Saturday, October 8, 2016

De-railed journey north

After a month back in Abengourou dealing with matters for C.R.E.E.R the thought of the return journey to catch my flight from Ouagadougou was one that I'd been looking forward to for years.

There's a train that plies the Abidjan - Ouagadougou route and several times I came close to boarding the train to go between the two.  This time gave me a perfect opportunity to travel north on the train, the weather in August isn't too hot so the thought of a 30,000CFA first class seat with a possible destination of Banfora in Burkina Faso for a few day's R&R filled me with joy!

Ten days before I was due to leave I started asking about the departure days.  Luckily our Prosecutor's bodyguard's neighbour in Abidjan works for SITA Rail, so a call was duly made and I decided on when to leave.  I then had to find a friend in Abidjan to go and buy a ticket for me, a taxi driver who has become a good friend over the years & had saved me in Bassam during the 2010/2011 crisis was ideal and I gave him a call.  This is where it all started to go wrong.

I discovered another friend, a Burkinabe, had gone to the station with my taxi driver friend to find the train was full until 25th August, a week after my flight from Ouaga departed.  My plans were de-railed quite literally (and in early September a freight train went over the bridge near Dimbokro which collapsed whilst it was still on the steel framed structure!)

Plan B was put into action.  To return to Bouna in the north eastern part of Cote d'Ivoire and cross the border a little further north.  Bouna is a 400km journey from Abengourou, I tried to find a lift with friends north but that didn't happen.  A friend from Bouna called the 'massa' (minibus) station in Abidjan and arranged that the driver should stop and pick me up in Abengourou on his way north. A stop Bouna was ideal as I needed to talk to various people in town about trafficking and our transit centre.

I had already visited Bouna earlier in the year in April during the conflict between the Lobi and Peulh with some 3,200 refugees being looked after by the UN in various camps around town.  They were also in the King of Bouna, Djarakoroni II's compound who I was formally introduced to, enabling permission to enter.  A good friend is a senior figure in town and asked me to visit during the crisis in case there were trafficked children as refugees which there weren't but we assisted the UN organisation OCHA with a meeting of all the main townspeople.

Finally the day dawned and I went by taxi across town to the bus station area and waited in a kiosque where we were aware that some Beninois children were working and presumed trafficked. Waiting for the massa to arrive, initially it was due at 9am, it didn't arrive until after 11am, finally on board with 20+ others, I was in a front seat and we headed north.

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