Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Things I’ll Miss in Abidjan

I leave Abidjan this evening.  Some of the things I’ll miss:
  • The daily sense of adventure from life in such a strange and vivid place. 
  • Speaking French – I’ll never be as good as I would like to be, but I’ll always enjoy the challenges and delights of learning all the little nuances. 
  • Tennis nights with Christophe and Lauren – sometimes at the end of yet another epic match with Christophe, the termites would start flying onto the court, buzzing around our heads, and the once-beautiful, but now run-down tennis courts at Hotel Ivoire would feel like a scene in some dystopian futuristic world where the only remaining activity was to try to summon the energy to return one more volley.  Then afterwards, we would cool off at La Dolce Vita with Tuborgs and chorizo pizza. 
  • Wednesday evening pick-up soccer at Le Temple du Foot 
  • Mangos – cheap, delicious and twice a week our housekeeper Sarah would go buy them and leave a bowl full of chopped up mango for me. 
  • Il Solé Mio in Assinie – the most idyllic place in Cote d’Ivoire.  Tropical bed and breakfast on the beach.  To get there, Sheila and I would take a shared bus to Bassam and then a taxi to Assinie and then a water taxi to the village from which we would walk to the inn.  Assoundie, the ocean beach neighborhood of Assinie, is adorable.  An African village on the beach, it’s a decade away from becoming a full out tourist trap, but for now it remains undeveloped enough that you can see the vestiges of pre-colonial life.  Groups of men chanting while they tug in old wooden fishing boats at sunset; and kids running wild everywhere, turning back flips and playing in the ocean.  At the inn, there are hammocks, beach chairs, a long stretch of beach to explore, big waves to frolic in, seafood and pasta dinners with wine, and a neverending supply of adorable, unsupervised children. 
  • Frisbee Sundays at the Lycée Classique – two hours of sprinting around in hot afternoon sun with a bossy Italian, a bunch of Ivorians and a few ex-pats; yelling at each other when the other team scores and celebrating touchdowns with elaborate dances; and then water and lying in the grass dripping with sweat while the sun sets. 
  • Will, Dexter, Manu, Marius, Flor, Priska, John, Florent, Micah, Gregory, Diego and the rest of the Frisbee guys  
  • Cracro for lunch at work with Dom Dje, Noelle, Ghislaine, Toure, Madame Yapi and Professeur
  • Ivorian food – Poulet braisé, alloco, banane braisé, Fanta cocktail, Tuborg beer 
  • French food – Yop, salted butter, brochettes de mérou, fondant chocolat, the tarte aux mangues at the Hotel Pullman 
  • Cheap taxis with fast, efficient drivers who have complete mastery of their vehicles.  My first week I thought that they were reckless and that I would die in a car accident here.  I gradually came to realize that they are driving grandmasters; they have 10,000 hours of experience hustling through tight spaces in terrible traffic.  Now I get impatient when I have to ride with mortal drivers.  I’m tempted to pitch a reality show that would pit NASCAR drivers against West African cabbies. 
  • Taxi rides along the lagoon 
  • The rainy season (applicable only for rich people) – they have fantastic rainstorms here where it just pours for 24 or 36 hours in a row.  It’s magical and beautiful, if you have a comfortable shelter and you’re not foregoing your meager income because of the rain. 
  • Eating fish and seafood – I learned to eat fish a couple of years ago, but I learned to actually enjoy it here.  I'm excited to eat it in the U.S. at places where they take the bones out and use marinades and sauces; not excited to pay five times as much. 
  • Not craving food at every instant – food just isn’t as good here, so I think about it less.  Unlike the U.S. where I spend my work morning looking forward to lunch, here I don’t think about lunch until I physically have trouble concentrating on work. 
  • West African music – it’s upbeat, it has a nice beat, and it is now familiar, yet still pleasantly exotic. 
  • Slower pace of life – no smart phone, no twitter, nothing to do on my morning commute, but sit and think.  Everything takes longer here, so there isn’t much point in being in a hurry.  Life here is inherently inefficient, so you just get used to things not working and the fact that each task is a self-contained action, not one link in an endless list of things to accomplish.  
Up next: Things I won’t miss from Abidjan. 

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