Faty, one of my couchsurfing hosts, invited me to a village two and a half hours west of Abidjan. Getting there involved the standard components of overland travel in Africa: poor driving, absurd delays, ten too many police checkpoints, and several different forms of ass-numbing transportation.
Adjame, the gbaka(a minibus, called tro-tro in Ghana)/bus station in Abidjan, is a nightmare. Too many people trying to hustle money from too few customers. Bus stations are generally miserable everywhere. The desperation is jarring when touts are grabbing you, yelling into your face at the same time they are trying to fight off competitors. Between previous travel experience and teaching middle school in DC, my skin is thick. But there is nothing pleasant about this experience.
Feenis Sun! This man is most likely not a Suns fan. Realize that many of the clothes you give away to Goodwill and thrift stores end up getting sold in African markets. These are called Dead White Man Clothes.
Once in a gbaka, you are more or less free from harassment. This is a good time for reflection, because you don’t know how long it will be before the gbaka fills up with passengers. On this particular day, our gbaka to Grand Lahou would take an hour to reach capacity and leave the station.
Twenty minutes after leaving, Alpha Blondy is blasting out the speakers, banana plantations out the window, a heavenly breeze taking care of sweat that had accumulated while waiting in the station.
The blissful ride was frequently interrupted by police checkpoints. Ivorian police are diligent in sussing out a bribe. They check every single passengers’ papers, search the car, and interrogate the driver. On our gbaka, they caught a Burkinabe couple in Cote d’Ivoire illegally. They paid 500 CFA, about a dollar, and we were on our way once more.
After the gbaka, we took two different shared taxis, three people in front, four in back, to the lagoon next to the village. From the second shared taxi, a taste of rural Cote D’Ivoire:
The song in the video is Culture’s “International Herb” and it is the actual song we were listening to in the taxi. The soundtrack to this trip was spot on so far.
After the shared taxis we took a motorized, canopied row boat on a fifteen minute trip across a brown lagoon.
The lagoon has several small islands, populated mostly by single families.
Upon arriving we were warmly greeted by Faty’s godfather. I would soon learn that he was also the chief of the village.
We met the rest of the family – the wife and ten children – and then took a walk to the end of the village. We were on a narrow strip of land straddling the ocean on one side, the lagoon on the other. There is a word for this. Isthmus? Ruins of a Portuguese slave trading outpost were everywhere.
Five hundred years ago the Portuguese were loading human cargo into ships on this beach.
The old slave castle had been claimed by some of the village fishermen. One of them, a smiling, chain smoking man named Emmanuel, invited me inside.
The interior looked like a squatters’ settlement. The floor was littered with coconut husks, tomato paste tins, and plastic bottles once filled with palm oil. A woman was smoking fish. The entire place stunk. Flies covered everything except for the chainsmoking Emmanuel. I was surprised at the disorder. Normally African homes are kept very clean. Even dirt floors are frequently swept.
Emmanuel gave us three fish, a generous gift.
Looking back on the slave castle from the end of the beach. This expanse of sand was once where the village stood. Four years ago, because of the rising sea, they moved the entire village a kilometer west to higher ground.
Ocean meets lagoon. This estuary once provided rich fishing grounds. No longer.
Walking back to the relocated village, the red earth of Africa.
Hey there baby goat. Whatcha doing creeping around the ruins?
This is Ezekiel. You can charter a pirogue from him for a few thousand CFA (about four dollars).
Bullshitting with the chief and village council over some palm wine. You know, wheeling and dealing, talking about how much we’re getting for a kilo of coconuts and which women we were going to take to bed from the village saloon.
I might be making this face because I just swallowed fifteen flies (mouches in Cote d’Ivoire). Or maybe because I realized that these men were complete sleazeballs. Andre, Faty’s godfather and chief of the village, complained to me about his family’s poverty. Well then why did you have ten children? Why are you using all your money to get drunk in the afternoon? When I asked him about this, he said “Felipe, I am still a man.” In other words, no matter how bad things are, I should still be able to sit on my ass and drink. This was revolting.
For every man I saw busting his tail on a fishing boat, I saw ten men idle – drinking or sleeping. Their wives and daughters were of course hustling fish, raising children, cooking meals, and maintaining a household. If development is what you want to see in Africa, here is a good plan:
1.Remove 80% of the male population.
2.Provide education to those that remain.
3.Set it and forget it
This seems like the appropriate next step for the West to take in their meddling history with Africa.
(PS – this is not a serious proposition and I recognize that there are indeed plenty of hardworking African men. Consider it a sharp reaction to what I experienced in Lahou-kpanda)
African women are incredibly industrious because they have to be. I can’t count the number of times Faty turned to me and said “African man iz lazy.” Faty’s boyfriend David is perhaps an even bigger critic of African men. It is heartening to see the two of them share the household workload.
Emmanuel’s gift on the grill. We would eat the fish with atchakay (the Ivorian couscous made from cassava) and a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and chili. My favorite meal in Cote d’Ivoire.
The roof of thatched palm fronds is a good place to store your toothbrush
There is no electricity in the village. In the evening, we played an uno-like Ivorian card game called American 8 by kerosene lamp. To the delight of my under-12 opposition, I did not win a single hand. I drank more palm wine and enjoyed the company of the family sans Andre – I had earlier turned down an invitation to drink with him in the village bar. Later, a belly full of palm wine and fish, I had a transcendent moment while taking a leak, looking at the sea colored by moonlight and listening to the call and response drumming and singing of fishermen in the distance.
We rose early the next day to buy fish, but there weren’t any. The boat inscribed with “Jesus Never Fails” is Ghanaian. In an earlier post I described meeting an Ewe fisherman on a deserted beach in Western Ghana. This was unusual because the Ewe are from Eastern Ghana and Togo. Turns out Ewe fishermen are also in Cote d’Ivoire. They are here because they have larger boats and they are not afraid to navigate the open sea. The Ivorians have fished out the lagoon and they are now dependent on transplanted Ghanaian fishermen for their primary source of protein. I nearly killed one of these Ghanaian fishermen when I greeted him in Ewe.
Waiting for fish.
Faty petting a pregnant cat.
A boat of fish eventually arrived, and the purchased fish was taken back to the house to smoke. The smoked fish would be sold in a larger village over the next several days.
An afternoon walk on the beach before heading back to Abidjan. Faty looking radiant in the national orange.
I am digging Cote d’Ivoire and I have decided to run out my visa. Then it will be on to Mali. I considered traveling west to Liberia, but I asked myself why I would be doing that. The only reason seemed to be that I wanted to say I had been to Liberia. This is a bad reason to travel somewhere.
I miss Ghana and considered backtracking. I may still, but I have some other ideas about my return to the land of Twi and Banku. Till next time…