Saturday, September 24, 2016

Long road south

After a relatively normal trip back to Abengourou in April this year via my usual Accra route, I found that summer airline ticket prices were astronomical for July to both Accra and Abidjan.  However prices to Ouagadougou were somewhat more reasonable and as a follow up needed to be done for a repatriated child, it made sense to fly Air Algerie south (an airline that I've always preferred over Royal Air Maroc).

Landing in Ouagadougou close to midnight it was sad to see the lack of tourists, clearly demonstrated by the lack of taxi's available.  Amadou seemed to be the only one around so after some easy negotiation for a price to the St Leon area of town, we shot off on the 5m journey.  As with every trip to Ouagadougou I stay in a small cheap auberge behind the cathedral and as with every arrival, they were all asleep!  Finally waking Alidou the watchman, I paid Amadou, took his number and found my small room.  I then spent an hour in the courtyard talking to Alidou over a Brakina and discovered the horror of what the January attacks had done to the tourism business.  I was the first non-African to stay there since January, a place I've known for 10 years and always busy with budget travellers but only 3 rooms full that night, 2 Burkinabes and myself; I was stunned and upset how bad it had become.

After making several calls about the repatriated girl, it became clear I wasn't going to be able to see her.  She had vanished, unknown if that she was in Ouagadougou or had been trafficked again!  Sadly I walked with my luggage through the hot, dusty streets to the Rakieta bus station for Po and then the Ghanaian border.  Unusually the bus was late, due to a lack of fuel before Ouaga, over an hour after it's scheduled time we finally boarded with the inside temperature showing 45°!  I was sad to be going this route south, hoped to have gone east first to the girls village but it wasn't meant to be.

Just prior to a bridge where I'd had problems before with the police, the drivers mate told us all to turn our phones off.  When I enquired it was made clear that the area has had problems with bandits on the road.  We made it into Po without a hitch, I was happy to think I could make the border before it's closure at 6pm.  With a Burkinabe lady headed for Accra, we scoured around for a taxi to get us to Dakola, the Burkinabe border.  Soon enough we made it to the border village but go find it blocked by trucks waiting to clear customs, I'd never seen it so busy and our driver was unamused at not being able to find a route through! 

The clock was ticking and I really wasn't filled with joy at spending a night this side of the border, eventually we made it through, I raced into the immigration building where one lady officer remembered me and ran out again to find an argument ensuing between the police and our driver.  I begged them to let us continue the 1km in the taxi to the Ghana side ... heads shook, I tried everything to persuade them.  It was only when one of them heard I was due to sleep in Tenkodougo (a small town near the girls village to the east of Ouaga) and what had happened to her, that they let us go!

Ghana was the usual gruff immigration post, TV blaring, officers sitting around ... eventually i was stamped in!  I trudged off to another known bed, 300m from the border post is a small, clean lodge that isn't bad value for money in the small tourist town of Paga, better known for sacred crocodiles than accommodation!  Unfortunately their brilliant kitchen had been closed a while ago, so I sent out the boy in charge to find some jollof rice and chicken.  Wonderful jollof rice but a chicken thigh I could have bounced against the wall!!! 

The following day, I was at the station by 5.45am, in a taxi by 6am and south in Bolgatanga before 8am.  Here I ran into trouble, the driver left me at a trotro station with air-conditioned vehicles.  I paid for my ticket and was bluntly told I was paying the same for my luggage, knowing these typically Ghanaian antics for the 'Obruni' travelling public, I ignored him, ready to negotiate just before departure.  To my horror another 'Obruni' showed up, young girl from Germany or Sweden and immediately handed over the requested amount while I was saying No to her when they quoted what they wanted.  An argument ensued, I handed back my ticket and walked off, very annoyed.  Luckily arriving in the taxi station I spied Emmanuel who'd driven me in the shared taxi from Paga, negotiating a price for him to drive me directly to Tamale, we set off!

Tamale is my favourite place for Chinese food in the region!  However I was going to try to get onto Sunyani or at least Techiman today.  I just missed a trotro for Techiman pulling out so headed to Ghana's government bus company, Metro Mass Transit's station to find a bus boarding for Sunyani!!!  Chinese looked to be off the menu until I talked to the driver who had sold every seat.  I waited to see if there was anything spare, watched it pull out and walked off to find a tuk-tuk to have lunch, at the Chinese!   The hotel I usually stay at has seriously gone downhill, one lady was really sullen, so I headed next door to Hamdallah Hotel to find a lovely room that was cheaper!

Back at the trotro station by 0530 the next morning I had to wait almost 3h for the Techiman trotro to fill.  Yet again, two Obruni's showed up.  Yet again totally ignored me; maybe I'm getting old but before there was a spirit between travellers however it doesn't seem to be the case in Ghana or else I look so worn out from travelling, they stay away?!?!?  These two missed asking to get off at Kintampo Falls so when we stopped at the last stop in town the driver asked me to ask them to get off! 

Almost 6h after leaving Tamale we arrived in Techiman where I found a shared taxi for Sunyani, another hour away, this driver definitely had F1 aspirations but he was a safe driver so I didn't squawk as I would normally!  Dormaa Ahenkro is the town just before the border east of Agnibilekro, I hadn't had any money since Tamale, luckily found a convenient cash machine in Techiman. So on arrival in Sunyani, I agreed to pay for 2 seats for myself to Dormaa if the driver would wait whilst I found food; 2 hard-boiled eggs, a handful of groundnuts and a small packet of biscuits all guzzled at 4.30pm ...

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Voluntourism comes in all shapes and forms.  In neighbouring Ghana it's become a profitable business for many charitable organisations that doesn't always direct the money where it should to help the NGO in question.

People of all ages from gap year students to retirees are paying what I would consider phenomenal amounts of money to 'help'.  They often arrive without skills that would be of use to the NGO in question for short periods of time that really doesn't merit their presence.  At the end they return home with photos on their social media pages surrounded by 'disadvantaged' children and another box ticked on their CV.  It's really quite sad.

Imagine the shock when a volunteer is offered the chance of a 3 month placement without paying a fee; just their flights, visa and daily costs.  Room and board included to assist a centre with trafficked children, references are obligatory as is a current police check.

An Australian art teacher was given this opportunity, previously known via their professional life in Khartoum, Sudan and more recently in Cairo, Egypt.  A reference was obtained and the police check held on file.  The objective for this volunteer was to work with the children allowing to express themselves in art whilst keeping an eye on the overall running of the centre and finances.  Very kindly money was raised to gain art supplies and buy paint to create murals at the centre, or so it said on the crowdfunder website.

Unfortunately it all changed on arrival; quickly deceived by a (now former) employee, communication was limited with the organization's board due to the employee's greed and deception.  Knowing that this volunteer had already spent time in Africa, the presumption was that the volunteer would see the reality of what was actually happening.  Sadly not! 

However, things took a turn for the worse when the volunteers website was discovered.  Firstly personal details of the children and their origins were put online (thankfully the former employee didn't carry out the correct research so the child's village is some 200km away from where they thought).  The NGO's own motorbike was used without authorisation to go miles into the bush with terrible consequences for its wear and tear, particularly on the engine. Then upon leaving the paintings done by the children had been removed so that they could be sold online ...

People close to the organization are disgusted by this behaviour, numerous messages were sent to the volunteer which remain unanswered.  There was one minor change, that the money raised by the pictures will go back into the project.  However the former employee is currently being interviewed by the police for a variety of matters, despite this conduct the two still seem to be in cahoots!

Whichever way you turn, volunteering isn't as simple as it looks!

Saturday, January 30, 2016


I try to stay out of politics generally but there are a few bugs in the system that still haven't been ironed out in Côte D'Ivoire.  Having said that I doubt they will for a few decades yet.

Currently there are a lot of government posters condemning corruption by government officials, asking the population to report it.  It's a massive change from the other side of the border in Ghana, where even when petty corruption is reported, you are given a smirk and the matter is ignored.

Back in August 2015, going through a 'barrage' (checkpoint) our minibus was stopped for ID checks.  Those that didn't have ID were asked for varying sums of money.  On ringing a police chief the matter was dealt with swiftly, correct fines were applied and receipts given.  Of course not every minibus will have a passenger who'll make the calls!

In Abengourou the roads were savagely torn up 6months ago, the dust has been so bad ever since everyone is forced to breathe through a tissue or cloth, wear a (now illegal) plastic bag over their head; respiratory problems are rife.

During a chat with a restaurant waiter who was wiping down a dusty chair, a job he has to do several times a day, we got chatting about the situation.  I pointed out that when the Mayoral elections come up everyone has the choice to vote.  His attitude was that no matter who you vote for, the bigwigs around town will ensure that a well-known personality will get into office.  A 'lowly' waiter will never have the chance to help make a change.  This is certainly true in Ghana which I've watched getting corrupter by the month but I do feel that Cote D'Ivoire is making progress in this area, to let everyone contribute ...

Africa as a continent needs to wake up and change from internal corrupt systems before neo-colonism sneaks in and takes over whilst in-country squabbles take the front page ...


I try to stay out of politics generally but there are a few bugs in the system that still haven't been ironed out in Côte D'Ivoire.  Having said that I doubt they will for a few decades yet.

Currently there are a lot of government posters condemning corruption by government officials, asking the population to report it.  It's a massive change from the other side of the border in Ghana, where even when petty corruption is reported, you are given a smirk and the matter is ignored.

Back in August 2015, going through a 'barrage' (checkpoint) our minibus was stopped for ID checks.  Those that didn't have ID were asked for varying sums of money.  On ringing a police chief the matter was dealt with swiftly, correct fines were applied and receipts given.  Of course not every minibus will have a passenger who'll make the calls!

In Abengourou the roads were savagely torn up 6months ago, the dust has been so bad ever since everyone is forced to breathe through a tissue or cloth, wear a (now illegal) plastic bag over their head; respiratory problems are rife.

During a chat with a restaurant waiter who was wiping down a dusty chair, a job he has to do several times a day, we got chatting about the situation.  I pointed out that when the Mayoral elections come up everyone has the choice to vote.  His attitude was that no matter who you vote for, the bigwigs around town will ensure that a well-known personality will get into office.  A 'lowly' waiter will never have the chance to help make a change.  This is certainly true in Ghana which I've watched getting corrupter by the month but I do feel that Cote D'Ivoire is making progress in this area, to let everyone contribute ...

Africa as a continent needs to wake up and change from internal corrupt systems before neo-colonism sneaks in and takes over whilst in-country squabbles take the front page ...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Never the right reasons for hitting the press

The last few days has seen the dark side of the region in the news.  It's a worry as so much has been lost in tourism over a few years.

The situation in Mali with Al Quaeda (AQIM) has been an ongoing problem that dissuades tourists from coming to the region in the first place.  Then the Ebola outbreak happened which made thousands of potential tourists cancel their trips to the whole continent, ridiculous really when you look at the distance from the affected West African countries to Europe and the distance from the sub-region to East or South Africa.  A group had got together using the hashtag #Unite4WestAfrica during the outbreak to try to attract more tourism and educate potential visitors but sadly to little effect.

However earlier this week it was announced that the Ebola outbreak was officially over.  The world breathed a sigh of relief.  It is reckoned to have cost West Africa US$3.5 Billion in lost business and tourism to date.

Yesterday a new confirmed Ebola case cropped up in northern Sierra Leone, unfortunately the world press heard about it too; 1 step forward, 10 steps back.  Not that we shouldn't take Ebola seriously but the devastation it has caused to the region is unimaginable.

Last night, AQIM's offshoot group,
al-Murabitoun are purportedly behind the attacks in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.  The same group were responsible for the Radisson attack in Bamako, Mali back in November.  Yet another 'safe' country is going to be damaged by the press reports, government warnings and public worry. 

Currently sitting with a group of Burkinabe friends in Côte D'Ivoire, we're all shocked by the events which seem to be ongoing as I type!

I for one won't walk away from the region nor will I be threatened by terrorism which could have easily have happened at home #Unite4WestAfrica

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I've caught up with a lot of friends and acquaintances over the last few weeks.

Currently sitting in a 'kiosque' to get my supper of spaghetti and liver, formerly run by Ghanaians here on the Ivorian coast I've known 10 years.  A man came up to me to welcome me back; his name is Kofi and he's Ghanaian too.  I recognised his face but that was it, he told me the story I heard earlier today, the Ghanaian family headed by Kwame have sold up and headed home.  Having known their eldest since she was 2 years old, I wanted to know more.  They've left their beloved dog, Lucky here who instantly came up to say hello to me (and any scraps I might have for her) and the building Kwame the father put up is now in pieces. 

They sold their little piece of paradise near an incredible beach for 14million CFA to go home to Ghana, where they won't have regular electricity or water supply, unlike here in Côte D'Ivoire.  I wonder due to the economic development in Côte D'Ivoire they've decided to take their money and build something better for themselves in neighbouring Ghana which has an ailing economy?!

Back to Kofi, he amused me by saying a phrase I've only really heard in Mali in September 2015 'on est ensemble' or 'we're together'.  However I have to question myself, did I only just start hearing this in Mali, particularly in the village more than just in Bamako or has everyone been saying it to me for a while and I've just not noticed?  Kofi must be the second or third person since I've been back.

On est ensemble ... against neocolonialism and any jihadist forces ...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

First fickle fortnight

Had a very tough time since arriving in Abengourou on 23rd December.

Wonderful trip from Abidjan to Abengourou; courtesy of one of the elders from the Cour Royale.  He remembered me and found me a little bewildered in Adjame at 7am waiting for a 12pm bus, that was due to have departed at 7.30am!  His clean, air-conditioned, 4 wheel drive vehicle made the dusty journey very easy; particularly with a breakfast stop in Adzope!   Lovely warm welcome back to Abengourou from many people including friends and many police officers!

On arrival back at the centre, the day turned sour.  News concerning an important local person hadn't been passed onto the team in France and I found that we had been put in a very difficult predicament.  Added to which our Coordinator had already created a long list of problems that needed to be dealt with.  Within an hour of arrival I told him to take the festive season as leave and asked for him to return on 2nd January.

During the day it became apparent all our documents were missing including the legal ones concerning the children in our care.  After sending a message it was clear that a game was being played, one that could cause a multitude of problems for the future.

To cut a long and difficult story short, I found myself asking the Prosecutor for help prior to the new year.  Christmas was a sombre affair, my mind going through the endless lies that had been woven, the divisions that had been created and worst of all, discovering that my room had been used as a 'chambre de passage' in my absence whilst children were in the centre!

The beginning of 2016 rang loud and clear, I was back at the Prosecutor's for his first day at work.  Asked to return at 16h I discovered our Coordinator had filed a legal case against me personally.  The Prosecutor wasn't in the mood to listen to another woven web of lies and asked for my complaints.  I left his office feeling renewed and hopeful that the end had come but I had more to deal with the following day; email account password changed, paperwork still not returned and our Coordinator on a very slippery slope to trouble after yet another phone call to the Prosecutor!

Since 7th January, life is almost back to normal.  My general opinion of people here in Côte D'Ivoire remains unchanged, there are good and bad in all societies.  The Coordinator is unemployed and gaining a terrible reputation locally, but most of it I can put to one side.

The evening of 7th January, our neighbour Paul who is also a taxi driver had visitors at midnight intent on stealing a motorbike.  He called the police and locked himself inside with his wife and small child, the visitors had a Kalashnikov and pistol between them ... They left & were not found by the police, so still at large.  Paul is blaming FRCI and the arms that are still circulating in the country post the 2010-2011 crisis!  On a positive note, had they had bullets they probably would have fired, so we hope they don't obtain any!!!

Life goes on, all will be well!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bizarre Border Day

After a 36h stop in Accra and a rather short night due to a party, departure alarm was set for 0530.  It proved to be a bad idea to try travelling to Cote d'Ivoire with my 'little brother' Charles Sablah from Nima after only 3.5h sleep!

Grumpiness set in right at the beginning, particularly when a man on our VIP bus was spotted boarding after departing Kaneshie, a preacher!  7 long hours later incarcerated on 'religious' transport our arrival at Takoradi was over 2hours late.  This was partly due to the fact our driver didn't seem to know how to get into 3rd gear, we crawled most of the way in 2nd with the engine groaning under my back seat!

Arriving at Elubo, the Ghanaian side of the border with Lampard, a driver I've been using for a few years; the hunt was on for a private Ivorian car.   We were looking to hitchhike and get as close as possible to friends living in Bassam for the night.  Lucky to spot someone with an empty car, he offered a lift despite being at work at the border.  The Ghanaian border guards all remembered me, shook hands & asked why I wasn't staying for longer.

On our way between Elubo & Noe which was heavily blocked with trucks waiting to get through customs we exchanged pleasantries and chatted about all things Ivorian.  Whilst crossing the bridge I made mention of the children that cross and a village I'm aware of ... He confirmed it all and the fact he's involved with trafficking .. Alarm bells were ringing, our conversation had been in French, he then asked Charles in Twi what I'm doing in Cote D'Ivoire, of course he'd not understood our conversation.  It all became a little complicated!

Arrival at Noe, big welcomes from the border guards who I've built quite a rapport with over the last 2-3 years with this team ... Then to bump into a colleague who was also heading towards Abidjan with her young family for Christmas.

I'm now in CI puzzling how to move forward at the moment.  Today is Sunday, tomorrow I'll probably be making a lot of calls in relation to our new 'friend' ...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hiatus for a reason

There's been a hiatus from the blog, but certainly not from travelling.  Since that last post, I've probably made 15-20 trips to West Africa and a few to the east of the continent including a short trip to Burundi to see friends on the spur of the moment whilst in Uganda for aviation work.

Lately the focus has been very much on C.R.E.E.R ( that was set up in 2010 and finally operational in 2014 in Cote d'Ivoire as a safe house for child trafficking victims.

Leaving again in a few days for West Africa looking forward to seeing my 'little brother' who just got married.  I've mentored him over a few years whilst he built up Nima Tours ( in Accra, Ghana.  Charles will be joining me on the overland trip to Abidjan and then up to Abengourou for Christmas along with a US friend.  I'll be posting updates and thoughts whilst over there, hopefully not like buses coming all at once!

Have a great festive season in the meantime!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Accra warmth

Flying back to Accra was like a dream, I've often 'knocked' Ghana preferring Cote d'Ivoire but there's a lot going for Ghana too!  Landing in the warmth of Accra's evening, I was in my element, thrilled to be back!

Algeria had been cold, I didn't expect it to be so similar to the temperatures that are found at home in France, but it was chilly & I had packed 'warmer climate' clothes on the whole.  Should have done a little more research!!!

Accra's balmy & humid temperatures were perfect.  With the biggest smile on my face I cleared immigration & went out hunting for my 'priority' labelled bag, which as usual in Accra, was one of the last to find its way through!

I made my way outside to wait for the BA crew (my oldest friend was the SFO on the flight) to come through & joined them on the crew bus to go to the hotel for the night.  Everyone was exhausted, it was a difficult flight for the crew taking-off mid-afternoon & landing at 9pm GMT; lots of demands by passengers on flights like this.  I think there was only one member of the crew that succumbed to bed, the others all joined my best friend & I outside around the pool.  It was a late night but my first in two months I could sit back & relax!

The following day I took my oldest friend down to Nima to meet Charles Sablah of Ghana Nima Tours.

Charles is a young guy in his 20's living precariously, desperate to better himself & has set up walking tours of Nima.  An impoverished slum where most tourists are too scared to go.  He did a fantastic job & introduced her to a small school that teaches the children in French & English.  She was thrilled to see it all & is currently setting up collections via her children's schools to take to Accra when she is rostered to fly back.  Charles' tours are now a feature for BA crews & with continued focus he should do well as he's being interviewed by 'Time Out' magazine in Accra.

With the BA flight leaving just before midnight, I left her to sleep mid-afternoon & went off to meet someone who I had been in touch with since the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire.  I was generously offered a room there during my time in Accra & my host was a real gentleman ensuring I had everything I needed.  Importantly in my own economic constraints, I had a room in Accra to stay in whilst I had business meetings & the conference to attend.

My welcome on my return to Ghana Civil Aviation was outstanding; the ladies at reception were both very pleased to see me.  A surprise for us all that I had returned so quickly after the WAFRIC conference.  I had meetings in & around the airport all week then Saturday dawned with the conference speaking promise.

The main reason for my return was to support the Aviation Club Ghana which is run by a group of graduates & under-graduates of the University of Ghana at Legon.  I was impressed with this group in October, but what they had created with this conference was outstanding.  Some prominent local speakers from the aviation industry, a room full of students from High Schools and University with live internet streaming.

Sunday I got my usual driver to take me to Kaneshie station to get the VIP bus to Takoradi, I ended up on an excellent ADB service for 11GhC leaving at 9am & arriving at 1pm.  Finally after a tro-tro from Takoradi & a taxi from Agona Junction I was back in Busua!  Arriving at Busua Inn, it was perfect, calm, warm with a breeze but I wasn't sure if I was in the right place.  I was meant to be meeting up with my friends who also own Ezile Bay & staying over at Ezile next to Akwidaa village.  With James the manager expecting me, I put my bags down & waited for them to return from Ezile.

I had got it wrong, but decided to move over to Ezile the next morning.  Ringing Ezile from Agona Junction, the line actually rang as the reception is terrible over there I discovered that they were on their way back to Busua.  Back to the Busua taxi rank at Agona Junction to some surprised drivers & back to Busua for a few hours.

Eventually I spent 3 days and nights at Ezile.  The culmination of stress & lack of sleep left over from my two month Algerian sejourn caught up with me.  No internet, weak phone signal (or climb to the top of the hill on the edge of the bay) and no electricity meant I had days with nothing to do but swim in the wonderful bay that doesn't have a rip tide unlike the coastline nearby.  Early nights, that sent me to sleep with the finest freshest food (mainly fish from Akwidaa village) cooked up by Comfort & watched over by Danielle.  I slept so soundly every night with the waves crashing on the shore 10metres from my cottage door, it was paradise!

I have to admit on the 4th morning I started getting jittery, I hadn't checked my e-mails, not received any calls ... it was time to head back to Busua & Accra ultimately.  It was a sad drive back to Busua for the night (where there weren't any important e-mails!) and onto Accra the next morning.

My final day in Accra, I returned to the conference which was busier than the week before & spent the last few hours in the Fiesta Royale Hotel winding down.  The board of the Aviation Club Ghana returned me to the airport, where I got a flight back to the cold of Europe.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Flying to Algeria I had mixed emotions.  Thrilled to be going to do a job I adore, there were a few loose ends that weren't entirely tied up in regards to my conditions there.

Invited up to the cockpit on the flight, French registered aircraft, French crew, who often speak to Algerian ATC in French.  Not sure who was more shocked, that the captain put me on the frequency to first contact Algiers ACC or the Algerian controllers hearing clear English from a female voice!!!  The F/O repeated our greetings & we approached Algiers & it's bay on a fairly clear day.

Greeted by some colleagues at the airport, we drove across town to my new abode.  I found myself sleeping in a room that was (& would later be) a classroom on a childs bed with a matress that fitted 70% of the bed frame.  Being rather tall, it was uncomfortable to say the least but I kept quiet for a while.

The situation got worse on an almost daily basis; repetitive menu twice a day from a filthy square hole known as the kitchen.  I was moved to another room, where the windows were so rotten, the rain created large pools of water around the room.  Although water was also an issue, not knowing when there would be water to have a shower I was continually juggling my life around to remain partially happy & totally sane.

I've painted a horrible picture.  It was terrible but on the upside I have to say that the Algerians I met were the most wonderful, hospitable people.  They agreed that they couldn't live in the conditions I found myself incarcerated in.  They were shocked by the situation; the only time I was genuinely happy was when I was instructing training courses.

However, I was also happy when I left Algiers & headed east to the town of Setif, about 4hours away by train.  Spending the weekend there with a colleague & seeing the incredible Roman site of Djemila was a fantastic escape.  On the return train trip to Algiers going past beautiful countryside, I received a phone call admonishing me for leaving Algiers without permission & being a troublemaker having taken a colleague with me.

Of course, my wanderings now seriously curtailed made life all the more difficult.  I had forfeited my usual trip down to W.Africa & to do more for CREER to go to Algeria (money was also an issue though!).  By the time Christmas day arrived, I was probably at my lowest point in as long as I can remember.

Suddenly a few things fell into place.  The course I was instructing was due to finish on 5th January, my best friend & 777 pilot had a trip to Accra on 8th January & the students from the Aviation Club Ghana were asking me to speak at their conference.  Between the flight timing & the course finishing to make the flight I made it clear I would leave Algiers on 6th January.  It gave me time to fly home for 15hours to change suitcases, fly to the UK & spend a night with family there before continuing onto Accra ...

I was free!

The final weekend in Algeria was New Years; with Algeria having a Friday/Saturday weekend, we also got Sunday as a public holiday.  I decided to go off & visit the beautiful town of Tlemcen in the west of the country near the Moroccan border.  Absolutely stunning, myself & a colleague spent 24hours there after a long day travelling via Sidi Bel Abbes.  The following day we met up with the third member of the team who got to Oran by train & together with an Algerian colleague & his brother saw out 2011 in 'Le Titanic' ... an aptly named Spanish influenced bar restaurant!

Saying goodbye to the Algerians that I had made friends with was no mean feat, if it wasn't for them, I would have left weeks before!  I'm indebted to them for being the wonderful group that they were!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Life has to go on ...

Following the WAFRIC conference, life had to continue.

However it was incredibly difficult, the board were overjoyed with the success of the conference but there was a massive divide following the fact that I had to host it alone.

The concensus was that the majority of the board would have to resign as we had made a variety of offers to keep the flag flying without success.  WAFRIC is now without the main members of the board which is sad; but out of bad must come good.  A new organisation for ladies is due to be formed to continue the work that had already been started.

On a personal level I had put so much work into the organisation, in my own time conferring with stakeholders; my own business suffered.  Struggling for a number of weeks, I finally decided to sub-contract in Algeria to save my business.

The glass is always half full and it was a close call!  I managed to get an Algerian visa in a morning & a week later I was flying to Algiers as a consultant in aviation training.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Proud, is too poor a word ...

Last week I was in Accra, to host the 3rd Annual Conference of Women Aviators in Africa -

Despite a lot of difficulties, the conference was a massive success!

Students came from Ghana, Nigeria & elsewhere ...... professionals flew in from Seattle, USA, Dakar, Senegal & Germany, Ireland & other locations - it was a strong show of support both male & female to get more youngsters into aviation; but particularly female aviators from W.Africa.

Proud, is too poor a word.

There were ladies with us who had got there by bus from Lagos, endured hours of surgery for a disablement I've spoken about before; others who had flown in from South Africa, the USA via Nairobi & other locations to meet us and drive forward the presence of women in the avition industry.

Air Commodore Kwame (Victor) Mamphey, Director General of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority made the keynote speech, well received by all, followed by a strong address by Dr John E Tambi, NEPAD (African Union) trying to demystify the concept of women entering the industry.  Following this Patricia Mawuli made an impact on all present with her story of entering the industry & mentoring the three pilots that followed up with their stories. 

Jessica Cox the 'armless' US pilot confirmed at the very last moment on landing at Kotoka, Accra's burgeoning airport and arrived 20minutes later!  Her speech & presence had a profound effect on everyone there.   To see Jessica meet Lydia Westi who had already spoken during the morning session, watching this young 16 year old Ghanaian pilot with one good arm meet Jessica had me in tears.

Lydia is a student at the AvTech Academy, part of and proving to everyone that if you can dream it, you can believe it, as WAFRIC's President Kajuju Laiboni instills into everyone!  After two days at the Accra conference kindly sponsored by Ghana Civil Aviation at the Fiesta Royale Hotel the third day was an outing for the delegates.

The AvTech Academy hosted the most incredible day at their Kpong Airfield having been an integral part of our logistics & other crazy matters to get this conference on the road.  It had people talking prior to our arrival and now for days afterwards.  One of the delegates forgot it was his birthday due to the love of flight.  Six international delegates were sponsored by to fly with their crew!

A few press reviews: 
The WAFRIC board are so proud of what has been accomplished, to get more young women into aviation, West Africa will be the first WAFRIC chapter with a determined team behind them!
Special thanks have to go to all the ladies in Ghana, Jonathan Porter of, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Boeing, Aelex Law Firm, Landover (Nigeria), Charles Sablah of 'Put Jah First' & his walking tours of Nima, Accra!  
Without their support, West African aviation lovers particularly the ladies might not stand a chance of getting their passion across!!!
My only hope is that C.R.E.E.R will get established soon to provide mechanical engineering to youngsters who might want to move into aviation at a later date.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Yako 5th August in Abidjan & an update

5th August: No gunfire, just a simple accident with bus No19 apparently trying to avoid a collison with a car on the FHB bridge in Abidjan.  Simple isn't the word, it went off the bridge into the Ebrie Lagoon beneath, killing 12 passengers at last count and injuring 9 that were taken to the CHU at Treichville.

Yako a tous; a massive loss of life in a peaceful era in Cote d'Ivoire; not sure if that's the final count.  The fatal 12 deaths are enough.  The bridge judging by the photos released it's a mess and needs reinforcement again.

Trying to be upbeat, has some great news about their project along with having been at OshKosh in the USA a massive aeronautical conference.  'The Calling' the documentary video by Rex Pemberton was screened, judging by the trailer, a sponsor of tissues was probably doing well there!  Here's the trailer by Rex Pemberton
Incredible, moving story; if you've not clicked above for almost 4minutes of trailer, you really
don't know what you are missing!  Their young lady, who isn't as abled as the rest of us; 
continues to improve having recently had another operation!  She'll be flying us all soon! 
However a 'product' of www.waaspscom  gave an impressive interview about women in 
aviation and Ghana: is building up to their 3rd Annual Conference, hard work but very determined 
to get more young ladies interested in aviation!  Hoping to have a massive turnout in Accra 
in late September! 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who knows of a female pilot in Africa?

I do!

There are many, but as not as many as there could be.

A few years ago it was estimated that there were 6% of females in professional aviation; I believe & hope that this figure has risen over the last decade.

However many children in Africa have no idea; they look above them and believe that the 'driver' is a white male.

Slowly is changing this concept.  Women Aviators in Africa has aviation professionals from Africa & beyond who want to make this idea a thing of the past.  In late September 2011, WAFRIC will be in Ghana, the first time to step foot in W.Africa.  Proud to be there, to manage their 3rd annual conference from afar, they will hopefully enlighten others & encourage those in aviation to open up the notions of other young ladies to join the profession.

It has to be said that is doing just that, a small airfield north of Accra teaching young & predominantly female pilots to fly.  This has to be commended, a small airfield with a boss that has a passion that I thought I had, but he's overshadowed me!  Not just that, but this airfield is teaching Ghana's first disabled pilot (I really hate that word - disabled).  The lady in question has been in hospital for a few weeks now getting surgery, she can only get better I hope!

WAFRIC had another lady from Nigeria, for a few years she was disheartened.  Her father was certainly not going to allow his daughter to follow a profession that really wasn't for a lady!  Bit by bit with help from outside sources, his mind was changed & he agreed to pay for her training in South Africa.  Unfortunately she's still in Nigeria due to visa complications despite that her training was paid.  We endeavour to get her flying & eventually a commercial pilot!

There is a massive need now for 'wannabe' pilots to be trained, the flying generation is getting older on a worldwide scale.  Recruitment drives will be stronger shortly, taking newly qualified pilots on & encouraging them to obtain their ratings as the older generation retire.

WAFRIC hopes to see the un-abled-bodied-person in the skies during the conference in late September ... there is so much to do across Africa, not just for women but for the ladies that are undergoing life-changing operations!!!

Join us, or if it's not possible,we're always in need of funds to get the students to experience flight!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Confused ...

It's not just me; it's 'friends' on twitter too ...

Friends don't understand the French involvement in W.Africa, in the past during independance and the current situation.  Living here & travelling regulary gives me an insight into how the politics & economics of the region works.  I was personally shocked by a pre-independance map I had the privilege to see, no countries were marked, just a great expanse of French territory with Nigeria & Ghana outlined in pink.

So, France seems to be very much involved in current economic affairs in Cote d'Ivoire as well as being dual spear-heads on the assault against Ghaddafi.  Russia & China vetoed out of both UN sanctions ... Russia had already signed via Gazprom (?national energy company) with Gbagbo; did they also come to an agreement with Libya?  My head is spinning!

That's the first part of my confusion ...

The second involves a young boy aged 15 now; he's at school, 'college' in Cote d'Ivoire who came online to talk to me after knowing me for 5yrs+.  When I quizzed him about being in a cyber cafe rather than at college, he told me that his teacher died yesterday.

Later I chatted to the director of the children's centre he lives in to find that the FRCI had killed his teacher.  I am confused.  I thought Cote d'Ivoire was calm now without any problems and certainly not government forces killing people.  Maybe I don't have the whole story, but it's worrying ..

France is now firmly re-implanted in Cote d'Ivoire.  I'm sure Sarkozy would like to be elsewhere in Africa particularly W.Africa.  The French left as the English did but the difference being that they left taking a lot of infrastructure & blue prints with them upon independence.  It's left W.Africa needy for French assistance.  This might explain why there is an influx of W.African French in France as a tweeter reminded me.  The fact that the infrastructure was torn out didn't leave much for those who wanted to re-build the country.

I hope that the same will not be said in the near future in Cote d'Ivoire if it all goes wrong; however the First Lady is French ... time will tell.  Having spoken to French special forces posted there during the crisis, I do wonder!

Yako mes amis

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

L'avenir or the future

Gbagbo was caught, IB was shot and this week Ble Goude is coming out of his shadows - could make for a great movie ...

Personally, I'm concerned, I will admit to being a French resident but am worried about the future French involvement.  I can see Cote d'Ivoire being a semi-colony of France which wasn't the objective during independence.  Last weekend I was talking to a French soldier who was in Bouake from December until April, with a few others ready to make a strike, they left before Gbagbo was captured or the strikes were made across Abidjan.

French Special Forces aren't to be messed with, this one left with his colleagues before it all got nasty.  We were in touch whilst I was there, hence I knew movements & my personal safety whilst I was in situ.  The messages I got whilst on the ground were difficult to deal with; I couldn't disclose the situation earlier due to the situation of their mission.  I felt sometimes like I was on a knife edge knowing too much possibly, but wanting the best.

I was there when things weren't that bad when you compare with what happened in March & April.  Predominantly I was there for C.R.E.E.R, to have a meeting with the Mayor which took a month to arrange, at the same time I needed to go to Burkina Faso for work.  I never got there, I'm now in a difficult situation; C.R.E.E.R isn't as it should be especially for our partners in Canada & I'm without work - which in France without a salaried position isn't funny.  It means that I must continue to search for work, I don't get any social help & am close to shutting down my business ..

So where to go from here?  I don't know .. we're now submitting papers without any assistance & hoping for the best; I believe it will work out, C.R.E.E.R will be an entity shortly in Cote d'Ivoire:   We have to be soon, I'm right behind that but any assistance is a bonus!

C.R.E.E.R needs setting up soon, our future director saw kids of 10 or 11 on the streets armed with guns.  The Mayor said that he needs time to get his political career sorted; it's now 10 months since our first meeting with him (prior to the crisis) to get this going.  I realise & know that this is not a political issue but surely the future of Ivoirian children are an issue???

Someone prove me wrong please!

Yako mes amis; surtout a Yop et a ailleurs!!!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Is this the start???

Of something new?

A new government without enemies?

A new country heading to re-grow it's economy?

A different life for the children?

I don't know.

But it feels like Ivoirians are 'free', I wish that it's all true, but it's early days yet

With the death of 'IB' yesterday, maybe this growth will happen, the children will see some sort of stability, maybe we can get C.R.E.E.R fundraising motoring - who knows?!

Sisters, brothers, YAKO - we're not the same but we have to unite in this new world that is Cote d'Ivoire; I'm not Ivoirian but to see the country stabilize & grow would make me very proud!

Tomorrow is 'the royal wedding' which makes me mad that the world press will be there but yet so few made it to report on the conflict with the exception of AlJazeera & BBC ... all those that did make it to Cote d'Ivoire during the conflict should be proud to have shown the reality.

I heard today that the genocide was very real, people found cast in concrete whilst they were alive ... it's all shocking but I hope that they will live very long lives to pay for this!

A final word in French from an Ivoirian friend involved in C.R.E.E.R

Ouf enfin la guerre est finie en CI, et le travail pour la cohésion sociale est aussi en train de se faire. La paix est de retour en côte d'ivoire , on peut l'affirmer sans faux fuyant . D'ici quelques temps on ne parlera plus de conflit , le pays pourra donc se lancer dans sa phase de développement économique. Mais les nombreuses victimes de ces conflits ont été les enfants qui n'ont pratiquement plus de repères parce qu'ils ont plus de parents et sont donc exposés à tous les vices de la vie . C.R.E.E.R veut offrir à ces enfants un nouvel espoir à un avenir meilleur en leur apprenant un métier à partir d'une formation et aussi assurer la prise en charge psycho-éducative de ces enfants . 

Yako mes amis!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Nearing normality ...?

Unfortunately there still seems to be a lot of chaos in Cote d'Ivoire.

Children returned to school yesterday, many still confused, lost & upset by the situation. Banks are due to open today; which might give many adults the impetus to re-start their lives. Fuel is slowly being distributed around Abidjan; hopefully deliveries will go further afield soon.

However, 'IB' the head of the 'Invisible Commandos' was killed in the Abobo district of Abidjan today. 'IB' - Ibrahim Coulibaly was the head of the small guerilla group that assisted Ouattara's forces to oust Gbagbo's patriots. However it seems that IB was on his own mission, continuing to fight with his militia. He was given the chance to turn in weapons to Ouattara's government or have them taken by force; along with 6 of his men and 2 FRCI soldiers, he was killed in battle yesterday.

A fellow Tweeter @senambeheton explains IB's political background & recent politics:

However, seeing AlJazeera shots of disturbed schoolchildren yesterday in a relatively 'quiet' area of Abidjan. I can't imagine what the children of Abobo are thinking. The trauma that they have gone through during this conflict is beyond anyone's imagination having been living through this nightmare in one of the hardest hit districts.

Yet, somewhere out there are the children that have really suffered; the children that have been living on the streets. What must have they seen? witnessed? succumbed to? How many were coerced into carrying weapons?

Time will tell if this latest drama of the crisis is finally the end of a long five months ...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Eggs ...

Having been in the UK last week, I was shocked to see the price of Easter eggs, mounted high, on supermarket aisle corners with flashy signs all over.

Looking for a present for an ex-student who was looking after my car, I was tempted to buy a 'Cadburys Creme Egg' Easter egg, together with it's own china mug. Priced at £3.00 it was set to sell.

I couldn't face it. The packaging and mug alone were worth more than the cost of the chocolate; where did the chocolate come from? Examining the box, together with it's small package of 'Mini Creme Eggs' I couldn't find an origin of the cocoa. The thought of it was too much, trying to find the 40,000€ for the materials to build C.R.E.E.R in Cote d'Ivoire, even £3 seemed too much without a hint as to the origin of the chocolate!

That's it; 40,000€ - considering it will house 30 children for many years in a centre destined for trafficked children it's a ridiculously small sum. Our vision of creating a centre on 5ha of land, enough to farm & be semi-self-sufficient. Paltry in comparison to many centres I know of who have spent thousands on their buildings in rent.

My ex-student ended up with some magazines on aviation; he's thrilled. I'm happy too reflecting on what I'm trying to achieve & what I could have bought; the cost it would be for some child possibly working in the cocoa farms of Cote d'Ivoire somewhere ...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Re - building, heal, stablise, unification ... ???

I heard a comment earlier on Al Jazeera talking about the Tamil war in Sri Lanka which went along the lines of 'without reunification there's no healing process, without a healing process, there's no economy for the country'

The same could be said of Cote d'Ivoire, the divide between north & south; pro-Gbagbo & pro-Ouattara. So much healing has to be done; again!

A poster for the elections that I wanted to photograph whilst there but with the political situation it would have been 'difficult' said: "I'm 8 years old, I want to grow up with peace" It's true so many children were born during the last crisis & don't really know the country at peace.

So what can be done?

A lot, I feel!

In February I was contacted by the journalist James North to assist him in the country. He did an amazing job showing the cocoa situation in Cote d'Ivoire. The multinationals of Callebaut, ADM & Cargill are happily buying up supplies but giving very little back to the farmer on the ground

Remembering a taxi journey to Aboisso in January, two cocoa farmers were beside me in my taxi lamenting over the cost of a chocolate bar in Cote d'Ivoire & how much cocoa they need to sell to be able to buy one! Many can't afford to purchase the end product of their raw material.

Along with my own worries of how to get enough funds for C.R.E.E.R's construction, hearing that now more than ever, there are children in desperate need. These large cocoa organisations along with the Mayfair, London hedge fund company Aramjaro are more than able to fund projects in areas of Cote d'Ivoire that are in need.

Easter starts tomorrow, I for one won't be eating any chocolate unless I know where it's come from ... I would love to be able to eat Ivoirian chocolate one day knowing the source of it & the labour used; whilst knowing that C.R.E.E.R is sheltering the cocoa-farm destined trafficked kids and giving them vocational skills for an independant adult life.

Is this the beginning of the end?

I haven't been able to post for a few weeks, it's been a terrible time that might have calmed down now, but time will tell ...

The violence that has occurred in Cote d'Ivoire over the last month has been horrific; a few 'memorable' nights of shelling in Abidjan when many lives were lost.

As far as I know my friends are fine.  I had one contact me via social networking asking for assistance, a female member of the family had been shot & needed surgery.  The same friend lost two cousins, RIP to them & all the others ...

The orphanage I used to support, EMSF in Bassam were out of touch with their directors.  Luckily I got to hear of their plight, again through #civsocial on twitter, they received food from the Mayor of Bassam amongst others having not eaten for a few days.  For a NGO to leave children stranded in these circumstances is beyond belief.  Their President in France hasn't really given a straight explanation as to why this occured or why their staff haven't been paid for 18months and therefore didn't have the funds to assist.

For the moment, peace almost reigns in Cote d'Ivoire following the capture of Laurent Gbagbo & his wife Simone.  Today via journalist friends I heard of shooting of Abobo, Cocody and in Yopougon which seems to be the worst hit.  This should quieten down over the next few days, hopefully arms will be confiscated & the UN might do their job.

My worry now is the whereabouts of Ble Goude, the leader of the 'Jeune Patriots', a henchman for Gbagbo who has had UN sanction imposed against him since 2006 & unable to leave the country.  The rumour is that he has got to Ghana.  Good luck Ghana, I wouldn't like him in my country!

Focussing now on C.R.E.E.R, getting the centre built by the end of the year, the NGO is now on Twitter CREER_RCI for anyone who wants to join us online.  The need to get it up & built for the children that are now roaming the streets of Abidjan amongst other cities is URGENT!!!  I've been getting stories of more & more children who are in danger.  Many of their 'patrons' will have fled the violence leaving the trafficked kids behind, left to fend for themselves.

Anyone who can assist with funding would be very much appreciated; we've been fundraising but it's more urgent now than ever!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Looting in all shapes & forms

Photo courtesy of twitpic

I've been delayed in blogging  for a variety of reasons ; hoping that the end of this violence is near.

With the banks shut, ports closed & the economy at a standstill people are forced to fend for themselves. It's ended in looting ...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Melting Pot

I've mentioned before I condemn any violence.  I have friends in Cote d'Ivoire who are strong Gbagbo supporters, others who are behind Ouattara and many who were with Bedie but have gone towards Ouattara.  Never mind their political allegiances, many of them are in danger, without money & unable to escape the violence in Abidjan ... Their blood is cheap, not even the media wants to expose the situation to assist.

So I find it difficult when I'm chatting online or by phone to Cote d'Ivoire trying to assist them, when the question of politics comes up.  I had one such encounter this afternoon.  A friend was telling me that the press reviews were depressing & I agreed.  'So much of it is anti-Gbagbo and people don't know the real truth when it's Ouattara's mercenaries doing the killing' - I thought for a moment and was surprised by this comment from someone who usually sticks in the middle & wants peace for Cote d'Ivoire.

I shot back; 'well never mind the press, the videos must be true surely?'  It all went very quiet ...

My friend knew that I was referring to the horrific video with a Pro-Gbagbo military vehicle in it, where people were being thrown onto a bonfire, still alive.  I've heard of many accounts of pro-Gbagbo attacks, I am also aware that Ouattara's 'Forces Nouvelles' - renamed this week as the 'Republican Army' aren't choirboys either.  But it has to be said that the photographic & video evidence shows much more pro-Gbagbo violence.  I was shocked to hear a Gbagbo aide talk on AlJazeera about a week ago in a debate saying that the 7 women killed & video of it was a fake.  He has the full video which apparently shows these women getting up afterwards & walking away.  Well if that's true why isn't it all over the internet or on YouTube???

Show the world the truth on both sides ... but stop the violence!

This conflict is creating many problems between people, friends & even family.  Those who are 'with' one of the Presidents and those who aren't but supporting the other one.  I'm loyal to my friends & treat them all with the same respect no matter their creed, colour, religion or political views but fear that I will lose friends who cannot see both sides of the situation.  Rumours are abound, another friend told me that Ouattara had made a bad choice of bringing in 2,000 Burkinabe UN troops.  I asked around about this and it seems to be completely unfounded ...

It's gone past the 'election debate' which votes should be counted, which were fraudulent; dependant on the camp you belong to.  The problem is now the violence, escaping Abidjan and towns in the west and sheer survival.  The 'Ivoriete' problem seems to have returned with a vengence; but look at any country in the world, we're all a cosmopolitan melting pot!
Ta voiture est allemande.
Ta vodka est russe.
Ta pizza est italienne.
Ton kebab est turc.
Ta démocratie est grecque.
Ton cacao est Ivoirien. 
......Ton café est brésilien.
Tes films sont américains.
Ton thé est tamoul.
Ta chemise est indienne.
Ton essence vient Libye.
Tes appareils électroniques sont Chinois.
Tes chiffres arabes, tes lettres latines...
Et tu te plains que ton prochain est un immigrant?
 Yako mes amis!


Friday, March 25, 2011

A Week from Hell

The situation in Cote d'ivoire at the end of this week is dire.

Deteriorating conditions with Abidjan slowly becoming a ghost town in the midst of heavy artillery firing, automatic weapon gunfire and shelling with people fleeing for their lives.

The 'official' figures of this increasing terror according to Ouattara's RHDP:
Dead (832)
Injured (1808)
Disappeared (100)
Arrested (876) but I believe these figures are lower than the reality.  52 people have died in just over a week, 7 of those being women and 5 children.

What does it take to get the international community to take action to end this conflict? 
Where are ECOWAS, AU, UN, EU & other western nations?
Where is Cote d'Ivoire's No Fly Zone?

For anyone interested, the UN mission UNOCI figures:

Refugees are fleeing east, many trying to find shelter in towns and villages in the Sud-Comoe & N'zi-Comoe regions, those that have cash continue onto Ghana, Togo & Benin.  Towns & villages are brimming with refugees, some lacking shelter to house the thousands leaving the economic capital of Abidjan.  Others are heading north to Bouake and further afield.  At the moment it seems that the UN agencies such as WFP and UNHCR have 'forgotten' this exodus, concentrating on the 100,000+ that have fled westwards to Liberia.  Where I stayed in December & January have refugees coming in taxiloads and on foot, daily ... yesterday the count was at 750+ in a town of 18,000; they told me that they need assistance ... certainly camps will need to be built & health should be high on the priority list.  I'm ready to return but need international aid to get supplies there.

The scenes from Aboisso's 'gare routier' one I know extremely well, are incredible, always the crossroads to Ghana or towns in the region it now has thousands passing through or looking for somewhere to stay, others sleeping in the open  having paid well over the usual odds to just get that far.

A friend in Kinshasa asked me about the genocide posting, how could it be genocide? 

Immigrants who once supported this economy from neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Guinea have been targeted.  Victims of horrific violence, from being beaten with bricks to 'necklacing' having a tyre placed over them and then being set alight.  Certain districts of Abidjan and towns in the west are being targeted for the 'terrorists' as the immigrants are now being labelled.  Many of those areas have Ivoirians from the north.  However this is not a religious war, I know many Ouattara supporters, who are Christian as well as Muslim, I also know of Muslims who are pro-Gbagbo ... a reader of an article 'Joelle' makes the same comment:  BBC's Mark Doyle who reported from Rwanda during the early days of the genocide there was shocked by the scenes & what he saw, tweeting that this reminded him of Rwanda ... #doylebytes on twitter

Monday saw the recruitment of youngsters by Ble Goude, Gbagbo's 'Youth Minister' with the promise of cash in their pockets, they filed into a stadium to chant “We will kill them now” and “The rebels will die”, with a reply of “Do you want a Kalashnikov?”- These youngsters are being offered the chance of an early death, it seems to be a mass suicide is going to take place with little training or knowledge of what they are undertaking.

It seems that international support for Gbagbo is waining, Angola's Dos Santos has seemingly refused to give more cash to keep the coffers full, to pay his military, civil servants and other supporters.  I heard that the youngsters who were joining his forces on Monday were being asked for 25,000CFA to enrol, more funds to try to meet his end of month payments to keep the support growing.

I remember in September/October buying 'Jeune Afrique' a French African magazine similar to the 'Economist' .. the cover was a photo of Gbagbo with the headlines 'J'y suis, J'y reste'.  I was on skype to my journalist friend 'ourmaninafrica' who was on a story in Korhogo in the north of Cote d'Ivoire at the time.  I asked him if he had seen this edition, I had read the several pages it extended to and felt that if Gbagbo didn't win (having not held elections for 5 years) then the future would be difficult and possibly return to further violence.  At that stage I was hoping he would win, but fairly & squarely and not going to this level of violence to make his point.

In my car I have a CD I bought in Aboisso just prior to leaving in January 'Y'a Rien en Face' a pro-Gbagbo mix of zouglou.  It often brings me near to tears, hearing the lyrics and remembering the fervent love of some of the tracks by many Ivoirians.  The lyrics themselves spell it all out, even before the elections took place that this would be the future if Gbagbo wasn't in power. 

At the end of this week there's NO:

Radio RFI BBC,
TV France24 & TV5
SMS/Text messages
The Press are being attacked
Electricity in the north of the country

Yako mes amis ...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Genocide In The Forgotten Paradise

Many people wouldn't know where Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is on a map of Africa; it's a little paradise that has turned into a war zone.  A place full of hospitable people, sandy beaches, great food with mercenaries, kalashikovs & some dangerous politicians determined to wipe out half the population.

Last night was terrible.  The constant fighting in Abidjan I was hearing about on Twitter and friends telling me of their plans or their situation.  I don't care who is in power, the violence needs to be stopped by a responsible force before the whole region is inflicted by the Double Presidential Virus.

In the space of 2-3hours I was at my wits end trying to find a way to assist friends, friends of friends, orphanages & towns in the south east of the country ... I'm still fighting what looks to be a losing battle.  The aid is going west, to Liberia & the displaced refugees there.  They need it, I don't doubt that.

The world has forgotten Cote d'Ivoire.  It's just 'another conflict', the BBC & AlJazeera are trying to do their best with reports but CNN etc don't seem to care despite Anderson Cooper initially offering media support.  Libya is more important due to oil, Japan has had a terrible time of it & the states in the Middle East are all trying to mount their own revolutions - strangely it's also all oil related ... What does Cote d'Ivoire have to do to get centre stage in the media?  The fact that chocolate prices will rise which was the only selfish theme keeping the country in the news has been forgotten.

So genocide doesn't count?  It will be another Rwanda that when all these other world news items fade out, the world will pick up on & then feel sorry.  It'll be too late, just like Rwanda!  The UN are there, but behave like camera touting tourists, there to protect the population but in fact just counting the bodies that lie dead in the streets of Abidjan.

What can you do?  Anyone reading this with ideas, please put them forward in the 'comments' below ... I am ready to return with a NGO if I can find one who will let me assist in the situation but need help particularly in assisting the SE of the country.

Shelter - refugee camps for internally displaced in this area, a town mayor has told me of 420+ refugees in his town, more to count & more arriving daily.  They don't have room for these families, they need temporary shelter and will need medicines etc if these numbers continue to grow as the risk of disease will be high.  Childrens orphanages; children who need food & will probably need to move out to the countryside from the densely populated areas if this continues

Does anyone care?  Or will everyone wake up when the genocide has taken place???

Yako mes amis ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Disclaimer & Understanding

If you scroll down this page to 17th December 2010 and work upwards you will see my account of Cote d'Ivoire post-election.  It's taken me a while to post this as I am worried about the current conflict.

I've kept people's names anonymous whilst the crisis is still going on, the place I spent most of my time in also remains anonymous; these views are my own with the facts as I found & heard them.

The people of a town & certain friends I can never repay for what they did for me, how they helped me ...

Please hope & pray for the future of Cote d'Ivoire that the conflict ends soon ...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On my way out ...

My hosts nephew got a very deep cut to his foot whilst I was at the coast, aged 10, he's pretty robust but it worried me more & more.  I kept cleaning it but it was deep & needed stitching, eventually I persuaded him to talk to his aunt & uncle to get him to the hospital.  One of the barmen from the maquis came off his motorbike, yet again the medical bag came out.  My friend from Abengourou I'd not seen for 2 years turned up having heard I was there, his wife & family were still at home.  However, he introduced me to a gendarme who also approached me to ask what I could do for him & his cut leg.  My host's maquis became a little clinic for cuts & wounds!!!

Eventually I got a meeting with the Mayor and the project was agreed; I was thrilled, made up for the stress of the last few weeks, waiting & waiting.  The following day I had to leave, time was getting tight, I had a lot to do before leaving Cote d'Ivoire.  But we walked about 4km one way to see the land, which was wonderful.  Some guy who runs a small stall was stunned to see me racing in & grabbing as many plastic sachets of water I could get my hands on for the three of us that had walked there.  We were all very thirsty, hot, dusty & tired!!!

I finally left.  It was horrible leaving, the nephew had tears streaming down his face asking why I had to go .. the girls were the same.  I couldn't say goodbye to my host's wife properly, I was in full flow, crying ... we returned to the maquis to say goodbye to a few others, I selfishly couldn't face saying goodbye to everyone.  A taxi pulled up who'd kept a spare seat for me and asked if I had to go ... Really really difficult time, I didn't want to go, but one of those things, I had to ...

I went as far as Aboisso the first night.  I stayed with my friend from Abengourou who also has a girlfriend in Aboisso ... had a lovely meal together & fell to bed exhausted from the day.  I rose at 5.30am to get the early bus to Abidjan in intrepidation as to whether I was taking on too big a risk.  E was ready to meet me in Abidjan and we had a meeting for C.R.E.E.R in Marcory with a friend of Alpha Blondy's.  Getting off the bus was fine, it all seemed normal, then I started seeing vehicles with guns, a lot more than I'd seen previously; two UN gun-mounted vehicles went haring past me at some lights.  I was glad when I got to the meeting & we were in relative safety inside.  The meeting went well and E & I made our way to Koumassi Remblais, a district of Abidjan that's seen more violence than many this side of the lagoon.  I got to see Marcelline, the reason I'm setting up C.R.E.E.R, she was amazed that I'd made it to see her.  Told me about the 'bad' days when there was fighting outside the gates, tyres & wood being burnt, helicopters circling overhead.  It was wonderful to see she was alright despite all the violence she's witnessed.

We left & headed back to the road out of Abidjan, I was lucky to have E with me, as usual people looked at me strangely being white in CI & on the street, not in a vehicle like the expats.  We both felt some of it was hostile but nothing happened & we managed to get transport quickly out of town again.

I eventually got back to Aboisso after a bit of a scare on the road.  In the middle of a rubber plantation where the road goes through there was a truck on the side of the road.  The driver had seen it, we'd all seen it, just as we approached it at speed we heard a whistle & 5 men in fatigues racing out of the rubber plantation.  It was the military; by the time the driver braked we were 300m down the road.  He got out of the vehicle with his papers in hand, it was the first time I'd seen a whole taxi load of people very, very frightened .. which rubbed off on me a little wondering why they'd almost ambushed us.  The driver came back a bit puzzled as to why they'd stopped us like that, we continued in silence. 

Arriving in Aboissso where my luggage was waiting for me at my friend's maquis, I was offered a quick drink to say goodbye; little did I realise that she'd called my friends who'd driven down to say goodbye again!  I got a minibus finally to Noe & the border to get to Ghana.  Difficult journey, I was torn, didn't want to leave, wanted to help & stay in the country, so much needs doing, so much help ... yet again I had tears in my eyes as I walked through immigration ...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

2011 - Year of Peace?

All as normal here, although there have been some changes which are a little worrying.

New Years Eve was a normal day till I got a call late in the afternoon, my second death threat but I wasn’t too worried.  The caller was convinced that I was in my Czech friend Tomas’ house in Abidjan like last year.  I’m still trying to work out who has given my number to someone and doesnt know I’m not in Abidjan.  My close friends in CI know exactly where I am, but quite a few people I know I’ve told I’m in Aboisso, the nearest large town.  I’m fine for the moment, but keeping my ear to the ground, there are informants all over including here, kidnappings & deaths that aren’t yet reported.  Friends here have been great but warned me to continue to keep a low profile.  It makes it difficult, I’m’grounded’ and incredibly bored still waiting for the Mayor to give me the green light for the project.

New Year’s started at the Mayor’s house, a big reception, meal & a bit of dancing then his daughter who has become a good friend gave a ‘post-election’ speech.  His chauffeur drove me down to my host’s nightclub the other side of town.  We all had a good night, I now have a reputation for falling asleep there … I fell asleep at 4am, at 5am I was woken to be taken home. 

To my horror, a friend had gone home in his Toyota estate that I drive around, there was no transport except the back of someone else’s motorbike with my host driving it.  I’m paranoid about accidents now, my insurance is completely invalid due to the state of the country … everyone has left, even the Nigerian’s have gone, the Burkinabe’s are evacuating their Embassy this weekend.  I sat on the back of the bike for the 5km, yelling occasionally to go slowly before I arrived home.  It’s now a big joke that I won’t go near a motorbike!!!

I waited patiently for a meeting with the Mayor, then he left early on Monday for Abidjan as the Education Minister suddenly decided that school started on Monday rather than on Thursday.  I was devastated  it meant staying on, I had so many other things that needed doing.  I got a call from friends on the coast demanding to know when I was going to see them. 

Tuesday morning I got a 7 seater (takes 8 passagers) taxi to Aboisso where Attito (my cerebral palsy ‘brother’) managed to find me having gone to see his parents but had no idea I was heading away. I then got 3 other taxis down to beach.  Friends who have 2 hôtels there gave me a room for free, no clients around, even New Years they finished before midnight.  Everyone is fed up with the lack of economic activity, it’s so sad to see friends really suffering due to the chaos that’s going on with the Presidency.

I promised my hosts that I’d return for Thursday night when the Mayor was expected back.  Leaving the coast was a problem, absolutely no transport around.  I was also waiting for Paul, a Ghanaian fisherman who had promised some fresh ‘bar’ that I could take back with me.  Paul finally turned up at 1pm, I’d seen 2 vehicles since 8am and knew that I probably wouldn’t see anymore.  I walked with my pack and a plastic bag of 5kg of fish that I hoped wouldn’t go off during the trip; it was 3km back up to the canal area to find a taxi, in the heat & dust it was tortuous! 

The taxi from Samo to Aboisso I had to make it very clear that I’m not French, that led to a lady asking me to stop before Aboisso to eat at her house, I had to decline, but normally I would have followed her … she was really keen that I stopped at her village & I don’t believe there was any malice about it.  I made it back to Aboisso & went straight to maquis whose owner has become a good friend.  Chatted to her for a bit with a few drinks before heading back up to base, a bad move, I’d not eaten all day; I was offered another drink here before heading to the house where I crashed out immédiately !!!!!!!

The Mayor is now back, I was promised a meeting at 8am this morning,  yet again he cancelled at the last minute … I think due to stress that I found myself sleepwalking last night trying to get out of my bedroom … convinced that there was a light the other side of the door; it woke my hosts up - finally I came to & managed to open the door.  I’ve never knowingly sleptwalked before and it’s really shocked me.

Amnesty Int’l are in constant touch with me, I’ve had quite a few mails and am awaiting a call, the atrocities that are going on here are terrible.  A friend was talking to me last night about it all and that it’s getting worse not better.  I was offered an armed escort to Abidjan at the weekend by a few friendly gendarmes in a private car. I’m desperate to see Marcelline, the girl that was found on the beach 2yrs ago, a trafficking victim.  She’s in a centre in Koumassi the airport side of Abidjan's lagoon.  The other girls have left & she’s there alone, I can’t make contact with her by phone, I can’t get her out as she dosent have any papers so was looking for a safe way to get there.  I was offered the escort but it didn’t work out in the end as I wasn't keen going to Abidjan in an armed vehicle - gendarmes with kalashikovs.  I’m still keen to get into Abidjan to see her & am looking for an alternative way.  Most of the gendarmes & the military aren’t happy with the situation 63% voted for Ouattara but it’s the generals that are holding the keys to removing Gbagbo.

I don't care who voted for what, I just want the violence to stop ...

Friday, December 31, 2010

Civil War approaching?

It’s hard to believe that I’m in a country that’s almost at a civil war stage, everything here is so normal.  Music plays 24/7, people are happy & still very welcoming but the discussion around me is always about politics.  It seems that many people in CI will accept Ouattara as President for the good of the economy & to have the country working again.  It's hard seeing so many people affected by this conflict.  However the hard core ‘patriots’ have other ideas and will keep going till the end to ensure Gbagbo is in power, they’re predominantly in Abidjan & the south of CI.  I try to work most days on the computer looking for work, chasing contracts and go to bed to then wake in horror when an avocado falls on the tin roof fearing the worst!

We are now 4 adults & 6 kids under one roof in two rooms ... my hosts refuse to let me move, I have their room with the only air-con in the house, I’m completely spoilt! A few days ago a friend of theirs arrived with her baby boy on her back.  She’d come from Port Bouet, the district of Abidjan next to the port and airport.  She’d seen mercenaries killing people, two young men in particular that she saw dead in the street.  She has calmed down a lot since arriving when she was very tense but constantly calls her husband in the morning to ensure he’s still alive.  It seems that there are a lot of refugees that have headed this way to be with friends & family.

Things in Abidjan aren’t good; E who will be the future centre manager, returned from here after 6 days of hard work on the computer with both of us typing up documents for the mayor & other officials here.  He got a direct bus that took 5hrs instead of a usual maximum of 3hrs but at least it was only 2,200CFA, they’d loaded up with bags of charcoal which is a VERY rare commodity now in Abidjan.  Each bag here costs 1,000CFA, 3 weeks ago I heard a bag in Abidjan cost 16,000CFA – god knows what the price is now.  They were stopped on their way into Abidjan demanding 1,000CFA per bag by customs, I’m not sure how many they had but there was a big argument and the bags were left at Adjouffou on the edge of Abidjan whilst the driver probably went off to find money to pay for it.  

E is in Abobo, one of the worst areas for the mercenary led killings, nothing moves there apparently, no taxis ... nothing, it’s become a ghost town.  People are scared to go out , doors are locked & the only means of communication is by mobile phone.  The fear of genocide is increasing on both sides, there’s a mass grave in Abidjan apparently, heavily guarded by Gbagbo military ... whether they’ll take photos & say it was the other side that was killed or their own men, who knows .. But most of the other districts in Abidjan functional perfectly normally .. the fear is not so desperate, possibly because both Abobo & Adjame were the areas where the ‘death squads’ killed many early on in the last crisis.

Prior to coming into CI, I was in touch with Amnesty International, I'm now sending them reports of what I hear locally from people, talking to them face to face & getting the facts.  I don't care who's responsible for the killings, I'm not politically minded, but to kill civilians is a crime in my book.

It’s the end of December & the mayor still hasn’t returned I realise he’s been caught up in the political situation & ‘Three Wise Men’ from Benin, Cap Verde & Sierra Leone that came to mediate with Gbagbo.  I desperately need to see him to get confirmation of the project ... I’m determined more than ever that we get this project set up & running.  There’s a crisis happening here right now & if it's not resolved it could get worse .. people are suffering and they’ll be more kids on the streets than before.  Personally I see CI going the same way as Zimbabwe; why the UN don’t do more I don’t know. 

We’ve had three consecutive days of storms, that all started around 4pm the second day was the worst, rain pelted down half the night, makes the road between here & Aboisso very difficult, in some parts the road has gone & got a lot worse since last year.  In it’s place are massive puddles with lots of mud, which wasn’t great yesterday as it came into the footwell of my 7 seater & I arrived in Aboisso with very muddy feet.  At least I managed to hold my balance in Aboisso when I almost went over in a muddy patch!   I’d headed down to Aboisso again, this time alone.  Absolutely no problems at all, except for taxi guys desperately trying to sell me a seat in the taxis that head to Noe & the border.  

I was there to meet a Canadian friend's friend who’s been helping us both with the project.  He’s from the north & found that the situation in Abidjan was too much to handle.  As far as I know he escaped Bouake during the height of the last crisis.  Anyway, I met up with him in Aboisso & introduced him my friends there who found him a hotel for the night before he was due to leave CI for 'quieter' climes.  I rang Accra & had a bed organised for him there before he heads to Lome, Togo where he has a promise of work from a friend.  I heard from him when he reached Ghana he got stuck at the border trying to get transport to Accra .. apparently he’s the only Ivorian heading that way which is good news as there are reports of around 17,000 refugees from the west already in Liberia & another 200 in Guinea.

I haven’t really done much; I went with my hosts & friends to his club the other side of town, had a bit of a problem with the town gendarmes who’d returned from a ‘mission’ and wanted to enter in uniform with their kalashnikovs .. eventually they realised that it wasn’t such a good idea and left but caused a bit of a chaos trying to get them to exit the place before everyone calmed down again.  Strange really when in ‘normal’ times they wouldn’t even consider entering armed but in the situation we’re in they feel they have the right to dance ‘armed’!!  

 I’ve made few trips to Aboisso; each time I forget to go to the pharmacy there as the one here doesn’t have my malaria tablets, got 2 weeks worth left, not completely desperate yet.  My swimming idea went very wrong when I heard that there are now crocs around, so I am hoping that the Mayor will be with us tonight for New Years Eve as promised so that I can get down to the beach & swim in the ocean.  

In the meantime, I keep receiving messages on Facebook from people who are genuinely concerned by my situation but unaware of my surroundings.  I'm finding it the most stressful thing to deal with at the moment ... Positive wishes are welcomed but being told that I might need rescuing by EU troops is a bit of an overstatement ... spectators should remain just that unless they want to help with the project!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas week

Due to the drama of last week, there isn’t any fuel between here & Abidjan.  The last reserves of diesel are being put into tanks outside the maquis I’m typing this from. People are concerned, no fuel means no supplies, the word around town is ‘famine’ but I hope it won’t come to that. We shall see ...

All well here as before.  It was busy over Christmas, chickens being chased for meals with family arriving from Abidjan and beyond.  For me it was a bit hectic.  The guy in charge of child protection & trafficking at the Conseil Regionale was in Abidjan last week & didn’t get back to Aboisso, the nearest town till Friday.  So finally a meeting was set up for 10am Friday.   E who will be the centre manager & I got a 7 seater down to Aboisso (20km away) to meet our contact and had an productive hour with him, he then took us to see a center built by the govt. a few years ago in Aboisso.

I could have cried, it had never been used; E & I were gutted, the centre was near ‘perfect’ as it was an ideal size although needed some serious renovation due to vandalism but the brick structure & rooves were still intact.  Two villas of 4 bedrooms each with a communal area between them with the ability to house 32 children.  However the negatives were really building up, the area it was in was not ideal, hotbed of Aboisso’s political activity, on a hill in the middle of a growing shantytown and it only had a small plot of land, not even a hectare – someone had started building on the lower part of the land too, none of it was fenced.  If only we could have picked it up & transported it to our future land.  We left our contact & his colleague at an internet cafe to get our document for the mayor printed & bound then drowned our sorrows for half an hour in a maquis.

I went shopping for Christmas presents for my hosts & family; they’ve been so good to me .. supermarket shopping on Christmas Eve in Aboisso is not to be recommended.   The ‘supermarket’ was similar to the one in Bassam, small, crammed full of goods & customers.  I bought my things and asked to have them wrapped, another seriously bad idea, she took well over an hour to wrap 5 presents, I wasn’t allowed to help, I left E in charge of it all to go outside & calm down (where I realised that the air-con in the shop was working despite it feeling horribly hot)

The mayor was due back for Christmas, but didn't return which left me stranded.  I neeed to see him to give him the document & get a confirmation of land donation (& photo’s of the land), it’s annoying as I’d love to head down to the beach to see everyone there & have a swim.  I’m thinking of going off & finding somewhere to swim nearby. I’ve seen photo’s of it but  not sure exactly where along it is & how much snake infested bush I’ll need to go through to get to it – I’ll see how ‘desperate’ I get ... seen a fair few snakes this week!!

Christmas eve evening we stayed in a friend's maquis in town, compared to the previous night when we were in his nightclub the other side of town as there was electricity there whilst town had been plunged into the dark due to a failure somewhere.  I rang a friend who is/was Gbagbo’s transport representative to wish a Happy Christmas.  I was a little worried having talked and read the news on the internet that Goodluck Jonathan (Nigerian Pres) has offered Gbagbo a refuge. She was leaving CI at 6am in the morning on a flight for Abuja & demanded to know where I was; to keep anonimity (despite the friendship) I said 'Aboisso' and the answer was ‘you’ll be fine’.  11 years ago on Christmas Eve there was a coup d’etat here, my brain was in overdrive wondering if something was going to happen again, history almost repeating itself?

We await tomorrow and what the week will bring, but everyone here is generally of the opinion that Gbagbo needs to leave to allow the country to pick up where it left off economically.  If he does go the ‘patriots’ will protest, burn tyres etc for a few days but I very much doubt it will develop any further.  Ghana has threatened to attack CI if any of it’s UN soldiers with UNOCI are ‘harmed’ and most of W.Africa is ready to send forces in to remove Gbagbo.   

The town is still united in it’s anti-war stance as it was during the previous crisis, there have been a few ‘arguments’ over the last few days; gendarmerie refusing to pay tax leaving town this morning loaded up with charcoal, two women fighting over the same man & one of them bit the other and the third one was a minor heated discussion between the taxi drivers!  One thing that makes me laugh, neighbours asking each other in the morning 'How is your President?' ... such a mad & sad situation!

My main worry at the moment are the mozzies who have had a good Christmas from me .. yes, I am taking my Lariam equivalent!!!  But obviously my health insurance is totally invalid, so I cannot afford any accidents!

E left this morning for Abidjan, hope he returned safely & I’m just back from a reception, a lady here went off on a pilgrimage to Fatima (Portugal), Santiago de Compostela & Lourdes ... A deluge of photos on a big screen at her home, over 70 of us there, including the European doctor and endless religious music played full blast; the food wasn’t bad & I had my first glass of wine in a few weeks.  The bottle said it was ‘European’ but it was worth drinking (won’t touch Val Pierre – ‘Ivorian wine’ – actually the dregs from France bottled here!),  I’m glad to be back under my cocoa tree without any religion nearby typing this up!!!