John Creedon played two tracks by Jimi Hendrix, ‘All along the watchtower’ and ‘Hey Joe’. Hendrix singing lyrics by Bob Dylan prompts a moment of melancholy. Hendrix is a member of the so called ’27’ group. Four of them, Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison from The Doors and Hendrix himself, dead at 27; dead before a kid born in 1960 was even aware of their existence.
Where are the revolutionaries now? Where are the people who threaten the established order? In a week when the church remembers the arrest and execution of the greatest dissident in history; where are those who even create ripples?
Brake lights shine brightly in front, cars slow to join a line moving slowly through a twisting Kilkenny road. following the lights brings recollections of being in another line of traffic, but not one that moved at a meek 50 kmh on a well metalled road.
A Saturday evening at the end of June 2009 in northern Burundi, just south of the Rwandan border. The whole country is no bigger than Munster, but the descent from the mountains in the darkness on African roads threatens to be hazardous. We reach a small town, but it is after 6 pm and there is a curfew – soldiers have blockaded the road.
“What will happen?”
“We will see.”
Suddenly a barrier is lifted. A pick up with an armed policeman standing in the back shoots off, followed by a shiny jeep. Three vehicles follow, ours is the last of the line of five.
“We must stay with this convoy.”
The car slides around wide sweeping bends; the speedometer show between 80 and 100 kmh, far too fast for Burundi.
“Why are they going so fast?”
“This is bandit country – but they will not trouble us”.
“What would happen if the barrier had not been lifted?”
“We would have gone to a guest house in the mountains run by German missionaries”.
“What if there was not that option?”
“People have to decide what is cheapest – to pay for somewhere to stay or to pay the policeman to lift the barrier”.
His approach is a mixture of stoicism, cynicism and common sense, but underneath a deep Christian conviction that he must remain in this poorest of countries in the world. He need not remain; his English, French and Swahili are fluent; he has a European postgraduate education. He could go. He could take his wife and children and find a new and comfortable life elsewhere. He could go to places where no-one sits at the roadside, where no-one lives in mud and rush huts, where there is no-one staring in through the windows of the car, but he stays.
There are many like him; many who pass on the opportunity of comfortable lives because of their belief in their people. No rock music, no comfortable home in south Co Dublin, no appearances amongst the great and the good, no features in glossy magazines; the revolutionaries now are not to be found amongst white, middle class men.
Would he even have heard of Hendrix? Probably not. But he would have muttered at the slowness of the line of traffic.