Racked by sadness, Micheline Magnan is flying home to Quebec on Thursday, leaving behind the people that she had wanted to help.
She is bidding farewell to Burkina Faso just five days after she arrived. Her family members are fretting for her safety in the aftermath of the terrorist attack last week that killed six Canadians here. She is anxious about the country’s stability and she worries about becoming a security risk for her Catholic charity group if she stays.
“The most important thing is that I’ll be returning some day,” she says, almost overcome by tears. She comforts herself with this thought, but her divided emotions are clear in her tormented expression.
Ms. Magnan’s dilemma is the dilemma of many Canadians in the West African countries that are under assault by Islamist radicals. Canadian mining companies and relief agencies are boosting their security measures, but it’s not enough to reassure everyone. Fears of terrorism will increasingly jeopardize the charities that work in some of the world’s most impoverished countries.
Ms. Magnan, who had planned to work for the Catholic charity for six weeks, arrived in Burkina Faso less than a day after the terrorist attack that killed 30 people. The nuns who rushed to the airport to greet her had been identifying the bodies of the six slain Canadians at the local morgue just two hours earlier.
Sister Madeleine Lalsaga, a nun from Burkina Faso, was among those who went to Ouagadougou’s airport to greet the Quebec volunteer. “I wanted to tell her, ‘Please go back, it’s unsafe here.’ But I had to welcome her,” Sister Lalsaga told The Globe and Mail.
The nuns at the Catholic group that hosted the slain Canadian volunteers, Congrégation des soeurs de Notre-Dame de Perpétuel Secours, had already warned their volunteers to avoid going out after sunset. Now, they will also warn them to avoid places that are popular with Westerners. “I’ll try to discourage anyone from visiting those public places, because that’s where the danger is,” Sister Lalsaga said.
Yet she also points out that Ouagadougou had been widely perceived as a safe city before the attack. This is the broader trend in much of West Africa: Cities that were previously seen as safe, including the capitals of Mali and Burkina Faso, are now under assault from jihadists who easily cross the region’s porous borders.
When a popular restaurant and hotel were attacked by Islamist militants in Ouagadougou on Friday night, six of the dead were from the Quebec City area, including four from the same family: retired school principal Yves Carrier; his wife, Gladys Chamberland; their 19-year-old son, Charlelie; Mr. Carrier’s daughter, Maude; and two family friends, Louis Chabot and Suzanne Bernier. They had been in Burkina Faso to help repair schools and church buildings.
The nuns are holding masses every night this week in memory of the Canadian volunteers. “For us, the people of Burkina Faso, they paid the price of their blood,” Sister Lalsaga said. “They sacrificed their lives for the poor people of Burkina Faso.”
Investigators were combing through the attack site on Wednesday to try to piece together what happened. Some of the victims were so badly injured that their bodies were difficult to identify. A senior government official said two bodies were still unidentified: a black person and a white person.
New details of the attack were still emerging on Wednesday. In addition to the six Canadians, another victim was their driver, who was killed as he waited in the vehicle that would have taken three of the Canadians to the airport for a departing flight that night. The nuns, who knew the driver only as Paul, identified his body at the same time as they identified the Canadians.
Just 10 days before their death, the Canadians had attended a birthday party for Sister Denise Ferland, a Quebec nun who has worked in Burkina Faso for 18 years. She remembers Mr. Carrier dancing exuberantly to local religious songs at the party. He told her that he planned to cancel all his other travel plans and concentrate solely on volunteer work in Burkina Faso. “He was a very joyful and energetic person,” she said.
Sister Lalsaga remembers hugging Mr. Carrier just before he went to the restaurant on the night of the attack. “My last image of him was his face, shining with a supreme happiness,” she said.
When she heard the news of the attack, she thought the Canadians were safe because they would be dining at a restaurant near the airport. But when Mr. Carrier didn’t arrive the next morning for a prearranged meeting and a lunch, she and the other nuns phoned his number vainly for many hours. They checked the local hospitals and found no sign of the Canadians.
Finally they met a friend who had also been dialling Mr. Carrier’s number. He said the phone had been briefly answered by a policeman. A voice in the background said: “Tell them the truth. It’s too late, they are all dead.”
That night, at the nun’s quarters, nobody could eat. “It was too painful,” Sister Lalsaga said. “These were people who came here to help us, and they were killed.”Report Typo/Error