Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why I'm excited for Cote d'Ivoire

I leave for Abidjan in a couple of hours.  I keep waiting to get nervous, but it hasn't really happened, perhaps because our entry looks likely to be smooth.  Someone from the U.S. embassy will be coming to pick us up at the airport and I'll have Sheila with me, so there isn't much to worry about.

Instead, I'm just really excited about it all.  Anticipation supposedly comprises a big part of happiness.  People are at their happiest in the weeks leading up to a big vacation or other happy event.  I'm trying to savor this last bit of excitement and embrace the anticipation as part of the experience.  You only move to Africa for the first time once.   My expectations are big and it would be difficult for any experience to live up to them.

Abidjan should bring great highs and lows, and hopefully rich memories.  Those memories are another big part of happiness.  Sheila and I have discussed this issue a lot, and we believe that it is necessary to seek out experiences with greater peaks and valleys.  Such moments are felt more intensely and they live longer in the memory.  Novel, exciting experiences may even make life feel longer.  These memories make us happy, and we've prioritized a life of adventure.

I'm excited to explore such a new culture and lifestyle.  My favorite part of traveling is learning about the nuances of life in a new place.  Abidjan promises to be very different to from anything I've known before.  As a brief example, the Ivorian conception of bribery sounds almost incomprehensible.  As a returning Fulbright fellow told us during orientation, "In Cote d'Ivoire, bribes are totally optional.  You can say, 'I'm sorry, maybe next time.'"  My American brain has difficulty comprehending by such a scenario, but apparently this is the natural state of affairs in Cote d'Ivoire.  A returning fellow explained that "many people just think of bribery as optional.  They call it 'dash' and it's more like a tip.  If you want good service at a restaurant, you would give a tip.  And if you want good service from a police officer, you give dash."

I'm not entirely sure how much I'll blog over the coming weeks and months, but I would like to note my personal observations as well as my policy learning.  Hopefully I'll be able to record this in a manner that is interesting to those reading this.