Thursday, November 21, 2013

Observations from Abidjan - November 10-21

More observations from the past couple of weeks here in Abidjan:
  • It's quite satisfying to feel more comfortable with the culture here.  When taxis or street vendors try to rip me off, it's now amusing rather than stressful.  One does start to feel a certain pride about it, and it's easy to see why the "old travelers" -- those delightful snobs who have spent significant time in developing countries -- can become so insufferable about Africa novices.  
  • Learning a language -- particularly French -- as an adult is such a long road.   I often feel like I've stagnated or that my progress is so slow that I'll never achieve true fluency.  I've gotten to the point where small talk and business interactions are no problem at all.  But the nuances still escape me.  Being able to hold a conversation in French is one thing; being witty or interesting or fun at a party in French is quite another.  These are subtle and difficult skills that one spends a lifetime honing even in one's native language.  
  • Likewise, French at work has been a major barrier to integrating myself into my job here.  My co-workers use a lot of Ivorian slang when they speak between themselves.  I miss out on the nuances of conversation and then there are all sorts of technical terms that I don't recognize.  I spend a lot of time fake laughing at things that I don't understand, which I dislike, but it's a lesser evil than asking someone to repeat something every 15 seconds.  Also, the nuances of workplace interactions with supervisors and co-workers often require a subtlety for which my clumsy French is ill-equipped.  My French will continue to improve, and it already has improved a great deal since I've been here.  But on those days where my co-workers are laughing together and I'm grasping at straws, trying I'm trying to cling to the thread of the conversation, it can be very frustrating.  I suppose I'll never be truly fluent; just progressively less incompetent.  
  • During a recent conversation with a Belgian Congolese (white Congolese-born Belgian) businessman who has spent his entire life in Africa, he told me that the corruption here in Cote d'Ivoire is worse than it's ever been.  That's probably to be taken with a grain of salt, since he's only really been based in Abidjan for the past few years.   
  • I mentioned in a previous post that there are usually chickens running around near restaurants and fruit vendors and cell phone credit vendors.  I still don't totally understand how they keep track of which chickens belong to who.  And what if one of the chickens gets hit by a car?  The taxis make no effort to avoid the chickens, sometimes accelerating towards them.  There are also chickens that run around outside my office, cock-a-doodle-doo-ing with great gusto throughout the afternoon.  Also, you constantly see chickens crossing the road here, which never gets old.  
  • It rains here most days, but rarely for longer than 15-20 minutes.  
  • As an indication for how far off the map West Africa is, "Ivorian" is not in the lexicon of my cell phone (purchased here in Cote d'Ivoire!).  
  • Sauce gumbo is a popular Ivorian sauce made from a vegetable called gumbo.  It's one of the more vegetarian friendly dishes around.  Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that gumbo is French for snozzcumber.  
  • I'm leaving tomorrow morning for a week in San Francisco with Sheila and family and friends.  

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