March is "la petite saison" for rain. We had a good one last Thursday. I loved it. Reminds me of Seattle.
The recent attacks in Brussels were horrible and personally were a setback for myself and others around here. It’s very hard to believe how evil these acts were and I feel for the people in Belgium as they seek to stand strong and move forward. It’s hard to believe how many people needlessly lost their lives. The support pouring out for Belgium is spot on and I hope it continues to grow and that these acts can forever be prevented.
At the same time, it is hard to not compare the response to what happened in Belgium and what happened here in Bassam. The attacks here were as deadly, if not more than those in Belgium. We will never know the true number of people that died here as many were killed in the water and the strong Bassam currents washed them out to sea to be buried by the ocean. Even the government here has admitted we will never know how many people the ocean buried that day. People leave villages never to be seen again and nobody knows to ask if they are okay or not. That is life in Africa. And that fact is accepted. It is a sad reality that we cannot know all those that lost their lives here. They deserve better than that.
And people here are suffering too. I have seen this every day. Veronique was noticeably different after the attack and eventually had to go to the hospital due to severe fatigue. I can’t imagine the thoughts running through her head as the attacks took place at the beach where she works on the weekend and where her kids play. It was exhausting, and now, unfortunately, she has malaria. She is fine but it’s a lot and there isn’t much support beyond standard networks of friends and family.
Similarly, my good friend Appo has not returned to work at La Pailotte since the attacks. Several people were killed there and he helped guide many to a hiding place. He called me Monday to talk and we went and had coffee. His mind is deeply troubled. He said he thinks of me as an older brother and looks to me for support. I said I will be there for him, but he has little support to get through this time. He can’t sleep, can’t work, and now wants to return to his village to farm peanuts. Prior to this last October, he like many other Africans had not been to his village for over ten years. In October I told him he had to go back and I helped him do it. Now, he feels like it is where he should be for good. I can’t blame him: growing peanuts and living in the village sounds good to me too.
Many people here are losing work too. They ask me to come eat at their places to support them now that work has dried up. I am doing all that I can but it’s not enough.
Just like for Belgium, I also want Ivorian flags flying abroad, heads of state making speeches in support of Bassam, and robust international support when it’s needed most. Brussels needs it and so does Bassam. Sadly, there was not one flower arrangement sent from a western country at the memorial in Bassam. Did they not know it happened? Liberia sent one.
At the end of the day, sad to say but the perception of these events is different. For Belgium, it is rightly treated as a horrible tragedy that requires mass support and unity, but for Bassam it is something different. Yet, for the people here, it was devastating too.
There is hope: amazingly, as I write this I hear beautiful singing from the street. A church group is walking through the French Quarter singing prayers. The people here are coming together as they always do.
I am with Brussels and I am with Bassam. Tous le monde doit être ensemble.
People were writing messages in the sand and leaving flowers. I swam out of the water up to a flower in the beach. I wrote a message on the beach. "Les Americains avec vous." The waves were coming in fast and hard so I had to write quick and forgot the "sont" but I kind of like it the way it is. And, the people were so appreciative. They started taking pictures of it with themselves in it. One woman came up and shook my hand. And then the ocean took it for the people.
Today, I got up and went with Ouzman my Senegalese friend to the memorial. He stayed the night and we went to pizza with Adou last night. We all talked about how terrible the attack was and we spent all night talking and laughing and figuring out ways to help Ouzman find work. His work as a mason has finished so he needs new work or he might have to go to Dubai. We told him we have some good ideas for him.
Anyways, we walked to the Etoile du Sud and it was deserted. It felt so strange for a Sunday. No one was here, but we turned the corner to go to the Etoile and I saw Mazequoi one of the young girls who works at the beach and who Anna plays with. I grabbed her and gave her a big hug and we all walked to the beach. Ouzman and I decided to go to the Etoile for some coffee and the people were very excited to see us. We sat and had our coffee and slowly people started to come to the beach. We took pictures with my friends at the Etoile some of whom were in the video of the attack. I stared at the Ocean and then finally I said to Ouzman let's go. He said yes. So we got ready and then got to the sand and I told him we were going to run. I said 1, 2, 3, and we both took off. (I had an early lead but he blew by me.) We hit the water and I dove under the first wave and I can't tell you what it felt like but it was amazing. It was cleansing. I thought about those people one week earlier and those kids especially the deaf boy and I swam. The waves were intense and the current was strong and we both loved it. We slapped fives and laughed and paid respect to those who died. One Muslim, One Christian, One Ocean. We rode waves and got knocked around. Our last wave was strong and we were both doing cart-wheels under the water and I loved every second of it. Thrown down hard, tossed over, not knowing which way is up, and loving life. The ocean can own me but not terrorists.
We then went across the street and had lunch. Everything was more or less deserted except right there at the memorial site. I had not intention of doing all this but it felt like the right thing to be doing. And I know that life is coming back here and that feels so good.
Went to the beach where the attack took place for the first time since it happened. Saturday sunset felt like a ghost town out there. Tomorrow there will be a remembrance at the memorial which should be good. I stopped in at the Etoile du Sud to say hi to my friends there. They were very happy to see me. I told my friend at the front desk that, "Les Americains sont avec les Ivoriens" and he was so happy to hear that. I looked at the waves crashing with no one there and felt a real sense of loss at that moment. But, I came away feeling better than I have since the attacks took place. I felt strong and confident. I went into town just to go and to take a cab ride and to support Bassam. People are out of work and need help. I stopped by Veronique's house and the kids were so happy to see me. Anna cried when I left, but I had to go. Going to pizza tonight with my friends. To the beach tomorrow, just like it should be.
John Doces. Je vous écris de la Côte-d'Ivoire en Afrique.