Heroes From a Modern "Greeneland" -- Andrew Crofts
My Christmas stocking this year included “Russian Roulette – The Life and Times of Graham Greene”, the latest biography of the novelist by Richard Greene, a Canadian professor of English, (and no relation).
The book reminded me vividly of how much of an influence Graham Greene, and "Greeneland", have been on the directions my life has taken, particularly regarding the destinations that have left me with the most emotive memories and powerful stories.
Haiti, and especially the Grand Hotel Oloffson, more than lived up to all the promises of dark excitement that I first felt when reading “The Comedians”, right down to the fact that one of the original characters Greene had used in the book, (Aubelin Jolicouer who inspired the character of Petit Pierre), was still propping up the hotel bar.
I was a little later getting to the Hotel Continental in Saigon, which featured so prominently in “The Quiet American”. But despite the fact that Saigon has turned into Ho Chi Minh City and is beginning to resemble Singapore and Hong Kong with its rising sky scrapers, the hotel has still not relinquished its air of grandeur from another age. On the day I ventured in for lunch there was only one other couple in the large, silent dining room, adding to the impression that we had been transported back to some parallel place in time.
I was even later coming to Africa, partly perhaps because Greene’s “A Burnt-Out Case” had made the continent seem so intimidating, but once there I fell just as deeply in love with the place as Greene did more than half a century earlier.
This year I have two African stories being published. “A Boy Called Hyppo”, the story of Hyppolite Ntigurirwa, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, is being published by Amsterdam Publishing, and “The Boy Who Never Gave Up – A Refugee’s Epic Journey to Triumph” by Dr Emmanuel Taban is being published by Jonathan Ball in South Africa.
Hyppo and Emmanuel are two of the
most impressive people I have ever met.
When he was seven years old Hyppolite lost many members of his extended family and witnessed the murder of his beloved father. Born in a mud hut without shoes, water or power, and often hungry, he struggled after the genocide to gain an education and to learn to forgive the killers. By the age of thirty he had graduated from university in Rwanda and worked as a journalist and radio presenter, a playwright and a theatre director. He raised enough money to travel to England and achieved a Master’s Degree in Sociology from Bristol University.
He started a Foundation for Peace in Rwanda and travelled to America to deliver a series of lectures at universities along the East Coast, including Harvard, using theatre to address issues of hatred and racism being transmitted from one generation to the next, looking from the perspective of a genocide survivor, who was also a sociologist and an artist, at how we influence people’s attitudes to change.
In 2019, Hyppolite became an international news item when he performed a hundred-day walk across 1,500 kilometres of Rwanda to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide, inviting people to join him and to share their stories of peace and forgiveness.
Professor Emma Sky, Director of the World Fellows Programme, kindly said this about Hyppo and the book.
Emmanuel Taban, who was named one of the “100 Most Influential Africans of 2020” by New African Magazine, was born in South Sudan to a single mother at a time of continual civil war and mass murder. In a country weighed down by poverty and corruption there was little hope that boys like him would survive through their childhoods, let alone go on to succeed as adults. Despite being imprisoned and tortured, Emmanuel was determined to make something of his life and end the cycle of poverty that his family was trapped in. He had no idea how to do that but he knew that he had to start by getting an education.
At the age of 15, with virtually
no formal education, no identity papers, no money or possessions, he walked out
Eighteen months later, after
living on the streets in a variety of cities, being repeatedly imprisoned for
not having any papers and frequently cheated and robbed, he reached South
Africa and found people who would help him get the education he craved.
He was unable to make contact with his family for ten years, but in that time he became a doctor and is now one of the most highly qualified consultants in the country, with political ambitions to return to South Sudan and help future generations to follow the same path to success.
When COVID-19 struck Emmanuel found himself facing a very different set of challenges. He became the first pulmonologist in the world to perform a therapeutic bronchoscopy on a hypoxemic COVID-19 patient, discovering that some deaths from COVID-19 pneumonia are due to fibrinous mucus plugs and that there is an association between IgG2 subclass deficiency and COVID-19 pneumonia severity.
Both these men would have been
worthy heroes for any Graham Greene novel.