Sunday, October 20, 2013

Things I learned this week in Abidjan

Notes from this past week:
  • Animals are harder to remove from day-to-day life here.  There seems to be a lizard living in my air conditioner.  As I write this, there is a centipede crawling up the wall across the room from me.  My roommate found a lizard in her bed the other day.  If you look closely at any table or counter, you'll likely see very tiny African insects crawling around on it.  Happily, mosquitoes haven't been much of a problem though.  
  • In a way, it's cheaper and easier to eat healthy here.  Processed supermarket food costs significantly more than fresh food from nearby markets.  The animals are always locally grown (there are chickens waddling around just about every block) and presumably antibiotic free.  The policies that create this -- lack of local food processing companies, high tariffs on foreign imports of processed food, tons of local food producers and sellers willing to earn low margins, lack of food safety monitoring -- aren't really replicable in a developed country.  
  • All that being said, vegetable-based meals are not common and portion size is not helpful to the calorie conscious.  
  • Eating out at a local restaurant (a maquis) is generally cheaper than making a meal at home, particularly if you're using western ingredients for your meal at home.  The main expense of going out to eat is time; you should count on spending at least 45-90 minutes for a meal.  
  • Vietnamese spring rolls (nems) have been adopted into Ivorian culture.  They are cheap and plentiful here, and some Vietnamese places are run by Ivorians.  
  • In the same way that a crepe in Washington, DC is expensive and of poor quality, a hamburger or pizza here is always (relatively) overpriced and disappointing.  The extra money that you're paying for a burger here isn't because you're paying for a deluxe burger but because you're paying for the cultural experience of "American food."  
  • The lack of activity options doesn't really hurt my quality of life.  In DC, there are several soccer leagues, basketball leagues, kickball leagues and a dozen other sports that I could be playing any day of the week.  Here there is soccer on Wednesday in Deux Plateaux, volleyball on Thursdays at the American embassy and ultimate frisbee on Sundays at the Lycée Classique.  I would never play volleyball or frisbee over basketball in the U.S., but they are 90% as fun and the lack of choice can be liberating (I always just assume that Wednesdays here are for soccer, rather than trying to decide which day to play).  Likewise, with the social scene.  The plethora of nice bars and social activities in DC could be stressful, as it was disappointing not to choose the most fun Saturday night activity.  Here, there are a handful of ex-pat bars and usually just one or two activities per weekend, often with many of the same people.  You may or may not like going to see Diego's blues band, but that's what people are doing most Friday evenings here.  If you want to see people, you go and make the best of it.  
  • I suppose this is all just a readjustment of my hedonic baseline.  I suppose that when I move back to DC, I'll enjoy the variety of options for the first couple of months, but then re-adapt.  

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