A long way from homeWhen Jean-Pierre Fundi was dodging machete-swinging Hutus back in the spring of 1994, he had no idea he’d be running a cafe in Korea nine years later. In fact, he had practically never heard of Korea.
Mr. Fundi, 42, manages the Seoul French Club, a new boite in the heart of Itaewon. He and his sister, Diana, 22, have been in Korea for three years, and just acquired refugee status.
We at Itaewon Wanderings visited the Seoul French Club recently, and were able to get Mr. Fundi away from the bar and over to our table to ask him how he came to Korea.
Mr. Fundi was an accountant and his sister a student when they left their native Rwanda three years ago, after he decided the country was still too dangerous to live in. His original plan ― to go to Australia by flying first to Indonesia and then taking a ferry ― was thwarted after they got to Jakarta and heard that the unrest in East Timor was picking up. They then decided to go to Holland, after flying to Bangkok and buying a ticket there.
But in Bangkok Mr. Fundi and his sister met another African man who suggested they try Korea. Soon the siblings arrived at Gimpo Airport, got 30-day visas and were disgorged by a bus in downtown Seoul. They wandered lost for a while, until a good Samaritan directed them to Itaewon.
Before Mr. Fundi started the cafe, which he designed but is actually owned by a Korean partner, he worked in a factory, then at the local restaurant Ali Baba and then at a travel agency. The new cafe, up past the King’s Club and next to the G Bar, is small but bright and convivial. It caters to French-speaking Africans, but everyone is welcome. Mr. Fundi cranks upbeat Congolese music and serves tasty but inexpensive dishes of what he calls “grilled salads,” with finely cut chicken or beef.
As for Diana, you’ve seen her already. She’s the lovely salesclerk at that outdoor hip-hop store Anzen Chitai, next to the Korea Exchange Bank. Unlike her brother, Diana isn’t very confident with her English; if you meet her and want to get past the clothes-buying haggle you’ll have to dust off your high school French. Better yet, surprise her with a few words from her language, Kinyarwanda. “Hello” is either “bite (bee-tay)” or “amakuru.” She’ll really smile, her brother says, if you tell her “ndagukunda.” Just don’t say it when her Congolese boyfriend is around.
Mr. Fundi was kind enough to tell us about that spring when 800,000 of his compatriots were slaughtered over 100 days (If you don’t feel queasy after reading that sentence, read it again). He explained how the Hutu leaders incited the carnage by broadcasting messages saying how heroic it was of them to kill Tutsis.
We asked Mr. Fundi, who is of mixed Hutu-Tutsi blood, whether he blamed the international community for not intervening. He pointed out that the United Nations, two weeks into the killing, let the Rwandans down by cutting its presence in the country from 2,500 troops to 270.
Rest assured, Mr. Fundi will not let us bar goers down when we need him. The Seoul French Club is open just about all the time.
by Mike Ferrin