Friday, December 31, 2010

Civil War approaching?

It’s hard to believe that I’m in a country that’s almost at a civil war stage, everything here is so normal.  Music plays 24/7, people are happy & still very welcoming but the discussion around me is always about politics.  It seems that many people in CI will accept Ouattara as President for the good of the economy & to have the country working again.  It's hard seeing so many people affected by this conflict.  However the hard core ‘patriots’ have other ideas and will keep going till the end to ensure Gbagbo is in power, they’re predominantly in Abidjan & the south of CI.  I try to work most days on the computer looking for work, chasing contracts and go to bed to then wake in horror when an avocado falls on the tin roof fearing the worst!

We are now 4 adults & 6 kids under one roof in two rooms ... my hosts refuse to let me move, I have their room with the only air-con in the house, I’m completely spoilt! A few days ago a friend of theirs arrived with her baby boy on her back.  She’d come from Port Bouet, the district of Abidjan next to the port and airport.  She’d seen mercenaries killing people, two young men in particular that she saw dead in the street.  She has calmed down a lot since arriving when she was very tense but constantly calls her husband in the morning to ensure he’s still alive.  It seems that there are a lot of refugees that have headed this way to be with friends & family.

Things in Abidjan aren’t good; E who will be the future centre manager, returned from here after 6 days of hard work on the computer with both of us typing up documents for the mayor & other officials here.  He got a direct bus that took 5hrs instead of a usual maximum of 3hrs but at least it was only 2,200CFA, they’d loaded up with bags of charcoal which is a VERY rare commodity now in Abidjan.  Each bag here costs 1,000CFA, 3 weeks ago I heard a bag in Abidjan cost 16,000CFA – god knows what the price is now.  They were stopped on their way into Abidjan demanding 1,000CFA per bag by customs, I’m not sure how many they had but there was a big argument and the bags were left at Adjouffou on the edge of Abidjan whilst the driver probably went off to find money to pay for it.  

E is in Abobo, one of the worst areas for the mercenary led killings, nothing moves there apparently, no taxis ... nothing, it’s become a ghost town.  People are scared to go out , doors are locked & the only means of communication is by mobile phone.  The fear of genocide is increasing on both sides, there’s a mass grave in Abidjan apparently, heavily guarded by Gbagbo military ... whether they’ll take photos & say it was the other side that was killed or their own men, who knows .. But most of the other districts in Abidjan functional perfectly normally .. the fear is not so desperate, possibly because both Abobo & Adjame were the areas where the ‘death squads’ killed many early on in the last crisis.

Prior to coming into CI, I was in touch with Amnesty International, I'm now sending them reports of what I hear locally from people, talking to them face to face & getting the facts.  I don't care who's responsible for the killings, I'm not politically minded, but to kill civilians is a crime in my book.

It’s the end of December & the mayor still hasn’t returned I realise he’s been caught up in the political situation & ‘Three Wise Men’ from Benin, Cap Verde & Sierra Leone that came to mediate with Gbagbo.  I desperately need to see him to get confirmation of the project ... I’m determined more than ever that we get this project set up & running.  There’s a crisis happening here right now & if it's not resolved it could get worse .. people are suffering and they’ll be more kids on the streets than before.  Personally I see CI going the same way as Zimbabwe; why the UN don’t do more I don’t know. 

We’ve had three consecutive days of storms, that all started around 4pm the second day was the worst, rain pelted down half the night, makes the road between here & Aboisso very difficult, in some parts the road has gone & got a lot worse since last year.  In it’s place are massive puddles with lots of mud, which wasn’t great yesterday as it came into the footwell of my 7 seater & I arrived in Aboisso with very muddy feet.  At least I managed to hold my balance in Aboisso when I almost went over in a muddy patch!   I’d headed down to Aboisso again, this time alone.  Absolutely no problems at all, except for taxi guys desperately trying to sell me a seat in the taxis that head to Noe & the border.  

I was there to meet a Canadian friend's friend who’s been helping us both with the project.  He’s from the north & found that the situation in Abidjan was too much to handle.  As far as I know he escaped Bouake during the height of the last crisis.  Anyway, I met up with him in Aboisso & introduced him my friends there who found him a hotel for the night before he was due to leave CI for 'quieter' climes.  I rang Accra & had a bed organised for him there before he heads to Lome, Togo where he has a promise of work from a friend.  I heard from him when he reached Ghana he got stuck at the border trying to get transport to Accra .. apparently he’s the only Ivorian heading that way which is good news as there are reports of around 17,000 refugees from the west already in Liberia & another 200 in Guinea.

I haven’t really done much; I went with my hosts & friends to his club the other side of town, had a bit of a problem with the town gendarmes who’d returned from a ‘mission’ and wanted to enter in uniform with their kalashnikovs .. eventually they realised that it wasn’t such a good idea and left but caused a bit of a chaos trying to get them to exit the place before everyone calmed down again.  Strange really when in ‘normal’ times they wouldn’t even consider entering armed but in the situation we’re in they feel they have the right to dance ‘armed’!!  

 I’ve made few trips to Aboisso; each time I forget to go to the pharmacy there as the one here doesn’t have my malaria tablets, got 2 weeks worth left, not completely desperate yet.  My swimming idea went very wrong when I heard that there are now crocs around, so I am hoping that the Mayor will be with us tonight for New Years Eve as promised so that I can get down to the beach & swim in the ocean.  

In the meantime, I keep receiving messages on Facebook from people who are genuinely concerned by my situation but unaware of my surroundings.  I'm finding it the most stressful thing to deal with at the moment ... Positive wishes are welcomed but being told that I might need rescuing by EU troops is a bit of an overstatement ... spectators should remain just that unless they want to help with the project!


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