Friday, January 9, 2009

Yamoussoukro & into 'rebel zone'

Entered the capital Yamoussoukro from Abengourou; long & seemingly expensive minibus ride of 6.5hrs because of the driver who really didnt know how to drive or change gear!!! Overjoyed to be in town at 6pm having not eaten for 11hrs but had drunk several litres of water I found a lovely taxi driver called Ibi.

Ibi took me to a few hotels before I found something seemingly 'suitable' - turned out it was another brothel but I was too tired to move and it seemed OK; at least the security was better than a Bassam hotel; it was cheaper and the door locked well!!!! I had Ibi's number and he picked me up and drove me all over the place! I had planned to move 'hotels' in the morning, to find one that preferably had water when you turn the shower on; so that I ddin't have to scream down corridors to get it all working!!!

Unfortunately I didn't spend long in Yamoussoukro or go up to Koussou, to the NW. Tired but getting text messages from a friend in Bassam I decided I had to visit my friend's hometown of Bouake and maybe onto Katiola. I had some fascination of Katiola, I still don't know why; my hotelier friend's wife in Assinie is from Katiola & maybe that drove me to wanting to go there.

Yamoussoukro is weird. It's not an African capital. It's European, with a modern architectural/town planning influence but with the most gorgeous lily lakes in the centre .. it feels like the city's still not fully formed. People there were lovely, very open and arriving in town I discovered I had a military convoy as company whilst Ibi was trying to find a cheap hotel for me; all very surreal!

Ibi dropped me at a Lebanese restaurant that served burgers in a nouvelle cuisine sort of style for a price that could be paid in any large city. I wasn't impressed, it was my fault, I'd seen an internet cafe and realised the restaurant was next door but I was miles from anything else & my weary body wasn't in the mood to move any further!!! Spent a few hours between sending e-mails, eating & refreshing myself before I realised there was a far better option just around the corner. More fool me!

The following morning I had a look at the cut on my leg I did on the way to Assouinde. It didn't look good. I went off in search of a pharmacy and found one nearby and bought a cream, crossing the road to Yamoussoukro's version of my Starbucks I met Ibi. Apparently he lived nearby; didn't start work till 2pm so we sat and had a coffee together and a chat ... he was telling me that work has really dried up.

During the crisis things were bad but now it was even worse, taxi drivers were driving around empty for hours on end ... He organised a taxi for me that I commandered to take me past the Basilicia for a photo then down to the gates of the Presidential Palace where there's a crocodile pool. Amazingly at the crocodile pool some guy quietly asked if I'd like to buy a chicken to throw to the crocs, no pressure; just asked & being money conscious I turned the offer down. Nowhere else in Africa would you get that, it would be constant pressure to pay for one!

Having explored the market, had a coffee & been clock watching I had two choices; to go to Bouake that afternoon or to move hotels by 12pm. I chose Bouake, I needed to do laundry, I needed a different hotel and seeing as Bouake was just over an hour away I thought it wouldn't hurt doing a short journey despite being tired.

Getting into Bouake was an eye-opener, just on the edge of town is 'La Corridor Sud', essentially a checkpoint set up by the rebels to divide the Cote d'Ivoire between north & south. On the way there there were more & more checkpoints manned by CI soldiers. Getting there I had a young unfriendly militaire & for the first time this year ask for a cadeau, the guy next to me gave him 500CFA I did the usual shrugging of shoulders, don't speak French routine and stayed firmly in the van. He told me to get out and go through the control, but strangely enough I didnt understand French. Interesting thing was that the others on my minibus said I should have been stamped into Bouake, so I kept my fingers crossed the police didn't ask for my passport ... oh well such is life in Africa!!!

Sitting in Bouake I decided not to carry on north as I was too tired! Bouake was a little 'hot' shall we say ... leaving Yamoussoukro I asked around and everyone said it was fine but being there was another thing, people are certainly suspicious as to 'why' I was there, the friendliness had gone and I got the feeling its still a little jittery - the UN were all over the place I wasn't too worried. It was sad seeing so many of the buildings around town that had been shelled during the crisis.

Had some great conversations there about the situation past and present. Firstly I met a Burkinabe who had a restaurant in town who sat and chatted with me, telling me about how he stayed put during the crisis & gunfire happening 15m away from his front door. Whilst he was telling me this I had a boy come over. He said he was 12, at school, but his parents had returned to Burkina Faso & he had nothing. The story really didn't add up, I asked him over & over again what exactly was going on. I offered to call Abidjan and take him back with me to the centre which gave him a look of shock in his eyes. Finally I lost patience with him having conferred with the restaurant owner about the boys background which was in fact far better than he was making it out to be, the boy was well known as a scrounger!

That evening I went to an allocodrome next to the auberge I was staying at (having done all my laundry & hoping it would dry by the morning). The lady who owned it was a head teacher, she came and had a drink with me telling me about the delay on getting registered to vote, she'd only registered the week before yet the elections should have been held on 30th November 2008. She went through hell during the conflict, her house was almost gutted and left for a year to stay with relatives in Yamoussoukro. However her neighbour, a gendarme, came home to find nothing left of his house, even the ceilings had gone! Then I had an interesting chat with a young guy Jean-Marcel who was one of the rebels but accepted the 80,000CFA x 2 payout to leave and is now setting up a phone kiosk at La Corridor!

Spending the night in Bouake, it was fine, the rebels are still very much in charge there although seemingly weaponless; cadeaux were demanded at any point but with my refusal to understand or speak French they didnt get very far with me! I managed to get a pic of La Corridor Sud on my way back south which is 'the boundary' between north and south, the north being controlled by the rebels; they werent happy with my camera being out but knew I was the 'difficult one' who didn't speak or understand French so couldn't do much about it!

My Irish friend was a well-known man in Bouake!!! Everyone I talked to about imprisoning foreigners came up with the story of one of my camerades who was in jail in Bouake on 17th March 2007, got laughs all round when I confessed to meeting him in a brothel in Bissau!!!

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