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From Free Will: Ivorian Americans

On the edge of the Ellipse, beyond the circular sidewalk that hugs the iron gate that hugs the trees that hug the South Lawn of the White House, 38 people stand single file, chanting for freedom. "We want French government to get out of Ivory Coast! Africa belongs to black people! We need French to get out! They killed too many Ivorians so far!"

They hold signs written in orange and green ink and wave tiny orange, green and white flags. They are Ivorians who live here and work here, still trying to maintain connection to a homeland. In calls and e-mails to friends, parents, brothers and sisters, they heard of the unrest there. How, they thought, could they do something about it while so far from home?

There are 4,000 or so Ivorians scattered across the Washington area, and through churches, their embassy and the grapevine, one told another about the demonstration and so they came yesterday -- lawyers, shuttle bus drivers, nurses, taking a day off to shout at the White House about a crisis back home, which has been on the brink of war since a cease-fire was broken earlier this month.

"We protest French holding my country," shouts Patrick Nangue on a megaphone. "My country was attacked by the French army. Rebels supported by the French have invaded our country. The rebels, armed by the French, took over our country. . . . The French government is killing people. We ask rebels to disarm. The French say Ivorians killed nine French army people. Now they gun down people of the Ivory Coast. They killed 63."

"I think Bush is listening," says Josephine Seri, 59, a hair braider holding a sign that reads "Ivory Coast; French Troops Stop Shooting Unarmed Civilians."

Their chant is a complicated cry in a country where protests are common, but even more common is an ignorance of far-away tiny countries -- tiny countries that believe American power can help. Curious tourists walk by, point their cameras and click. Without apology, joggers run between the protesters and their leaders. A speed-walker with a Barbie Doll tan, white shorts and a cloud of sweet perfume passes without looking up. Workers in the distance climb cherry pickers to carefully place light bulbs on the National Christmas Tree.

Two women sitting on a park bench think the protesters must be angry at President Bush. Isn't that why most protesters gather? The women have no idea of where Ivory Coast is, what happened there recently, what its relationship to France is or why the protesters have gathered on this small patch out of earshot of the White House.

"They are from Africa?" asks Isabelina Perches, 18.

"They don't like Bush," offers Edith Lopez, 18.

"We don't like Bush," Perches says in sympathy.


Ignorance, your name is...

No, I won't say it ;)
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