by Mike Hanewald
After having endured 5 weeks of political unrest in the Ivory Coast, Reuwai and I returned to the farm in late October to seek refuge until the current crisis stabilizes. This decision to leave the country came after the U.S. and other embassies and organizations such as the U.N. ordered non-essential personnel to leave the country. While one may think this would not be a very difficult decision to make, we were reluctant to leave the students who remained at the school, roughly 30% of our school’s population. We waited a little more than a week after the U.S. issued the order to leave to see what would happen to the school. Within 2 days of the ordered evacuation, class sizes dropped drastically and the remaining students could not focus on their studies as they said their good-byes to their friends.
What first appeared to be a coup on September 19, is now perceived as a civil war. There were absolutely no warning signs or building tensions leading up to the coup. Although many of our colleagues were awakened by gunfire on the streets, we learned of the situation when our school activated its phone-tree. Once awake, we could hear machine gun fire and explosions from mortars on the streets of Abidjan, right outside of our apartment complex. The situation stabilized quickly within Abidjan, and government forces secured the city; however, much of the northern part of the country remains in rebel hands to this day.
What next? Our return to the Ivory Coast depends on peace, or rather a statement from the U.S. government that lowers the security warning for the country. It remains difficult to predict what will happen to the Ivory Coast at this time. Ethnic tensions run high. Government troops have harassed many foreign Africans and have even destroyed some of their homes. Peace talks ensue; however both sides are unwilling to meet the primary demands of the other the rebels want new elections for a new president, and the government wants the rebels to disarm themselves.
As we watch the news and surf the net for updates, we simultaneously continue our work as teachers with those students remaining at the school, a concept called distance learning. Lest you think the two of us will be picking cookies off the Farm Store shelves for the next few weeks, we will instead be hunkered down over our computers creating curriculum and emailing lessons and graded work back and forth with our students.