to appear on a regular basis. Luckily for me, Dave worked at a cleverly named Thai restaurant, and while he’d randomly appear on a regular basis… he almost always appeared with food. As a poor student with far more important things to waste my money on, this was super handy.
Dave was student just like me, but whatever he was studying, I know it wasn’t science, which made his semi regular sales pitch even less convincing. You see, Dave had a wee Mary-Jane habit, which meant every now and then for a bit of extra cash he would try and sell me his “million dollar” scientific theory. Remember now, Dave wasn’t a science student, he was a Thai restaurant waiter with a “theory” jotted on a napkin. What I loved though, was his passion, for someone with little knowledge he was very passionate about his theory. He was upbeat and passionate about a theory he really knew nothing about. Sometimes in life we should be more like Dave… up beat about the things we know nothing about, and excited to learn more.
When I moved to Invercargill I knew nobody, but that was the general idea. I guess at 17 years old, after years of the same city and same kids at school I felt a little like reinventing myself. Aged 28, four years after arriving in New Zealand as a Rwandan refugee, Francois arrived in Invercargill to studied journalism just like me. For Francois journalism had a far more powerful and poignant purpose though, I didn’t know living in a war ravaged country or having to flee my home and I certainly didn’t know what it was like to lose a family member in such a violent way.
Francois was my neighbour, classmate and friend; he would come knocking on my door to check I was okay if I missed a day of class, he invited me over for dinner, and he always without fail would say good morning. Francois fled Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, something my brain can barely wrap itself around.
At the time of the genocide, he’d recently returned from the Republic of Congo and was staying with his brother before starting at the local university. Fluent in French, English and over five African dialects, Francois had scored a job working as a translator and assistant for a doctor with the Red Cross. While out one evening at celebratory dinner with his employer (the eve before starting his job) Rwandan President Uvenal Habyarumana was killed after his plane was shot down…that changed everything, and Francois never started his new job and never again saw his brother.
After 48 hours of no government and complete chaos the killings started. Political leaders and people of power were killed almost immediately, entire families were killed at time and women were systematically and viciously raped.
People were brutally killed in their homes, and at roadblocks while trying to flee. In the weeks following, almost 800,000 men, women and children perished in the Rwandan genocide.
Initial during the outbreak Francois hid at his new employers place for several days, and was then evacuated to a hotel, where he helped tend to the wounded. As the days wore on, and governments started evacuating ex-patriots, it became clear that there were few places for a Rwandan to go, and Francois faced the prospect of being killed. Using his Congolese student ID and ability to speak the Congo dialect, Francois, at the suggestion of another Red Cross staff member, pretended to be Congolese and was evacuated to the Congo.
A year or so later, while working as a interpreter at a Rwandan refugee camp, Francois learned his brothers had been killed. From the Congo to Invercargill was still quite journey for Francois, as the situation at the camps became more dangerous due increasing violent attacks, Francois was forced to flee… this time to Kenya.
Once in Kenya, the UN recommended Francois to the New Zealand Government for refugee status.
All I did was jump on a plane and train… and I could always go home.
Join me next time for more of “Some Of The People I’ve Met” ha ha ha…