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Experiencing a Coup in the Comoros

“The letter in the Mailbag yesterday about the reported instability in Thailand reminded me of an experience I had living overseas in the early 1990s in the Comoros, a collection of islands between Madagascar and Mozambique. It’s what taught me to take everything I hear in the mainstream press with a grain of salt.

“I had a shortwave radio, and I could get the BBC. The local government was in constant upheaval in the Comoros. In the two years I was there as a Peace Corps volunteer, we had three coups d’etat. It was not unusual to have unrest in the capital at those times. By that I mean untrained young ‘military’ or maybe ‘rebel’ men piled into the backs of bush taxis with Kalashnikovs in hand careening around the handful of streets for a day or so. A few burning tires. Some tear gas. But such disturbances only rarely went beyond the capital or lasted more than a few days.

“Yet I remember hearing on the BBC one day that the capital was a disaster zone and that even my village on the northern tip of one island had been taken over by rebels. Tires burning. Road impassable. Only I’d been to teach that morning. I’d traveled by the main road, and it was business as usual.

“In fact, the only way I ever knew a coup had taken place was because I heard military music on the local radio station, which was always blasting from the homes along my route to school. The first thing the coup-stagers always did was to take over the radio station in the capital and blast military music. It was an easy way, in those pre-cell-phone days, to alert the masses that something was up.

“Anyway, that’s the story I tell to explain why I don’t always believe what I hear in the news…”

Jen S., United States

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