Grand Bassam: On a Terrorist Attack…

Posted by on Mar 22, 2016 in Blog | 1 comment

I wonder what you felt when (and if) you read of the terrorist attack in the coastal town of Grand Bassam, Republic of the Ivory Coast, last week. Perhaps you shrugged your shoulders and asked in despair ‘What is the world coming to? So much violence.’ Or in your impatience to get to the sports page, perhaps you paid this bad news item no attention. For Audrey Francis, a student at Vose Seminary who served with her husband as a missionary in the Ivory Coast for 10 years, this was not a news item she could simply shrug off. She has walked on the beach where the attack took place too often. Here are her reflections after hearing of what took place on that day, when ‘the shots rang out – and everything changed…’ Given the season, I had originally planned to have a post suited to Easter for today. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, perhaps this is its own kind of Good Friday reflection… My thanks to Audrey for her contribution.

On Tuesday morning, March 15, I opened the “West Australian” expecting to read “more of the same”. However, the picture and the cold print describing the terrorist attack in the coastal town of Grand Bassam, Republic of Ivory Coast, West Africa stood out on the page and demanded my full attention. As well, I was flooded by memories – memories of times, over forty years ago, when I had stood on that beach, walked in those streets and felt safe.

My husband and I lived and worked in the Republic of Ivory Coast for ten years in the 70’s under the Methodist Missionary Society from UK. We were on the staff at the Dabou Hospital, a new mission hospital. This was a relatively peaceful time in that country’s history. When we told people where we worked, many would respond, “Where is that?” It was not well known in Anglophone countries, being a former French colony. Its history had its grim moments. With the alternative title of ‘White Man’s Grave”, the challenge of maintaining the good health of the population against the scourge of Malaria and other tropical diseases had been real. Its past also bore the shadow of the slave trade when people were forcibly taken, chained, off the beaches, loaded on to ships and taken to the New World. Ruined buildings with iron rings securely attached to the interior walls were continuing evidence of the incarceration and deprivation of liberty. These beaches had witnessed a cruel history.

I remember the beach at Grand Bassam. I remember the sound of the waves at dawn. I remember the sense of history, for this place had been an ancient capital of the country, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. I remember the anticipation of the rest and relaxation we would experience when we would go there for a break from the hospital routine. I remember the friendliness of the people.

Then, a few days ago, the shots rang out and everything changed. At least 16 people died, including children. Bodies were strewn on the beach. Fear spread as the gunmen seemed to be searching for tourists in the hotels. And the waves continued to lap on the beach. In time, the tide would reach the stained sand and wash some of the horror away. Violence and sorrow had made their indelible mark on the hearts and souls of the people. That would not be cleansed in the near future. A witness reported that a gunman, with a long beard, approached two children on the beach and he heard the man speaking Arabic. One of the children then knelt and started praying. He was spared while the other boy was not.

A receptionist described the mayhem, “We don’t know where they came from and we don’t know where they have gone”.

In the cold, clinical light of logic, people will search for reasons. There will be comparisons with recent attacks in West African nations, which carried similar features – a former French colony, a tourist resort, expatriate visitors, people with money (at least more money than any local person would dream of), Christian missionaries (Dr Ken and Jocelyn Elliott) and the element of surprise, which would ensure the “success” of the venture. Politicians will debate and discuss. Governments will determine and decree. A young mother mourns the loss of her little child who, confused in the instant, walked into those waves and was shot.

I try to make sense of this senseless act, knowing that this will not be the last one of its kind. The bigger picture of the world assures me of that truth. The waves on the beach at Grand Bassam will carry these memories out to sea, beyond the horizon. Is there hope beyond that horizon? That depends on the wisdom of the world and the genuine desire to bring lasting peace. Is that an impossible dream?

I was reminded of the comforting words in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Then I thought, “What would that mean to the gunmen, the people on the beach, the young mother who will soon be standing by that tiny grave?”

So soon after the event, I have no answer. I can only hear the sound of the waves.

Audrey Francis

One Comment

  1. As I read this, I am listening to television reports of the bomb attacks in Brussels. It’s quite horrifying.

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