The Abidjan I didnt imagine

Most people have fantasies about places in the world they have never been too. There are countries and cities in the world whose names create fantasies of romance,exotica,adventure,mysticism,violence and a myriad of other adjectives. Many of my favorite places have surpassed my expectations. I can run down my list,probably Cuba being at the top,followed by Egypt,Yemen,Sudan, Ethopia,Greece and Italy with Abidjan,Cote d’ivorie placing in the low fifties of the almost sixty countries I have crossed paths with.
It is one of the most difficult countries to drive through once you cross the border. From the moment the shared taxi finally decided to leave the customs station at the frontier, we were stopped seven or eight times at police barriers by Idi Amin looking officials in army green uniforms.Surprisingly they didnt ask for money as the police do in Ghana and Mexico but they demanded our identification and sometimes searched the taxi. A two hour distance became five hours, the second part of the ride in a car carrying nine and a half people;the half being a little boy sitting on his mother’s lap. I luckily had met a young Ghanian girl and a Ghanian man who was a seaman who traveled the world working for a French company as a ship’s welder. He negotiated the prices for us in the cab and kept everything undercontrol, The Ivoirans are not very easy to communicate with as people. The men are not exactly charming and helpful,taxi drivers being really bad. The women are subdued,quiet compared to the Sengalese women I have recently met. I decided to stay overnight at the old capitol town of Grand Bassam since it was already after five pm and i hate arrriving really late in big cities unfamiliar to me. The first hotel I checked out reminded me of an amusement park from the fifties in America. I was greated by an elderly French woman surrounded by her Ivorian staff of young black men. The hotel was deserted except for myself and the old woman who refused to admit that here hotel was a dinosaur from the past. Shades of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulvard crossed my mind.I excused myself,explaining that it was out of my price range. I found the small charming hotel i was hoping for with exotic Morrocan decor but also without guests. This once famous beach resort had been abandoned since the civil war started in 2000. The war was over but there were no tourists and not enough expats to fill up the rooms. A fifty minute taxi ride brought me to Abidjan. I shared a car with an Ivorian man of mixed race who had been a well known artist in the seventies and eighties in France and West Africa. My hotel ,the Palm Club was also a has been of the fifties but there was hot water,AC and clean sheets; my prayers were answered. In Ghana I had met Patricia,an Ivorian who works in Dhakar Senegal and was visiting her family in Abidjan. She was friends with the French Canadian guy who was now living with my Ghanian family. We met for lunch at a local restaurant for civil servants a huge plat of food being 60 cents: This was the first time I ate local food as I had no desire for the typical Ghanian Fou Fou, something resembling raw dough. I am a picky eater so I am not the most reliable critic of street food but when I heard about the grass cutter, a rodent the Ghanians eat, I became very cautious. The French had done an admirable job of teaching the ivorians to make pastries,crepes and baguettes so my hunger was appeased. The cost of eating in european restaurants is unaffordable for Ivorians though so many of them have never eaten the delicious French food. After lunch we cabbed to the main market in the poorer part of town,stepping from the cab into garbage and chaos. Within one hour I had my fill of the smells and the mass of people. There are so many slums in this city as well as most of the lakes surrounding the city,filled with garbage. I read about an area located on the off ramp of the freeway, where many Africans from poorer countries go to wash people’s clothes. Trying to avoid being run over,I jumped out of the taxi and ran onto the hill so I could photograph the scene. I had taken the Ghanian girl I met in the taxi we took from the border since she had never ventured past her mother’s house. Of course we were approached for money as I was rapidly shooting before anyone got nasty.There were probably a hundred men washing the clothes in a filthy stream underneath the freeway. The clothes were laid on the grassy hill after to dry. It was sad and colorful at the same time. As well as freeways, Abidjan has a large downtown with some of the ugliest skycrapers I have had the misfortune to see. Everything is dirty grey since the traffic is horrendous and the gas is not unleaded. Since the civil war ended about a year ago,Abidjan has become a hub for foreign export. At the hotel I met a Turkish guy from Izmir, who had been there four months setting up a deal to buy unripe bananas,send them back in refrigeration by ship and sell them in Turkey. He was still negotiating when I left. He educated me about banans,letting me know that he had been exporting from Ecuador and the Philipines but Cote d’Ivoire had better bananas and the crops were more consistent. My two days in Abidjan gave me a good overview of a country I didnt have to return to.

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