Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Heading outside of Abidjan

Not everyone is an outdoorsman. I guess what I am trying to say that, some of us prefer the great indoors. I happen to be one of those people.  I like shopping malls, libraries, nice living rooms -- you know, inside spaces. This may be one of the reasons I'm sometimes referred to as an inside cat. However, even an inside cat's gotta get out sometime. This time it was Jacqueville, a city located about 70 km West of Abidjan.

Since this was my first time outside of Abidjan -- Assinie and Bassam don't count, I didn't really know what to expect.  I wasn't sure of how good the roads would be, I had also heard about security issues on the road.  In the end, aside from being stopped about 5 times at checkpoints, where soldiers proceeded to try to shake us down (more on that later), everything went according to plan.

We left on Saturday morning, to take advantage of the Eid weekend. Since everyone else had the same plan, traffic was heavy but not unduly so. The real issue was the soldiers trying to squeeze some money out of our predominantly white group. Since I don't come from a place where shakedowns by the military are a common occurrence, I'm not sure how it normally goes, but I find these guys very, very polite.  They flag you down, and instead of asking for your licence and registration politely request a cup of coffee. They will tell you it's hot, they've been standing all day, and come on, it's Eid. I'm very annoyed by these shenanigans, because you are essentially being held hostage by a soldier who has a hardened sense of entitlement to your cash lurking beneath the smile. Say no -- we did every time-- and things can get uncomfortable very quickly.  On the way back, one of my friends, who happens to be a white Ivorian dressed down the soldier. Her local French and anger made the soldier beat a hasty retreat, and we were soon back on our way.

Jacqueville is located on the the other side of a lagune and a ferry connects the two side. After quite a bit of driving, we ended up in a very long line of cars waiting to cross.  When I say long, I mean 3 hours long. We finally made it across, headed to the beach and had an awesome time.
Jacqueville is a lovely remote town where many Ivorians have vacation properties.  The roads are excellent, there is electricity throughout, and the people seemed nice enough. I'd love to go back, but I'll wait until there is a bridge to get across.

After a 3 hour wait, we finally made it over! 
The Ivorian government is investing in massive infrastructure projects all over the country. This bridge would have made our journey 3 hours shorter. 
Abidjan's roads are so awful, we were stunned to see such beautiful roads. It struck me as a bit of waste since most people were on bicycles. 
The inside cat side of me was worried on this road. Sure enough, one of our cars got stuck in sludge. 

The view from our thatched roof huts on the beach. 
The beach made it all worthwhile. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Don't move to Abidjan without these 10 things...

10 Things you should bring with you to Abidjan:
  1. Tupperwares, and all sorts of cookware.  Remember that air
  2. Wellies, and lightweight rain ponchos
  3. Antibiotics and vitamines: I paid 20 USD for an 8 day course of Amoxicilin.  I would have paid a fraction of that in Europe.  Vitamine C costs a FORTUNE here.
  4. Contact lenses and contact lens solution. I just paid 22 dollars for contact lens solution.
  5. Your Mattress: I got the foam mattress from Ikea in Paris, and it set me back 50 euros. Mattresses in Abidjan are expensive
  6.  Sheets and towels
  7. Kids toys -- Children's toys, especially electronic ones, can be very expensive
  8. Children's books in English:  Think ahead and bring them with you
  9. Curtains, unless you want to settle for crappy expensive ones, or have some made...
  10. Carpets, if you like proper floor coverings, bring your own...
Bonus points for bringing back-up power cords for your laptops, adaptors, and whatever, music speaker system you don't want to pay an arm and a leg for in Abidjan...

Tune in tomorrow for my list of things that I could have left at home...

T-Pain, or a journey down memory lane

I look back fondly on the early naughts as years of studying, interspersed with some pretty wild partying. On campus, we would have massive parties where everyone would dance to songs with silly titles (and sometimes equally silly dance moves): "Chicken Noodle Soup", "Buy you a drank" and "Superman [dat hoe]" come to mind. If these don't ring a bell, check out the videos -- real gems... Sadly, once I graduated, my undying love for Auto-tune was no longer, and T-pain was largely forgotten.

In fact, T-Pain was so forgotten that when I heard people saying he was coming to Abidjan, I couldn't remember a single song he'd released. All of that changed, as I sat with my room-mate in Abidjan traffic yesterday morning.  The familiar beat of "Buy you a Drank" came on, and my French room-mate sat looking aghast, as I did the shoulder lean made popular by the song's music video so many years earlier.  I got to the office, opened Itunes and found some of T-Pain's masterpieces: "I'm in Love with a Stripper" was the first song to come up.

For those of you unfamiliar with T-Pain's "I'm in Love with a Stripper", I've posted the video.  It should help you decide whether or not you want to go see T-Pain in Abidjan on August 7th at the Hotel Ivoire.

Not sure I'll attend, but I really hope he performs I'm in Love with a Stripper, which for many men in Abidjan is a reality they are intimately acquainted with. Needless to say, this situation only brings heartbreak, or as a male friend once said: "The worst thing a guy can do here [in Abidjan] is domesticate/privatize a public good [bar-girl/semi sex-worker]."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It's raining, it's pouring and Abidjan is flooding...

It's rainy season in Abidjan, and I am soooo glad I have my rain-boots and large umbrella. 
Unfortunately, they can't protect me from the flooding. The thing is, in Abidjan, when it rains, it pours "Noah and the Ark" style, sometimes for 24 hours straight. Combine that with a local government that hasn't cleaned out the ditches that are supposed to catch the excess water, and corrupt planning officials who let developers obstruct drainage systems, and you end up with a murky swimming pool instead of roads when it rains.
I instagrammed a pic of what part of my harrowing taxi ride to work looked like this morning (the widget is on the left side of the screen) and the pic below is the view from my friend's window on Boulevard de Marseille...  

Here are a couple of things I wish I'd known before rainy season:
  • Zone 4 floods in the rainy season.  It doesn't flood as badly as parts of Riviera i.e. your car won't be swept away, and people don't die on this side of town, but it can get  pretty bad.  The main affected roads are the alley that takes you to Hayat (the alley that leads to Rue Lumière), many of the streets off of Rue Mercedes (aka Rue Pierre et Marie Curie), including Rue Marconi, Rue Fleming and Rue Docteur Calmette. If you're off of Boulevard de Marseille, near the Wafou, you'll be stuck, unless you're in a SUV with high clearance. 
  • Y'a pas route Taxi drivers don't like to go to places that are flooded.  This means finding a ride in or out of your neighborhood can be an uphill battle. Case in point, I stood outside in the pouring rain for 15 minutes with taxi after taxi refusing to take me to Plateau.
  • Now is the time to look for housing.  After all, you know whether your future road will flood...
  •  Bad roads + murky pools of water = flat tires.  
  • Not having an SUV means having less control on your ability to navigate the city... 
  • If you have to go out, and the rain has caused flooding, leave while it's raining.  The terrible visibility makes most people wait for the rain to end.  Once it clears up a bit, you're sitting in flooded traffic Armageddon. 
  • If you have a car, make sure your insurance covers water damage that can happen when your car is parked, and water damage caused by driving in deep water.
But hey, malaria and flooding aside, it's not all bad. The weather is cooler.  And there aren't as many mosquitoes as you would think there would be.