The Water Tower
February 26, 2003
Seydou's family lived across the road from me in the small village of Gaoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire. All 18 or so of them - I often lost count and never learned all of their names. The four wives ranged in age from 20 to 50, so it was hard to decipher who was a child and who was a wife. The father was a farmer and he tended to his fields everyday. Despite his age and failing health, he had no choice but to go to the coffee and cocoa fields in order to meet the needs of his family, which, by the way, continues to grow. His work ethic was passed down to his oldest sons and daughter, as the four of them went to school and even to college.
Seydou was one of these sons and he was in law school in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Cote d'Ivoire. Since my return from Africa, Seydou and I have maintained intermittent correspondence via email. Most of his emails are very short and to the point, simply telling me hello and that he went to the village and everyone sends their greeti ngs. He has also been pleading for help, desperate to escape the politically unstable country of Cote d'Ivoire. He tells me that he feels unsafe and that he fears for his life. He tells me that even in the village, it is unsafe. He tells me of the police that terrorize the villagers and that the villagers are prisoners in their own home. He tells me that his father has escaped to the forest to hide, fearing his life.
So when I check my email and see a new message from Seydou, I'm hesitant to open it. I want to make sure I'm in the right frame of mind, whatever that means. I don't want to read his emails right before going to a friend's party because I don't want to spoil my mood. I don't want to read his emails before a meal, as I will become nauseous. Honestly, I never want to read his emails. But at the same time, I solicit him for information. I want and need to know what is going on in Cote d'Ivoire and my former village, but it is never easy to know the truth.
Yesterday, I received a message from Seydou. There was no subject title, as opposed to his normal "HELP ME, MY SISTER" subject lines. Nevertheless, I saved the email for later that day. It was short, as they normally are, but there was no pleading for help, no requests for finding someone to get him out of the country. He simply said that everyone from the village sends their love and that construction of the water tower had begun.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, dance or shout. My knees buckled and I threw my arms up into the air. Finally, I said to myself. Good news. For the entire year I was there, we worked endlessly to get that water tower started. The village had raised funds for years and we finally saw the light right before the political upheaval of last September. We lost faith in ever constructing a tower when the war broke out. But now there is hope. I'm so proud of that village, they are the hardest, most determined workers I know.
As a village of foreigners, immigrants from neighboring countries, they have recently faced oustings and opposition that could easily force their flight. But here they are facing the odds and not going anywhere without a fight.
"How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve their world." - Anne Frank