As the throngs of demonstrators peacefully marched along the Kigali streets, a gray haired white man with an equally gray beard caught my eye.
He was obviously not Rwandan, but his piercing eyes and his purposeful walk identified him with the crowd and its mission – to protest the arrest of Madame Rose Kabuye, Director of State Protocol.
As the crowds surged forward, I was particularly impressed by his determination to keep marching, in spite the fact that his complexion, similar to that against whom the march was, could have made him shy away from the demonstrations.
Instead, he looked unperturbed by any awkward and marched on. I later caught up with the ‘mystery marcher’ to try and quench my curiosity about him.
It was then that I had the pleasure of meeting 68- year-old Gary Geddes, Canadian Poet and distinguished Professor of Canadian Culture at Western Washington University in Bellingham, USA. He is founding-editor of a series of monographs called ‘Studies in Canadian Literature’.
Geddes is well traveled; from China to Chile; Indonesia to Israel; Palestine to the Philippines and now in Rwanda to research on his next book on Sub-Saharan Africa.
His work and vast travels have not been in vain, for he has received various accolades, the most recent being in April this year when he was awarded the fifth annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. Other honours include the National Poetry Prize in Canada, the Americas Best Book Award in the Commonwealth Poetry Competition, the Gabriela Mistral Prize of Chile, and a Poetry Book Recommendation in the UK.
Geddes was born in Vancouver, British Colombia and grew up in the Prairies before his family moved to the West Coast where they lived until 1963. At the age of seven, his mother died.
“It [his mother’s death] left me helpless and I had to try out everything for myself,” he recalls. His father died about 50 years later. He as admitted to the University of British Colombia to pursue a degree in English and Philosophy, and had to work his way.
He later did a postgraduate diploma in Education at Reading University in the UK, followed by a Master of Arts (M.A) and Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) at the University of Toronto. He taught English and Creative Writing widely throughout Canada to support his passion for writing, but mainly at Concordia University in Montreal for twenty years from 1978.
On religion, Gary Geddes has traversed half the world looking for Huishen, the Buddhist monk whose missionary activities purportedly took him to North America long before Christopher Columbus or even the Vikings of L’Anse-aux-Meadows.