The Experiences of Kevin Michaud working for the ICRC

This was one of the most interesting and painful lectures I have ever listened to. I decided to write about the conversation with Kevin Michaud and some of the things he said… because my mind has continued to dwell on it over the weekend no matter how much I try and focus on other thoughts. I will sit down to do or read something and I will find that my mind will be dragged back to the lecture or the responses to questions that Mr. Michaud made. I have found myself bouncing back and forth in my thoughts between phrases I hear echoing from his talk and then an image I get from different readings. I think the fact that my brain does that is a testimony to how some of the experiences in genocide are so universal and so similar and how our perceptions of them in our learnings are also colored by what we see, expect and filter through our own thoughts, biases and experiences. So for those of you who didn’t make it to the seminar, here are a few excepts from it and my thoughts on them….

"Bill Clinton told his staff to not use the word genocide because if they did he would be required to act."

I read something about this in some of the links for the Rwandan genocide as well as the textbook reading. I’m not even sure what to say about this. It feels a little bit like a boy in a sandbox with all the toys and the adults are his and he sees a child sitting by the side of the sandbox… and he tells everyone to ignore that child so he doesn’t have to share his toys, blessings, benefits, etc… Was President Clinton too busy having sex with his interns to pay attention to the fact that people were dying and suffering in large numbers? (That was a low blow, sorry) Clearly not as he realized it and actively worked on making sure he didn’t have to do anything. I don’t understand how someone can become so focused on getting the job of the US presidency and then want to hold onto it so much that many of the reasons that they wanted that position are no longer valid…. and they no longer do what they say they wanted to do. I can recognize that as an outsider who has never had the job that I do not understand the nuances and stressors that the job actually entails. However, as a human being I am still accountable for my decisions by others and if I have picked values and things that I believe are important… I should stick with them. It’s a tiring phrase, but “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right” is really true. Maybe he wouldn’t have been elected again, but he would have done the right thing and isn’t that what we are all supposed to do. I am once again disappointed in my country and the men and the few women who run it. I am constantly told that I am so blessed to be an American… it appears that I am because I can have a few freedoms women in other countries do not and can over consume and be a little safer. I’m not sure that is a blessing if I look at the fact that I live and consume and pay for leaders who let others die for their own comfort and mine… The sad thing is that President Clinton deeply regrets his decision to not act in this case and around the same time, the American public was angry at him for responding in Somalia (which is the main reason he chose to not send the military into Rwanda. I guess it’s easy for me to suggest the right choices now. It’s just so sad though...

"Investigating mass graves – more than twenty years on I still smell them"

What a painful statement… that he ended up making a few times over the discussions on the different situations and genocides he responded to. One thing that I thought was interesting about this statement was I thought I knew the reasons for examining mass graves- body count discover missing individuals, possible autopsy for causes of death, etc… When Kevin mentioned that he did that with the Red Cross it made me wonder what the full motivations and reasons for doing that really are and if the fact that he can still ‘smell’ it is really worthwhile. I found that the task of figuring out all the reasons was really challenging from an internet perspective and only found variations on the same ideas I had: ‘ finding out what happened’, ‘discover the missing or ‘lost’, quelling speculation and questions as well as to restore the dignity of the victims themselves. One site was specific that opening up and examining mass graves ‘provides vital evidence for war crime prosecutions’ while other sites had the same sentiment that examining these places of death helps bring the perpetrators to justice. My question on that is why is a ‘neutral’ group doing any of that process- I can’t imagine that looks neutral and I wondered if at least that particular trauma could be spared from people in these groups like the Red Cross….? So that is an idea that I need more information on and I am sorry that he had to deal with those images and smells along with the other things he did.

"I saw it… I still live it…. I’m broken"

This really hurt to hear and he repeated parts of it over and over again. It made me wonder if things might have been different for him if he had more breaks and more support between assignments and if they changed the assignments so that certain aspects of the job were held by different individuals allowing a little more sheltering of the one person on top. In some cases, I would see that as a bad thing, but in cases like this, I wonder if it would help protect the resiliency of the volunteers and those who give so much to it. Dealing with hatred and the consequences of it over and over and feeling beaten by it constantly is a process that cannot help by cause people to feel broken, to feel like the pain and trouble is so big that it overflows them and they can no longer be a whole person. Maybe that is one reason that I believe in reconciliation so much… I want people to be able to be whole. And maybe I feel so strongly because I want that for myself. I could never do his work… I wish that I could. A part of me has always wanted to help people, but when I try I feel like I not only haven’t made a difference, I have only hurt myself. When he was talking, I thought of a practice of repairing broken objects by the Japanese called Kintsukuroi. I don’t know much about it, but I have a picture of a vase on my wall that was repaired by it. The vase has several breaks in it- some that are from the top to the bottom- and it has been repaired by using precious metals like gold. It is no longer valuable only as a vase and something to look at but as something that retains both of its original attributes but now has value as something that has survived something bad and is more valuable and beautiful for it. I wonder how Kevin and those around him can help him heal and see the parts of him that haven’t healed in a twisted, ugly scar… but are healing into parts that are beautiful and more valuable than the original. Something that caused pain (and may still) but can also be cherished as a new part of the person. Maybe that is easy for me to say because I haven’t had his experiences and I probably will not, but that was what was in my mind as he spoke and I wished I had even a small way to help him fill the cracks with gold and things that make him feel more cherished and valued for his experiences and less ‘broken’.

"Some people are alive today because of what we did… the difference in the lives of a few people."

I am still torn from my research about whether Aid agencies are really helpful in the long term scheme of things. However, what I am sure of is that human beings have caused war as long as they have existed and some suggest even before we were ‘fully’ Homo sapiens. So even if the criticisms of NGO’s keeping wars going on longer is true, I’m not sure that we can give them full blame for the beginning of conflicts. And I do imagine that in the thick of it, he did help people survive who would have had no chance. Thinking about the man, walking down the beach and throwing starfish back into the seas… ‘What I do matters to this one.’ And that is good and right. In his place, I hope I would do the same thing.

I am so grateful for the experience to listen to him and to hear about his experiences. I hope he continues to find fulfilling things in his life and can feel less 'broken' over time. A good man.

pictures from: http://voiceseducation.org/content/rwanda-poetry-genocide, http://nehandaradio.com/2011/04/06/mass-grave-bodies-must-be-exhumed-by-forensic-experts/, https://www.pinterest.com/valerieglerum/11-scars-cuts-and-bruises/,

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