Saturday, August 8, 2009

The April trip ...

I've not been out of Europe since April.

My return to Cote d'Ivoire in mid-April was wonderful, only 4 days there, the flights with TAP (aka Take Another Plane) were terrible, even their ticketing system was atrocious with a flight change from Lisbon to Sal (Cabo Verde) then they obviously thought I could swim to Dakar to get my connection to Abidjan.

The whole saga happened on Easter Friday with my flight due to leave on the following Tuesday, it resulted in a drive to Barcelona over 300km away to get a shuttle to Lisbon to rectify the situation. On my return (my wonderful travel agent Dominique having given all my mobile numbers to TAP) I arrived at Abidjan airport and told Laji, my driver that I'd be fine. He went home & left me to it; 30minutes later I was in Air Senegal's office fighting with them to endorse my ticket to Air Ivoire as they had done with most of the other passengers as Air Senegal had cancelled the flight (& gone bust!); amazingly the lady who typed one handed whilst the other rested on her thigh (I was gnashing my teeth with her attitude) told me they didn't have any contact numbers for me & that I could have flown out with the contactable passengers the night before on Compagnie Aerienne de Mali - well thanks TAP for not passing my numbers on!!!

290euros lighter, thank god I'd taken my visa card with me; I was in the possession of an Air Ivoire ticket to Dakar, departure time 23.30, arriving in Dakar at 2.30am. Wonderful!!! My soon-to-be host, Alain in Dakar had the unpleasant surprise of a text from me announcing my 3am arrival at his place ... could he give me directions please. He said he'd meet me at a petrol station near his place, pleased I'd picked up some attieke for him from the market on the way to the airport.

During my ranting in the airport, I'd rung Tomas, a Czech friend living in Abidjan who told me to get into town & he'd run me to the airport. I finally found a taxi to Zone 4 at a reasonable 1,000CFA, the driver after hearing my sob story whilst watching the soldiers about to descend on us in his mirror dramatically dropped his price. We sped off to Zone 4. He dropped me at my favourite maquis opposite Prima, St Christophe run by Patrick and I dumped my bags & ordered a rather late lunch whilst waiting for Tomas to finish work. He took me back to catch my Air Ivoire flight, excellent flight & on time, with a few other delegates for the conference on board. Getting to the conference at 8.30am was very difficult however!!!

My four days in CI were a little crazy. There for work & to catch up with everyone & the children at the centre. I saw an Aussie friend I haven't seen for 6years, had an e-mail a few months earlier asking how safe CI was; the week she was there was also the week my friends John & Therese got married in typical Ivorian fashion!

My arrival was a lot less stressed than my departure. I flew in from Dakar in daylight, great to fly over Abidjan, the lagoon; thrilled to be back, stupid sentimental idiot that I am, I had tears in my eyes on landing. Either that or due to the 6hrs I'd spent at Dakar airport restaurant trying to sleep on 3 chairs in the company of several cockroaches and an over zealous soldier who I fell out with!

I'd called Yao before leaving home to ask him to pick me up from the airport; told a few friends I was on my way back, told others to keep quiet. Denis, my friends' husband was so confused by the secrecy of my return he wasn't even sure if I was on my way back. Yao, turned up in his van, big smiles and out of the back popped Bassman aka Assouman who owns a gorgeous little hotel in Bassam 'Hotel Atlantique', a surprise for me .. lots of laughter, greetings & kisses all round then JB showed up to greet his 'grande soeur'. Unfortunately we had to leave JB behind to get a taxi to Bassam alone to meet me there.

Denis had prepared a great meal of poulet braise & attieke for me. How did he know I'd been dreaming of that for months?!?! Yao & Bassman were invited in, confused by the situation which I'd created, in that they were all friends but Yao hadn't told Denis that he was picking me up! A little later JB had managed to arrive by taxi & met us at the nearest maquis where I bought lunch for him as I felt so guilty leaving him at the airport.

Shortly after I took JB with me to the centre, he'd never been before. We put the 30kg bag of clothes, shoes, games & medical supplies in a taxi and set off. I'd told Diouf, the assistant I was coming back as he's in charge of the children's health & had been communicating drug names for me to pick up; I was thrilled I'd managed to get 11months supply of a particular medicine for the child who has sickle cell. I had told him not to tell Erick the manager as I knew that he'd tell the children I was coming, I wanted to surprise them all.

Surprise them I did. I knocked & knocked & knocked at the gate, no noises inside .. I was really confused as to where they all were. Finally one of the boys answered the gate & gave me a massive hug, suddenly I had someone from behind me hugging me to; it was the Erick admonishing me at the same time for my unexpected visit! The children were all having a siesta! We woke them up, all very confused to see me there!!!

The children were all doing well. M is very happy, very settled and a little monster at times ... she is constantly in trouble for locking the smaller ones in the bathroom, breaking things & pushing people around. Mama Liza spends most of her time scolding her for getting in the way of cooking preparations!!! The others were doing very well at school, one of the boys had an exceptional report at school, the one who hopes to be a magistrate - I really hope he gets his dream. I went to see them everyday I was there, it was hard to say goodbye after such a short time. One of the smaller boys said that next time he's going to be my pilot!!!

My Aussie friend had been working for her company up country. I discovered that she'd been eating typical aussie food shipped in especially for them; she'd never had any typical Ivorian food. After several calls to her CI coordinator taking full responsibility for her welfare, she arrived, with her driver in tow. The driver, Moussa, had to accompany us everywhere, he was from Senguela in the north of the country where there had been a lot of fighting during the crisis.

After a couple of hours with him we started devising ways of losing him ... it worked to an extent! She met the children and then we headed for the beach at Assouinde. Arriving on the edge of the village in the rain, I asked Moussa to stop his sparkling blue Peugeot and called for Ama ... she was thrilled I was back, she hadn't forgotten my promise that if she got a good report & was top of her class I'd bring a present. I lifted her into the car to sit on my lap much to Moussa's disgrain but removed her muddy red dirt covered sandals for the final 200m to Jardin d'Eden.

Moussa was like a shadow, the only problem was that he was about 8inches shorter than both of us! He constantly had the car keys in his hand. I said to him that we were spending the night here & he might as well go back to Abidjan & pick us up the next afternoon, he wasn't prepared for his boss' wrath and so I arranged accommodation in the village for him. We went out, back to the Bleu Marin so K could enjoy a real night out. A little later she went outside the club to get some air, I suddenly heard a call and Martial wanted me outside as she'd collapsed! My worst nightmare, I had a friend sick, barely conscious in a village with the nearest hospital about 30km away. She slowly came round, I made her answer a lot of ridiculous questions and most of the Jardin d'Eden crew had gathered around us. Arsene, the owner who's been a great friend to me had already organised a car to drive us back the kilometre up the track to get K to bed. He wasn't having us stay in the beach shack where I normally stay, but opened up one of the hotel rooms for us.

Of course, the following morning Moussa got to hear of all this & gave me a lot of stick for not calling him. Basically she'd been working 15hour days for 15 days straight & it was sheer exhaustion. I made it clear to Moussa we were staying till the afternoon as she needed rest, he wandered off disgruntled & got his dirty muddy red Peugeot blue again with the hosepipe!

The other days there were fairly run of the mill, except of course the wedding!

A fantastic affair which I almost missed. I was with Tomas & his business partner in Riviera, waiting for them to drop me at Cocody Hotel de Ville, but his business partner mis-directed us to the mairie!! When I finally got dropped off Athere I saw endless wedding parties lining up outside & had a horrible feeling I'd missed it. Finally I found a few people from John & Therese's party around the corner, I'd just missed the ceremony & photos! Typical! I managed to get a lift in a UN vehicle to the reception, yet again no one knew where it was but a helpful taxi driver seeing 5 blancs in a UN 4x4 stopped to tell us where to go!! Lots of sermons, dancing, eating ... a beautifully staged reception in a garden; I began to wonder how to get back across the lagoon to Zone 4. A new friend who's a cameraman for Reuters offered me a lift, a bit earlier than I wanted but we went to Koumassi together & had a few drinks before heading to Zone 4 & meeting Tomas. The plan was to go to Parker Place that night for a bit of reggae, between the sun, the drink & general fatigue, I fell asleep!!!

My time there wasn't long enough, calls from Ayame, Binouan, Abengourou, Jacqueville ... all asking me to see them! Next time inshallah!

A late arrival in Dakar caused a lot of problems. The first day it was a case of keeping my eyes open with matchsticks at the conference. We arrived at Dakar airport at 2.30am, the baggage guys obviously needed waking before working and at just gone 3am I was fighting off taxi drivers & trying to find one to get me to Mermoz at the correct price of 2,500CFA. I finally accomplished this but not without insults from a few Senegalese stunned by my hard bargaining at that time of the morning. I was concerned about going in a clapped out VW Golf at 3am with a big Senegalese guy but he was honest enough!

Alain, originally from SW France, brought up in Cote d'Ivoire until the crisis started & now working in Dakar was a wonderful host. He got up in the early hours, rode his motorbike to the rendez-vous petrol station & my 'taxi' followed him back. My final night before my 2am departure on TAP; my American friend Sam took me out for an Indian that night. A rarity, he was a gem to choose Indian, can't get it in this corner of France!

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