Waiting for deliverance in Abidjan

2011-04-09 14:14

For several days we have lived with fire from automatic weapons and AK-47s. Despite our prayers, fighting over last year’s disputed presidential election has come to Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s main city and the stronghold of the ­incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo.

Last Thursday, we started hearing that troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised winner of the election, were coming. The city waited in an agonised calm.

And then, at ­twilight, they passed under our windows. My son and I crept to a ­window and peeked through the curtains to watch them.

Armed men walked by silently, their strides determined, followed by vehicles with their headlights off.

It was like something from a movie.

They were heading to ­Cocody, the wealthy suburb where the state television has its ­headquarters.

Later, we heard shots. The assault on Gbagbo ­partisans was beginning.

In my apartment building, my neighbours are on both sides of the political debate, yet harmony reigns. We know that we shouldn’t talk politics.

On Sunday, as president of the building’s board, I organised an emergency meeting.

Everyone was there. My neighbours’ faces were sombre, but there was no animosity.

We were all the same under fire. It was a question of survival, which superseded all political division.

Some days earlier, looters had invaded our parking lot. We watched them from our windows, hidden behind our curtains, powerless.

They were intent on stealing our cars: all the windows were broken and the interiors pillaged.

“Give us the keys!” one shouted up to us.

“If we have to go in there, you’ll be ­sorry!” They tried several times to drive off with my car but, as stubborn as its owner, it refused to start and they had to give up.

Three ­other cars were taken but, thank heavens, the bandits didn’t try to force open the door to our building.

By the end of our meeting, we had decided that in case of an attack on our building, we would give the alarm by beating on our pots and pans. We also set hours for taking out the trash and going out to look for food when it was possible.

The days are long because, ­obviously, we are confined to our homes by the gunfire. When the shooting is heavy, I yell at everyone to lie flat in the hallway. My little granddaughter is terrified. Some of my neighbours have bullets in their walls.

I am on my computer all day and well into the night talking to friends across the world via Skype and trying to get scraps of information about what’s really going on in my country ­because state television feeds us propaganda and lies.

Fortunately, a new, pro-Ouattara station has sprung up to tell us what the president-elect is doing.

On Monday, we are told that the final all-out assault by Ouattara’s side is near.

The curfew starts at noon, and the atmosphere is heavy.

I type frantically on my computer to get news. My back aches because I’ve been sitting so long; my eyes hurt, but I can’t tear myself away from the screen, even when it tells me lies. So many rumours!

Then it finally happens.

The troops enter Abidjan to liberate the presidential palace.

United ­Nations and French forces bombard Gbagbo’s bases. The walls tremble.

I am online with people in France – Kim in Paris, my daughter in Lille, Claire in Metz, Georges in Lyon – and simultaneously with Maty in Senegal and Badala in the city of Bouake, in the centre of ­Ivory Coast.

I am constantly interrupted by calls from relatives and friends across the world.

Hunkered down in the hallway with my family, my computer on the floor, I hold up my phone so they can hear the gunfire.

In that hallway, we are afraid. There are suddenly too many ­windows and we try to get as far away from them as possible.

Still, we manage to laugh at how we ­contort our bodies to protect ­ourselves.

My son says that he would never have imagined that one day he would have to slither on the floor like a snake.

Tuesday morning, the uneasy calm is interrupted by sporadic gunfire.

They say that the presidential palace is under siege, they say that soldiers are looking for Gbagbo, they say that he’s ready to surrender?...?they say?...?they say.

I wait for the end, for deliverance.

»?Keïta is a novelist. ©?The New York Times syndication


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