All the way up to Zwedru, I caught snatches of reference to “Bosco” in Raj’s phone conversations. I got the idea that this Bosco thing, whatever it was, was something desirable, and everyone was glad they had some up where we were going.
Bosco, it turns out, is Dr. Jean Bosco Niyonzima, and yes, if we had more Bosco everywhere, the world would be an immeasurably better place.
Now I never remember to ask the right questions and now that I’m getting a chance to write about it, I’m offline and he’s far away. So most of my facts are probably wrong. But the story is approximately this: Bosco is a physician from Rwanda, up near the DRC border. He survived the Rwandan genocide and I expect has seen some pretty awful stuff. He worked with the amazing Partners in Health for a while, but left to join Last Mile when he decided he wanted to be part of a smaller organization with a more specific focus.
When he arrived in Konobo two years ago, he was the first physician the district had had since the civil war. Liberia as a whole was fairly stable by then (hell – Devon and I had already visited, and I’d been twice!), but Cote D’Ivoire, just a little up the road, was in turmoil and the district was awash in cross-border mercenaries. The UN told him not to go, warning that they couldn’t guarantee his safety. Bosco, who already knew that no one can really guarantee anything in this world, came anyway.
So – those are the probably misremembered facts; they’re relevant as scaffolding, maybe as some sort of post-hoc rationalization, but they don’t capture what – for me – is the essence of the man. Years from now I will have forgotten all the places and events I’ve recounted here. I may forget his name. I may forget what he looks like. But I will not forget his smile.
The smile of Dr. Jean Bosco is like a Monet painting, warm and welcoming. It pulls you in immediately, but you quickly realize that there’s so much more depth there than you’ve noticed on your first glance. It’s not one of those simple have-a-nice-day smiles thrown casually around business offices – it’s a smile of a doctor, one that has seen life and death, heartbreak and small miracles more times than I can imagine. I know I’m projecting here, but it feels like a smile that has decided that the only way we’re going to get through this life without losing our mind is by embracing joy where we can find it and compassion where we can give it.
Again, I didn’t get all the facts, but I got the sense that there was work he was involved in beyond Last Mile, that there was something coming up in Madagascar – I missed what, exactly. And there was a longer term mission: a healing center for survivors and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. We talked most about this on the ride back from Ziah – how there had to be a reconciliation for the country to move on. Not just a legal airing of deeds, but a reconciliation of hearts. We talked about conflict – I from what little I saw this spring in Israel and the West Bank, him from his immeasurably deeper personal experience.
Now I’m sitting here, searching as always for some clever wrap up to this post, and it’s not coming. So I’ll just sign off here with the observation that sometimes first impressions are right: the world would be a much better place if we had more Bosco everywhere.