Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Abidjan Mainly - Cote D'Ivoire Encore

One last word (essay) on the place – well, before I (hopefully) go back and fall in love all over again in August. Which also will be one month closer to Bikini Season!

This last trip definitely fell into the rainy season. Which didn’t stop it from being stupidly hot. And humid! So humid that I could feel the moisture between the computer keys and me, and photos too fogged up from the sweat of the air. Except that it was meant to be the ‘coldest’ month. Which did not stop the Ivorian people from freezing us through aircon, in every office and car! A window sneaked open was sometimes all that kept us from hypothermia.

So the trip was wonderful incredible fun exhausting sense-overloading très-frenchie très-noir. I have never had a problem with being stared at when I am the odd one out – bring on being the only white chick in a whole suburb! Except this did attract the one and only young drunk man to me on the Thursday afternoon (Phuza Thurs even exists there) as we stupidly strolled down a slum street. He tried to chat me up. Ignored my colleague’s pleas to “bugger off” as he trapped me under his arm and I tried not to laugh or punch him. Everyone in the street stared in concern, until one man pulled him off and apologised. Sweet!

All the Ivorians I met were charming and friendly, sweet and knowledgeable. The city of Abidjan is well-developed, across its lagoons. Although they do need to improve their rubbish collection.

I had no clue what to expect. And what I got, I loved. A country rundown, one big main city, abandoned buildings with great potential, although much scrubbing and perhaps ten layers of paint wouldn’t hurt. It was tropical. Obviously. Palm trees everywhere. Wide avenues. Nice cars – Mercs and BMWs. Lotsa taxis. MTN dominates. Power cuts seem to be a Friday thing. KITCH office and housing decorations - bring on a demand for FAKE pink flowers and glitz and bling!

Great markets. With ancient muslim men either offering me a place in their harem (find the photo of the ancient man dressed in purple, completed in his stereotype with the wooden walking stick) or calling me ‘comrade’ and joyously showing me crazy old Muslim scythes (bought). Ivory or bone-posing-as charms. Ebony figures and jewellery boxes. Masks. Chairs too low. Fabrics and dresses and hideous pantalons. Vegetables, flowers, dried fish and prawns. One butchery stall of meat sitting in that heat, cut up and rotting. Cellphone accessories. Sandals. Underwear. What’s your price?

There were many cops and soldiers hosting many a roadblock. Not completely certain what they are checking for. Traffic on the highways was a bitch. Mainly caused by a car, or ten, broken down. Or bad drainage meaning that highway was flooded in a part.

You can drink the water in the city. Hell, you can even smell the chlorine in it! So you might not die from typhoid or dysentery, but you might rather burn your insides with all the chemicals used to clean it!

I tried out yams. Random.
And couscous with cassava grated into it. Delicious! In its lemony taste. (Bought from the roadside guys who sell it in small Jiffy bag packets)
And some chilli paste which had me gasping for anything liquid while trying to use bad French with our Ivorian colleagues.
There was overpriced Debonairs. And many an Asian restaurant. Or best of all, cafés & pâtisseries, baguettes and croissants like I knew them from France!
And the tastiest, most succulent tropical fruits. Bring on “des ananas”! (French pineapple).
I was not daring enough to buy prawns from roadside sellers when I was at least 3 hours from any ocean.
The coffee was too bitter. But it is rare that I complain about coffee. Except for when it is instant. Which was used far too often in offices. One would think when you are in a cocoa-exporting country, the real stuff would abound. It was sadly not to be.

I LOVED the diced deep-fried bananas given to us as snacks at one “café”/ shebeen one night.
I did not enjoy the local Flag beer, and should’ve stuck to the Danish Tuborg or the Guinness.
But WOW, is it great to order a Gin ‘n Tonic in that country!! I would fear to know how strong a double is! Well, maybe ‘fear’ is not the right word.

It is R15 to 1000 CFA francs. The CFA is pegged to the €uro. None of it made any sense to me, and I think I came back very broke. But with many trinkets. Man, but was I laden with beads and ebony and masks and shells and random tourist silliness that my mates will one day admire on my walls and I will get to say with glazed-over nostalgia….ah yes, that was from my work days in Cote D’Ivoire….

I resisted the ivory market goods. Poor elephants and all. And rather bought chocolate. Only to be eating it yesterday at the office, while browsing Reuters, and read this headline: Chocolate guilty of prolonging Ivory Coast's war

The Ivorians don’t trust Chirac, and think that he manipulated the war that happened in the last few years. From starting it, to sensationalising it to the western world, deceiving them into thinking it was “another Rwanda”.

They also do not take too fondly to the Nigerians. Like us, they consider the country corrupt and lawless, and breeding such people as a result.

Lebanese abound in the city of Abidjan, with an estimated 60 000 people of this origin.

One fast-learnt lesson – DO NOT take photos of people very obviously! I had two scenarios of saying, “non, non, madam/ monsieur, I was taking of that tree behind you, not of you four colourful fruit sellers. Non. I am not paying you for that photo I took”. And then I’d run. Or wish I could.

Their HIV is at 4.7% prevalence. From a quick check over some of the files in one clinic, HIV1 seems to dominate. It has the worst rate in the West African region.

Which would make sense with Abidjan being the hub of all that tropical region. With residents of Ivorians, to Malians, Senegalese, Burkinas, to Frenchies, Lebs, British journos, American aid workers, and me, the only white South African woman!


hot pink flush said...

god, champs, it sounds so fantastic.
you lucky girl you!

Heddles said...

WOW. It sounds unbelievable. Absolutely dying for a trip like that. Glad you got to snatch some pics anyway. Hell boet - there is nothing like a G&T in Africa!

Phlippy said...

Wow, I loved the pics I saw by the way.