September 27, 2003 - Charleston Daily Mail : Ex-state couple recounts fright of African coup: Late-night flare precedes gunfire outside apartment

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ivory Coast: Peace Corps Ivory Coast : The Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast: September 27, 2003 - Charleston Daily Mail : Ex-state couple recounts fright of African coup: Late-night flare precedes gunfire outside apartment

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Ex-state couple recounts fright of African coup: Late-night flare precedes gunfire outside apartment

Ex-state couple recounts fright of African coup: Late-night flare precedes gunfire outside apartment

Ex-state couple recounts fright of African coup: ; Late-night flare precedes gunfire outside apartment

Sep 27, 2002 - Charleston Daily Mail

Author(s): Mike Connolly


Former Spencer residents Jay and Heidi Hamric awoke to gunfire on Sept. 19 in the Ivory Coast. The couple spent the rest of the day huddled in their apartment hallway to avoid stray bullets as a coup tore through the country where they work as teachers in an international school. A week later, things have pretty much returned to normal in the country's largest city, Abijan, where they live and work. But for a while, it was pretty scary.

"I would be lying to you if I said everything was peachy," Jay Hamric said Thursday in a telephone interview from the African nation. "It's a little bit nerve-racking. The first couple days were really sketchy with lots of gunfire."

Rebel troops stormed Abijan and attacked government targets just down the street from the Hamrics' apartment on Sept. 19. Heidi Hamric awoke around 4 a.m. when a flare outside flooded her bedroom with light. Gunfire followed quickly.

"My first reaction was thunderstorm b/c it's so humid here," Heidi Hamric wrote Sunday in an e-mail to her family. "When the 'thunder' turned into a more rapid boom boom boom boom, I second- guessed the whole thing."

Jay Hamric awoke after the gunfire, and the husband and wife moved quickly to secure their ground-floor apartment. Their patio security fence was broken, so they locked their sliding glass door and hoped for the best.

"We secured the next line of defense; our two sliding glass doors," she wrote in the e-mail. "I did not feel secure with two measly panes of sliding glass."

The couple spent the rest of the day on the floor of their hall waiting out the gunfire. Jay Hamric took a nap. Heidi Hamric tried to do some yoga. She was a yoga instructor for a year at Nautilus Fitness Center in Charleston.

"I had this desire to do things. I couldn't sit still," she said in a phone interview. "I tried doing a yoga pose against the wall that is supposed to calm you down, but it was difficult being so jumpy."

At 10 a.m. Ivory Coast time (6 a.m. EDT), Jay Hamric called his parents. He told them he was going to be OK and not to worry. Margie and Jim Hamric spent the rest of the day checking for updates on the coup.

"Hardly a moment goes by when you don't wonder what's going to happen," said Jim Hamric, athletic director at Parkersburg High School. "It's out of our control so you try not to think about it."

Jay and Heidi Hamric moved to the Ivory Coast to work as teachers at the International Community School of Abijan in August. School was canceled immediately after the attacks for a few days, but the Hamrics returned to work Wednesday.

With phone service to the African nation spotty, Jim and Margie Hamric relied mostly on e-mail to communicate with Jay and Heidi. But knowing that their son and daughter-in-law are in a far off and dangerous location is nothing new for the Hamrics.

Since Jay and Heidi graduated from the College of William and Mary, they have lived in Alaska and the Solomon Islands and backpacked through rural China for five months.

They witnessed a coup attempt in the Solomon Islands when they were in the Peace Corps. Luckily, the coup was far from the island where they were serving, but they still had to be evacuated.

"After they had to evacuate, we lost contact with them for three days," said Margie Hamric who is the principal at Franklin Elementary.

The Solomon Islands evacuation may have prepared the Hamrics on the home front for the coup in Ivory Coast, but the experience was no help for Jay and Heidi. When they were evacuated from the Solomon Islands, the fighting was far off and never threatened them. In the Ivory Coast, the fighting was practically on their doorstep.

"It's totally different," Heidi Hamric said. "There we were on a remote island. Here it is much closer up."

The fighting in Abijan has mostly died down as far as Heidi and Jay Hamric can tell. They still hear occasional gunshots, but most of the fighting is now three hours north.

The Associated Press reported that French and American soldiers rescued 200 American children and teachers from a school in the northern part of the country Wednesday. Nearly 1,000 foreigners have fled from cities in the north where fighting continues. The United States has evacuated nine Peace Corps volunteers, but the Hamrics said they don't plan on evacuating.

"If you take away this past week, it's been some of the best five weeks of my life so far," Jay Hamric said. "It's sad that this past week incidents have happened, but we hope that these don't last too long."

Writer Mike Connolly can be reached at 348-4806 or by e-mail at


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Story Source: Charleston Daily Mail

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



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