Losing a dear friend to an act of terrorism is something you never think will happen to you… until it does. I think most of us assume this is something that only happens to other people. People we don’t know. People far, far away. This is not always the case.
Last year, we had the privilege of traveling to Burkina Faso to build our first school. On this trip, we met several friends, among them a brilliant man with an enormous heart named Ahmed Kere. During our short time in Burkina Faso, we quickly formed a strong bond with Ahmed. He was truly a one-of-a-kind, beautiful soul. His life hadn’t been an easy one, yet he wore a radiant smile every day. Integrity and kindness flowed from this man and he inspired others to be better with ease.
In the fall of last year, we flew Ahmed to our home for a visit. It was one of the most amazing weeks any of us had experienced. It was his first time out of his country, his first time on a plane, first time to the beach, a McDonald’s, a Wal-Mart. We taught him how to swim, a bucket list item for him. We crammed as many firsts into that week as possible, and when the week was over we hugged him and bid him farewell, never even imagining this might be the last time we saw him.
You see, we were scheduled to join Ahmed in Burkina Faso just a few short days after saying goodbye. This made the goodbyes easier for many of us. “It’s not goodbye, it’s simply see you soon!”
The day he arrived home was the same day that there was a military coup in the country, due to some political unrest. We spoke with him at length during those few days, constantly wanting reassurance that he (along with other friends in country) were okay.
The coup was quickly resolved, and it was time to make plans to get back to Burkina. We chose a date in late January. Plenty of time for the dust of the chaos to settle. This is, after all, an extremely peaceful country filled with kind, hospitable people. January rolled around and we were packed and ready to go. Ready to build another school, see some of the wells we had built, and of course, see our old friends.
We were scheduled to leave on a Sunday. The Friday before, tragedy struck in a form that had previously been unknown in this country, and was certainly unexpected.
We started to see the reports rolling in that there had been an attack in downtown Ouagadougou. Reports of shootings and firebombs hit our news feeds and our hearts. Attacks had started in the Cafe Cappuccino, a place we had visited on our last trip, a place that had held happy memories. From the cafe, the attackers moved on to the Splendid Hotel.
We frantically reached out to all of our friends who were in country, and we received no responses. That Friday night we went to bed restless, unable to sleep, worried for our comrades. Plagued with anxiety, I continued to reach out to those on the ground during my sleepless hours of the night.
Finally, around 1AM my time, I received a reply from our dear friend Martin. Relieved to hear from him, I began to question if he was okay, if others were okay, what was happening, was he safe. He told me that they had been in the Cafe Cappuccino when the attacks began. At this news, I immediately burst into tears. I cannot imagine how truly terrifying this must have been for those in the cafe. He told me they had been in the cafe when it was set ablaze and armed gunmen entered and opened fire. He said they had been there in a group of 11. He recounted how some of them had been able to escape the cafe under the cover of thick smoke through a broken window in the back, however their group got separated as they entered the danger and chaos on the streets. At that time, there were still 5 people missing, including Ahmed.
Terror gripped my heart at this news. Please let him be found. Please let them all be found.
I continued to check with anyone I could all day to see if there were any updates on the whereabouts of those missing. Slowly, we began to receive updates that various members of the party had been located. All but Ahmed.
By late afternoon on Saturday, we finally got some good news. Ahmed had been found. He had suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and was at the hospital, but he would be alright. Best. News. Ever. We were all overcome with relief and gratefulness. Only, an hour later, we found out that this relief belonged to another group of loved ones, not to us. A case of mistaken identity. The Ahmed at the hospital with the gunshot wound was not our Ahmed. I cannot describe the absolute devastation we felt at this news. A blow so hard after having been given the hope that he was safe, that it caused a physical heaviness of the heart. You know, that weighted feeling of despair and anxiety that hits your right in the chest.
Back to waiting.
Hopefully – though with each passing minute our hopes were dwindling.
Alas, the crushing news reached us.
Ahmed never made it out of the cafe that day. Instead, he had died there as he had lived. Courageously, and while putting others above himself. You see, when the gunmen entered the cafe, Ahmed was among the first to stand up. He tried to reason with these terrorists. He asked them not to hurt anyone. He treated these evil people with kindness and with love. He was gunned down for this action. An action that speaks volumes about the character of this wonderful man. An act that allowed several others to escape unharmed.
Ahmed Kere is an inspiration and true hero.
His loss continues to be felt by many around the world.
The attack the ended the life of our friend was carried out by Al Qaeda. So many people are so quick to judge when they hear this news. They say things like “All Muslims are terrorists. This is just their way.”
To that, I want to point out a tragic irony. Ahmed was Muslim. A true Muslim. A man who respected others and treated everyone with kindness. A man who would go out of his way to help someone in need. A man who inspired every single person he encountered.
While we mourn his loss, we are more determined than ever to follow his example and make a difference in this world. This year, we plan to build a school and a well in Burkina Faso in his name. We will continue our work with renewed vigor, as this is what he would have wanted of us.
His death, though due to a senseless act of violence, will not be in vain. We will move on, we will live our lives by his example and we will honor him.