Sunday, May 18, 2014

Love and clubbing in Abidjan -- taking stock of my Saturday night...

As I may have mentioned before, I live in Zone 4. While this may not seem relevant to love in Abidjan, it is, perhaps more so than you may imagine.  

When you're an expat, love in Abidjan is often tied to money, position and citizenship. Expats are also thought to be white/asian, because they are the most visible.  The few white men here are highly sought after by white expat women who prefer partners who look like them, but also by Ivorian young women, also known as petites, who are looking for a sugar daddy or visa to Europe. If you are a white expat woman here, you may find yourself getting proposed to (yes, I mean marriage proposals) multiple times a day. This may seem crazy on its face, but for many men here, especially poorer ones, whiteness represents a foreign citizenship, and the ability to escape Ivory Coast's harsh economic landscape.  The economic lure of France, Canada, or the US is so strong, that men are literally walking around proposing to women on the street.  It reminds me of the fervor with which we play lotto back home.  The reasoning is quite similar: some people buy lottery tickets every day, not because they think they'll win, but because you can't win unless you've played the game.  Ivorian women play the same game, they just get to play it with more willing participants, i.e. old, white expat men looking to score a 19 year old girl.

This brings me back to my my first sentence: I live in Zone 4.  Zone 4 is Abidjan's hotbed of prostitution, and is packed with a host of nightclubs that cater to white men cruising for young Ivorian girls.  Every club and bar I have been to in Zone 4 has its share of "petites", the polite term for the young ivorian girls who are loking for expat men. It is not a pretty sight. Sometimes, I am tipsy enough to lose myself in the music and dance despite it all, but more often than not, I am disgusted by the open exploitation taking place in front of me.  This is complicated even more by the fact that I am black. And young. And female.  It's not that men get confused -- I am clearly not a "petite"-- but there is a sexualized, racialized gaze that I get from men in these places.  It is as if a part of them were unable to distinguish which side I fall on, and their openly lascivious looks, while never daring to approach strike me as a silent attempt to put me, and all young women who look like me, in the same box.

The next level of love in Abidjan is one where as an expat you meet wealthier, more educated Ivorians. I'm a fan of the ones that have foreign passports, since they are often more well traveled and have a better understanding of a woman's right to refuse someone's advances. The only problem with these guys is that they tend to marry young.  Many also tend not to be completely upfront about their marriage status. So much so, that I think it's probably safe to assume that 1/2 of all professional, foreign educated Ivorian men over 32 are married.  They like their wives, but feel no need to stay faithful to them, and are unlikely to divorce them.  You've been warned. Vet your partners accordingly. 

Finally, a final level of love in Abidjan I've run into is where a young Ivorian who is working for an international institution is looking for a foreign spouse.  This is somewhat similar to the marriage proposal in the street, but with added layers of sophistication, and the unfortunate fact that you are probably at a dinner, or house-party with this person, limiting your ability to escape. The guy will stand way too close to you, tell you how beautiful you are and ask dumb questions designed to get you talking a bit.  You will spend your time smiling uncomfortably and trying to back away a bit from what is clearly a guy trying to mark you as his territory.  Then, when some dance music comes on, they move in for the kill, trying to dance in a manner wholly inappropriate given the short time (read, less than two hours) you've known each other.

I hope I don't sound too bleak -- but sometimes taking stock of your Saturday night can lead to interesting conclusions.  Also, you can always go clubbing in Deux Plateaux.  I think I'll do that next time. 

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