Bursting the bubble 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MEGAN LALONDE
  • Photo by Megan Lalonde

Even though it's called the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF), I always think of it as one of the best locals' parties of the year.

That might be because I always seem to run into everyone I've ever met in Whistler—give or take a few—at Intersection, or because after three years, I'm finally in on all the jokes.

Maybe it's just because it's one big celebration of all the things this community loves most. Who knows? Either way, this event always seems to encapsulate the very best parts about living in the bubble.

That's the thing—events like WSSF, fun as they are, serve as another reminder that Whistler really is a one-of-a-kind bubble.

But every once in a while, something comes along to burst it.

Last week, that something was a Facebook post by one of my university professors. I nearly scrolled past it in my rush to post a story to Pique's account before running to meet friends at the gondola to catch a few WSSF events, but it caught my attention and made me pause. He was in Rwanda marking the 25th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi, where an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people were killed.

Five years ago, I was part of a group of Carleton University students that travelled to Rwanda with that professor to study the impact of the media before, during and after the horrific 100-day genocide.

We visited memorials and sites of mass killings where evidence of the brutal violence was still clearly displayed, two decades later. We discussed the role local media played in inciting the violence, and how a lack of response from international governments and media contributed to its escalation.

We studied alongside Rwandan journalists and students who endured the conflict themselves, and spoke with officials and a few members of the press who were on the ground in 1994. In other words, we had to starkly confront what humans are capable of doing to each other, while doing our best to figure out why and how.

It was the most profound, perspective-altering experience I've ever had.

The Facebook post that caught my attention last week marked a more specific anniversary: our professor, Allan Thompson, was revisiting a street in Kigali where, 25 years ago to the day, the deaths of Gabriel Kagaba and his daughter Justine Mukangango were captured on video by British journalist Nick Hughes. They were some of the only killings during the genocide—out of nearly 1 million—captured on film.

Years later, our professor managed to identify the victims and track down their surviving family members for a piece in the Toronto Star. They've remained close over the years. During our time in the country, we got to know that family a little, in particular their youngest son and brother. I remember bonding over tattoos and the music we listened to.

My experience in Rwanda taught me about resilience, forgiveness, how susceptible we are to the influence of others, and how powerful media can be.

It also taught me how bad situations can become when we get so involved in our own lives that we turn a blind eye to what's happening outside of our day-to-day interactions. In 1994, the world completely ignored signs of genocide in Rwanda, including the footage captured by Hughes, until it was far too late.

Sitting at home, dressed in my snow gear, that Facebook post pulled me right back to my time in Rwanda and made me realize how rooted in the Whistler bubble I've become—how many of my priorities and habits have quietly shifted in the five years since I first travelled to Southeastern Africa; how working for a local newspaper (best job ever) means I'm constantly concerned about what's happening within our boundaries; how long it's been since I thought about Rwanda.

I can remember the last conversation I had about snow conditions, but when was the last time I brought up a situation happening on another continent?

It's important to care about your community. There's nothing wrong with being appreciative of all the insanely fun, unique experiences we're lucky enough to have access to here in the Sea to Sky, just like there's nothing wrong with being focused on the very real hardships and struggles many people face in the bubble.

But there's also something to be said for remembering that there's life outside of it.

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