Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life

Article excerpt

Eighteen years after Rwanda's bloodbath I disembarked from my flight and was surprised to see that mortar craters no longer pitted the airport tarmac. At a city cafe where I recall Hutu militias swigging lager next to a pile of severed hands, I saw a pretty blonde in a short dress, shades, red lipstick, reading a book. My sniper alleys were lined with streetlights where young Rwandans walked home from work; the dunes of stinking corpses had become business parks.

My contact hadn't changed a bit. He still smokes like a soldier but his hair, like mine, is turning white prematurely. His kids came with him to collect me from the hotel. 'Did your father tell you what he did in the war?'

They shook their heads. 'He never talks about it.' 'He was my guardian angel, ' I say.

My friend had escorted me in a column of fighters all the way from Uganda to Kigali across the hills, fighting all the way, wading through rivers clogged with bodies, through villages of putrefaction. We woke to the thump of mortars and observed massacres unfolding on opposite hillsides, the screams heard on gusts of wind.

I finally returned to Rwanda to do business, not to cover a war. 'It's time, ' my whitehaired friend agreed. 'Don't we deserve to smell the roses?' For decades I've worked as a hack and lived on the whiff of an oily rag. Along the way I've picked up diseases, an alcohol problem, debts - but I've also found myself in the trenches with interesting people. They fought to overturn dictatorships and to introduce a degree of democracy in Africa and became the leaders of their countries. I never thought about using my contacts. For far too long I wandered about getting hit by IEDs, shot at, infected with dysentery, forced to doorstep officials or listen to foreign NGO idiots in their twenties talking nonsense about Africa. No more. Forget it. It's over. It's time to join the gravy train. Whenever I call up an old rebel who became a friend during hard times - when nobody in the world was taking notice of them except a small circle of hacks - I am always surprised at how overjoyed they are to hear from me. The same goes for my friend in Kigali.

On my first night back in the city, I could not sleep. I thought about the killings all night. The city is full of avocado trees and in 1994 when we were hungry we subsisted on their fruits and I ate them wherever I stood. For years afterwards I couldn't touch an avocado. …

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