Ch. 2: A Visit From an Old Friend

Life in Gèneve

To understand the level of excitement I felt entering this weekend, the reader requires some background knowledge: 

In 2018, I spent the fall semester of my senior year in La Rochelle, France while attending a language program at L’Université de La Rochelle. While there, I became very close with a French student, Victoire, who had just started her first year as a marine biology student at the university. December eventually came, and it was time for her to go home to Normandy for the holidays. I walked her to the bus station and we promised each other that we would see each other at most within a year’s time. After finishing my studies at College of Charleston, I moved back to Baton Rouge to work and prepare for law school applications. I intended on returning to Europe the following summer, but Covid-19 planned otherwise. Time continued on, even as the rest of the world remained stagnant, and soon enough, nearly four years had passed since I had seen Victoire. As someone who is notoriously bad at communication, I am proud of Victoire and I’s success in maintaining our friendship in past years. I was even able to join her other friends for a virtual celebration of her birthday at the height of the lockdown. All this is to say: upon being chosen for this internship in Geneva, Victoire was one of the first people I told. And, matching my level of eagerness, she came and visited me this week, before I had even fully unpacked. 

Victoire arrived at around noon on Saturday on a flight from Nice, as she is currently doing an internship in southern France. After feeding ourselves, Victoire and I headed to Bain de Paquis with Kyle to take a dip in Lake Geneva, absorb the laid-back vibes of the heavily condensed Saturday crowd, and burn ourselves to a crisp. On Sunday, Victoire and I took an hour-long boat tour of the Lake Geneva, afterwards treking to the Point at the Jonction (where the Rhone and Arve meet, as described in last week's post), which soon became her favorite spot in the city. Afterwards, we made a salad and pasta for dinner my sad shared dorm room kitchen.

Throughout my work week,  I would head to the office around 9, and Victoire would stay in my apartment and work on applications for master’s programs in Marine Biology. We met for lunch two of the three days, and she would meet me after work for whatever activity he had planned for that day. My favorite post-work outing was when we drank a bottle of wine and had a picnic at the gardens of La Perle du Lac. Seeking to find the source of the instrumental music we were hearing through the trees, we stumbled upon a beautiful villa-turned-museum on top of a hill hosting an outdoor tango night. The wooden ballroom-style dance floor, along with draped string lights and a formidable view of Lake Geneva and the otherworldly Mount Blanc in the distance, all contributed to a carefree ambiance unlike anything I had ever encountered.

IBJ interns

Life at Work

The IBJ office was a bit more subdued this week, with the board meeting being over and the interns starting to settle into their tasks. I continued working on the Afghanistan proposal, which was submitted by our coimplementing NGO on Friday. Kyle and I contributed to the majority of the language on the proposal, so having it approved and submitted with only minimal edits was a pride-inducing moment for us.

 Sanjee, the International Programs' Director, assigned Kyle and I a compliance checklist provided by a donor to our China office. We reviewed IBJ’s Policies and Procedures to make sure that no surprises will come up next week when the donor’s agents visit the office for a check-in prior to renewing the grant. As both the Afghanistan proposal and the China grant renewal were time sensitive, I focused mainly on those two projects this week, with the exception of a few small research tasks that Karen Tse, IBJ’s Executive Director, asked me to complete. 

Is this my life? (If you read anything, read this)

The highlight of the week came after work on Tuesday. Nancy Hollander (as I previously mentioned, an IBJ board member) invited the IBJ staff to a viewing of The Mauritanian. This movie is based on her client, Mohamedou Ould Slahi's, memoir called Guantanamo Diary. To share his story with the outside world, it was necessary for Mohamedou to write Nancy short letters which qualified as legal mail, which were eventually combined and published (although heavily redacted) as his memoir theater with white screenwhile he was still imprisoned. Mohamedou Ould Slahi is one of the worst-tortured inmates in the history of Guantanamo Bay. Accused of recruiting the perpetrators of 9/11, the only evidence the United States had against him was past encounters with known facilitators of the attacks and the fact that Mohamedou had trained with Al-Qaeda in the early 90s (to fight, alongside the US, against the Soviet Union). He was detained at Guantanamo Bay for 7 years before Hollander filed a writ of habeas corpus for him. With Hollander’s ferocious defense, and Mohamedou’s testimony of the incredible abuse he suffered at the hands of the US government prior to his false confession, this writ was granted by the district court. 

Sadly, the Obama administration appealed this verdict, and Mohamedou's case bounced around in the federal court system for the next 7 years. Finally, after being held for 14 years, he was released on other grounds. He was never charged with a crime. Regardless, the US government never acknowledged Mohamedou’s innocence, nor did it issue an apology for the excessive interrogation methods used, which included psychological, physical, sexual, and sensory torture techniques.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi
The film viewing took place at a small theatre in the neighborhood of Carouge. Nancy Hollander (played by Jodie Foster) and Mohamedou (played by Tahar Rahim) were both there, sitting two rows ahead of us. Only a couple of seats to my left sat Colonel Couch (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the brave US prosecutor that refused to try Mohamedou's case after learning of the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques." 

The film was incredibly moving, made more so by the presence of the individuals who actually lived it. Afterwards, there was a brief Q&A with Nancy, Mohamedou, and the Colonel. There was a small reception following this. We were all able to meet Mohamedou, who was incredibly cheeky and light-hearted, never missing the chance to crack a joke. We discussed IBJ with him, as the organization's mission of preventing pre-trial detainment and torture is so relevant to his own situation (in addition to the shared connection of Nancy Hollander). 

I am exceptionally blessed to be given this opportunity. I am thankful to Professor Warren for her connection to IBJ and Karen Tse; I am grateful that Nancy Hollander would think to extend an invite to this showing to IBJ's interns; and, most of all, I am thankful that Mohamedou had the courage to speak up about his abuse against one of the most powerful governments in the world. 

IBJ Interns and staff with Mohamedou Ould Slahi