Saturday, January 4, 2014

Parenting and New Years in the Cote d'Ivoire

Sheila and I feted the New Year at the house of a Colombian-French couple with a bunch of ex-pats.  It was a fun party.  A bit of an older crowd, but that didn't stop most of them from splashing into the swimming pool at midnight for champagne toasts and general merriness.  Salsa dancing was promised, but never materialized, although we left at 1:30am, so perhaps we just didn't stick around for long enough.

Most striking was the laissez-faire attitude of the ex-pat parents.  We came with Diego and Sophie and their one-and-a-half year old daughter Emilie, who was pulled from her bed, bundled off to the party, and then deposited in the back yard in a portable crib covered with a malaria bed net.  Next to the bed net-covered crib of another sleeping baby.  And these were just the sleeping kids.  Any child above three was allowed to stay awake and frolic around playing soccer or video games into the wee hours of the night.  Sheila and I couldn't help but admire this attitude.  We first thought it was a French thing, but a visiting Frenchwoman assured us that it was an ex-pat thing, that it would be unusual in France as well.  I suppose it makes sense.  The type of parents who are casual/selfish enough to drag their kids along to Africa so that they can continue their adventurous pre-child lifestyle are the type of parents who would drag their kids to parties so that they can maintain their pre-child social life.

I don't yet have strong impressions about Ivorian parenting, but the dynamics around age are interesting.  There is a much clearer hierarchy among the ages here, and society just seems to operate on the basic assumption that youths will obey their elders.  When our car broke down on the side of the road on the way home from the village festival, it broke down next to a roadside concrete shop where a handful of teens were working.  My friend Hilaire ordered them to push the car back and forth a few times while we tried to get it started.  At ultimate frisbee, there are often a couple of kids hanging around hoping to play.  If we're short of players, we might invite them to join us, but they are ordered off the field immediately upon the arrival of more senior players.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Village Festivals, Social Capital and Soft Power

La FĂȘte de la Sagesse et la Richesse -- This past Saturday, a friend took us to a festival in a village near Dabou, about 90 minutes outside of Abidjan.  There was music, dancing, food, colorful outfits, relentless sun, and an endless ceremony with long-winded speeches.  It was a lot of fun.  In particular, there was lots of music and dancing, both traditional African dance and more modern stuff, in which I participated.

Being in the village, rather than Abidjan, was much closer to the Western conception of "Africa."  We weren't even the only white people at the festival, but white people are clearly a rarity in those parts, and I was an object of fascination.  Barefoot children followed me around.  Someone asked me if my hair was a wig.  They all wanted to touch my arm hair, as they'd apparently never seen anything like it.  I told them that I had the blood of the wolf.

Christmas in Abidjan -- There are some spectacular displays of Christmas lights here.  The bridge to Plateau is lit with Christmas lights shaped into beautiful, colorful flowers.  I assume that the government pays for this, and you can argue with the decision to prioritize funds for this purpose, but I do think there is something to be said for creating an attractive and happy environment for citizens.  Many private establishments also have impressive displays of Christmas decorations.

Queueing and Social Capital -- At the village festival, there was a lunch buffet for a group of us.  Even among our relatively wealthy group, the social capital was absolutely atrocious, with people shamelessly cutting each other to get ahead in the buffet line.  My initial impression has been that social capital is actually worse among the wealthy here, perhaps related to an increased sense of entitlement.

I've been noticing the lack of social capital a bit more in recent days.  I went out to buy a couple of things on December 24, a busy shopping day, and there was a disgraceful amount of cutting and other uncharitable behavior.

That being said, these are minor points, and I've found most of my business dealings to be quite honest.  Prices aren't always fixed, so people might charge me a bit extra for being Western, but people don't try to cheat me outright.  I've never given someone money for a good that was broken or a service that went unperformed.  

Soft Power -- The U.S. has a great deal of cachet over here.  A cabbie recently told me that even having a brother or a cousin in the U.S. can gain one a great deal of status.

I had a run of five cab drivers in a row who told me that their dream is to move to the U.S.  One had saved up $4,000 for his application, only to have the money stolen through a fraudulent service (very common here).  Another is in the process of trying to save up $8,000.  These are shocking sums for people who probably make about $10-$20 a day.  The driver who is saving towards his $8,000 goal says he's been saving money for 10 years now, ever since he was 18.  Most of them hope to drive taxis over in the U.S.  Such a tragedy that we make it so difficult for them to get over to the U.S.