September 30, 2007

The drama of "Shake Hands with the Devil" brings Rwandan tragedy into focus, again.

Roy Dupuis, as Gen. Romeo Dallaire in 'Shake Hand with the Devil'It's not sensationalized, and there are no real heroes in the "rah-rah" Hollywood sense. It's an international co-production starring a Canadian actor. I doubt that "Shake Hands With the Devil" will be widely exhibited or receive much media attention in the United States, although I sincerely hope that I'm proven wrong about that.

This movie can only remind the viewer of the devastation of armed conflict and how the innocent invariably get caught in the middle and suffer for the sake of other people's agendas.

In the movie "Shake Hands With the Devil", actor Roy Dupuis portrays General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian leader of UNAMIR, the United Nations peace-keeping mission in Rwanda, with incredible sensitivity, humanity and smouldering frustration.

The movie takes a natural, straight-forward and inglorious approach to telling the story of the horrific Rwandan genocide. This is just like the tone and style in which Romeo Dallaire himself described it in the book on which the movie is based. As in the book, you feel as if, in some small way, you have witnessed the suffering and death of the innocent, have seen the ineffectiveness and lack of commitment of the United Nations (and many major world governments including the U.S.), and have felt Dallaire's frustration and helpless torment at not being given the mandate, people or equipment with which to prevent the deaths of almost a million people.

You truly feel as if you are walking with Dallaire through his experiences, and to some small degree are bearing witness yourself to a horrible series of human tragedies. I think it is a credit to the movie and to the measured and restrained portrayal of Roy Dupuis. The movie is as inglorious as it is beautiful and hauntingly realistic. There is such a prevailing mood of cold, depressing bleakness, that when there are moments of heroism, like when Dallaire and his second-in-command get out of their vehicle and walk the gauntlet, or when Dallaire saves a few goats from being slaughtered because "something has to survive", you feel a mix of relief and emotional exhaustion, as if the respite is too little too late.

That is, I think, the point that Dallaire made about the response of the world to the Rwandan tragedy as well - it was too little, too late.

Shake Hand with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
After watching the movie, I highly recommend reading Dallaire's excellent book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. This is his tragic and awe-inspiring first-hand account of his experiences inside the Rwandan genocide.

My original review of Dallaire's moving book is located here:
Book Review: "Shaking Hands with the Devil"

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September 13, 2007

Ode to a Dead Bird on Sept. 11th

A few days ago, on September 11th, 2007, a co-worker and I discovered a dead bird outside our office window.

It was the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Images of that morning here in Vancouver came into my mind, as I'm sure it did for many people. But other than that, September 11, 2007 had started out as a weird morning too, full of nagging little annoyances and discomforts...

Not long after waking up, I got something small and painful stuck in my right eye - like a whisker. My eye went red and watered so much that I couldn't open it much for an hour. This irritation developed into a nagging, annoying headache behind my right eye, which lasted the better part of the day.

My co-worker Victor and I discovered a little chipping sparrow laying dead on it's back, on the second floor balcony right outside my office window. It's little eyes were open, and it's feet were straight up - rigormortis. It must have hit the building pretty fast and died from the impact. Very sad. I love to feed the sparrows and chickadees whenever my wife and I go to the Reiffel Bird Sanctuary out in Ladner. They'll land right on your hand and eat the seed out of your palm if you stand still for a moment or two.

Victor and I discussed the idea of burying the bird somewhere. I thought that burying it under the dirt in a large ceramic planter on the balcony would be quick and reasonable, and might provide some kind of acceptable burial for the poor little thing. Victor suggested that on the ground under a nearby tree would be better. I pictured one of the ladies who manages our office complex trying to dispose of it. Neither of us did anything, but I resolved myself to give the little bird some kind of burial/disposal.

By the time lunch came, my headache was bugging me more, and I felt that I didn't want to be around too much light or noise. I felt a bit anxious about it, but decided to go with my workmates for a quick walk of a few blocks so I could pick up some lunch and return to the office. Vancouver is enjoying a truly delayed summer and it was a beautiful, hot and sunny day. Walking outside with my workmates, the bright sunlight and intense heat really started to bother me. This is a rare thing. I normally love being in the sun, having a walk and getting some fresh air. But this time, all I could think about was getting back inside some dark, air conditioned place as soon as possible. I was maybe a tad over-hungry or dehydrated as well. I just wanted to get away from excess light and noise, and find somewhere quiet to cool off, eat my lunch and get some work done. My reactions are basically a mild form of migraine headache I think. It has happened periodically since I was a teen.

On the walk back to the office, I visualized myself picking up the dead bird and dumping it in a hole in the large planter. I was a little worried that people might see me, and not know what I was doing. It could work, I decided, if I was fast enough. Someone had to take care of that little bird.

I holed up in an unused office and closed the door. Thank god for air conditioning, I sighed, as I felt myself cooling down. After popping a couple of Tylenol (thanks Victor!) and eating lunch, my headache finally went away, and the little bird came back into my mind. I worked alone in the office for a little while more, and then decided that the dead bird wasn't my responsibility, and why did I have to always go worrying about stuff like that anyway? Someone else can deal with it.

So, it's been a couple of days now, and the dead bird is still out there. When I turn my head to the left, I can kind of see it laying on the deck. Maybe I'll dispose of that little bird tomorrow. This is just going to get worse...