Yes it’s true, we traded our Parisien lease for something a little less conventional, but a little more roomy. In fact, we traded not only housing, but the country and city as well! About 3 weeks ago, we loaded up on a plane heading to Lisbon, Portugal, but don’t let this deceive you, because 5 hours later we boarding another plane heading directly south. South towards Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire.
Whenever I say the name of the country, Côte D’Ivoire, I get a lot of kind of confused looks from my fellow Americans. They look at me wondering why I just said something weird in not english, but also where tf is this place??? I’ll continue by translating and saying Ivory Coast, and then about half will kind of have some vague recollection of it’s something to do with Africa. Further more I will say how it’s kind of close to Nigeria and Senegal near the the “elbow” of Africa, right on the water. Some people now are starting to understand and a lightbulb appears over their head, others still require getting out Google Maps and doing a little geography lesson.
For French people, everyone knows about Côte D’Ivoire because, of course, France has had a lot of influence over this country, among others, and there’s quite a well known export of culture coming from the country. Most notably soccer players such as Didier Drogba (who played for the Olympique de Marseille team, then later Chelsea) or musical groups such as Magic System (….Feel the magic in the air…. allez allez allez…., which was essentially the official “France won the world cup!” song as well as being the official song for the French soccer team, FFF, during the 2018 World Cup). Côte D’Ivoire is also filled with well-known international French brands such as Canal + (TV network) and Orange (phone, internet, cable company). On top of that French news stations are being played on the TVs everywhere practically 24/7.
It’s been about 3 weeks here, but in the beginning I had quite a few anxieties and worries. I had trouble doing research on Abidjan and figuring out what to expect. Most videos on YouTube were just bloggers doing useless things that don’t really give me any depth to what the country and everyday life is really like. I want to share something I wrote on the plane. I had trouble sleeping and my phone was on low battery (no TVs and no charging ports in the plane, we weren’t very prepared), so I decided to reflect and prepare for the journey ahead.
Halfway into our flight, I decide I want to start writing. We’ve known about our plan to go to Côte D’Ivoire for a little over 2 months now, but I have yet to make any formal announcement. Usually I like to talk and be open about my plans, share them as a way of getting advice from those who may have a connection in some way, but this time I didn’t necessarily feel the need. Maybe it was that or maybe it was that I didn’t know quite how to explain or announce it, despite already telling all my close friends. But here we are on a plane somewhere over Africa. Africa. I keep describing our trip as going to Africa. Such a vast unknown plain that I am barely familiar with, but at the same time sounding extremely cliché with the thoughts of lions and tigers and bears (well okay there aren’t actually tigers or bears, but it does come to mind), alongside poverty and indigenous groups and lack of water access (we’ve all experienced those “donate to African children” type ads that tug at your heartstrings while you see images of malnourished dark-skinned children). As much as these clichés come to mind, this is not what I want to think of this adventure as. I don’t want to characterize Côte D’Ivoire as just cliché Africa, but I want to experience the joys of what it really can be. People often tell me that Ivorians are friendly and kind and full of joy and I’m excited to experience that aspect. What worries me though is our previous experience in Morocco. It was bad there. I felt like a walking wallet just waiting to be assaulted. People there were not friendly, instead we experienced a kind of fake friendliness where everyone was only nice until we said, “no we do not want to buy”. All they saw of us was that we were western and thus had money, which maybe we did have more than them in some ways, but also, I cannot afford a 4000-euro carpet.
What I worry is that the aggressive energy and behavior will be the same in Côte D’Ivoire. I’m really not fully sure what to expect. Racism exists in all parts of the world, arguably worse in some places than others. I’m aware that white people are treated differently in Africa and depending on where you go there is more or less resentment towards those who come from colonizing countries, like France and many other European countries who treated Africa like slices of pizza, cut me this piece here, cut me this piece there. It reminds me of this poem or short story I read during my literary class at UT. The author talked about how the European countries just cut Africa up with barely any regards to who or what groups lived where. The same problem occurred in the Middle East. I know Americans can be treated just as cold due to our history of meddling in many foreign affairs. It’s inevitable that I will most likely end up paying higher prices for things during our stay. Already we are paying quite a bit for housing, much more than the average (though it’s in the Expat neighborhood with pretty good amenities and a pool), but I suspect as time goes by we will make friends, figure out how things are done, and hopefully have better negotiating skills.
I don’t as much worry about my physical health as my mental/social health. At least with your physical body you can adequately prepare yourself, have the right medicines available, do the right vaccines, take caution in what you ingest, wash your hands, etc etc. But with finding your place in a new town, it can be difficult, it’s not always something you can control or understand easily. For me it can especially take time to adapt. I don’t always like putting myself into new situations and sometimes I create a shell of anxiety, not wanting to come out until I feel completely safe. But one thing I need to work on is breaking out of that shell, leaving a certain comfort zone, and being confident. What do I have to lose by speaking bad French to someone? One thing I can almost guarantee is that speaking French with an Ivorian will be easier than with a Parisian. It will be easier in a different way. Parisians tend to be extremely strict on the way to speak French. You speak in with a Parisian accent and you don’t trip up or stumble over words, otherwise they will just speak English with you or ignore you. With Ivorians it already feels different based on my experience. Their accent is different for sure and will take some time getting used to, but they speak slower and make plenty of mistakes themselves (at least in writing), but they don’t care, it doesn’t matter to them quite as much. I’ve watched a couple youtube videos (only a couple since there aren’t too many out there) of people speaking English and French amongst each other and neither are perfect, but the rules don’t matter as much and overall I think it will allow me to be more comfortable speaking and expressing myself.
As the plane gets closer and closer to our destination and as I finish writing the thoughts that have been cumulating in my head over the past few months, I begin to gain almost a bit more confidence in what lies ahead. I look over at Augustin, who is reading this over my shoulder (he laughs), and with a single bisou he tells me that he has confidence as well in our journey ahead.
NIYI OSUNDARE – BERLIN 1884/5I looked round for vendors of my own past,
For that Hall where, many seasons ago,
My Continent was sliced up like a juicy mango
To quell the quarrel of alien siblings
I looked for the knife which exacted the rift
How many kingdoms held its handle
The bravado of its blade
The wisdom of potentates who put
The map before the man
The cruel arrogance of empire,
Of kings/queens who laid claim to rivers, to mountains,
To other peoples and other gods and other histories
And they who went to bed under one conqueror’s flag,
Waking up the next beneath the shadows of another
Their ears twisted to the syllable of alien tongues
Territories of terror…
Oh that map, that knife, those contending emperors
These bleeding scars in a Continent’s soul,
Insisting on a millennium of healing.