A Day At The Beach Is A Way Of Saying 'We're Not Afraid' Of Terrorists

Mar 24, 2016
Originally published on March 24, 2016 6:59 pm

"We're not afraid of the terrorists," says Salimata Sylla.

The 40-year-old government worker, wearing purple shorts and a big smile, is visiting the historic Atlantic Ocean town of Grand Bassam, a UN World Heritage site. The seaside resort in Ivory Coast was, on March 13, the target of al-Qaida gunmen who attacked the Etoile du Sud and other hotels and the beachfront with bullets and grenades. They killed at least 19 Ivorians and foreigners.

A week later, Sylla went to the beach with her two boys, Hassane Coulibaly, almost 7, his younger brother, Kader, who's 2, and their 14-year-old sister, Myriam, along with other family members. She wanted to make a point: "We're not afraid of those terrorists and won't stay locked up at home," she says. "Jamais, never, never, never afraid. Non. No, no, never afraid."

Sylla says her work colleagues were horrified that she was going to the beach.

"They thought I was crazy and tried to dissuade me," says Sylla. "When they realized I was serious, they said, "Well if you're determined to go ahead with your beach plans, go by yourself and leave the children at home." But she brought them and urges others to do the same. And she had plenty of company — dozens of beach-goers, including some other families, were on the scene.

On the same day that Sylla and her family visited, a group of popular Ivorian performers gathered in front of the hotel to sing a song of defiance called "Meme Pas Peur."

That's an Ivorian-French expression that roughly means "Can't Scare Us" or "We're Not a Bit Afraid." The musicians recorded a video surrounded by beach-goers dancing and singing along.

The musicians call themselves Collectif Bassam — Bassam Collective — in solidarity with Grand Bassam. They recorded the track in the studio just days after the assault, then went to the scene of the attack to make the video.

A drone flew overhead, filming dance steps and attracting attention and admiration from the crowd that joined in.

The song is music producer Chico Lacoste's idea. He said he was inspired to tell the world: "Ivory Coast has been hit, but they haven't knocked us down. Ivorians will stand up and resist."

The West African nation was once a regional oasis of peace and prosperity before a decade of political turmoil that culminated in a civil war. Ivory Coast often turns to music as a salve in times of crisis; Lacoste says artists readily cooperated in the joint release.

Safiatou Traore, a local TV soap opera star, is part of the "Can't Scare Us" collective. She was dancing her heart out while the video was being filmed. "I love dancing. Ivorians enjoy having a good time, especially here in Bassam," says Traore. "Coming back to the scene of the attacks is the best way to tell the terrorists the people of Ivory Coast are strong and will not be cowed," she says.

It's almost sundown at Grand Bassam beach. Salimata Sylla is gathering her kids together and preparing to head home.

She makes a promise, "All the day, all the time, forever, I will come in Grand Bassam."

Then, in an irrepressible expression of exuberance, she says, "I'm here and I'm alive," and, throwing her arms upward, shouts, "Oooooooooooooooooooh!"

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We've been reporting on how Brussels is trying to get back to normal after this week's bombings. Ivory Coast also suffered a terror attack this month. Al-Qaida militants killed at least 19 people at a seaside resort. Within days, dozens were back on the beach where the gunmen had opened fire on swimmers, sunbathers and diners. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton went to see them.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Hassane Coulibaly is almost 7, and like a typical child, this bright-eyed little boy is frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean, jumping in the sand and dipping his feet in the waves crashing on the shore in Grand Bassam.

Behind him is Etoile du Sud hotel which along with the beachfront was sprayed with bullets and grenades by al-Qaida militants recently in Ivory Coast. Hassane's mother, Salimata Sylla is holding on tightly to his younger brother, Kader, who's 2. She's brought the boys and their teen sister, Myriam, and other family members to Grand Bassam.

SALIMATA SYLLA: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: We're not afraid of these terrorists, says the 40-year-old government worker wearing purple shorts and a big smile. Sylla says to make a point, she's visiting Bassam and the hotel with her family a week after the attacks on the beach in Ivory Coast. We're not afraid of these terrorists and won't stay locked up at home, she insists.

SYLLA: (Speaking French). Never, never, never afraid.

QUIST-ARCTON: Switching back to French, Sylla tells NPR her work colleagues were horrified to hear she was going to the beach a week after the tragedy here.

SYLLA: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: Laughing, she says they thought I was crazy and tried to dissuade me. When they realized I was serious, they said, well, if you're determined to go ahead with your beach plans, go by yourself and leave the children at home.

On the beach in front of the Etoile du Sud hotel, a group of popular Ivorian performers gathered a week after the deadly raid on Grand Bassam to sing a song of defiance. It's called "Meme Pas Peur."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEME PAS PEUR")

UNIDENTIFIED ARTISTS: (Singing in French).

QUIST-ARCTON: Meme pas peur is shorthand for can't scare us. With the ocean waves as a backdrop, the musicians were recording a video surrounded by beachgoers dancing and singing along.

SAFIATOU TRAORE: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: Safiatou Traore, a well-known Ivorian celebrity is part of the Can't Scare Us collective, and she was dancing her heart out.

TRAORE: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: I love dancing, says Traore. Coming back to the scene of the attacks is the best way to tell the terrorists the people of Ivory Coast are strong and will not be cowed, she says.

It's almost sundown at Grand Bassam beach. Salimata Sylla is gathering her kids together and preparing to head home. In an irrepressible expression of sheer exuberance, she says...

SYLLA: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: I'm here, and I'm alive.

SALIMATA SYLLA: (Laughter).

QUIST-ARCTON: That needs no translation. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.