IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is part of a 12-chapter series on my trip to Africa: Côte d’Ivoire was the seventh country of twelve African nations I visited in December of 2016. It’s best to read the chapters in order, as they build on one another. To see countries number one through six, please go HERE. It’s best to read the stories/countries in order.
Color of the Day: Yellow
I almost didn’t make it to The Ivory Coast. I was turned away at the Emirates check-in counter in Ghana because I didn’t have my yellow card with me: my proof of yellow fever vaccine. I even went so far as to make a copy of my card and bring with, but they needed the actual card itself. I immediately felt a pit in my stomach, with the thought that I may not be able to continue on. Cote d’Ivoire would be my seventh country on this trip—I had a tour lined up there, and seven more countries to go after it. Not being able to fly into The Ivory Coast would throw everything off, and have a horrific domino effect–it would ruin the entire second-half of this journey. Boy, what a rookie mistake!
Luckily–and to my surprise–there was a board of health clinic right there, at the airport! For $20 they’d actually transfer the information on my photocopy to an actual official, new yellow card. A miracle!
As I waited for my new yellow card in that small office just outside of the airline check-in counters, I saw boxes of “shots,” and thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to take a needle in Africa. There were two women working in that small space, and a line of about ten Africans waiting for service. How I got to the front of the line I have no idea.
When the lady at the desk took my passport, photocopy and $20 bill, she asked if I had brought her a “Christmas present.” She wasn’t the first official to ask me this during my trip, and I was beginning to wonder if this was light flirting, or was she was hinting towards a bribe? While I told her that I hadn’t planned on seeing her, so I didn’t bring a gift; I eventually slipped her a second twenty, which she seemed very grateful for. I’d wondered if she’d keep both bills for herself. A few minutes later, I was on my way, with a new yellow card and my wallet $40 lighter.
As we boarded our aircraft from the tarmac, a fellow passenger took a picture of our plane–a pretty common thing to do in the US–but he immediately got the smackdown from an airport police officer. The cop came over, reprimanded him and and told him delete the photos; and stood there until he saw the pics were erased from the camera. I’ve seen this happen before in foreign countries, including to me, when I’ve tried to snap photos of planes; weird how other countries are funny about this, but they are. Careful taking pics on the tarmac!
Of all of the flights inside Africa, this was one of the shortest runs, yet the biggest aircraft. The Emirates 777 was huge, had in-flight entertainment and even a meal–even though the flight was less than an hour! Super cool!
I arrived safely in Abidjan and cruised through immigration with my shiny new yellow card. It was Christmas Eve. My guide Dayo Williams met me at the airport to greet me and send me off to my hotel with his driver in a Nissan Pathfinder, which was a luxury vehicle for The Ivory Coast. We crossed a big bridge, passed a large downtown center, and arrived at my hotel in the neighborhood of Cocody. It was a little off the beaten path, but the hotel was nice. My room had a great view of the pool and some greenery, and seemed pretty chill. The hotel was pretty empty.
I checked in and relaxed for three hours before Dayo arrived to collect his payment and go over the next day’s itinerary. I had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Here’s a tip: don’t order pizza in Africa.
Ain’t No Party Like an African Party…
After dinner it was up to the room for some shuteye. Unfortunately, just as I was about to drift off, the show began: a huge party right outside the sliding glass doors of my room. I soon learned that Christmas Eve was one of the biggest nights of the year to party in Africa.
At first it was the band. Then the DJ. And the music was loud. Loud like a concert. When I first checked in, I loved the fact that my room overlooked the pool…now I hated it. The bass from the DJ rattled the windows and shook the room. I heard Arrested Development, then Coolio, then a set of about five Naughty By Nature songs. If I was at the party, I might have enjoyed it. The music was great! But I was trying to get some much needed zees. 14 countries in two weeks: the only way I could survive the demanding schedule was with adequate sleep. I tried my best to shut my eyes and drift off, but the stuttering air horns and explosion sound effects between every other song kept me up like some cruel P.O.W. sleep deprivation torture. I swear I was being Punk’d. I waited until 2AM for the party to end. When the clock struck 3 and the party was still jumpin’, I decided to stumble down to the front desk and ask to sleep in a room on the other side of the hotel. I had to get up soon for a full day’s tour. I needed sleep.
Me: “Can you please move my room to the back of the hotel so I can get some sleep?”
Front desk guy (in Eddie Murphy ‘Coming to America’ accent) : “Ahhh yes, thee party…eet’s because eet’s Christmas. What do you do in America on Christmas Eve?”
Me: “We pipe the f*ck down and go to sleep so Santa will visit us!!!”
Thankfully, the gentleman hooked me up with another room. You could still hear the music in this new room, but it was buffered by multiple walls and and a barrier of pool-facing rooms, so it was tolerable. I finally fell asleep around 3:30AM.
The Man with the Plan in Abidjan
Come 8AM that morning, I was exhausted, but managed to stumble downstairs at to meet Dayo and his driver for our big (and only) day in Abidjan. First stop was downtown. We stopped by the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral, the city’s Grand Mosque and a big pyramid-looking building. It was Sunday morning, Christmas day, so the streets were pretty calm. No wonder, I thought: everyone was partying so hard the night before!
I enjoyed a quick drive out of town to the city of Grand Bassam. Bassam was the Ivory Coast’s Plymouth Rock: the place where the colonial French first landed and settled in Côte d’Ivoire. We toured the first governor’s house, which had been converted into a museum. What a beautiful old building! We walked the halls of this grand house while learning about its history–I did my best to follow along with the museum guide’s French–luckily, the pictures helped illustrate the story.
We cruised by the big hotel in town; it had been the target of a big Al-Qaeda attack earlier that year. Armed police officers patrolled the area.
Tourists strolled the streets and the palm trees swayed in the breeze. Bassam was a neat little town, laid back.
After the visit to Grand Bassam, it was back to Abidjan for a trip to the market. It was about to get real. I’d been to multiple markets in multiple African countries the week prior. It’s one of my favorite things to do in a new country: to see how the locals live and shop. But this one was different.
I told Dayo I wanted to see the market and experience how the locals lived. He warned me that it would be “rowdy.” That was an understatement. The market we went to is what I picture hell to look like. And smell like. In fact, the smell was so bad I could barely stomach it. There was thick, dark smoke rising up from the distance. The paths were crowded with sellers and buyers and taxi cabs that would blare their horns as they parted the sea of people, their fenders coming within millimeters of the shoppers. There was trash everywhere. Not here or there, or off to the sides, but everywhere. You had to walk through it and on top of it; there was no escaping it. It was one of the most vile and disgusting places I’ve ever been. It turned my stomach even more seeing meat, fish and other foodstuffs out in the open, with all that trash and filth lingering.
And people didn’t smile at this market. In my previous stops, all I had to do was smile at anyone who stared me down, and they’d almost always smile back. There was music, smiles, laughter; the scenes were lively. Not here. I was clearly in the “wrong neighborhood,” and the stone-faced glares and depressing tone made that apparent. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. When we finally arrived back at the car, a young man had laid out a row of four chickens, proudly displaying in front of the Nissan’s rear bumper. Dayo waved him away, and we were soon on our way. I’ve never been so happy to be back in the car. It didn’t seem right here. Thank goodness I was with Dayo!
I asked to see real life, and that’s exactly what Dayo presented me. Another stop included what he called a campement. Dayo explained this was the term for a “village inside a city.” I called it a slum. It was as bad, if not worse than the market, as we trekked through sludge and more trash, trying our best not to step in the raw sewage that puddled up throughout the muddy paths. Like the market, I didn’t see even one foreigner there. I was the only one.
It was blazing hot which made the smells permeate the air even more. I tried my best not to breathe in. I also tried my best not to look disgusted. All eyes were on me as I walked throughout the slum. There were no tourists here, and Dayo made it a point to explain to me that most residents of Abidjan have never even walked through the places we were. I snapped a couple photos on my phone as quickly and discretely as I could. I didn’t want to seem like the rich white asshole, documenting the squalor of these residents on my $800 iPhone; but I had to get a few shots of my surroundings. I’m not sure I’d be able to put into words just how bad things were there, I needed some proof.
The walks through the markets and campements were mentally taxing and really stressed me out, for so many reasons. I felt bad for the people living there and I was physically uncomfortable because of the smell and the heat. I also felt pretty unwelcome. I couldn’t imagine doing this without Dayo and his crew. Though I was walking right smack dab in the middle of some pretty sketchy places, I was well looked after by my tour guide.
I was relieved when Dayo finally dropped me back off at the hotel. He’d pick me up that night and take me to the airport. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in bed, watching the BBC (the only channel in English) and facebooking. I needed a break. I’d so far seen seven African countries in about a week; the schedule alone was enough to make me crazy. But the sights and sounds I digested while in The Ivory Coast were just a little too unnerving. Too much to handle? Yeah, maybe; and I’ve seen a lot. I was just happy to be back relaxing in my room for the remainder of the day, away from the chaos that is the market and slums of Abidjan.
As I tried my best to relax and decompress from all that’d I’d seen that day, I’ll never forget stepping out on the balcony and observing a clown entertain a group of kids for a Christmas party at the hotel. It made me smile, and reminded me that there is so much beauty in Africa to appreciate. And I really wanted to join them in this game…could you blame me???
If you go:
Special thanks to my tour guide, Dayo Williams and his staff. I told Dayo what I wanted to see, and he delivered. What he served up was a look at real life in Abidjan. He kept me safe in places I would never dare to venture solo! When you’re ready to see The Ivory Coast, holler at Dayo HERE.
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