December 2, 2002 - Lenawee Connection: Woman flees Ivory Coast during Peace Corps mission

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 12 December 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: December 2, 2002 - Lenawee Connection: Woman flees Ivory Coast during Peace Corps mission

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, December 01, 2002 - 2:07 pm: Edit Post

Woman flees Ivory Coast during Peace Corps mission

Read and comment on this story from the Lenawee Connection by Brooke Caterina who was servintg in the Ivory Coast five months ago when fighting broke out and all Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from the country. The volunteers in Cote d'Ivoire were at "stage one," which is a heightened alert stage. Stage three is an order to leave the country. But because she was out of touch with the Peace Corps hostel in Abidjan, Caterina decided to leave her village. "I decided to hop on the bus because gas was running out, and I hopped on the bus down to Abidjan," she said. "Two days later I went to Ghana." Read the story at:

Woman flees West Africa during Peace Corps mission*

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

Woman flees West Africa during Peace Corps mission

By David Panian -- Daily Telegram Staff Writer

TECUMSEH TWP. -- Five months ago, Brooke Caterina arrived in Cote d'Ivoire as a Peace Corps volunteer, expecting to spend 27 months helping the Ivorians build schools, address the spread of AIDS and form cultural exchange groups.

Instead, she's back home in Tecumseh after an armed rebellion forced many countries, including the United States, to evacuate their people from the West African nation.

Caterina was a part of the Peace Corps' Education for Development program, which works with local teachers, encourages participation in extracurricular activities, aids the development and improvement of available resources, public facilities and community-related projects and organizes activities in the community that focus on improving the quality of life.

The coup attempt started Sept. 19, three weeks after Caterina, 24, was sworn in to the Peace Corps after almost three months of training in Cote d'Ivoire (pronounced coat d'eye-vwahr) coat d'eye-vwahr) -- the official name for the country also known as the Ivory Coast.

"My village was about 31/2 hours away from Abidjan. Where everything was happening was Bouaké and Korhogo, which are two main cities in the north," she said.

Abidjan, a port city, is the economic center of Cote d'Ivoire and the entire West African coast. The country is about the size of New Mexico and has a population of 16.8 million. To the west is Liberia, and to the east is Ghana. It is one of the world's largest producers of coffee, cocoa beans and palm oil.

Caterina's house in Abigui, a village of 4,000 people, hadn't been finished yet, so she was staying with the director of the school she was going to be working with when violence broke out.

"We didn't have electricity or running water there, so we had a little portable radio," she said. "I came home from going to market that day, and the kids that I was hanging out with said, 'Oh, rebels took over Bouaké and Korhogo.'

"I was like, 'Yeah, right. Whatever. I'm going to bed.' So I went into my room, and then I heard everybody listening to the radio outside," she said.

The French radio station had a newscast about the uprising.

"I heard them talking about it, and I was like, 'Whoa!' " she said. "What happened basically was the night before at 4:30 in the morning, a block from the Peace Corps hostel in Abidjan, the minister and his family and the servants, everything, were all killed. They heard everything in the hostel. They woke up to gunfire."

The former interim leader of the country, Gen. Robert Guei, his wife and the interior minister, Emile Boga Doudou were all killed at the outset of fighting.

"I was out of harm's way," she said. "The trick was there were over 140 of us in the country at the time, spread out all over the place, and most of us without electricity."

And when the rebels shut down the international radio broadcasts, Caterina didn't even have that source of information. The phone lines were cut, too.

Caterina's mother, Laura, said she and her husband, Joe, weren't too alarmed when they first heard about the coup on the BBC.

"Unfortunately, countries like that do experience instability," Laura Caterina said. "What really called our attention to it was the kids in the boarding school."

There were 18 students at the American Baptist International School in Bouaké, trapped between the rebels and the government forces. They were rescued by French troops who flew them to Accra, the capital of Ghana, where they were turned over to American soldiers, who had been deployed there from Europe.

Laura Caterina, who is the Tecumseh city clerk, said U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, R-Addison, helped get them in touch with the Peace Corps, which told them the volunteers in Cote d'Ivoire were at "stage one," which is a heightened alert stage. Stage three is an order to leave the country.

But because she was out of touch with the Peace Corps hostel in Abidjan, Caterina decided to leave her village.

"I decided to hop on the bus because gas was running out, and I hopped on the bus down to Abidjan," she said. "Two days later I went to Ghana."

The rebels, members of the Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire, were very professional, she said. They kept order and prevented looting. They disagree with the way President Laurent Gbagbo is running the country. He was elected to a 5-year term in 2000 after 10 months of military rule by Guei.

A peace accord is being negotiated between Gbagbo's government and the rebels, with the Economic Community of West African States and France acting as mediators.

Brooke Caterina's experience in Ghana was far different from that in Cote d'Ivoire, where she lived a very primitive lifestyle. The U.S. government put up the Peace Corps volunteers in a top-notch hotel in Accra.

"It was pretty shocking when we got there, because we had so much food. Most of us were eating rice and sauce (in our villages)," she said. "We all came in with African clothes. We didn't look like ritzy tourists that were there. Everybody knew that we were with the Peace Corps."

She was able to call home from the hotel.

"We were really relieved when he got the phone call," Laura Caterina said. "I was so relieved to hear her voice."

The Peace Corps members waited in Ghana for two weeks to see how things shook out in Cote d'Ivoire.

"If it was going to get better, then we would have gone back," she said.

But it didn't, and on Oct. 13 Caterina's service was officially cut short.

Now she's back in Tecumseh, readjusting to life in America, working as a substitute teacher, waiting tables in Saline and waiting for another Peace Corps assignment.

Getting used to the American way of life has been a shock, she said.

"I had a panic attack when I went to Meijer. There was so much food all over the place," she said. "Hearing my little brothers and sister complain about the most trivial things. A lot of things are a little overwhelming for me right now."

After her next Peace Corps assignment, which will probably be to either Madagascar or Mozambique, she plans on going to graduate school to study conflict resolution.

For her next assignment, she wants to raise some funds to do her projects there. The Peace Corps has a program in which people or groups can make donations to volunteers. Caterina said she had heard form some classes and churches that wanted to help her out in Cote d'Ivoire.

To find out how to get involved in Brooke Caterina's next Peace Corps assignment, she can be reached by e-mail at

Until then, she'll be biding her time at home, waiting to return to Africa and complete her Peace Corps mission.

"I miss it. I do," she said. "I can't wait to go back."

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By WALLY R. ( on Monday, November 24, 2008 - 4:02 pm: Edit Post

brooke give me a call. WALLY

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