October 2, 2002 - Pipestone County Star: Peace Corps Volunteer Mary Christensen hopes to return to Ivory Coast

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 10 October 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: October 2, 2002 - Pipestone County Star: Peace Corps Volunteer Mary Christensen hopes to return to Ivory Coast

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, October 02, 2002 - 10:16 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteer Mary Christensen hopes to return to Ivory Coast





Read and comment on this story from the Pipestone County Star on Mary Christensen who was in Washington, D.C. on a personal mission when the political situation unraveled in the Ivory Coast, where Mary has been a Peace Corps volunteer for the past 18 months at:

Mary Christensen hopes to return to Ivory Coast*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Mary Christensen hopes to return to Ivory Coast

Mark Fode


Mary Christensen has a fast smile like she always did, but inside, she fears for friends and people she calls family in the Ivory Coast in the wake of a recent rebel coup in that country.

As fate would have it, Mary, the 26-year-old daughter of David and Joan Christensen of Pipestone, was in Washington, D.C. on a personal mission when the political situation unraveled in the Ivory Coast, where Mary has been a Peace Corps volunteer for the past 18 months. It was the first time since Mary went to Africa that she had returned to the United States; now, much to her despair, she can't return to help people who have become like family members to her.

While she was in Washington, she first heard the reports of a violent coup occurring in the Ivory Coast. Almost immediately, evacuation of all volunteers and missionaries began. Today, about two weeks later, the situation is still very unsettled, with about 140 of 150 Peace Corps volunteers in the country moved to Ghana to await further instruction.

Mary could easily be in that group, out of immediate danger but far from the safety her family members would want.

It is quite possible considering that rebel forces continue to gather momentum against the established government in outlying villages that Mary won't be able to finish out her 24-month Peace Corps mission to the Ivory Coast. She was in Pipestone for only two days this week and returned to Washington Tuesday to wait for word from the Peace Corps on her next step.

Before she left, she said emphatically that, given a choice, she would rather be in Africa to help her friends or at the very least, to say a proper good-bye if this is the end of her tour. She knows, after visiting with a friend still in that area, that her home was broken into by someone from a neighboring village; she isn't sure what, if any, of her personal effects remain. "My home was completely ransacked," Mary said. "I asked (her friend) to look for things" like prescription sunglasses and other special mementos given to her by friends.

"The house was locked, but it would be easy to break into," she said. But she stressed that it was surely no one from the village of Medibly, where she has lived for the past 18 months, who broke in.

And while there were trials, she says she liked the simplicity of her life, the fact that she had to do things herself and the fact that she had a big, happy family. "I found myself being happy," she said, adding that she learned to live with the rodents and pests, yearning only for a hot shower now and then. "It would be nice to say goodbye. I like how I got to do things myself. It had to grow on me, but I came to look forward to laundry day and doing things myself, knowing I had next-door neighbors."

Living in the village, she said, was like "stepping back in time to the days of the Depression in the 1920s." But, she said, residents were happy.

The residents of Medibly, at this writing, have not been in contact with rebel forces, and Mary is not sure how the 300 to 400 residents of the village are faring. She is worried about them, and vows someday, if not soon, to pay her own way back to check on them.

Mary has followed the events since late last month, when Army members disloyal to the government launched a coup. The coup was turned back by government forces, but the rebels have taken to the countryside, taking over cities and denying incoming supplies. Both sides are conscripting soldiers for what could be a protracted dispute.

The events couldn't have been more of a surprise to Mary. "I felt completely safe," she said. "My friend now says ( the government) is asking everyone to join the army. The rebels are getting more people and are cutting off electricity and power. There is no food supply."

Mary wonders if friends, including many she calls "brothers and sisters" will be safe, then figures those in smaller, outlying villages will have a better chance of weathering this storm. But even if she, an American, were there, Mary believes she would be safe because the fight is about nothing more than national politics.

For now, Peace Corps volunteers are staying put and will be about two weeks. Then, they too could be evacuated. "My friends all want to go back (to the Ivory Coast)," Mary said. "The most important thing for me is closure and saying goodbye."

If it is the end of the Peace Corps tour, it will mark the end of what Mary says has been a "fantastic" experience, though a hard one. "I eat well and sleep well," she said. "I don't need things like computer and television. It's easier to do without those things."

But she hopes and believes she will be going back. "I'm watching the situation," Mary said. "Part of me truly believes ( she will return) but there is also reality. If I can go back, I will probably go back on my own. We want to leave things on our own terms."

Mary had given thought to staying in the Ivory Coast once her Peace Corps time was over. She graduated from the University of Evansville with a degree in psychology, and a year later, joined the Peace Corps. In six months, she planned to take a trip and then begin her career. She now realizes her job search may begin sooner than she planned.



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