Saturday, December 11, 2010

To Leave or Not to Leave...

With two presidents currently sworn into office in Ivory Coast, things do not bode well for the near future. The threat of armed conflict looms as neither the newly elected leader nor the incumbent president show any sign of backing down from their position. Closing the borders and airspace last weekend did not inspire confidence either. Expatriate members of our organization teaching at an institution in Abidjan have taken their Christmas holidays early and left the country shortly after the borders were reopened last week. However, the future leader of one of our language teams in Burkina is still in Abidjan with his family. He is in his final year of studies, but because he is a Burkinabè, he fears that he and his family will be targeted should violence flare up since this was the case for some Burkinabè living in Ivory Coast during the last conflict there earlier this decade.

So starting last week, after the borders were reopened, we began efforts to get him and his family home. Following some research into available flights on his end, he said that the earliest flight he could get was December 18th! So we did some research on our end and discovered that we could get him and his family a flight on 13th. However, he said he could catch a bus or train on the 11th. Not knowing how much time we have, we opted for the earliest option, bus or train. By either of those means, he should be home in Burkina before the next available flight would even leave Abidjan.

Then I got a phone call. All the buses are grounded for the weekend. Nothing is moving until Monday at the earliest. So I told him to check out the train. The earliest ride he could get there was on Tuesday. By now it was too late to get tickets on the Monday plane that was an option earlier. So I told him to get tickets for the train. It was more expensive than the bus, but probably faster and more secure, being less likely to be stopped at every checkpoint along the long road back to Burkina.

Only one problem. He didn’t have enough money. Forget a bank transfer. It would take too long. So I began researching possibilities with a money transfer agency like Western Union. Trying to find an agent located near the educational institution where he was a student (so he didn’t have to travel all over or across the city), was impossible. Western Union’s agent locator tool was useless to anyone like me who doesn’t know the city. Though the descriptions vary, the maps they provide show all the agents in a single location: downtown.

So I began e-mailing people who I knew had spent some time in Abidjan. By this method, I finally received a message from one of the professors at the institution (whom I did not know, but who had been copied on a message from someone I had written to). After some discussion, she offered to advance the money to the student from her own funds, and we could find a way to pay her back later. Wow, was I impressed! And thankful.

You know, when all is said and done, maybe nothing will happen in Ivory Coast after all. Maybe it will remain peaceful and we’ll be accused of having overreacted and wasted money in evacuating someone with his family when in the end, nothing happened. But that will be easy to say then. Hindsight is always 20/20. What counts is that we can’t say that now. At this moment, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We can only act on the information that we have before us. And the same people that might say I was overreacting if nothing happens will probably be the first to blame me if things go wrong. In the end, I think I’d rather be accused of overreacting than accused of negligence.

I’ll let you know how it all turns out :)

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