Waiting and Worrying by the Phone on Christmas

For those with loved ones in Côte d'Ivoire, this holiday will be spent watching the news and praying that civil war won't break out in this West African country.

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Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

Late in 1999 -- I can't remember the exact month or day -- my wife and I got one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls. "There's been a coup. They're fighting in the streets. Papi has gone into hiding." This was my first experience with what war could mean for my wife's parents and our extended family in Côte d'Ivoire.

Worse still was the uncertainty and inconsistent communication. Phone lines and electricity went down all the time. Cellular service was not what it is today, and the Internet was something that only the very rich had access to. Over the past 11 years, we've learned to live with an unstable political situation and to brace ourselves whenever the phone rings.

Now it's Christmas, and here in the States, we once again wait for the phone to ring, and once again we worry, all because of an election. Two men, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, both claim to have been elected president last month. Both have been sworn in. As a result, there has been violent rhetoric -- and violence. People have been killed (accounts of the actual numbers vary), and there is talk about those who have been disappeared. (Numbers for those vary, too.)

This isn't the Côte d'Ivoire I've grown to love.

We were married in Abidjan, my wife and I, and held our wedding reception at the Golf Hotel, the same hotel currently serving as headquarters for Ouattara, the election challenger. I had played the course the day before with my best friend, who was on his first journey to the continent. We marveled at the beauty of the country and its people. As Americans, we were treated better than we probably deserved, especially since neither of us spoke French.

It rained the morning of the wedding but quickly cleared, and the day turned out to be fabulous. More than 300 guests, of whom I personally knew fewer than 50, attended our wedding. It remains one of the best days of my life.

Today we have a child who was born in Abidjan, and numerous relatives and friends who live there. While I still love "the CI," I'm worried, and concerned for family and friends. I feel for my wife, who frequently talks to her mother and siblings. I see the fear in her eyes, and hear it when she speaks.

We don't understand how this small West African country could be such a mess. We don't understand how the international community could insert itself in the middle of a disputed election and clearly try to influence the outcome. We fear that their actions will lead to violence at best, and genocide at worst.

 

I'm disappointed at the international community's reaction to the election. Its rush to judgment and willingness to declare a winner prematurely has put a nation at risk. It has put people I love at risk. But in the end, who cares about an election when people start killing one another?

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