Wednesday, September 29, 2010

GBC Question #19

Question #19 is another head scratcher for me: A book that changed your mind about a particular subject (non-fiction). What? Fiction can't also be used to educate?

WARNING: This turned out to be very long. Go grab a cup of tea before you start reading it.

I read a lot of non-fiction but I usually read it because I don't know much (or anything) about the subject and therefore want to be educated about it. I learn from it and possibly form opinions based on it, but if I haven't already made up my mind, how can it change my mind? I decided, instead, to look at the non-fiction books which have had a great impact on my life.

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Lt.-Gen (Ret.) The Honourable Roméo Dallaire.
Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis
I wrote about Shake Hands earlier in these questions as a book that was difficult to read, but for me it was also a book which was life changing. It also lead me to reading Race Against Time. I lumped these two together because they are books that impacted me in the same way.

When I was growing up, my dad used to have a huge map of the world on the wall (some times in the dinning room, sometimes in the hallway) and once a week, he'd get me to stick flags in it, five news stories which I had heard on CBC (the only radio station acknowledged in my parent's houses) in five different countries. I'd tell him what they were as I'd stick in the pins and we'd talk about them. I stuck a pin in Rwanda once. There was a genocide going on. I was 14 and didn't quite understand what 'genocide' meant. I knew a lot of people were dying, I didn't realise it meant the systematic mass murder of a ethnic or religious people. A week later, I moved the pin to another country and that was that.

Skip forward ten years to a rainy Friday night and my impulse purchase while waiting for the bus. I read that book and faint memories of hearing about Rwanda came back to me. I was struck with the simple question Dallaire asked, are some humans more important than others? The book moved me, pressing me to learn more about what had happened. I read more books, trolled the Internet and, eventually, decided I was strong enough to see the documentary Shake Hands with the Devil. While watching the film, they play an audio clip of Michael Enright interviewing Dallaire and as the clip played, I snapped back to being fourteen, sitting at the dinning room table with my mom and stepdad, listening to As It Happens. It was like a door opened and I remembered everything that I had heard back then. I remembered the pin, but this time I knew what genocide meant.

Stephen Lewis was interviewed for the documentary and I instantly liked him. He was honest, straight forward and truthful yet the strongest word he ever used was 'poppycock'. I decided I had to read his book and found a copy a few days later. The book begins with the observation "I have spent the last four years watching people die." Yet the book is incredibly hopeful and by the end, I felt there was a possible solution to the end of, or at least the stemming of the tide that is, HIV/AIDS.

Through these two men--in print, in the movie, and in speeches I attended--I learned so much and it inspired me to do more. In Tanzania, I learned even more. I can not stress how important education is to stopping HIV/AIDS. Not just because it teaches the children how to prevent it, but because education is a way to break the cycle of poverty. It is a way to help women make an income which doesn't involve selling their body. Education also makes it harder to teach people to hate, to devalue human lives. It caused a shift in how I donate my money, both at home and abroad.

While I was in Tanzania, I spent a day at the Arusha ICTR (or as everyone else calls it, the War Crimes Tribunal). Arusha was picked as the location as it was the location of the failed Peace Accord which lead to the Rwandan genocide. As I sat in the room with my headphones on, listening to a gentleman give evidence regarding the actions taken in a school, I found my mind wandering through all of the events which had brought me to this moment. I thought of the horrors that I had read about, that other people had experienced, and yet they still came through the other side (with help and perhaps a few prescriptions) to think that the world can be a better place. I will never have the opportunity to thank Dallaire for writing his book, for causing me to care more about the world I inhabit, and for being the encouragement I needed to get involved, but I hope that he knows that his actions have paid it forward in a million little ways.

[photo by Kara]

The is Junior. He was the sweetest, gentlest child I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He never clamoured for attention like the other children, he was just happy when you remember he was there. He rarely spoke and he waited patiently for his food to be brought to him while the other children made a fuss. He was the perfect child except that his body has slowly been killing him since the day he was born. Junior is HIV+. Every day, it killed me a little bit inside to know that this adorable boy who wanted nothing more than to be hugged didn't have a future. Yet every story I tell of him now makes me smile and laugh, and I wouldn't trade my memories of him, both good and bad, for the world. For that, I thank you.

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