It was rather a strange experience for Lance Corporal Jarvis, who had worried that he might be out of his depth in the brigade headquarters. While it was true that he saw very little of the CO of 5th Airborne Brigade’s Logistics HQ, he fitted in easily as a runner and later a watch keeper within the operations room. The Belgians had grabbed all of the best office space and accommodation around the airport, but the Brits, as they always had to, made the best of what they had. Their detachment was quite small as the engineers and the Explosive Ordanance (EOD) technicians were up-country, repairing the country’s infrastructure that had been damaged in the civil war.
There was a small RAF detachment of movers and signallers from Tac Comms Wing based at the airport and force protection was provided by 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. There was also some provost officers from the Royal Military Police and Vehicles and drivers from the Royal Logistics Corps and they constantly shuffled supplies and equipment to the detachments up-country. All of these however, were dwarfed by the contingents from the Belgian forces, who had the responsibility for nation building, as the former colonial power.
The Canberra navigator had been absolutely spot on of his assessment of the tribal dynamics in Rwanda. The earliest inhabitants of Rwanda were the Twa, a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who settled in the area between 8000 BC and 3000 BC and remain in Rwanda today. Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, and began to clear forest land for agriculture. Historians have several theories regarding the nature of the Bantu migrations: one theory is that the first settlers were Hutu, while the Tutsi migrated later and formed a distinct racial group, possibly of Cushitic origin.
The country had been a German colony during the First World War, until it was “liberated” by the Belgians later in the war. The Belgians modernised the Rwandan economy, but Tutsi supremacy remained, leaving the Hutu disenfranchised. In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutus to become honorary Tutsis, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the groups.
In the inter-war and post-war period, the Catholic Church spent its efforts improving the lot of the underprivileged Hutus, rather than the relatively more prosperous and elite Tutsis. In early 1960, the Belgians replaced most Tutsi chiefs with Hutu and organised mid-year commune elections which returned an overwhelming Hutu majority. The king was deposed, a Hutu-dominated republic created, and the country became independent in 1962. The Tutsis fled for neighbouring countries during the purges, where they formed armed groups, known as inyenzi (cockroaches), who launched attacks into Rwanda; these were largely unsuccessful, and led to further reprisal killings of 10,000 Tutsis and further Tutsi exiles. By 1964, more than 300,000 Tutsis had fled, and were forced to remain in exile for the next three decades.
In October 1993, the President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, who had been elected in June as the country’s first ever Hutu president, was assassinated by extremist Tutsi army officers. The assassination sparked a Civil War and large mass-killing between Burundi’s Hutu and Tutsi with 50,000 to 100,000 people killed in the first year of war. As the war progressed, 500,000 to one million Rwandans would be killed. Being a prominent politician in Rwanda was not conducive to good health or a long life. On 6 April 1994, the aeroplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board. Responsibility for the attack was disputed, with both the RPF and Hutu extremists being blamed. In 2006, an eight-year investigation by a French judge, concluded that Paul Kagame had ordered the assassination. An investigation by the Rwandan government made public in 2010 blamed Hutu extremists in the Rwandan army.
The inevitable scene was set. Genocidal killings began the following day. Soldiers, police, and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders who could have assumed control in the ensuing power vacuum. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all holders of the national ID card of Rwanda, which contained ethnic classifications. The Belgian colonial government introduction of ethnic classifications and IDs, enabled government forces to systematically identify and kill Tutsi.
They also recruited and pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects, and other weapons and encouraged them to rape, maim, and kill their Tutsi neighbours and to destroy or steal their property. The RPF restarted its offensive soon after Habyarimana’s assassination. It rapidly seized control of the northern part of the country and captured Kigali about 100 days later in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide. During these events and in the aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium were criticised for their inaction and failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers. In December 2017, media reported revelations that the government of France had allegedly supported the Hutu government after the genocide had begun
French paratroops arrived at Kigali airport to evacuate expatriates and somewhat belatedly, UN assistance arrived in the country, mainly from Belgium, but with a sizeable contribution from the United Kingdom, stung by UN accusations of inactivity. Which is why a young man from Lichfield in his early twenties, came to be working in the 5th Airborne Brigade Logistic Battalion’s HQ at Kigali Airport in August 1994.
Jarvis enjoyed working in the HQ Ops room and despite his lowly rank, he was liked and respected. As he hadn’t studied management principles and the theories of two American sociologists, Bertram Raven and John French. He knew nothing about the origins of power within an organisation, although he could recognise its aspects. Positional power and coercive power was part and parcel of military life. Reward power was an obvious, although as a Lancejack Jarvis had seen precious little of it. But he drew acceptance from his superiors, because of his expert power. He could speak French fluently, which immediately opened up lines of communication with the Belgian military units, both based at the airport and up-country.
And despite his introverted tendencies, Jarvis was adept at demonstrating referent power. He took the trouble to visit the various locations and nationalities based at the airport and was well known to the RAF detachment, ensuring they knew what was going on and suggesting to the HQ’s Battle Captain that perhaps a representative from the RAF should attend the morning’s bird table, pointing out that it was the RAF who flew in the equipment and roulement personnel.
The major difficulty was in getting the Belgians and French to let his headquarters know where their units were and where they were moving to. This had a very practical aspect as many of the roads had been mined and were in the process of being cleared by 49 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron RE. The Belgians were coming around, although he had more or less given up trying with the French. One evening, one of their paratroopers had said something particularly nasty to Jarvis and what was worse, the French soldier had smeared the reputation of the Parachute Regiment. It wasn’t the first time Jarvis had been forced to beat up a French soldier.
One lunchtime, Jarvis was walking from the HQ to the British tent line, past a line of Belgian armoured vehicles. On one of them, a Vextra armoured recce vehicle, the female commander was lying on a roll of camouflage netting, listening to a Discman portable music system. He had noticed this woman before in the gym tent and had seen her running on a few evenings. She was rather too heavily tattooed for Jarvis’s taste and had a slightly thin and boyish body, but he had found this Belgian army female to be slightly intriguing. He couldn’t help but notice she habitually wore singlets, forsaking a bra although she seemed to have little need of support. Jarvis was convinced she was a lesbian, not as though he could have given any form of toss regarding her sexuality.
As he walked past he nodded respectfully as she was a senior sergeant, albeit one who looked uncannily like the Tank girl cartoon character. She sat up and took off her headphones and smiled at Jarvis.
“Bonjour, mon petit parachutiste Britannique,” she said playfully, “Aimez-vous mon vehicule de reconnaissance blinde?”
“It’s very nice,” he replied in French, “Is it fast?”
“Yes, but not as fast as me.”
They both smiled, Jarvis somewhat shyly. Now he looked at her properly, there was certainly something about this woman. He couldn’t help but notice that under her tight, khaki singlet, her right nipple was pierced with a ring.
“Where are you going?” she asked somewhat directly.
“Oh, for your English slop. I’ve seen you going for a run and in the gym. Have you noticed me?”
Jarvis looked at her, suddenly feeling self-conscious, “Possibly.”
“I’m very fit. Are you fit, English paratrooper?”
“Clearly not as fit as you are shy retiring,” he said in English, then continued in French, “Yeah I try, but it isn’t so easy working in the HQ.”
She wrinkled her nose at him, “I speak quite good English. Are you mocking me?”
“No. It’s called British irony. Not many other nationalities get it, particularly the Germans.”
“The Boche, they give me a headache. What’s your name, English paratrooper?”
“Jarvis, Lance Corporal, ma’am.”
“No. your Christian name. I’ve never been called ma’am before.”
“Well you are a sergeant chief, which puts you at OR 6 by my reckoning. I’m an OR 2 and my name is Guy.”
“You are very shy. I could cure you of that, Guy Jarvis, English paratrooper.”
“Perhaps I’m happy the way I am…” he paused and looked at her, “Err…”
“I am Bluma Ramaker, Belgian Light Cavalry.”
Jarvis leaned against the armoured car. He didn’t like the tattoos, but her legs were appealingly lean and muscular. She offered him a cigarette and he shook his head. They passed a few minutes in companionable silence, watching the ground crews of a Belgian Sea King prepare the aircraft. A red light under the nose began flashing. The chief ground crewman positioned himself at the nose of the helicopter and the blades began to turn. The Sea King lifted off slowly and went over their heads, stirring up Rwanda’s red dust, which seemed to permeate everything. Jarvis put his head down as the downdraft swept over them, snatching at the collar of his tropical shirt and the helicopter skimmed the Portacabins heading north.
“I wonder where they are going,” Bluma said almost wistfully, “I get so bored hanging around the airport.”
“Me too,” Jarvis agreed.
“She looked down at him quizzically, as if coming to a decision, “Do you like your English mess food?”
“It’s OK I suppose. A bit monotonous, but filling. I’ve had worse.”
“How would you like to come to dinner in our mess and have some decent food for a change?”
“Is that allowed?”
“Why and what’s the catch?”
She looked at him as though he was a simpleton, “Because I think I could quite like you and I thought it might be a change for you. There is no catch, you silly boy.”
Jarvis thought about it and then smiled, “In which case, I would be very happy to accept your kind offer. Where will I meet you and at what time?”
“18:00 in the car park north of the terminal building. Our Belgian contingent have taken over a hotel for mess and accommodation.”
“Naturally, while we’re living in bloody tents.”
Bluma decided that when he smiled, his slightly sad face lit up like meadow on a summer afternoon. For a man, this young Englishman was very handsome with his nice, straight white teeth and thick, wavy hair. Not her usual choice it was true, but Bluma Ramaker firmly believed that variety was the spice of life.
“Don’t be late.”
* * *
The food in the Belgian mess was OK, but nothing to shout about, however, Bluma had been right, it did make a change. It had been civilised to have a glass of wine with the meal where Jarvis chatted to a Belgian paratrooper from their country’s 1st Parachute Battalion. Their uniforms and equipment were similar to British Paras and included a maroon beret. Their badge was a winged dagger the same as the British SAS and even had the motto “Who Dares Wins.”
The Belgian paras were extremely angry with the Rwandans, having had ten soldiers from their 2nd Commando Battalion murdered by Rwandan soldiers in Kigali, so they would go out on patrol looking for trouble. The Belgian NCO told Jarvis about the genocide and the piles of slaughtered civilian corpses that were still lying in the fields, churches and plantations in the countryside.
Bluma seemed very popular with the other French and Belgian girls and Jarvis smiled to himself, theorising that she was trying to make him feel jealous. He brought her a drink, but didn’t have one himself.
“So, you have finally decided that you want to talk to me, Guy Jarvis.”
He smiled, “You were busy with your female friends.”
They found a table and sat down where they chatted amenably about their lives and backgrounds. He learned that she came from Neufchâteau, which was near the Luxembourg border and she had joined the army to escape the boredom of a provincial life. Her parents hadn’t wanted her to serve in the army and she had a younger sister who was much prettier than her, but incredibly unexciting. She had never heard of Lichfield and had visited England once, Stratford-on-Avon for a school trip. She was a fitness fanatic who worked out for at least two hours every day. She preferred girls to boys, but was willing to make an exception in Jarvis’ case because she liked fit boys who weren’t narcissistic. Because she was a Chef Senior NCO she had a room to herself in the hotel and wanted Jarvis to share her bed that night, although she guaranteed they wouldn’t be getting much sleep. He reasoned that it would be churlish to refuse.
* * *
The next week was a whirlwind of exercise in the Gym, Bluma’s bed and with rest breaks in the Battalion Headquarters. On several occasions Jarvis nodded off during quiet moments and he knew that this couldn’t last. He was deeply troubled by one aspect of his strange relationship with Bluma and didn’t know how to broach the subject with her. Eventually he sought the advice of one of the Regimental Medical Officers (RMOs) and explained the situation to him.
“This is “Tank Girl,” you’re talking about?”
“How did you know, sir?”
He laughed, “Because despite your nocturnal scurrying, it’s bloody obvious, son. After what you’ve told me, is she worth it? Is she a good shag?”
Jarvis was too much of a gentleman to answer him and was annoyed at the question, “I just know it isn’t right and want to help her.”
The RMO grinned, “Despite what you’ve told me, do you think she’ll appreciate it when you tell her?”
“Probably not, but that’s up to her.”
“You’re a strange chap, Jarvis. Kind hearted and old beyond your years, but I can assure you there will be a tsunami of trouble heading in your direction. But nevertheless, I’ll do some research and find out for you.”
The RMO was good to his word and approached Jarvis during the evening meal in the mess tent.
“I’ve found out for you, “He sat down across the table, “You’d better fasten your seat belt, Jarvis. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
* * *
That night he was lying in Bluma’s crumpled bed, while she was in the shower. He had noticed that she took about five or six showers per day and now he knew why. She came out towelling herself, sat on the bed and lit a cigarette.
“That was exceptional, Guy. Where did you learn to do those things? I can hardly walk!”
“From a beautiful French girl called Deja, what seems a long time ago now.”
“It’s a shame she isn’t here now. We could all have a beautiful time in my bed,” she put the cigarette in the overflowing ashtray and rubbed her cropped hair with the towel, “What’s the matter, Guy? You seem rather preoccupied tonight.”
He leaned forward and absent-mindedly flicked her nipple ring, “Bluma, you know you say you prefer girls to boys…?”
“Oh, Guy. You’re not jealous are you? Silly boy.”
“No. I just want to ask you a question. What sort of girls do you like?”
“It doesn’t matter. As long as they make me come,” She was obviously puzzled by the question, “But I like what you have and what you do with it.”
“Bluma, do you like girls as wiry and muscular as you are?”
“No. I prefer them to be nice and rounded. Voluptuous you could say. I love tits and bottoms.”
Jarvis stopped playing with her nipple and looked at her, “Has it occurred to you that perhaps the girls you make love with would prefer you to be a bit more… Err, voluptuous?”
“So you don’t like me? You find me ugly? You prefer that French girl?”
“No. Bluma, I didn’t say that,” God this was difficult for him, “Let me put it another way. Perhaps you’re exercising too much.”
“Rubbish! I’m just fit, probably fitter than you, Guy Jarvis!”
“You are very fit, Bluma. Nobody could deny that. But there is a cost to all that exercise.”
“What do you mean?” she demanded.
“When did you last have a period?” She frowned at him not understanding. “When did you last have a monthly bleed?”
“None of your fucking business!”
“You hardly eat anything. You’re starving yourself.”
“You are making me angry now, Guy!”
He knew he was beyond the point of no return, “Your diet contains too much protein and you take protein supplements, which coupled with too much exercise is causing trimethylaminuria, or fish odour syndrome. Your body fluids, breath and urine smells fishy because of a hormonal imbalance, caused by your diet and excessive exercise. You are aware of it yourself, because you have so many showers every day. I’m willing to bet I’m not the first person who has mentioned this to you.”
Her eyes were narrow slits of rage, “And just how the hell do you know these things, Guy Jarvis?”
“Because I asked a…”
“You discussed me with somebody else?” She was shouting now,
“Bluma, please don’t overreact…”
“Overreact, overreact? You say I stink, that I’m too thin and you accuse me of overreacting. You’re a bastard, Guy Jarvis!”
“You have a medical condition that can easily be rectified, all you need to do is…”
“I thought you liked me. You’d better get out because I never want to see you again!”
Guy got out because hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. As he sat in the mess tent the following lunchtime, deep in thought and absent-mindedly swatting the myriads of flies away, the RMO patted him on the shoulder.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Like Krakatoa erupting,” Jarvis said miserably.
“Ahh. And you’re surprised?”
“Not really. Nobody likes to be told the truth, when the truth is so unpleasant.”
“You should try being a doctor some time. You really are a kind-hearted chap, Jarvis. Kind but stupid. Not only have you made her angry, but your source of rumpy-pumpy has dried up.”
Jarvis spoke to Bluma a few days later, “I really am so very sorry to have upset you.”
She scowled at him, “My unit is moving out into Kigali City tomorrow and we will be patrolling. I’m glad, because it means that I will never have to see you again, Guy Jarvis.”
She turned her back on him and continued to load equipment onto the Vextra armoured car. Jarvis trudged to the headquarters miserably and pondered on how the road to hell was paved with good intentions.
© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file