I’m back in Switzerland after a wonderful stay in Brittany with Hervé Le Guillouzic, the opportunity for me to look back on the sequence of events that allowed this unexpected meeting.
To do so, I have to go back in time a little…
We are in April 1994. While I have just entered into existence, Hervé is going through the greatest ordeal of his: managing a field hospital in the heart of the Rwandan genocide. This young man with a promising future, who started his humanitarian career a few years earlier to pursue his childhood dream of becoming the real “Doctor Justice”, is suddenly confronted with a massacre of unimaginable horror. In order to continue his work, he has to make choices that go against his principles and ideals, which will lead him to describe his role during this period as that of a “gravedigger of humanitarianism”.
Upon his return to Switzerland, Hervé, like all his colleagues, is clearly not doing well. However, he manages to keep up appearances, enough so that his organisation considers that he does not need any particular psychological support, even going so far as to send him back to the same region just a few months later.
This is only the beginning of a long period of wandering, marked by escapes and excesses of all kinds. Tendencies that he already possessed before this experience, but which were greatly exacerbated by a new demon that he brought back with him from Rwanda: post-traumatic stress.
Hervé thus dragged his (red) cross for many years, throughout his numerous humanitarian missions around the world. His untreated post-traumatic stress had an impact on all areas of his life, professional and personal, and addictions of all kinds were his refuge until recently.
Yet it is a much more peaceful version of this remarkable person that I had the chance to meet. The “traveling doctor” is doing much better now, having recognised his issues and worked on them extensively. However, he still has an important step to take in integrating the lessons of all these years of searching: gathering the scattered pieces of his memories to put them into words and tell his story. A need for recognition and transmission that I can only recognise in myself, as I am currently writing a second book about my travel experiences.
This is where I come in. We were introduced to each other with the idea that I could potentially support him in his endeavor, having myself been very interested in the subject of the mental health of humanitarian workers following my own traumatic journey.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I went for coffee in Geneva, a few weeks ago. Yet a connection was quickly established: I immediately recognised myself in Hervé’s journey, despite our 35-year age difference and very different lives. The excesses, the addictions, the anxieties, the escape forward, the travels as attempts at redemption, the impossible love stories, the traumas and their disastrous consequences, the desire to “save” others without knowing how to save oneself, the disconnect with those around us, the search for meaning… He is so brutally honest about his flaws that I decide to share mine with him. The ones I own, but also the ones I usually carefully hide from the rest of the world.
As we leave, Hervé confides in me that he feels more confident after I have shared my own vulnerability. He doesn’t know what a wonderful gift he is giving me at this moment: a precious reminder that my chaotic life story is also my strength, and that my weaknesses allow me to connect with others in a deep and meaningful way.
So it was only natural that when my new friend suggested that I join him in Brittany to begin the process of writing his story together, I quickly agreed. This gave me the opportunity to discover Hervé’s beautiful homeland, while helping him untangle the knots of his journey around the world. It’s wonderful to be able to witness such a process: to reunite the fragmented pieces of an existence to create a meaningful story, where each chapter has its place, each ordeal is necessary to advance the “hero” in his quest.
Of course, all this echoes my debacles of the last few years. Whereas I used to take great pride in bravely expressing the innermost recesses of my thoughts, I fell silent when my story stopped making sense to me, when external events no longer fit into the idealised version of the path I imagined myself on. Everything went off the rails, and I found myself helpless. Time has passed, and I still struggle to find the courage to face the obscurity of my darkest hours.
Yet this is what Hervé does very well, in all humility. He doesn’t try to lie to himself, or to force the pieces of the puzzle together; he observes them and accepts them for what they are, that is to say for many the manifestation of an immense distress, a void that was only looking to be filled, emotions that were only asking to be welcomed. And without forcing anything, the whole picture slowly takes shape to assemble a large coloured painting, magnificent despite its stains and smudges. A touching work, a perfectly imperfect life.
While until recently, I was beginning to lose hope that mine could become more serene, I now return strengthened in the idea that we are neither defined nor doomed by our worst trials. Trauma fragments us and distances us from ourselves, and the roads we take to come back can be long and winding. Hervé’s took him over 20 years, but he made it. And thanks to the sharing of people like him, others won’t have to walk alone for as long.
I am filled with gratitude for the chain of events and synchronicities that allowed our two souls to meet. I leave feeling calmer, with a new friend and joyful memories in his company, and confident of the seeds that have been sown in these few days. I look forward to seeing them grow into a beautiful book that I hope will inspire courage and humility in generations of humanitarians and other altruists looking for adventure.
Thank you for your warm welcome and all your wise advice, my dear Hervé. This is just the beginning of a great adventure that awaits you, and I am happy to be part of it. 🙏🌺