September 27, 2002 - Semma: Mark Shahinian's Story of Peace Corps Volunteers during the evacuation from Ivory Coast

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ivory Coast: Peace Corps Ivory Coast : The Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast: September 27, 2002 - Semma: Mark Shahinian's Story of Peace Corps Volunteers during the evacuation from Ivory Coast

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 1:17 am: Edit Post

Mark Shahinian's Story of Peace Corps Volunteers during the evacuation from Ivory Coast

Read and comment on this story from the Semma by PCV Mark Shahinian on the Peace Corps evacuation from the Ivory Coast last year at:

Mark's Story *

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

Mark's Story

A humorous and light story on the recent events... Kate thinks the AP reference might be a joke, but nobody is sure!


By Mark Shahinian
Associated Press

For a group of Americans trapped by the bloody civil war in this West African nation, life under siege is just fine, thank you very much.

The 30 Americans, including 20 Peace Corps Volunteers and 11 Baptist missionaries, are pinned down in the Torogokaha missionary compound 9.2 Km south of the northern rebel stronghold of Korhogo. But while other foreigners in Cote d'Ivoire are dodging bullets and eating household pets, members of the Korhogo group are "having the time of [their] lives."

"It's just like summer camp," said Michelle Todd, a volunteer from Pittsburgh, Penn. "I mean, we had hot dogs and pop last night and you can watch movies and we talk about which boys are the cutest."

The Torogokaha group spends their days eating pancakes, playing Frisbee, working on their cars and napping. The rebels surrounding the Torogokaha compound profess to love Americans, and have even asked if they could be pen pals.

Indeed, the Americans' biggest concern is the emailed death threats they have received from Peace Corps volunteers across Africa bitter about village life and looking for an excuse to go home.

"We're like a big, happy family," said Peace Corps Volunteer Allison Young. "There's no talking behind each others' back, we're all sensitive to others' needs, and mostly, we're just happy to be together. I'm really glad I'm here instead in Bouake."

Another volunteer described Yung as "unnecessarily perky." Ivory Coast, normally a beacon of stability in West Africa, was ripped apart by a bloody coup last week. Uneducated Muslim guerillas from the north attacked government forces, demanding visas to travel to the United States and an end to the sexually suggestive dance known here as the Mapuka.

French troops are in charge of evacuating all foreigners from Ivory Coast. But they have not yet made a move towards Korhogo. French domestic politics may be playing a role in the delay.

The French press has demanded abandoning all Americans in Ivory Coast. The left-leaning French daily Liberation yesterday called the Americans waiting for rescue "fat and in need of exercise anyway."

Col. Jaques Chlow, the French commander in charge of the evacuation of foreigners could not be reached. "He ees beezy eating whine end cheeeze," said one of the colonel's aides.

Peace Corps volunteers and missionaries normally hold each other at arms' length, but members of both groups say they are getting along fine. The Peace Corps volunteers try to tone down the swearing and the missionaries "bite their tongue," according to one compound resident.

Indeed, the missionaries in the group say they enjoy having people invade their homes and really don't like privacy, anyway.

"I just love having four people in my kitchen, three in my bedroom and six sprawled on my couch watching movies. It's just like college," said Jan Edelman, chief logistician among the missionaries.

For the few members of the group who aren't Peace Corps Volunteers or missionaries, the experience has been less idyllic.

"Yeah, the Peace Corps volunteers sort of smell and the missionaries are far too nice for someone used to life in Washington," said one woman, who would only say she works for the U.S. government.

One member of the group is an attractive 24-year-old woman who periodically drops "my boyfriend" into conversation to "ward off all those smelly guys", the sympathetic government employee said.

Peace Corps administrators say they don't know quite what to do with the Torogokaha group.

All other Peace Corps volunteers in Cote d'Ivoire are on their way to a "schwanky" hotel in Accra, the capital of neighboring Ghana. But administrators are worried that bringing in the well-rested, perky Torogokaha group could upset the other volunteers.

"The Torogokaha group seems happy right where they are - they haven't even called me in a couple of days - so we may leave them there for the foreseeable future," said Peace Corps security officer Julie "J. Edgar" Donahue.

The extended stay of the Torogokaha group may have a political dimension, according to sources in Washington. A top defense department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, but known to his friends as "Rummy" said, "Most of those Peace Corps Volunteers vote Democrat anyway, and with the midterm elections coming up, we might just leave them there."

Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort by Ivory Coast PCV Mark Shahinian

Read and comment on this op-ed piece from the Washington Post dated Augusut 20, 2002 by PCV Mark Shahinian who says that expanding the Peace Corps gives Bush a carrot to use with his big stick that is the war on terrorism, but it's a paltry effort to win over hearts and minds, when what we really need to do is fill the stomachs and pocketbooks of the developing world. Read the op-ed at:

Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort*

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

Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort

By Mark Shahinian

Tuesday, August 20, 2002; Page A13

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- President Bush has proposed doubling the size of the Peace Corps -- to help, he says, "spread the good story" of American values and ideas to the Muslim world. From my perspective as a Peace Corps volunteer in a Muslim village in Africa, the plan seems whimsical at best.

Expanding the Peace Corps gives Bush a carrot to use with his big stick that is the war on terrorism. But it's a paltry effort to win over hearts and minds, when what we really need to do is fill the stomachs and pocketbooks of the developing world.

Doubling the size of the $275 million, 7,000-volunteer Peace Corps wouldn't do much to alleviate the poverty and hopelessness that foster terrorism. For, in reality, the Peace Corps does more to make us Americans feel good about ourselves than it does to fight that poverty. Instead, we need to change the economic policies that I often find punishing the very villagers I am trying to help.

I am posted in a Muslim village in Ivory Coast -- one of about 150 Peace Corps volunteers in this West African country. My fellow volunteers and I weigh babies, set up Internet terminals and build latrines. We make friends with villagers during our two-year stay and share our experiences when we go back home.

But I, as a lone volunteer, and we as a nation have failed to help the people of my village and villages like it across Africa achieve the general prosperity that they see as the real promise of America.

Take, for example, the now-infamous farm subsidy bill signed by Bush in May. U.S. cotton growers already receive $3.4 billion in annual subsidies, and the farm bill will tack on hundreds of millions more.

Meanwhile, a typical farmer in my village earns the equivalent of $900 from the sale of his cotton -- that's most of his income for the year -- and he supports a family of eight with that. Any extra income would help send children to school and buy meat for the family. Instead, these farmers have to sell their cotton into a market depressed partly by overproduction in the United States.

To help the family buy food, women here walk the eight miles to town carrying 60-pound sacks of charcoal on their heads. They sell the sacks for the equivalent of $2. Their children still die of diarrheal diseases not seen in the developed world for many years.

I can weigh all the babies I want, but in the end I'm not going to make much difference if families here have to fight the U.S. Treasury and the subsidies it doles out to American farmers.

No, I don't think this continued poverty will encourage people in my village to turn to terrorism. But the poverty does create an underdog complex, by which people think their country can't develop because they just don't have what it takes.

The few villagers I have met who support Osama bin Laden say they do so because he fights for the underdog. People living in more violent cultures might well decide to take up the fight, bin Laden-style, despite having Peace Corps volunteers in their countries. Indeed, volunteers have served in Libya and Afghanistan.

As for Bush's evangelical call to "spread the good story" of American values, the president is only making clear his ignorance of how Peace Corps volunteers operate.

The fact is, people in my village are mostly sold on American values and culture. They get excited about multiparty elections, talk about the rule of law and watch Clint Eastwood westerns. And where we don't see eye to eye -- as on the local practice of polygamy -- I have been told by Peace Corps administrators (and I happen to agree) that it is not my role to impose American values.

Expanding the Peace Corps is a nice gesture. But if that's the sort of carrot we're using alongside the very big stick of U.S. economic and military might, it isn't much of a meal.

The writer, who has worked as a journalist, is a Peace Corps volunteer. The views here are his own.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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