I'd never really spent much time thinking about Cote d'Ivoire before I got deployed to Liberia. All I really knew about it was that there'd been conflict for many years. I had no idea how developed it had become, how it had been a massive exporter of coffee and one of the most (if not the most) developed countries in the region. The view from my hotel window in Abidjan didn't really tell me much about how cosmopolitan the city once was.
As I mentioned previously, it was a small UNHAS plane that took us to Man in the north west.
I didn't know what to expect of Man, but it was a nice little town, with a bustling market place, and the hotel must have been quite the luxury option in years gone by, with a spectacular view.
And by the time I left, the pool was full and about to undergo some serious chlorination.
So it was quite the contrast when I spent a day with a WASH (water and sanitation and hygiene) team, in Guiglo and Doueke - a good hour and a half drive from Man. The roads were impressive, it was no problem going 100km/hr, something I'd never been able to do in other places I've worked. We visited a few of the sites, starting with the Mission Catholique, where there are about 4,000 people. We then headed to the Carrefour camp for internally displaced people - no-one could tell me how many people were staying there, but it was pretty cramped.
I was inpressed with some of the latrines that had been installed, and we picked up a 'calligrapheur' who was going to do similar artwork on latrines at a nearby school.
To round off the day, we stopped in at the new camp that's under construction by UNHCR and Caritas. It's massive, 24 hectares, and with a huge wooden fence the whole way round. The concern of the displaced people who are to be moved to the new camp are the surrounding forests.
They call the forest "the slaughterhouse;" anyone who goes in, doesn't come out. So understandably, they don't want to move here, and this is when it became particularly obvious that protection is a major gap in the humanitarian response.
Earlier, I'd been walking down a street off the main road with my colleagues, as they needed to check on a couple of wells. I noticed the burnt out structures, but people had simply set up small stalls in front of them to carry on their businesses. The colleauges I was with didn't speak much English so I couldn't communicate very well with anyone. We walked past a muddy empty lot, it just had a few stakes sticking out of it. My colleagues were trying to explain what it was, but I couldn't understand. Finally I came to realise that it was a mass grave. I was a bit shocked at how they seemed blase about it, but I guess if you don't accept it then you can't move on. It was a sobering moment for me.
What struck me most about what has happened in Cote d'Ivoire is how disappointed the Ivorians are with what happened. My colleagues told me about how much potential there is, how educated people are, and how it will take years to recover from the conflict. Reconciliation is not going to be an easy or quick process - how can people really be expected to forgive their neighbours for murdering their family members? There is so much history to overcome, more than just the post-election conflict, but deeper issues surrounding ethnicity, religion, politics, land...the list goes on and on. And yet the continuing theme was not one of anger, or hatred, (of course these are present) but mainly of disappointment.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit, but unfortunately I won't be able to incorporate any of what I saw and learned into my work. I'm being moved to our regional office in Nairobi on Monday, to take over (perhaps establish is a more appropriate term) the information management for the drought/food insecurity regional crisis. It's a shame to leave Dakar and the friends I've made here, but I think the work will be much more challenging in covering Kenya/Ethiopia/Somaliland/and probably some other countries as well. I've not been keeping up with the situation there, so there's a lot of reading to do this weekend. But I won't soon forget what I saw in Cote d'Ivoire.