Sunday, April 15, 2007

Now we are... 25

My siblings were full of excitement as they ran to greet me at our Paris apartment. The plan was to meet in belle Paris on the morning of the 6th, and celebrate their combined 25th birthdays in the city of light. Apart from the minor glitch of embarking up the rickety elevator to the eighth floor of Batiment A instead of Batiment B and having a strange but not unpleasant conversation with an old lady and her very friendly cat, I arrived at the designated meeting place and the adventure began. I have to say, T chose well - the apartment had a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower, which was even more impressive at night.

We took every opportunity to explain to people that T&J had chosen Paris as the destination for their Golden Jubilee of twinhood and that therefore shopowners and airline staff alike should be suitably proud... and welcoming. Disappointingly, we didn't get any freebies, but lots of smiles. As we ate our lunch in the park, they indicated to me, with a combined selection of fingers and toes just how old they are now!
We spent the weekend visiting museums, having our pictures drawn and attempting to find vegetarian restaurants. We can now recommend two very good venues, both in interesting and accessible areas of Paris.

Now that the birthday is over and T&J have gone, I'm feeling a void. And it's not just because they took my laptop home with them, although that has taken some adjustment. It's dawned on me that my sister has actually moved to Hobart and therefore won't be in Sydney when I return - one of the many changes I will have to adjust to when I am back home.

A thousand hills, a thousand smiles

The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the airport at Kigali was the green-ness of Rwanda's rainy season. I was told that the place looks completely different at other times of the year. When I commented that Rwanda lived up to its reputation as the land of a thousand hills, my host said it was known as the land of "a thousand hills, a thousand problems". It didn't seem fair to me that such a beautiful place should be known only for these "problems" that were brought to international attention in a tragic event over ten years ago.

While there's no denying the impact of the genocide on the country, what surprised me was the way that people have dealt with it. While I sit at my desk back in Geneva talking and writing about peacebuilding and the aftermath of mass atrocities, the people I met are living these realities. On my first day in the country, the car I was in was stopped by armed soldiers. They looked very young to me, and it was my first experience of small arms up close.

I was welcomed by Quakers in Kigali and ate a delicious meal at Friends Peace House in the impressive building that was only recently completed. I was inspired to hear that Quaker processes such as the AVP workshops have been adapted for trauma healing work and that people have seen the results as they begin to heal hurts, forgive, and rebuild their communities.

After a slightly bumpy bus ride to Kibuye, we arrived at a luxurious resort by the lake. Although many people were afraid to swim, I bravely edged in but kept close to the shore. During the meetings, it was others who bravely told their stories, while I tended to listen. It was overwhelming to meet so many people from all over Africa and beyond who are engaged in so many areas of peace work, despite obstacles that they've faced in their lives.

But my time in Rwanda wasn't all serious. The fact that everyone has a story of sadness made their laughter so much more real. Wherever I went, I was greeted with a smile, and the re-commencement of meetings was signalled by the sound of voices lifted in song, rather than a bell. The talent night involved an impressive display of poetry, song, dance and a spectacular African fashion show had all of us in fits of laughter as women, and even one man, strutted their stuff.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Peace by peace

Just this week the blossoms have begun to fill the trees, and daffodils are emerging, as if from nowhere. Birds are singing as they busily make their nests. Spring has arrived. This time of year always makes me feel cheerful, and full of hope.

I associate hope, spring and flowers with orange shirts, flares and the peace rallies of my childhood. While these are now distant memories, nuclear weapons, sadly, are not. Last week I attended a meeting on “Challenges to International Security and the Non-Proliferation Regime on the Eve of the Next Review Cycle of the NPT[1]”. This meeting confirmed for me that now, more than ever, countries need to put aside their differences to find agreement on the main points of the NPT: non-proliferation of the non-nuclear weapons states, disarmament of the nuclear weapons states, and agreement around the “peaceful” production of nuclear energy. It seems that there is a stalemate, or a “crisis of trust” as one commentator put it, despite the progress made by regional groupings in implementing nuclear-weapons-free zones.

Despite this stalemate, there was a sense of hope when the Conference on Disarmament (CD) re-commenced this Spring. They are actually talking about agreement on a Programme of Work that might result in new international negotiations and agreements, so the mood is positive While states discuss possible agenda items such as the “Prevention of an arms race in outer space”, and “Transparency in armaments”, these issues are made real by contemporary issues such as China’s anti-satellite test in outer space in January this year.

The process of building peace seems at times an insurmountable challenge. But as I left the Palais des Nations last week, it was not only the sight of daffodils popping out of the ground that gave me renewed hope. Towering above me was the “Broken Chair”, a startling symbol of the international community’s commitment to repair the devastating impacts of conflict and war. Originally built as a reminder of the commitment to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the chair has just recently been re-instated outside Geneva’s UN Building and encourages me to keep faith in the multilateral processes of peace and disarmament.

[1] The 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)