Empathy Was All Around in 2016 for the French-Speaking World, Too

Resilience by Alan levine on Flickr - CC license - NC-2.0

Resilience by Alan levine on Flickr – CC license – NC-2.0

As the year ends, you'll find many reviews suggesting that it was one of the most dreadful years in recent memory. And, yeah, no kidding. In many ways, 2016 was a series of punches to the gut. But there were also more than a few wonderful things that happened throughout the French-speaking world — stories that were lost in the mayhem of tragedy. It would be a shame to ignore 2016's less publicized, but still important events, and so here goes our look back at the good stuff this past year.

Burkina Faso's Resilience After the January Attacks

Defiant, Disappointed, and Mourning—Burkina Faso Remembers Victims of the January Attacks

On Jan. 15, armed adolescents who pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in Maghreb AQMI attacked three businesses in downtown Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The gunmen hit the Bush Taxi Bar, Cappuccino café, and Splendid Hotel, killing 30 people and injuring scores more. When the dust settled, the city's residents vowed to not let the violence tear apart their home, rallying to help the three attacked businesses get back on their feet. The campaign spread on social media, with the help of the slogan: “Every morning, we will be drinking cappuccino within the splendid beauty of Burkina.”

Empathy in the Face of France's Bloodshed

When Never Forgetting the Attacks on France, Try to Remember the Heroes, Too

There have been multiple attacks in France over the past two years. The deadliest one yet occurred in July, with the massacre in Nice. When the violence broke out, many individuals acted bravely and selflessly to help others. For instance, in what became known as #portesouvertes (“open doors”), locals opened their doors to stranded tourists, when police responded with a citywide curfew. Others, like Ludovic Boumbas, paid the ultimate price, sacrificing his life to save his friends and family.

Antoine Leiris on Facebook - Public domain

Antoine Leiris on Facebook – Public domain

Antoine Leiris lost his wife during the attacks at the Bataclan in November 2015. Two days after her death, Leiris wrote an open letter to his wife's killers on Facebook. While paying tribute to the mother of his son Melvil (17 months at the time of the attacks), Leiris also explained why he choose to not embrace hatred:

“Vous n’aurez pas ma haine”

Vendredi soir vous avez volé la vie d’un être d’exception, l’amour de ma vie, la mère de mon fils mais vous n’aurez pas ma haine. Je ne sais pas qui vous êtes et je ne veux pas le savoir, vous êtes des âmes mortes. Si ce Dieu pour lequel vous tuez aveuglément nous a fait à son image, chaque balle dans le corps de ma femme aura été une blessure dans son coeur.

Alors non je ne vous ferai pas ce cadeau de vous haïr. Vous l’avez bien cherché pourtant mais répondre à la haine par la colère ce serait céder à la même ignorance qui a fait de vous ce que vous êtes. Vous voulez que j’ai peur, que je regarde mes concitoyens avec un oeil méfiant, que je sacrifie ma liberté pour la sécurité. Perdu. Même joueur joue encore.

Je l’ai vue ce matin. Enfin, après des nuits et des jours d’attente. Elle était aussi belle que lorsqu’elle est partie ce vendredi soir, aussi belle que lorsque j’en suis tombé éperdument amoureux il y a plus de 12 ans. Bien sûr je suis dévasté par le chagrin, je vous concède cette petite victoire, mais elle sera de courte durée. Je sais qu’elle nous accompagnera chaque jour et que nous nous retrouverons dans ce paradis des âmes libres auquel vous n’aurez jamais accès.

Nous sommes deux, mon fils et moi, mais nous sommes plus fort que toutes les armées du monde. Je n’ai d’ailleurs pas plus de temps à vous consacrer, je dois rejoindre Melvil qui se réveille de sa sieste. Il a 17 mois à peine, il va manger son goûter comme tous les jours, puis nous allons jouer comme tous les jours et toute sa vie ce petit garçon vous fera l’affront d’être heureux et libre. Car non, vous n’aurez pas sa haine non plus.

On Friday night, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know. You are dead souls. If this God that you kill for with blind rage really made us to be like her, each bullet that hit the body of my wife would have been a blow to her heart. I would not do you the favor of hating you. You would have surely deserved it but to respond to hatred with anger would be yielding to the same ignorance that made you what you are.

You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with suspicious eyes, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost. I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.

Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have. Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to Melvil [my son] who has just woken from his sleep. He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free. Because you will never have his hatred either.

Empathy Is Love

Madagascar has been hit with one of the world's worst famines in the last decade. Addressing the tragedy, the country's most celebrated poet wrote a now famous poem, describing enduring love as resilience through a drought. His poem was shared widely on social media this year as a tribute to the country's suffering:

Voninkazo adaladala, Voninkazo tsy misaina, Fa maniry samirery, Eny an-tany karankaina,  Ny manodidina rehetra, Efa ringitra avokoa, Efa tapitra matory, Izy irery no mifoha, Ity foko koa adala, Tsy mba manadino e ! Ny rehetra raha mangina, Izaho mbola mino e ! Mbola tena mahatsiaro, Ilay fitiavako taloha, Mbola velona ao am-poko, Tsy mitsahatra mamoy Voninkazo, adaladala e !

Wildflower, carefree flower, Which keeps growing on fallow land. Everywhere, all that surrounds now is desolation, and all lies dormant. And alone, she alone remains awake. And still exists somewhere. My whole heart has been driven wild as well, and refuses to forget. Silence remains around the one whom I love, but I continue to believe. I keep this in memory, and I will always remember my lost love, in whom I have always believed. This love is still going strong, and keeps me awake at night.

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