Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Days In Abidjan

Having been to places such as Nigeria and Angola where humanity, for whatever reason, has managed to concoct an unfortunate misery, it is rather relieving to go somewhere geared up for the misery and instead receive something a bit cheerier. Such is the Ivory Coast. That's not to say this is the place for a family holiday: it's dirty, confusing, fresh from a civil war that still divides the country, and the people speak French; but it is to say that the Ivory Coast isn't the hell I thought it might be. The people are friendly, the service a mix of the helpful and prompt or simply surly I'd expect to see in Aberdeen, and the traffic relatively well behaved and orderly - they even obey red lights.

But perhaps I cast a soft-focussed lens on the nation by suggesting things might be ok. Perhaps, perhaps not. It's difficult to say. I've been here, in Abidjan, the largest city, since Sunday and have had experiences effectively limited to our extremely charming and unusual mudbrick-style hotel complex and the sizeable but quiet yard of the service company we're working with. In between I've seen a money exchange bureau and a couple of shops, and a number of drives along pot-holed roads. Today myself and my colleague visited a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. Really, a very limited sample. But despite a recent war and a potpourri of poverty-inspired problems, there isn't the feeling of total hopelessness one gets from visiting the aforementioned two nations above. Infrastructure isn't way past the point of collapse. And the people seem nice, not beaten down or just plain suspicious.

Far better, I would say, than the non-locals. No doubt some are fine: I've yet to meet them. I can assure you that those at the base are not fine. Unfine, one might say. I hesitate to name names because discretion is a vital implement in my professional drawer of cutlery, but I will spoonerise the by-worst offender as the fat tosser Dark Eels [name further edited at my workplace's request - hope this is sufficient]. Mr Eels, a fat and eminently unlikeable man in his 40s, has been causing a pain in my ears, much as the smell of an offensively oderous dog might cause a pain in my nose. Unlike a dog, I can't kick Mr Eels hard, or even soft, and I certainly can't shoot him and sell him to the Koreans. Alas. He has assumed the role of interrogative policeman, and strolls in nonchalantly and begins firing off a load of questions about our equipment, prices, personal habits, and personal backgrounds. The first day he tried this, he gave us a fair grilling, but by today we'd figured him out quite well. He is getting some large amounts of hassle from superiors for his own carelessnesses, which he blames on our company, and thus like a young boy beaten in his homelife who becomes the school bully, he is trying to pick on us. But the bully is only effective if he's hard: Dark Eels is the school fatboy. And in myself and my colleague he could not have chosen poorer targets, because we don't really care. We don't panic about his threats to kick us out the base and we don't reveal much of significance in his interrogations. We sit back and "hmm" and let him speak about his skateboarding (?! - he lies a lot) accident and drab sporting opinions. Initially, when he stormed in on full force, he was quite troublesome (and he called himself by a fake name - what?) but now he's quickly assumed a position of familiar annoyance. Like that stinky, farty dog.

Of worthier mention is the driver we've been given for the last few days, a 59-year-old father-of-six Ivorian-Ghanaian called Jean. He's been our main representative of the Ivory Coast and has been terrific. My experience of much of Africa has to not expect punctuality, and I am a person who likes things to be on the minute, but Jean has been brilliantly on time, and unassumingly helpful. He has made transportation, so often a huge hassle on jobs, really smooth and easy.

Aside from tolerating cocks and listening to Jean bemoan the state of Abidjan's ripped-up roads, I have been mostly sitting about waiting. Waiting in the yard for equipment yet to arrive. It should have been there Monday - in fact, it should have been there weeks go - but no, and yesterday and today, also no. It's looking very likely, maybe, for tomorrow morning, in which case I'll grab a couple of boxes of stuff and jump on a plane to Ghana. By Saturday I should be on a boat, doing all kinds of fancy stuff.

And that's that. Or c'etait ce, or whatever the French is.

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