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May we wake up one by one


All of these things happened last week: a passenger plane was blown out of the sky, villages were attacked and overrun, police choked a man to death, warning charges exploded on houses before real bombs fell on them, tanks fired on neighborhoods (later, a hospital), and a woman was stoned to death for adultery.

We have images and stories or at the very least glimpses of all these events. We can have them all at the same time, too. On twitter, where I get most of my news, they cascade down the screen in an infinite stream.

You look at history, and the world is apparently becoming less violent. But the access to violence as a spectator is increasing, and the level of ambient anxiety is through the roof.

(By the way, you should follow Mr. Siddhartha Mitter if you are on twitter. He will drop insight on the France national football team in one tweet and the Newark mayoral race in the next, while dialing up occasional commentary in nouchi – Ivorian slang. You should read his writing, too.)

Twitter is great. I’ve met a number of interesting folks through those 140 character exchanges, and some have actually become good friends. I have discovered new things to listen to and to read. I’ve stumbled upon vital but rarely discussed bits of history. Twitter helps me stay informed. And while hashtag activism has its limits, we have all seen the power of widely shared stories and images.

But sometimes it’s just overwhelming. Like last week. On television, they can only feature one story at a time. On twitter, you can have it all at once. Bodies falling from the sky alongside Palestinian children shot from a warship.

So I’m scanning this stream of horror, and every now and then it’s interrupted. In this case, I’m taken to a Malian village by way of Boukary Konate (@fasokan), who recently launched a project called When the Village Wakes Up.

Boukary’s project involves cultural preservation and inter-village communication. One aspect of the project aims to harness the wisdom of village sages. Reading about the project (you can support it here) reminded me of some of my favorite proverbs and expressions in Bamanankan. It was good to think about these during this past week. A virtual trip to a Malian village was just what I needed:

N’i mako tε mɔgɔ la, mɔgɔ mako t’i la

If you need nobody, nobody needs you. – Another way of thinking about this: you need everybody, and everybody needs you.

K’an kelen kelen wuli

May we wake up one by one – This is another way of saying, pass the night in peace. Think about it. If everyone wakes up simultaneously, there is a good chance something has gone wrong. If you wake up one by one, nothing traumatic has happened.

Ji tε masa dɔn

Water doesn’t recognize a king – touché

Gabugu ka koro ni misiri ye

The kitchen is older than the mosque

N se

My power – this is no proverb, and I have written about this on the site previously, but it’s worth sharing again. Greetings in Bamanankan follow this format: “how do you face X?” So, “good morning” is “how do you face the morning?” When you ask a woman “how do you face the morning?” Her response is always the same: “N se.” It literally means “my power,” but the cultural translation is “my power always wins against time.”

Bamanankan/Dioula is a rich language, and it is one of the most widely spoken languages in a large area of the Sahel (namely, a good chunk of Mali, Burkina Faso and northern Cote d’Ivoire). Boukary’s project was a needed detour last week, and I look forward to being back in Mali later in August.

Top photo: Part of the royal court in Tiébélé, Burkina Faso. Source.

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July Travel Plans


Match day at the resto in Abidjan. It was a sad scene not long after this photo was taken. All my teams have now been knocked out of this World Cup, so I am going all in on Colombia. Vamonos!!

It’s been over a year since I was last overstaying my welcome on friends’ couches and visiting family in the states. The time has come. I will be heading out of Abidjan on the 7th, arriving later that evening in New York, God willing.

I will be in New York, Boston, Cleveland, DC, and New York once more, before Royal Air Maroc carries me back to Abidjan. There may be a few side trips thrown in for good measure. Send me an email if you want to meet up somewhere along the way.



Previously: In 2010, I left hobart street in Washington DC for Accra, Ghana. I arrived one day before the Black Stars were to face off with Uruguay in the quarter finals of the World Cup. You can read about that here.

Four years later, I am in Abidjan, and I’m throwing all my weight behind the Elephants. Why such fickle allegiances? Two reasons: 1. It’s always nice to find yourself in the middle of a multi-million person party and 2. We are running a business (a restaurant) that could benefit from a deep world cup run.

What are the chances of a deep world cup run for Cote d’Ivoire? Probably not good. They have one of the most inexperienced coaches in the tournament, and despite a talented roster, they have repeatedly underperformed at the international level.

But guess what? I have them getting out of their group and beating Italy. The second half of this equation may be a long shot, but I think a few strokes of luck on the defensive side of the ball and a coming out party for Wilfried Bony are going to carry the Ivorian team. Wilfried Bony can destroy teams in the way a younger Didier Drogba once did.

Most Ivorians are less optimistic. They will support the team, and Abidjan will explode after any victories, but Ivorians will not blink an eye if the team ends up dead last in the group. Such failures are a playground for Ivorian humor, and if it does end badly, we can at least look forward to the jokes. Side note: Ivorians are skilled comedians and Abidjan may be the global capital of everyday masters of wordplay.

This World Cup happens to coincide with an ICC decision on ex-President Gbagbo. Specifically, the court will announce whether the charges are confirmed. I know some people here who think the announcement will not have much of an impact regardless of the result. I know others who think any result is going to raise tensions. Some people are going to be angry no matter what happens, but I don’t think there is a decision that will lead to unrest or anything like that. The World Cup may also play a role as distraction.

On the restaurant side of things, we are working on our projector situation. We hope to have that up and running for matches 2 and 3 of the group stage. Our back-up plan is to move one of the TVs so it displays on the patio. We are also stocking up on beer.

I’m still a Ghana fan, and sure, it would be great to see the U.S. get out of that group, but I’m not going to hold my breath with Germany and Portugal hanging out there, too. Personally, I see Germany and Ghana going through. Whether or not Asamoah Gyan finds his pre-penalty-meltdown form or not (he has been tearing up UAE league, but all things are relative), Jordan Ayew looks like he is turning the corner, and Ghana has an absurd midfield.

But hey, Brazil is probably going to win it all, right?

International sports tournaments are trivial and silly in many respects, but they also reveal something about the capacity of humanity or some crap like that. And nothing is bigger than the World Cup.


I thought these photos could use a home on the internet, so here they are.


Pretty typical scene at Djigui Koro, one of the best bars in Bamako. Somebody buys a case of beer and everyone digs in. This is a very efficient way to order.


Bintou on the banks of the Niger in Segou.


The Great Issiaka Kane aka Issiakaba. See him in his youth in the fantastic Yeelen from Souleymane Cisse (clip here. Issiaka is the young guy who says “Cut my throat? None of you can do that. You don’t know me. I was distracted or I’d have killed you all.” Yeah, he is a badass.)


Late night kora at Djigui Koro


Was getting my sneakers shined while watching this scene. Anyone know what that device might be?


I’d say this rearview mirror has lost its utility.


Watching a boat race in Segou


Cruising the backstreets of Segou


I love Segou


Took the picture for the “air conditioned taxi” decal (you don’t come across many taxis in Abidjan that advertise air conditioning). Driver wanted me to pay for the photo and later wanted me to pay for the air conditioning. He eventually turned it on without charging when we hit a traffic jam on the latrille.


Since 2010, I have eaten hundreds of plates of tchep, a flavorful rice dish from Senegal, often served with fish, piment, citron, and veggies. It’s what you eat when you don’t know what to eat.

Ok, that’s all I got. Next time, I’m going to talk about woro woros. And hey, get ready USA, I’m coming for you.


The Phone Cabin World


Phone cabin in Abidjan at 2AM

When this amount of time elapses between posts, I feel like I should write something really groundbreaking. That may not be the case here.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that running a restaurant affords a certain familiarity with the neighborhood. One feature of our neighborhood, of every neighborhood street in Abidjan, is the phone cabin.

We have one in front of the restaurant. You can pay a guy to transfer units onto your cellphone, and you can also make calls directly, often for 50f (10 cents) a minute. But the phone cabin is much more than a call center.

The phone cabin, for example, is also the office of freelance real estate brokers. Freelance brokers find buyers and renters, but they don’t make enough to rent office space. These guys typically earn a commission off someone else’s commission, usually an agency’s. So they are hanging out at the phone cabins. Pretty much all day. Why the phone cabins? Well, the phone access is appealing, but the umbrella and the seating are equally important.

Clementine is also at the phone cabin. Her family lives above the maquis next door. She is about 10-years-old, and she sells hard boiled eggs and candy. Sometimes her friends come by, but they can only sit down if there aren’t any adults already on the bench.

Then there are the hommes d’affaires, who are often well dressed, with a nice watch on their wrist. Some of these guys are businessmen. Others just like to put on a show. This hilarious clip from Ivorian comedian Michel Gohou is pretty accurate:

If you don’t speak French: Gohou is in a cybercafe, and he is clearly not impressed with the quality of the computers. He wonders out loud, “don’t you have flat screens?” He then pulls out 3 or 4 cellphones and puts them on the desk. He taps a few things on the keyboard and stumbles upon a picture a female customer has saved on the computer. This part is not so relevant to the homme d’affaire thing, but it’s hilarious. Also, pay attention to how much noise he makes – that part is relevant. He then writes an email aloud to the woman in the photo before having several obnoxious conversations on the phone. Finally, he is thrown out of the cyber. He tells the manager that he knows the president and that he will have the cyber shut down.

This is a parody, but it’s not too far off the mark. Once or twice a day, I can hear a guy in a suit screaming into a cell phone outside while I am inside the restaurant with the doors and windows closed. These hommes d’affaires want you to hear their conversations. They talk about shipments, land deals, and large sums of money. Often times, they are irate. Side note: there is actually a book about bluffeurs in Cote d’Ivoire. Has anyone read this?

Our phone cabin has seen some turnover in recent months. The original owner, Stephane, returned to his job at the port. He left the cabin in the hands of a younger guy that was working for him. This experiment lasted about 2 weeks. His petit paid for a bunch of units on credit, sold the units, and then fled. He hasn’t returned since.

Lately, Ferdinand aka Freddie, has been running the phone cabin to the best of his ability. He is also the security guard at the daycare next door. He is not always available during the morning and afternoon hours, but he also keeps the cabin open much later than Stephane’s crew did.

If I need phone credit, and Freddie’s not around, I have to walk across the street to the bizarro phone cabin that sits in front of the arc-en-ciel III cité. I don’t enjoy going to this phone cabin, because there is a woman seated there – more or less permanently – who yells “AMERICAIN” when I get about half-way across the street, and then yells it again while I am standing in front of her.

At Freddie’s, I can relax. Sometimes I take a seat on the bench in the evenings, towards 11 when the daytime crowd has cleared out, and the restaurant starts to calm down. At this hour, it’s usually Freddie and his friend Guillaume, the king of odd jobs in the neighborhood. Perched out on the rue des banques, the cabin catches a breeze, and with no customers around, Freddie can sit back and tell the day’s stories. One person tried to give him a fake 10000 CFA note; Brigitte is once again warring with the women who sell attieke in front of the maquis; a woro-woro was almost crushed by a garbage truck in front of the Ecobank. And sometimes Freddie gives me advice, like don’t let Edwin pay for anything on credit; he won’t pay you back. These are really some of my favorite moments in Abidjan.

The phone cabin world is a bit like the tea-fueled streetside gatherings of Bamako. A phone cabin in Abidjan or a grin in Bamako, there is always a group of people caught in its orbit. It’s the spot. It’s where you go when you have nothing else to do, which for some people, especially young people, is a lot of the time. The grin, the phone cabin, they are also fat threads in the community fabric. These places are important, and you should try to get to know them if you ever visit. All you need to do is ask if you can have a seat.