Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Heading into the wild north ...

Arriving in Binouan was like arriving in the wild west; its in the centre of cocoa, coffee, banana and rubber plantations. There hasnt been anyone white through this way since before the war - from Ayame onwards the amounts of gasps I heard and 'ohhh, une blanche' was hysterical.

My new-found friends in Ayame called a friend in Binouan to look after me. I was in the front of the minibus with a guy who knew my Binouan contact so he set me up at a new hotel in Binouan behind the pharmacy; then I went off for food + drink after a hot, dusty 3hr ride from Ayame! I was soon at my new contacts place, 2km the other end of the village. He had sent a boy on a motorbike to get me; a great guy, Nigerian by origin who was born in Cote d'Ivoire
speaks French and Yoruba but finds English difficult! His youngest was 15months and was very sick that night with stomach cramps and fever. Yet again, Ivorian hospitality came in abundance, a Flag was put in front of me on arrival and then his wife cooked for me; they refused to let me pay for anything including the refreshments!!! I have a lot of making up to do on my return!

The next morning I walked the length of Binouan with my 2 packs .. had coffee with the family whilst waiting for transport. The transport never arrived. I then found my pack being strapped onto the back of a motorbike by my friend. Some 16yr old driver he'd found was going to take me through the bush to pick up transport further north. Hesitantly I hopped on behind him to do a 15km journey through the bush to Attiekro to pick up transport there. I warned him before we set off not to go too madly but he didnt listen so about 1km out of Binouan he got his ear twisted ... we were friends by the end of the 40min journey!!!

At Attiekro I sat in the sun for an hour or so waiting for transport, got on a 22seat minibus which after an hour decided to stop! We were to change, but the village where we stopped had another 22 odd people already waiting to go to Abengourou, I could see it was going to be a fight to get on! At Attiekro, I'd met Francois a student, who tried to organise the front seat for me, but that wasnt going to work. So when the minibus turned up, Francois + friends ran onto it and grabbed seats followed by another 35 or so all trying to get on. The big guy in charge argued with Francois until he saw me asking the driver for the front seat and told me to take the place Francois had got me, but with 35 odd trying to get on board I had to climb onto the fuel tank and go in via the windowless windows!!! Once seated we were 6 across each row unlike 4 across in the other ones I've been in here due to the sheer volume of passengers! Lots of arguments yelling etc going on ... but then the driver told me to get out again (via window of course!) and get in the front!!!

So I got to Abengourou, it was lovely; fresher than further south, my friend from Binouan rang a friend of his who worked for the former French company, Unifoods. He met me in Abengourou and I was installed at his house with his wife and 4kids who bent over backwards to make me welcome!!!

Leopold is a classic example of what has happened to people since the crisis started in 1999. He & his wife were at school together, went to university together. She became a teacher & luckily has kept her job. Leopold meanwhile has been unemployed since 2004; their eldest daughter of 14 is at school in Grand Bassam and he wants to send her to the UK to train as a doctor. The house isn't finished, he started doing it up whilst he had a job. The company he worked for was French, the managers all fled the Cote d'Ivoire during the crisis and left the company floundering; it's now been bought by the Lebanese who have tightened their belts and not offered Leopold his job back. He's desperate for something to do other than being a house husband.

The following morning their daughter, gave me a doughnut at around 7am for breakfast but then I discovered we were off to church, Pentecostal church and I had to dance (I don't do Sunday mornings, church or dancing in or on either, but I tried to smile!!!). I left a few hours later to get transport to the capital Yamoussoukro, famished!

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