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Story Publication logo April 23, 2011

Ivory Coast: Abobo Sud Hospital

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Instead of a return to peace and prosperity, Ivory Coast’s long-delayed presidential elections...

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A soldier, wounded in the fighting, being bathed by his wife at Abobo Sud Hospital. Image by Peter DiCampo, Ivory Coast. 2011

The fighting is not over in Abidjan. Each morning brings a new report of who is firing on whom and in which part of the city. Most of it is confined to an area called Yopougon, but occasionally it flares up in Abobo, where most of the heavy fighting took place in the months leading up to Ouattara's forces' final push.

Abobo is also host to Abobo Sud Hospital—the only hospital in the city that was open during and immediately after the height of conflict. (Of course, I use the word "open" loosely. It was still a struggle to get here, but civilians found a way on occasion.) Militias dropped off their wounded, and local doctors and volunteers from Médecins Sans Frontières who were trapped inside treated anyone they could as long they had the supplies to do so. I spent a couple days at Abobo Sud this week, photographing the influx of people who could suddenly leave their homes and seek medical attention.

On Tuesday night I spent a long time in a ward with a group of  wounded, many of whom were soldiers. It's difficult to make an interesting photo of people lying in bed. I stood until they invited me to sit, took pictures here and there, tried to joke around despite the language barrier. They told me my name was no longer Peter–it was al Haji. I protested that I've never been to Mecca and didn't deserve such a name, so instead they named me Ahmad. This was an ice-breaker; they laughed at my ready agreement to take on a new name if it would make them happy.

My reward in the end was this photo of one of the men—a soldier and amputee—being bathed by his wife. He was serious, but not unfriendly. Unlike the others, he didn't call me over to take pictures of him, but he also didn't protest.

What I missed while making this picture was the next group of wounded being rushed in. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late to capture. But I prefer to have these quiet, human moments.

That night and into the following morning, we sat listening to gunfire not so far away, and wondered when the next round of wounded would arrive. But the only other rush I saw was for a soldier in the back of a pickup, who was pronounced dead on arrival.

The question of who is fighting is a more difficult one, even in Abidjan. While most of it is likely the final drama of pro-Gbagbo versus pro-Ouattara playing out, there are already vague and unconfirmed reports of fighting within the Ouattara forces. (Editor's note: Alassane Ouattara is the internationally recognized new president of Ivory Coast; Laurent Gbagbo, the former president, is under arrest.)

Vague and unconfirmed reports—that  seems to be the theme of this ordeal. I'm back in the western part of the country now,  where there are vague and unconfirmed reports of villages burning and people hiding for days in the bush.

So tomorrow is another day of photographing what little I can—and looking for more human moments.

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