Strange but true, the largest church in the world is in the middle of nowhere in Ivory Coast - in the town of Yamoussoukro. The basilica was completed in 1989 at a cost of US$300 million. It's design is inspired by the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican city. It was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The basilica has an area of 30,000 sq metres (322,917 sq ft) and is 158 m (518 ft) high. It can accommodate 18,000 worshipers. Less than a third of Côte d'Ivoire's population are Christian, and most services conducted at the basilica are attended by only a few hundred people. It is a true white elephant but one worth seeing if you are ever in Ivory Coast. It is really impressive. Enough words - time for some pics. My last day in Ivory Coast was spent well.
World cup is here! World cup fever is real and exciting. I went to the market to get my $2 manicure and $2 pedicure in the colors of the Ivorian team - Les Elephants. Such excitement. One of my Abidjan friends took me. She bought some live crabs at the market and I thought that was bravery - walking around with a a plastic bag of live crabs. The crabs thought that was bravery too and as punishment for that they poked her when we were in the cab. Such things only happen in Abidjan.
Opening ceremony of World Cup! I was freaking excited - googled where to go (now that I had decided to rid myself of all expensive and diva-esque company while I was in Abidjan.) I was going to watch it alone! I found myself at a sports bar called Stade de France. I liked the vibe as soon as I got in. The owner bought everyone a round of beers - when I got in there were around 10 people there. A few beers later I ended up winning a t-shirt for drinking a certain type of beer. The night ended with me taking shots with some friendly girls from Mali and Senegal. I slept smiling that night.
At some point in Abidjan I realized I needed to shed off my "friends" but was not sure how to. They were useful in terms of keeping me company when I wanted to do things, but I realized that their company came at a price. First a monetary price and second at the expense of my fun. I need to say that my couchsurfing host and her family were exempt from what I am about to say. With them we had a very symbiotic relationship. It was with all the other miscellaneous people that I realized I was their benefactor. Yes, they would want to come out with me but they would never pay a bill. To make matters worse, posing is quite common in Abidjan. As such I would be the one paying the bills everywhere we went and people would not have the decency to finish their food or their very expensive drinks. It's considered cool to be wasteful. "I'm so rich that I order bottles of whisky in the club then decide i'm bored and leave the bottle almost full." It was getting on my last nerve.
One Friday one of these hanger-ons came to my place, we pregamed and went clubbing. On my tab, the girl decided to be moody. That was common too - be fun in the house then become an absolute party-pooper diva once at the club. I was tired! We went to a dance club called "Club pink." Her spirits lifted there and we had a fun night of dancing. Some French guy saw me about to take a shot and came to explain to me how to take tequila shots. I was irritated. I know how to take tequila shots, dummy! I could have written the book.
If Friday was an annoying night, Saturday was to be the epitome. The whole crowd came to pregame at my place - which I really didn't mind. They all only wanted to have a drink or two. When we went to the club though, they ordered a bottle (even though we had left many in the house) and only sipped a bit of it before deciding they were bored. I was livid. They had not realized that my French was improving. In the taxi, one of the girls was saying "Elle est tres riche!" "She's rich!" That is when I confirmed that they did in fact think of me as an ATM. At the next club I refused to pay a cent for the bottle they ordered - as I did not want any part of it. I told them I was leaving for another club. They were so surprised. I left them and their bottle and I went to Club 40. It was empty and I finally went home. I was happy I had made a statement. I have no idea how I became "that guy" - the one who is wining and dining 5 girls and getting absolutely nothing out of it.
Heeeeeee! Heeeee! I can laugh now.
This Saturday I met up with my Canadian friend to go clubbing with him, his workmate and his workmate's wife. We went to a reggae place. I took a tax there and was not sure I was at the right place until I smelt weed at the entrance - then I knew I had arrived:-) Reggae clubs the world over have some signature scents:-)
The reggae music was nice. After that we decided to go clubbing, but were not able to get to the club because my friend's workmate was wearing sneakers. Thus ended the night. The next day though a few of us went to a Lebanse place on Rue le jardin called Automatique. It's rumored to have the best sharwamas in Abidjan. After that we went for a few drinks at a Marquee.
Oh, one funny story. One night I went out with my couchsurfing host (Esther) and another cousin of hers. I had noticed that women in Abidjan had very strange eating habits - they ate very little. I had also noticed that everyone seemed extremely self-conscious about their weight. What I had not yet noticed was that I was their new fat friend:-) A few drinks later, Esther's cousin whose stick-thin figure/Victoria Beckham angles I was a bit freaked out by, decided I needed an intervention. "Ciku, do you know I used to be your size." I thought to myself "lucky you. What happened?" Then the skinny heifer continues "Then I went on a diet and voila - here I am - all 2 dimensional. I can send you the diet." I was horrified - did this girl really think that she could give me health and weight advice? I work out 3 days a week, I eat healthy, I love my curves! Clearly thin is in in Abidjan - I should arrange an exchange program to Kenya where they will realize that I am average size here. Mschew!
It was a Friday - I had decided to end my life as an Abidjan couch potato, and go out to enjoy the nightlife. I ended up in a really swanky looking club called Club 40. There were lots of Hammers and Bentleys in the parking lot. That should have been the first sign that this place was not going to be cheap. I had had a few drinks before leaving the house so as to keep my partying budget low. I got to the bar and ordered a red bull - which cost me $11. I almost fainted. I looked around and on every table people had bottles of Moet. Where does all this money in Abidjan come from? Club 40 had great music, but given their crazy prices I decided I was going to try out a few more clubs for the night. After finishing my $11 red bull I hopped into a taxi to another part of town - Treshville. All Treshville clubs were so dead. I then cabbed to another part of town - Zone 4 - the clubs here were also dead. I ended up going back to Club 40 - content to drink one or 2 more red bulls......really.....really....really...slowly then call it a night.
When I got back to the club I was welcomed happily by the bouncer. "Tu est revenu!" "You have come back!" Yes I have. I was getting some sort of VIP treatment - no idea why. I was taken to a private(ish) area of the club and was sitted next to African Beyonce and African Rihanna. I kid you not, these 2 women were clones of the two - even up to their weaves, nails etc. They even had the same complexion - which is obviously shades lighter than the average Ivorian complexion. From behind my red bull glass I kept on stealing glances at them to see how they were made. The complexion was the most baffling - usually when people have bleached it is easy to know by the pasty complexion, dark knuckles etc. I think these girls were on the Vera Sidika regimen - this color looked like the color they were born in - except for the fact that it likely was not the color they were born in. This was my first encounter with Ivorian socialites. One even had a boob job....in Africa:-) I was a bit amused.
I'm not sure exactly how we started talking to each other. Before I knew it, we were friends and they had invited me to share with them their endless supply of Moet bottles. I was the full villager enjoying my Hollywood lifestyle for that night. Bit by bit I learnt that they were sisters. One of them was dating some famous Ivorian footballer while my understanding was that African Rihanna mostly served the political class. They were all sorts of mystical, but I was fascinated. I met a few more of their friends. We ended up partying the night away and many hours later they invited me back to their hotel for an afterparty. I followed African Rihanna to her massive car (I sometimes wish I was those people who really knew cars, for then I would have told you all what type it was...) We went their massive suite at Sofitel Luxury hotel, and had Moet and eggs for breakfast.
That was a hilarious night - my first and last of hanging out with wealthy Ivorian socialites. After that I chose to hang out only with people whose occupations were clear. This was especially after I learnt how there is quite a few drug trafficking and cyber crime moguls in Abidjan...I really did not want to get mixed up in any funny business - even if it came with unlimited Moet:-)
First night of partying alone in Abidjan - a true success:-)
I am a restless individual - I know it and embrace it. After a few weeks in Abidjan of not really going out except if invited to plans I decided to take matters into my own hands. I will go out alone, dammit! I can't be in Abidjan and only going out when others are able to go out. Before I made this decision though, I had a fun weekend. Esther invited me for a friend's birthday party. We had lots of fun - started off by pregaming at hers, then going to the club. I danced and danced and danced. Coupe decale is my obsession. This was a Saturday. On the Sunday, Esther and her friend picked me up and took me for Zouglou in Yopugon. I enjoyed it but mostly because of company. To be honest Zouglou is too slow for me. I much prefer coupe decale and it's amazing quick fire beats.
We were home by 10pm after Zouglou. On Monday I made my plans. I got a taxi guy's number. I got all dressed up and told him to take me clubbing. We went to Zone 4, but luck was not on my side. I went to 3-4 clubs and all of them were deader than a dodo. I did not give up. I decided to revisit the partying plan on another night.
On Tuesday I spent a particularly awkward evening at Esther's cousins place. Her old Italian husband was visiting and she had cooked up a storm. She was also with another friend whose old Italian husband was visiting. I was not quite sure why I was invited to this dinner, which one would have expected to be an intimate dinner of sorts. This was one of the times I wished my French was better. I cannot tell which couples were feuding and why, but it was a very uncomfortable dinner. I tried to leave before food was served (in case there was a sort of misunderstanding - and somehow I was imposing on them, but they insisted I stay.) They were eating some very fancy fish and I still think it was accidental that I was there, but i'm not quite sure why I was invited. I was quite happy to get home. My new friends were really warm and accommodating, but that night I really felt I should not have been there.
I spent a few idle days in Abidjan - French, swimming, reading, french, swimming, reading repeat. The one highlight was getting news from Nairobi that copies of my novel "Of goats and poisoned oranges" had finally made it to Bookstop. Finally I decided that what I needed was to throw a good ol' house party chez moi to expand my social circle. I assumed this would be an easy feat - buy lots of drinks, have good music and voila! Party! Turns out though that parties in Abidjan do not go like that. Food is a must at a party. I told people to arrive around 6pm. I was therefore surprised when my couchsurfing host came to my place at 11am to find out how party preparations were going. "Everything ok?" "Yeah definitely. I'm going to buy liquor after my French class." "Uhm, what dishes are you making?" "Hmmmm, as in food? None, was just planning to have it be a drinks party." "Uhhhhh, that will not fly. Everyone is expecting lots and lots of food." "What? I never promised food?" "But you did call it a party....here a party involves proper food." "Oh, snap."
Suffice it to say, the day was saved, and not thanks to me. Esther (my couchsurfing host) told me to cancel her French class, called her cousins to my place to shop for food and cook. Me and her hopped into a taxi into a far off part of town where drinks were really cheap. We stocked up on that a lot. I thought she was underestimating how many drinks we needed. She said she had invited around 20 people and was saying we only needed to buy 2 bottles of red wine, 2 of white and a bottle of rum. I doubled up on everything...just in case.
By the time we got home, the cooking of 5 or 6 dishes was underway. I was so impressed by how competent people were in cooking quickly. Preparing all those dishes would have taken me a few days:-)
People came, they ate, they drank (very little actually - I was left with most of the drinks intact.) This was definitely not a Kenyan houseparty. 90% of the Kenyan houseparties I have been to have loads of drinks but still run out by 1am. I guess the average Kenyan is more of a lush than the average Ivorian. People also brought coupe decale cds and we danced a lot. All in all it was a fun(ish) houseparty. On a scale of 1-10, it was maybe a 6.5. When the party had reached its natural conclusion, Esther and I were to go out clubbing, but something came up and she had to leave. At 3am, I cleared up, washed up etc. (You do not want to play with the roaches in Abidjan - cause of the heat they appear immediately guests leave....I never ever let any dishes sleep in the sink...I have a morbid fear of roaches.)
I really wanted to go out, but no one else was going out. I was soon going to be disabused of the notion that I could only go clubbing with company in Abidjan.
Today my Canadian friend called me around 5pm and asked what I was up to. I was actually just chilling at home and reading a book. He told me that in 15 minutes him and a few friends would be at my place to pick me up to go for Zouglou (a type of music) at Yopugon (a place.) I was obviously excited about this plan that I had never heard about. I got ready as quickly as I could (noting that when he called me I was sitting on the couch wearing my pyjamas and reading my kindle....proper chillaxing.)
They got to my place and unfortunately I made them wait around 10 minutes for try as I could I just could not shower, change and get my make up done in 15 minutes. Usually I can, but in this case I spent the first 5 minutes thinking of what to wear - which is quite silly actually as I didn't have that many clothes in Abidjan.
My Canadian friend was introduced to me by a Kenyan friend in Canada. He's Caribbean-Canadian - I can't quite remember what island though. He's a teacher in an international school in Abidjan. I went downstairs - him and 2 of his colleagues were there. We drove to Yopugon which was around 50 minutes away. We got into Yopugon which had more marquees (bars, shops and restaurants) than houses. It definitely looked like a place with a fun nightlife.
We got to the Yopugon spot and it was a large field with tables set up and a huge stage upfront. Beer was sold in buckets - one ordered a big bucket with beers and ice. Food was sold nearby. The two colleagues of my friend left for a while and came back with delicious chicken, alloco (fried bananas), fish etc. I enjoyed the experience because I was with fun people, but I realize that the music was not my type. Zouglou in contrast to Coupe Decale is kind of slow and kind of very old school sounding. I like my beats fast and my bass down low:-) During the songs there were a lot of Ivorian jokes (of course in French). Most if not all of them passed me - swish...just like that....Giggle giggle, but i have no idea what has just been said.
Many many beers later I was dropped home at 11pm.
After my traumatic day at the market I spent a few days chilling at home. I did my French classes, went swimming a few days. I found lots of kids when swimming - which is always a challenge. Combine my shortsightedness with children who jump into the water without looking who is there and what you get is a very nerve-wracking swimming experience. On top of that, the water was heavily chlorinated. After a half hour swim my eyes were stinging. I decided to go to Sococe (the main mall near my home) and buy swimming goggles. I had seen a sports shop at the place. When I got to Sococe I decided to go to the supermarket to check it out (the idle things one can do when on vacation/sabbatical:-)
I have to say that I was pretty amazed at the supermarket to find not one or two but 5 aisles of wine. That's how I remembered I was in a Francophone country. Aisles and aisles of wine organized by the part of France it came from - Marseille, Bordeaux etc. I was amazed. I'm not a wine expert in any way - far from it, but I had to sit and admire.
I went home and cooked ginger chicken and some matoke (potatoes, cooked bananas, carrots etc.) I made some bissap - fresh hibiscus juice made with petals from my visit to the hectic market.
The next day I had my couchsurfing host and her niece over for brunch. They were to come at 10am, but showed up at 11:30:-) By this time I should have known better than to expect people to show up at the time they said.
The next day I had a Canadian friend of a friend over for drinks. We were to go out partying but got too lazy and ended up instead drinking and watching music videos at my place.
My friends, let me tell you about this one day in Abidjan when I went to what might be the most terrifying market in the world (at least of all that I have gone to.) Suffice it to say I only went there once - and only once in my 2 months in Abidjan. Abobo market in Northern Abidjan - eish, there is only one.
My sweet couchsurfing host had said that the best market for me to get anything and everything under the sun was in Abobo market. I planned to simply take a taxi by myself to this market, but my friend kept on insisting that I let her know when I was planning to go, so that she could send someone to chaperone me. I felt like I was taking advantage of her kindness and thought to myself, "surely, I don't need someone to take me to the market." I was wrong. One morning my friend told me her cousin would take me to the market. I initially thought her cousin was going to the market either way and was going to join me. I later realized that her sole purpose of going to the market was to take me there....Really really kind people.
8am - my friend's cousin (Marie) comes to my place - we hop into a taxi - ride for 15 minutes, then jump out and jump into a minivan (I lie - not really a minivan - it was a "face me brother".) Anyone who ever plied the South B to South C route circa early 1990s would know what a face me brother is. Definitely not for those who like comfort...and avoiding eye contact....and abhor close physical contact with strangers. Marie only spoke a few words of English. I had my shopping list and my dictionary. I spent quality time in the face-me-brother translating my list into French so that our time at the market would be easier. ...ginger - Le gingembre...spices - les epices...ok.
10am - Finally get to the market. Chaos, chaos, chaos. Mikokoteni (hand carts) swinging past us! Fait attention! Lots of people, human traffic, surrounded by many vendors trying to get you to their stall. "Madamoiselle! Madamoiselle!" Turning to see women speaking to me in rapid French (none of which I could understand) but pushing buckets with live crabs to my face. Panic! Fear! Anything could happen here. Marie, where is Marie? Oh gosh, we've been separated. I see her off in the distance looking for me. MARIE!! MARIE! Here here! Pushing past women waving fish that look like snakes at me. "Non! Non! Merci! Non! Non! Merci!" Oh Lord, why did I want to come to the market again? I'm not built for chaotic situations with aggressive vendors yelling at me in a language I barely understand. Holding hands with Marie and not letting her leave my side. If I get lost here, I don't even know how to get home? How do I even find the face-me-brothers for my route? Woi, French kangez (touts)...Will I even know what is being said? Pleaaaaaaaase don't leave me! Pleaaaaase don't leave me.
11am - We have survived the main veggie section and are now going deep into the heart of the market - to the meat section...Jesus! What were those women with the buckets of crabs in our faces if not the meat section? Rogue traders? You mean there is another part of the market that has more meat than where we were? I will not leave this market alive. Getting there. The ground is wet and splashy. Looks down - fish offal floating in muddy water...animal intestines all over the place...Fight the gag reflex! Fight it! You cannot throw up here - it's already gross enough - last thing it needs is the ground covered with fish eyes, animal offals and puke...Looking around - seeing all sorts of gross looking meat. Pig legs....cow heads...fish with human heads. Jesus! I can't! Can we just leave the market? Marie: Ciku do you like this fish? (as she holds a full fish in front of me. Ciku: (thinking quietly to myself) Can I really ever eat meat again? Why does the fish have scales and wings?? Wings? No, thinking back to primary school science book - pectoral fin, dorsal fin etc....Oh my god! Those are fins? Maybe I have never actually seen a fish in its just-been-killed-but-not-prepared-for-human-consumption-capacity? Marie: Here, look - the way to tell if it's fresh is to look at the gills. Come - touch it. Ciku (thinking to myself) : Gasp! I have to touch the raw fish to see if it's fresh? Gills - gross!!! Is this fear factor? Ciku to Marie: I trust your judgement....
11:45am - Marie: Now we go get le poulet, Ciku: Ah c'est parfait! Chicken I understand. It cannot be as terrifying as the fish place.
Cluck! Cluck! Cluck! What's that noise? Oh Lord! The chicken is not yet cut into 1/8s, cleaned up and rid of all funny body parts (head, feet, intestines etc)? You want me to point to a live chicken - play the role of judge and executioner and say "that one! Kill that one - off with his head!" Ok - that one! God no - not that one - he's looking at me with pitiful eyes - ok the other one...Oh, this is evil. Can I really eat a chicken when I am responsible for its untimely death? Ciku to Mr. Chicken guy: (pointing to my head) remove that! (pointing to my stomach) pull that out! I throw imaginary intestines to the stomach to dramatize just how much I don't want them to end up with them....This guy! Seriously he doesn't understand my dramatization...Ok, let's try again "I want you to Marie Antoinette this chicken!" Get that? No head! No head! No, I do not want you to put the head, intestines and feet in another plastic bag for me. I never want to see them again - ever!
Noon: Mr. Chicken guy comes back with a black paperbag that hopefully contains the chicken, as he points to his bleeding hand. I accidentally cut up my hand as I was chopping up your chicken - hands bloody paperbag to Ciku. Which of this is is chicken blood and which is human blood?
12:15pm - We struggle to leave the market. "Madamoiselle! Madamoiselle!" Pails of snails in my face - huge huge snails! "Madamoiselle! Escargot!" Non, non!
12:30pm - In a taxi with Marie, homebound. Enough with this face-me-brother business. We have had a tough day....Let's splurge on a taxi ride. We have earned it.
1pm: At home. Marie: Ciku, let me descale the fish for you and remove all the unwanted pieces. I will also wash the chicken with vinegar for you to fix the blood situation, Ciku: God bless your soul! I was already having nightmares of having to have closer contact with that meat other than flinging it directly from a paperbag into a cooking pot.
1:30pm: Ciku naps and has recurring nightmares of fish with human heads, a chicken in the afterlife with judging eyes that has prayed that due to my sins I will come back in my next lifetime as a crab scampering out of a bucket in Abobo or a snail thinking of the good old days before someone discovered we are edible. Vows to become a vegetarian.
Today we went to the beach that is around an hour away from Abidjan. African timing is a problem. I was told to be ready at 8am - which of course I was, but I was picked up at 10:15am.....I should know better. The first leg of the journey included a few of us taking a taxi. After that we then got into a matatu (minivan) which then finally dropped us off a half hour's walk from the beach (why there were no matatus that took you closer to the beach, I just don't know.) In the matatu, our two lovebird friends kept on kissing - I was no longer shy or awkward about it. I just assumed that daylight PDA in Francophone countries is ok. Can you imagine people kissing in a matatu at 2pm in Nairobi? You would be stared at badly and someone would likely take out a bible and read a verse or two aloud on immorality...heeee heeee!!
The half hour walk to the beach was lovely. It was a pleasant day and we were all in a carefree mode. When we finally got to the beach hotel - I felt peaceful. I love being anywhere next to a large water body - ocean, lake, river - I draw energy from it. We spent a leisurely day swimming, eating, swimming, eating, horseriding etc. Lunch was delicious! I had fresh fish and one of the people in our group had frog's legs. Yeah I know! My first thought was "frog's legs???? Yikes!" Shock on me as his food arrived and it was so delicious - I ate quite a few frog's legs (silently wondering what happens to the rest of the body - is there a market that sells legless frogs?? God knows.) They looked and tasted like chicken wings. I don't know if I was expecting them to be green and creepy looking (ok, for sure I was expecting them to be green and creepy looking, but they weren't.)
I spent a bit more time swimming in the pool by the ocean, but some stalker guy was beginning to get on my nerves. I love swimming and don't like people trying to have conversations with me in the pool. I came to swim, not to be hit on:-) Oh, sidenote though - everyone at the pool and the beach had some serious beach bodies! Ivorians don't play - abs, ripped chests....lots of eye candy around.
I really wanted to swim in the ocean, but so far we had only been swimming in the pool. Everyone kept on saying "The ocean is dangerous - be very careful." I was a bit cocky and thinking to myself "Amateurs....I swim a minimum of 50 lengths everytime I go swimming - I am not scared of the ocean." I should have really paid attention to them. As I walked to the ocean they still told me "Ciku fait attention! Ciku be careful." I calmly walked to the water and in the next minute or so I saw my life flash before my very own eyes. What a stupid death it would have been. "We warned her about the ocean, but she was obstinate." I have never been manhandled by water like that. As soon as I got into the water, crazy huge waves came knocked me off my feet and submerged me. Every time I tried to stand up another wave would come and try to finish me off. I was struggling underwater, drinking water, overwhelmed. When I finally managed to get back up and on solid ground I went back to my friends. "How was it?" "It was ok, but I will just swim in the pool - it's kinda boring swimming alone in the ocean." I could not tell them the truth for I would surely deserve the "I told you so's" that would come my way:-)
That night I slept like a baby when I got home. My final thought as I gave in to sleep was "So that is how even strong swimmers drown - not all waves are created equal." It was a humbling experience.
I spent a semi-relaxed day at the house. I planned to wake up late, but at 8am the driver showed up to drop off some additional towels for me. Early risers will wake you up for the most miscellaneous reasons under the sky. Some people will call you up at 7am just to say hi. Thekenyanexplorer is never up that early - unless there is an emergency. If you are one of those people, you have been warned. At that time in the morning I became a monster - kind of like a gremlin that got wet or was fed past the right time. Later in the day though I am a sweet warm cuddly furry creature (furriness really depending on the last time I visited the waxologist:-)
Later in the afternoon Esther (my couchsurfing host) and Eno (her guitar playing neighbour) visited me and brought me lunch. They knew I hadn't cooked. Such sweet people! I planned to go to the market but got late. There was however a small market next to my apartment where I was able to get fruits and veggies from. For dinner, I made a nice salad and beef. I ate dinner watching "Rich kids of Beverly hills" in French. They even sound more entitled in French, whining about their parents reducing their credit card limits. I slept early in anticipation of the next day when we would go to the beach.
The next day was spent at my couchsurfing host's cousin's place. My French was still very basic, but they were having the most hilarious conversations which I could still understand with my rudimentary French. The sexual innuendos were pretty obvious. They warned me of "bazookas" in Abidjan saying that my Kenyan sensibilities might not be mentally prepared for the heavy laden Mandingos from the West...Hilarious! Women the world over are as naughty as can be.
In the evening I went to church with Esther - my host. She had choir practice and I wanted to listen in. Unfortunately the choir master didn't show up and practice was cancelled. We went back home. This was to be my last night at Esther's as I was moving into my apartment the next day. I packed that night. I had already began to make some interesting observations in Abidjan - though everyone made and ate extremely oily food, people were generally slim. In my time in Abidjan I also saw that weaves prevailed. I can't remember seeing more than 5 women with natural hair when I was there. In fact I remember people assuming that my dreadlocks were braids because people just did not have locs in Abidjan. Another thing I had also noticed was just how warm, kind and inviting Ivorians are.
The next day, Esther took me to my new place. The pictures I had seen online were amazing but when we got to the building I was a bit shocked. The outside looked very sketchy and the building itself was very worn. My apartment was on the 2nd floor and on getting in I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was even more beautiful than what the online pics showed. It was just in a dodgy looking building, but the apartment itself was very pretty, huge, modern and tastefully designed. I knew I would be quite happy living there. It dawned on me almost instantly that this would be the first time in my life living completely alone. At MIT I had been part of a co-ed fraternity. I had lived in a huge house with 40 roommates. Although I had my own room, that doesn't count as living alone. During all my internships in Germany I had lived with roommates or rented part of a house. As such I had never really lived alone. In Kenya I live with my mum and my sister in the house I grew up in. I realized I was going to have to put on my grown girl panties and figure out how to run a house. I was excited but slightly nervous, "What if I get lonely? Aaaaah, I will just throw lots of parties, but what if I end up feeling like Jay Gatsby, surrounded by lots of people but still alone? Oh well, I guess I will cross that river when I get to the bridge."
Thankfully I never ever got lonely in my time in Abidjan - I managed to make lots of friends. I also enjoyed my time alone in the house - reading a lot, writing a bit, learning every coupe decale song under the sun, watching Nigerian movies in French.....It was amazing:-)
After seeing the apartment, Esther took me to Sococe, the shopping mall to stock my house. At the supermarket we met her friend who on discovering I had just moved into a new place offered to buy lunch to have some sort of housewarming. We went back to mine with them and enjoyed a hearty meal of chicken and veggies.
As soon as we were done with lunch, Esther's brother came for my first French lesson. Having not found an Alliance Francaise in Abidjan, I had decided to get a private tutor. Esther had told me her brother was really good in French and in teaching. I decided to take a chance on him and it was a great idea - he was a tough teacher and my French greatly improved in my 2 months in Abidjan. It also helped that he was Ivorian because the Ivorian French accent is different from a regular French accent. By working with him I was much better able to understand what was going on when I was in Abidjan than I would have been if I had a standard French teacher. He was such a nice guy. He told me that the amount I had offered to pay him was too much and said he would teach me for 40% of the price I had initially mentioned. I really appreciated his honesty. I had no idea how much to quote as it is very person and location specific. I had ~3 hours a day of French for 5 days a week at a great bargain.
Today's main errand was taking my new friend to the airport to pick up her boyfriend. From what I had gathered, they had met online - she's Ivorian, he's French and since then he had come to visit her thrice. I woke up at 10:30am to a delicious breakfast of mashed bananas and fish. After that I read a bit then we escorted the Aussie couchsurfer who was living with us to get a taxi. He was off to Yamoussoukro to see the largest basilica in the world - that is located in the middle of nowhere in Ivory Coast..More to follow on that in a few months, when I actually got there.
African time prevails throughout the continent. Esther (my couchsurfing host and I) left our place at 1pm or so to meet Raissa (who we were taking to the airport to meet her beau.) We were to meet somewhere around 1:30pm - 2 hours later she arrived dressed to the nines. Thankfully we got to kill the time waiting for her, having some food and drinks. We also ran a few random errands including going to Western Union to pick up some cash that Esther's boyfriend in France had sent her. In my time in Abidjan I realized that quite a few women had a benefactor in France who ensured they had rent, new phones, new clothes etc. At Western Union, the girl behind the counter sold us some lipsticks.
We finally got to the airport and waited a bit more for Raissa's boyfriend. When he finally arrived I noted that they had an age difference, but he seemed like a nice person. They were both clearly smitten and it was cute to watch. They could not keep their hands off each other. We had to take his trolley to give them some time to kiss and whisper sweet somethings to each other at the airport. After this we went to an icecream place where they continued to kiss each other endlessly. Finally the management at the place came and told them that if they did not stop with the PDA, we would get kicked out. The place was Lebanese owned and they felt that their behavior was offensive to their more conservative customers. I must say this was the first time I have almost been kicked out of an icecream joint. I felt badass, in a 15 year old type of way. We soon left the establishment as the two just could not stop eating face:-)
We went to Raissa's for dinner. She had made a feast - I pigged out on everything, except the escargots...I had already realized two nights before that eating snails was not my thing. We had salad, couscous, lamb etc. Esther and I finally went back home and slept by 10pm.
It's been a while since my first post on getting to Abidjan - (Abidjan debout) . People always ask me - "so why did you move to Abidjan alone for 2 months?" It is a short story actually. I took a 6 month sabbatical from work to recentre myself. My life had been out of balance for a while, and I needed a break to remind myself what made me happy. Of those 6 months, I spent 2 months backpacking in South America, 2 months learning French in Nairobi and 2 months living in Abidjan, learning French, making friends, dancing to coupe decale, writing....It was much needed. I came back with a new lease on life and reminded myself that at any point in life, we should have an internal barometer that lets you know what is building up inside you and that if need be one should be able to withdraw themselves from everyday life to really reflect on all the factors leading one to feel unhappy. Living an examined life so to say.....
The 2 months in Abidjan were a perfect conclusion to the 6 months sabbatical. On the day after Abidjan debout, I woke up close to 10am. My lovely couchsurfing host had made breakfast - I had an egg in a baguette. I spent a bit of time looking online for Alliance Francaise in Abidjan only to realize that for some unknown reason Abidjan has none. My host's friend showed up at her place a few hours later and he played the guitar for us. We listened to him for a few hours. These are the little joys of being on sabbatical - days when you follow the flow - no itinerary to stick to, no place to be, nothing due....just living life....and listening to the guitar. We had a yummy meal of fish and rice in the early afternoon.
Later on we went to the market to look for chargers (given I had left all my chargers on my bed in Nairobi). My host - Esther and her friend Raissa got mani-pedis at the open air market. At the market I started noticing some very distinct differences in daily life between Anglophone and Francophone countries (actually might be more of differences between East and West Africa.) The women working at the market were all very well dressed, most had weaves, false eyelashes, acrylic nails etc. I could not think of a single instance in Nairobi when I had gone to the market and bought onions from a woman with lipstick, daring cleavage showing, fitting skirts, nails done, fresh weave etc. I could not help but stare. This attention to detail when grooming was something I came to notice everywhere in my time in Abijdan. Everyone - despite their income group - was always really well dressed by my Kenyan standards. Everyone....I later learnt that getting an acrylic manicure at the market cost around USD 1, a pedicure USD 2 and on average my friends got their nails done weekly and their weaves changed every 2 weeks.
I began to notice it too with my new found friends. Even when leaving the house to go to the dusty market, everyone tried on a few outfits. I thought of how I usually dressed in Nairobi when going to run errands in town - jeans, loose shirt, sneakers or flats....never anything to draw unnecessary attention to you - especially if I am javing into town. I wondered "If people dress this well to go to the market, what do they wear to weddings?"
After the town errands we went to Raissa's place and napped for 2 hours. I was quickly becoming very comfortable with my new friends - to the point of taking random naps at their places:-) Ivorians are really warm though - I was a complete stranger, but I was constantly being absorbed into people's plans. I loved that aspect.
After our naps, Raissa made some delicious chicken and rice. We left her place, went to our place and I was fast asleep by midnight - smiling to myself - thinking of all the possibilities of what my time in Abidjan would be like.
I know I owe you so so many stories from South America. I promise I will get back to them. In the meantime, can I just tell you about how I got to Abidjan? It was not a joke.. As per kawa (as usual), I waited till the very last minute to pack - which usually works for me, but this time I actually forgot very many important things. I forgot all my chargers - for my mulika mwizi (light the the thief, phone), my samsung galaxy tab's charger , my kindle charger......every charger I needed. I only realized when I was at the airport around 4am. Of course I panicked, but that didn't help. I called my cab guy, my family, but no one could get me those chargers in time. C'est la vie! Such is life! I got to Addis, and of course my mind was focusing on how I needed to get a charger - immediately. Tried that, but the charger was crazy expensive and I needed to pay in USD (eeeerrr, what? I killed that plan immediately.) So I wait at the assigned gate for my flight to Abidjan. A few minutes after the flight is to have left, I am still waiting. Finally I ask someone and they tell me that the flight was actually changed to a different gate, and everyone has boarded. I run to that gate, and finally manage to get on the plane. I want to hold a moment of silence for all those people who mean mugged me as I got on with my guitar and my extra bags. Thank you, kind people of Ethiopian airlines who managed to find somewhere for my guitar. I thought we were going directly to Abidjan, but we had a bit of a matatu (minivan) stop in Cotonou in Benin. It was barely mentioned in fact. I just woke up to find the airhostess asking me if I needed customs documentation for Cotonou......"Errrrrrr, no. We are going to Abidjan madam." Landing in Abidjan was a bit of a fortune cookie. I had no idea what I would get "Those of fair heart shall be awaited at airport" or "those from the East shall find their own way home - East bound".....who knows. I was so lucky. For my first week in Abidjan, I was couchsurfing (which pretty much meant I went online and asked strangers if I could sleep on their couch) and thereafter I had an apartment. Both my couchsurfing host and the driver of the apartment I was staying in, showed up.....together in fact. I had quickly introduced them to each other online as I was busy forgetting my chargers on my bed, and fate would have it that they managed to link up. Abidjan is huge! It took us almost half an hour to get to my host's place at Deux Plateau. I got to my host's place and realized just how sleepy I was after not sleeping the night before and then having a long flight to Abidjan. My host was also hosting a really nice Aussie guy and her cute small niece. I fell asleep very unceremoniously at 4pm, and woke up around 10pm. My host said we were going out, and being an acute sufferer of FOMO (Fear of missing out), I promptly got up, showered, dressed and we went out clubbing. Before we left, we ate escargot - which I immediately realized I didn't like - as soon as that dead snail slithered down my throat......Yikes.....Never ever!
It was a Monday evening - people were dressed like it was a Saturday evening in Nairobi. I wondered how all these amazingly dressed women in heels, little dresses, full makeup etc were going to work in the morning. One thing that kind of jazzed me/spooked me out a bit was how all the women danced facing the huge mirrors. I am as vain as the average woman. I steal glances of myself, and think "I approve", but having all of us dancing and checking ourselves out on the large mirrors unashamedly was........well......a bit strange........."Don't they think we are a bit vain?"......"Oh well.......Gosh! This angle and that light just doesn't do it for me.....ok. Let me try to lean back a bit and turn round 57.5 degrees "C'est parfait!!" When I saw everyone else adjusting themselves accordingly, I knew it was all going to be ok.
We danced and danced and danced......and my new friends didn't let me see any bill. The whisky kept on flowing. That was the thing I forgot to mention. Every table had a bottle of Chivas Regal on it.......how now??? We finally got home at 4:30am. I woke up at around 9:50am (just trying to pretend I woke up early). That was the point I realized Abidjan was going to be amazing!