September 11, 2002 - University of Minnesota: My on-site journal of the Ivory Coast

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My on-site journal of the Ivory Coast

My on-site journal of the Ivory Coast

My on-site journal

My site was Mbengue, a town of 8,000 people, about 75 km north of Korhogo, Cote d' Ivoire. A town whose principle employer was a large cotton factory run by LCCI, a subsidiary of the Switzerland based Aiglon group. I was astounded to hear that while lots of people who worked at the factory were well paid, the farmers who gave their cotton to the factory for processing weren't paid for it until a full year later. I don't know whether that's typical or not, but it didn't seem right to me.

To read about the cost of the factory and the company's other interests in Africa click here.

September 11, 2002
Went to my site on the 19-22 person bus called a gbaka, or gbadjan. A bunch of guys were sitting in the middle of the bus with electronic equipment, like DJ stuff across their laps. Their buddies were stuffing more boxes in the windows for them to hold. I thought "oh boy, this is going to be fun when we get to the bridge that is out and all have to get out while the vehicle fords the river." Fortunately the bridge had been fixed well enough for us to just roll across the gap, which had been filled in with rocks.

Along the way a woman had to get off the bus at her village. She had to get past the guys with all the stuff on their laps. When she asked them to let her by they suggested she go out the window. She yelled that she wouldn't and somehow she climbed over them and out. These same guys yelled out the window angrily at the nomadic herding people (Peul in French, or Pulaar) when their cows were on the road and the bus had to slow.
September 12, 2002

Went to my first market day. Walked around for quite a while buying the necessities of life. Utensils, bowls, buckets, etc.
September 19, 2002 Military Uprising / Coup attempt

Went to my second market day. Went with a neighbor girl who helped me buy things. A lot of the women selling food at the market speak Djoula and little or no French, so that really helped.
Walked around on my own and asked a fellow how it was going. He said not well, and that there was a coup underway. He invited me to listen to the news on the radio with him.

*There are those who theorize that the robbery of a bank in Abidjan on August 27 may have been done to fund the military uprising. Read about the robbery here.
September 23, 2002

Have been spending every day and night listening to radio updates on what is going on. Eat lunch on my front porch with my neighbors and listen to the news updates. On this day during lunch a tall well dressed guy I've never seen stops a motorcycle, walks up and hands me a note. It's a note from another volunteer saying that I should pack one bag and all my money and come with this guy to our consolidation point at the Baptist Mission/Dispensary south of Korhogo.
I chomped down my food, grabbed my already packed bag, made some additions to it, gave food to the neighbor's wives and within an hour was on the back of the motorcycle riding down the 75 km of rough dirt roads toward Korhogo.

We passed a group of guys on the road in loincloth, apparently going through an initiation, or poro. Life was apparently normal until we got to the road-block outside of Korhogo. Two guys standing at the intersection in olive uniforms stopped us. One walked up, took a look at me and waved us on. We rode through the city and skirted around the city center, then hit the paved road and kicked it up to 80 kph before arriving at the gates of the mission. Pushing open the wrought-iron gate of the compound with the cycles front tire, we rode up a house and an older fellow came out and said, "you must be Dietrich, it's good to have you here, we've been worried about you. I'm just going to call the peace corps and let them know you're here."
September 29, 2002

After six days of hot showers, great meals, satellite-TV, DVDs and email access, it seems we're going to leave [Group shot]. We packed up and waited from about 8 am, until at 9 or so a French Army helicopter approached from the Northeast, swooped down along the main road outside the compound, popped up briefly to avoid a powerline, then moved past and lowered onto the main road. [Helicopter arrives] The soldiers hanging out the door hopped onto the road, ran out in both directions and on both sides of the road and stood there, their assault rifles in hand, surveying the surrounding landscape. The locals stood at a distance along the road and within the compound and just watched awestruck while we walked in single file along the road and got into the chopper [In helicopter].

We took a brief ride to the closest airport where US and French forces sorted us out, had us fill out paperwork, checked out bags and eventually loaded us onto a French C-160 cargo plane. [Korhogo airport 1, Korhogo airport 2, Ride in C160 to Yammy]We flew to Yammoussoukro and got off the plane with a dozen or more reporters filming us and asking for interviews. [Arrive at Yammy] We sat on some cots set up under a hangar and ate MREs. We then were taken by bus to a safe compound in town, accompanied by US special forces in a hum-v with a turret-mounted machine gun. [Bus ride with soldier] We sat around this compound, ate more MREs and shot the breeze with a couple of the soldiers. Local kids played soccer in the street while a soldier watched over the wall. Now and then a kid would peek his head over the wall and watch us.

We went back to the airport and some of our other volunteers flew in from Ferkessedougou, along with missionaries and their families. We all were piled onto a US C-130 and took off at 10 p.m. or so, bound for Accra. [Ride in C130 to Accra]

We arrived in Accra at about midnight and were whisked off to one of the Peace Corps Ghana offices, filled out some forms, then taken to our hotel. We were greeted by other volunteers, including my friends Ting, Delia and Big Sarah. Delia and Big Sarah were actually in the Korhogo region, but had been taken to Odienne for the consolidation, then packed into a land-rover with 10 others and driven 12 hours or so, straight to Abidjan, then Accra.

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Story Source: University of Minnesota

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ivory Coast; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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