Saturday, June 14. Kigali, Rwanda.
Met this morning with Aaron Schubert, Shirley’s friend and former tenant. Totally charming, beautiful guy. He’s been here two years, working with UNICEF, and for the last 14 months he’s lived with Jean-Paul, his Rwandan partner. Aaron is just as special as Shirley and Tupo said but unfortunately he leaves tomorrow for Gisenyi, a village on Lake Kivu near the Congolese border. He’ll be gone one week and has asked me to dinner at his house on Sunday the 22nd, the night before I leave.
Tall, blue-eyed, Aaron is probably in his early thirties. Before Kigali, he was in Malawai for two years with the Peace Corps. I’m a bit nervous, thinking I might overwhelm him with too many questions after my two and a half weeks of displacement. But all goes well. He told me a long story about meeting a Rwandan man on the street who had noticed him jogging several times. The man, who had never had contact with another gay man, handed Aaron a love letter. Aaron went to his home, basically a hut with no electricity or running water, its walls pasted with pages torn from fashion magazines.
Aaron decided to find other gay men in Kigali. a dozen who told him their stories but in each case they didn’t want to be photographed – unless it was their hands or something non-identifying. Aaron assembled the stories into a photo presentation that he showed in a gallery in the States last year.
Shirley calls in the afternoon, saying she’d booked massages for us both at 6:30 p.m. at the Golf & Tennis Club. Very strange. The masseuse had no training, no finesse, no personality. I could sense that she didn’t want to be there – there was something cut-off, deadened about her. I’m wondering if “massage,” for many of her customers, is in fact sexual; and if, like so many Rwandan women, she was raped during the genocide. Shirley makes a point, when we arrive and when we leave, of addressing the women as “Madame.”
We drive to an Italian restaurant which you approach by a pitted, unpaved road. I order a beer and we have a nice chat about our respective fathers; her mom, who died a few months ago at 95; and “The Greatest Silence,” an amazing documentary by the U.S. filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson, about the epidemic of rape and genital mutilation in the Congo. This was also the subject of “Ruined,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that ran in New York last year. I interviewed Lisa Jackson for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008 and she called the crisis “a holocaust in slow motion.”
(For more on “The Greatest Silence,” go to www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/05/DDNG1004G7.DTL.)
Once home, Shirley gives me a 3-part kiss and a hug, wishes me well over the next 7 days when she’ll be in Kenya. She surprises me by offering the use of her car. A grand and generous offer but I immediately decline. I wouldn’t think of driving in Kigali.