Hello, Team! I hope you all had a fabulous holiday, and are rested, refreshed, and ready to save the world in 2009. I’ll soon continue writing about ideas to help us do that, but this post is one of my Team Member Profiles.
Team Member Profile: J’Lein Liese
J’Lein Liese, December 2008
In the early years of the new millennium, the genocide in Rwanda had lost much of its steam. This was largely because almost every Tutsi in the country had been slaughtered by the Hutu militia, and the remaining refugees had vanished into the forests or neighboring countries.
Few Westerners had dared venture into Rwanda since the atrocities began. So a petite, polite, smiling young blond woman, traveling alone, was an unusual sight at the Rwandan border. Several hard-drinking Rwandan men hanging around the checkpoint were very, very interested. And not in a good way.
“I had to get out of the car,” J’Lein Liese tells me a few years later, over coffee. “And, well, I don’t want to sound paranoid, but the way they were looking at me was pretty unnerving.”
Paranoid? To me, J’Lein sounds almost suicidally brave. I’m terrified just hearing the story.
“They had that predatory look, and a lot of them began walking toward me, sort of circling me like a pack hunting. So I do the girl thing and look at my driver, as though he’s supposed to help.” J’Lein laughs, a deep, infectious laugh. I’m hoping that’s the only infectious thing she brought back from her adventures. “Of course the driver staring into the middle distance, pretending he’s never seen me in his life, and I don’t blame him.”
“My God,” I say. “What did you do?”
Anyone wanna spend some time here? Alone?
I’ve only just met J’Lein. Our meeting in this coffee shop was arranged by a mutual friend, South African Team member Judy Klipin. This is ironic, since we live just a few miles apart, in Phoenix. In person, she seems much too pretty and harmless to have survived an encounter with Hutu militia.
“Did you have a gun?” I ask. I’m not a gun person—quite the opposite—but if I were ever in the position J’Lein’s describing, I would probably go all Charlton Heston.
“Nope,” J’Lein shrugs. “So I had to use energy.”
“Energy,” I repeat. Girlfriend, please!
“Yeah, you learn to use energy a lot when you’re deal with horses—oh, at one point I was planning to train for the in Olympic equestrian events, except before I finished my Junior Years, for some reason one of my lungs collapsed. Which was fine, because it helped me realize that what I really wanted was to eradicate racism and prejudice from the planet. Anyway…”
I’m furiously taking mental notes, storing up questions. I have to hear how the Rwandan border incident unfolded, but every autobiographical detail J’Lein tosses out makes me want to shout, “What?”
Mental notes: ask J’Lein about her potential Olympic riding and her collapsed lung…
“So I gathered my energy together—“ J’Lein goes on.
“Wait,” I interject. “How?”