My Rwandan Bitch Slap

Have you ever really felt like a douche bag? I am not talking about your average moment of my-kids-are-better-than-your-kids, which-country-club-do-you-attend kind, I mean your own personal pinnacle of douchebaggery. Seriously, an entirely other level of first-world dweller nit-wit. Well, have you?

I have and here it is folks.

I once had the honor of dining with a great man who, in his most elegant way, made me feel just shy of two inches tall – and I was the better for it. It was a searingly, painfully, valuable experience in a “holy crap, how small and protected my little world really is” type of way.

He was Amb. Joseph Mutaboba and dinner was in an understated restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. I had been interning at the U.N for about two months, sleeping on my best friends couch in Hell’s Kitchen and having the time of my life.

My hair was slightly shorter than this, but similar in style

This particular day I spent at the German Embassy attending a roundtable discussion on public-private partnerships …international development…yada…yada…yada. I met Joseph, who was at that time serving as the Permanent Representative from Rwanda to the U.N., and a small group of us went out for dinner.

At dinner, it was your basic dinner conversation…you know the drill. I talked about my family, being the oldest of three kids, an average American upbringing with a Texas twist, my education, volunteer work, interests, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

I asked Joseph a similar line of questions. Educated in London, he still lived there with his wife and kids – as did his sister. “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I asked innocently. “There were eight of us, but now there are only two,” replied Joseph plainly and without effect. You see, turns out Joseph is Tutsi and his parents and siblings were murdered in the Rwandan genocide. He and his sister survived because they were living in London. Eight people that he held dear were gone. Vanished. And most brutally. Not to mention millions more of his countrymen and women.

I just sat there with, what must have been, a stupid look on my face. I had nothing remotely appropriate to say. So, what did I do? I started rambling about my volunteer work with the American Red Cross in Dallas, Texas. Are you cringing? Well, you should be. Just in case your not cringing on my behalf, let me tell you a wee bit about this volunteer work.

I started working with the American Red Cross between getting married and going to grad school. I would be on call for fires and natural disasters in my local area in order to help those affected to recover quickly (oh, and I love to be close to firemen – shhh…)

Here I come to save your day

To make it clear, I handed out juice boxes and crackers –  true American hero kind of shit. Perfectly respectable service to my local community, right? Yes, but placing it into this context propelled both my service and me into the realm of the ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I continued to ramble on…

Why do I keep talking? Why can’t I just shut up?

Seriously, I just kept on talking without one inkling of how I must have sounded. Finally, when I paused my douche-ery long enough to breathe, Joseph politely said, “what a nice middle-class-American-white-girl thing to do.”

Ouch, that’s gonna leave a mark

Simply humiliated would have been generous. Rather, I felt like the poster child for the Been Given Everything You Ever Wanted and Never Had a Day of True Hardship Society. And I am most certain that is how he saw me.

Joseph continues to do great things today. He is an elegant man that works to bring peace to a parts of the world that, unfortunately, have very little. I am blessed to have had the chance to know him, his story and the brutal truth.

Dear Joseph:

Thank you for your searing honesty and for helping me to see myself and my blessings in stark contrast.

Yours truly,

A middle-class-American-white girl


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