I Still Go To School

on teaching, learning, travelling

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It is done!

Friday, students were allowed to come in casual clothes, and they brought food for everyone.

Friday, students were allowed to come in casual clothes, and they brought food for everyone.

My year of teaching English in Abidjan has officially come to a close.

We had our graduation celebration last Sunday at the big event hall of the Police School. It was a nice event, a very positive vibe going on and lots of people (over 200). For me, it was an enjoyable occasion, though it also meant saying goodbye to the kids, whom I will miss a lot.

The last couple of weeks very quite intense, having to finish the report cards, and many of the kids finally waking up to the reality of school: If you don’t do any work, it will show in your results. Some understood that when I told them, others were honestly surprised. So most of the time in class I was moving from student to student non-stop, corrected their work during break and lunchtime and handed it back the lesson after. I did not sit down for a minute!

I have learned so many things this year about being a teacher and understanding African culture! These experiences will help me in my future teaching, and remain nice memories. My point system for discipline worked out quite well I believe, at least for 70% of the class. Some improved their behavior a lot during the year, some stayed the same, but none declined, which is nice! Additionally, I could make many connections and find really good friends in my colleagues, a fact which cannot be taken for granted!

I have only 10 days left in the country, 5th of July I will be leaving 😦

With my students: Maryvonne and Yan Ting

With my students: Maryvonne and Yan Ting

With my students: Maryvonne and Roseline

With my students: Maryvonne and Roseline

My students: Grade 8 Graduates!

My students from Grade 8: Graduated!

The Highschool graduates giving their speeches, and many tears are shed

The Highschool graduates giving their speeches, and many tears are shed

Pierrick and I

Pierrick and I

With my bro Willie

With my bro Willie

With the sports teacher, Eloge

With the sports teacher, Eloge

With my bro Armand

With my bro Armand

I will try to get more and better pictures of graduation when the official photographer arrives.

Meanwhile, the rainy season has started quite dramatically, from months without any rain during the day, to an entire week of torrential rain. The effect of rain on society here is immense! Think of it equivalent to snow in London: public transport stops, few people show up to work, markets are closed. When it rains, everything stops here. To top it off, sometimes electricity breaks down, so even working inside on your computer is not possible, unless your place has a generator (not many places do).


Moi et mon frere Wisdom, at his home for dinner

Moi et mon frere Wisdom, at his home for dinner


His daughter, who tried taking pictures and succeeded after some tries 🙂

I visited the home of Wisdom, a friend I made in Palmerai. He is motivated to find a good job as a driver, and always on the search, but even with an agency it’s tough. If you have a car, you can hire someone privately for about 80.000 FCFA (€122,10) a month, to drive you around at any time to any place you want. You need to be lucky to find someone who pays decently. He told me he wants to work for white people, because they pay well and on time.

Anyways, he invited me for some spaghetti africaine. I think it’s amazing how easy people can trust you here and invite you into their homes, feed you and everything. And you find many who really just want to give out of a good heart, not because they want money from you.

What will I be doing until I go back to Austria? I want to try to visit different places, but most probably within Abidjan. I hope everything works out and I can tell you after 🙂

One thing that is sure:
I have started working on a website for the school, to give it more publicity and make the information for the parents more accessible. For now I’m gathering information and pictures.




The Old Gods and the New

The Old Gods

One of the many busses with "Dieu", many other have Bible verses on them. Ignore the bullet holes.

One of the many busses with “Dieu”, many other have Bible verses on them. Ignore the bullet holes.

At our school, we have kids who are Christian: Catholic, Protestant. We also have kids who are Muslim, also some with Jewish background. The dialogues are quite interesting, considering that the school provides a Christian American curriculum. Sometimes the Muslim kids complain about having to study about the Bible and Jesus. They tell me (mostly when studies are tough),

“I’m a Muslim, I don’t need to study the Bible!”

I ask them, “So then why are you at a school with a Christian curriculum?”

“My parents put me here.”

“Are your parents Muslim?”

“Of course!”

“Then they are wise people.”

As of 2008, 38,6% of Ivorians are Muslim, 32,8% Christian, and 28% African Indigenous (wiki). Generally speaking, in Westafrica, the North of the countries is majority Muslim, and the South mainly Christian. The cities, especially Abidjan, are completely mixed, though.

Especially these days when you hear about groups such as Boko Haram terrorizing in the name of God, and the killing of Muslims in Central African Republic, having kids of different background, nationality, ethnicity and faith in the same class truly crosses borders. With the right sense of mediation, this kind of coeducation helps to prevent future misunderstandings and conflicts.

Quite striking when arriving from Austria is the quantitative jump of church attendance here. Sunday morning is Church Time. The pastors are like rockstars here. The Archbishop Duncan from Ghana has an own police escort plus three Escalades and a Hummer. While we were stuck in traffic, police ploughed his way through the masses. Truly a man of God, with the purse of a King (the former may be debatable). On TV you may watch some preachers putting their congregation into trance and people fainting when he touches their heads. They have definitely developed their own style of worship, with dances, drums and chanting. I would recommend to anybody to partake in a service like this, even just for the experience. As the pastors are rockstars, the service becomes a rock concert 😉

The New Gods

“And the white man comes directly after God!”

is what a friend told me recently. “Because they can do so many things that no black man can do!”

“But what is it they do?”

“They can build roads; all the companies for construction, they are not from here!”

The new God: Jack Bauer!

The new God: Jack Bauer!


"Thank you, mother". You may not fear God, but you better fear your mother ;)

“Thank you, mother”. You may not fear God, but you better fear your mother 😉


Lacoste, Gucci and DG are popular brands to show off your money. Of course you can buy them at the market for 2 €.

While the tourguide at the national heritage museum was mourning the disappearance of African Indigenous religions, others welcome the change and see it as development.

So I ask the questions:

  • Concerning the growing middle class, who try to copy the “European (middle class) Dream”, how will secularisation affect the local culture?
  • Is the decline of spirituality inevitably connected to the rise of wealth? Why (not) in Africa?
  • In the perspective of diversity and preservation, should indigenous religion and culture be encouraged and developed?



The early bird catches the flight

And time flies bye; it really does. So I thought in the early morning hours the airport would be nice and quiet. Surprise! 5:30 am – endless waiting lines!

Endless waiting lines at Vienna Airport. Very similar situation in Hamburg and Paris

Endless waiting lines at Vienna Airport. Very similar situation in Hamburg and Paris

Silly internet spots. Once again it proved useful to have multiple email accounts and get 15 minutes free couple of times ;)

Silly internet spots in CDG, Paris. Once again it proved useful to have multiple email accounts and get 15 minutes free couple of times 😉

My journey took me from Vienna (free Wifi) via Hamburg (free Wifi) to Paris (expensive wifi! Why??), and finally to Abidjan (super cheap wifi). The journey lasted round 25 hours. When I arrived at the exit at Abidjan airport (like every place of importance named after Felix Houphouet Boigny), immediately a flock of helpers spotted the solo white boy and offered me taxis, SIM cards, a hotel and to change my Euros to CFA. The taxi driver wanted to charge me CFA 10.000 for a journey that I paid 3000 when I took it before. Then I knew I was back in Cote d’Ivoire.
When I finally got back to the house in Riviera Palmerai, I was immediately welcomed by my host family with hugs and African hugs. What are African hugs? Not sure if that’s what they are called, but they are similar to the in-air-kisses left and right, only without the kissing and you only touch each other’s foreheads on the sides with your temples.
I really felt like I was back home – at my second home! After some breakfast and a 4 hours “power-nap” (I couldn’t sleep during the journey) I made my way to Jina School! I’ve been told that we were getting a new classroom and another floor. The building was planned to be finished in a week, but… it doesn’t look like it will be done by that time.

Inspecting the work. The change is much bigger than I had expected

Inspecting the work. The change is much bigger than I had expected

Here’s the wooden frame. They use a wood they call “piemont” (pepper), which smells spicy when dry. It’s cheap, because foreign markets are not interested in it. So the classroom for high school will be larger, and on the second floor there will be office space. It’s a much needed extension, as the classroom was already uncomfortably packed.

Building material at the basketball field.

the floor and sides of the new classroom and offices.

the floor and sides of the new classroom and offices.

Here’s my classroom. Seems like I will not be able to teach here this week…

Well... my classroom turned into a storage room!

Well… my classroom turned into a storage room!

I wanted to activate mobile data on my mobile phone, but they let you purchase the internet on the mobile without telling you that you have to activate it first in a shop. My unlimited Internet USB stick seems to have a limit after all, so it’s not working either. “Cyber Cafés” are closed on Sundays. Am I addicted or is it normal to miss something that you are so used to and depending on?
Gloria, our secretary at the school, had a birthday party, which I was invited to and I attended. It was nice, with much singing and cake and sweets and dancing.

This time I brought five laptops to school, all donated to me by family and friends (Thank you all!!).

yay, laptops for the school!

yay, laptops for the school!

I really would like to test Moodle in combination with the home schooling system. I think it will be a perfect match. How much effort and financial investment would it take to transform an analogue into a digital classroom? Is there a market for blended learning in Africa? The shipping of the books from the US takes 3 months, and it’s expensive. I will look further into it after talking to the headmistress.

So I will start teaching again on Monday, in small spurts, as the building is still going on. It will be nice to see my students again 🙂


6 Things that will happen to you when you visit Africa

I am aware that some of these are stereotypes, but also they have been reported to me by a few other people who had been to Africa as well.

1. You will be proposed to

Be ready for proposals! (pic from http://c.tadst.com/gfx/600×400/marriage-proposal.jpg?)

No matter if you’re a girl or boy, some people will want to marry you, and they will be very open about it. I was just buying a simple pencil when the cashier put down a paper and told me straight to give her my number so she can find a lady for me. I declined, but still got the pencil for free. Second instance, I went out to eat at a restaurant (table with umbrella and gas-fire) with some colleagues. My friend translates that the cook has an eye on me. When I ask him to give her my regards and tell her I don’t have much money, she replies that it wouldn’t matter, because I had white skin.
Best way to escape is to say you’re too young to marry and run away. 😉

2. Your transport will be wrecked or scratched or break down

public transport is a timebomb. here people are waiting for a new Baka (bus)

public transport is a timebomb. here people are waiting for a new Baka (bus)

Taking public transport is a roller coaster ride. Meaning it’s scary, but you will get used to it. Only difference is that roller coasters are safe.

Not a day has passed where I haven’t been nervous when taking transport and I have not been disappointed in that fear so far. Many rides you take have this eerie contrast of chill reagge music interrupted only by shouts and curses directed at other drivers by the chauffeur, paired up with his dismal driving skills and genuine disrespect for traffic rules (traffic wardens are easily bribed). On top of that, the roads are often in need of repair, the bumpholes are numerous and deep enough to break the rusty axle of your bus or at least burst your tire.

Once there is a problem, the driver will tell everyone to wait, the problem will be solved in 10 minutes. This is your hint to hand him the fare and make for a different transport. I stayed once, when our school bus broke down. The driver called his friend. That one failed at analyzing the problem; therefor, he called his other friend. 90 minutes later there were 4 mechanics, and no solution. He admitted that it might be ok if I took a taxi home then.

3. You will celebrate Christmas with drums and dances

We had our school’s Christmas party on Friday! That meant lots of food, ice-cream, dance and presents for the kids. We also played secret santa, only that the santas were not secret. Yeah it was a bit strange. And it’s funny when the kids had picked a person they didn’t like and struggle so much with buying something for that person. But finally, after some threats by other teachers, they comply.

It’s a Christmas Dance! Here you can see the elementary school kids and some of my kids dancing and drumming.

The Kindergarten group dressed up as Joseph and Mary (sitting), angels, three wise men and the shepherds.

Two students (from India) singing their hearts out!

Black Santa with the happy kids after gift giving. Sadly that’s where my camera ran out of battery.

Black Santa and happy kids singing Christmas charols

Black Santa and happy kids singing Christmas carols

It was strange to see Christmas celebrated in a tropical country, but with central European traditions (and the CocaCola Santa Claus). The big malls have their Christmas lights out, and plastic Christmas trees are sold there. Why on earth would Santa wear a wooly costume if he delivered presents in Africa? And what does that have to do with the meaning of Christmas anyways… well that’s an entirely different story. I don’t think Africa has to develop it’s own style of celebrating Christmas, but merely copying Europe will not blend. It was cool to see a bit of a mix with the drums.

I am happy I could make it to the celebration and say bye to the kids and wish them happy holidays. I almost didn’t  make it to the party, because…

4. You will catch Malaria

yummy! The middle box is the ripoff, on the left is what I actually wanted. On the right is the acute treatment

yummy! The middle box is the ripoff, on the left is what I actually wanted. On the right is the acute treatment

The entire duration of my stay in Cote d’Ivoire (14 weeks) I never took medication of any kind, including Malaria prevention, and was not sick a single day. As it had to be, I started feeling a bit funny on Thursday. Already in the morning I had a terrible headache. It got worse at school, and round noon I had to cancel and get back home. I was sweating more than usual, so I laid down. I really wanted to go to the Christmas party the day after, so I thought I’d better focus on getting well again.

Thing is, if you are feverish and have a headache, alarm bells are ringing. As I am not so familiar with the disease, I believed what people told me to do. So I went to the pharmacy on Thursday and said I wanted some maloxine. They decided to give me Mephaquin instead, which is the sevenfold price. I’ve been ripped off by a pharmary-nurse. Anyways, fool me once, shame on me. Mephaquin, 4 pills, 5000 CFA. Maloxine, 3 pills, 600 CFA. Coartem 24 pills, 5000 CFA. And then the smear-test: a blood sample is put onto an indicator paper, showing if your blood carries Malaria parasites (plasmodium falciparum). My test was p. falciparum negative. I ask the guy if it’s completely accurate. He says yes, 100%. So I went to the Christmas party, yay! On the party, people I talk to tell me it’s possible that the test was invalid. Checking online later, I see 3 tests are recommended. Why, pharmacy, why do I trust you? I get sweaty and drowsy, go to bed after taking dinner with three Mephaquin pills (“mefloquine is associated with adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes.“).

I could barely sleep that night, mainly because of the effects of the drugs. Serves me right for not reading everything about tropical diseases before going there. Not all side-effects kicked in, but sleeplessness, fever and headache did. The medication package says “It might be difficult to discern between the symptoms of Malaria and the side-effects of Mephaquin”.

I woke up in the morning at 4, feeling quite fine. But as I got up, I started sweating like crazy, my nose starts running and I felt really weak. I laid down, immediately the symptoms vanished again. On/Off – On/Off. (I actually tried it out three times).

Ouatta and I at the airport! Must be the cleanest place in the whole country, it was surreal!

Ouatta and I at the airport! Must be the cleanest place in the whole country, it was surreal!

I had to head out in the end to catch my flight, so I packed, took a shower, said bye to my amazing host family (shame I don’t have a picture with them! will take one upon return) and took a taxi to the airport for 2000 CFA. We pick up Ouatta on the road. As we arrive, the driver wants 5000 CFA, we give him 3000 and leave.

While I was travelling, I felt weak, but I didn’t sweat; neither did I feel feverish, nor did I have a headache anymore. So I am not sure if I actually had developed Malaria or not. It will remain a mystery…

5. You will experience a culture shock when returning back to your country

Looks like a picture from Mars, but it's actually the desert as seen from the airplane

Looks like a picture from Mars, but it’s actually the desert as seen from the airplane

My journey went smoothly.

most peaceful place on earth: above the clouds

most peaceful place “on” earth: above the clouds

I enjoy flying a lot, it more than literally lifts me up and gives me the time and perspective to reflect. What’s remarkable is that only a few hours flight separate Abidjan from Paris. It’s remarkable in the way that you are 12000 feet above ground in a metal bird, watching a movie, while the most hostile of environments, the Sahara desert, passes underneath you. And while I was looking into the distance, I even detected streets! In the middle of nowhere, there were some villages.

People are amazing!

The desert is huge. It takes ages to cross, even by airplane. I was looking down and saw nothing but sand and rock. The Sahara Desert – the biggest sandbox on earth – actually is inhabited.

Such were my thoughts while the stewardess handed me ice-cream on the airplane, kilometers above ground, listening to Mahler.

Arriving in Vienna, I realise all the differences to Abidjan. When I arrived in Africa at the beginning of September, I was ready for it, there was no shock or anything overwhelming, because I was simply mentally prepared for it. But I was not ready for Vienna. Everything seemed so quiet, gray, dark, and cold – in comparison to Cote d’Ivoire. I felt like a stranger in a foreign country. Fortunately I was picked up by my dad and my sister 🙂 I arrived at my home village, Gaflenz, at round 2 AM.

I took the next two days to reflect. Africa was real. I had stayed there for 14 weeks straight, living, working, enjoying, learning, and getting to know the culture and its people. What seemed surrreal to me was being back in Austria. At least there is only little snow here. So while it’s snowing in Africa (Egypt) and the middle east, here it’s sunny and relatively warm. How strange is that?

Not only the contrast of climate, nature and people hit me, but also how a few hour’s journey away, 40% of the population are in absolute poverty. These places may seem distant when we watch them on TV, but we are basically neighbours.

6. You will go skiing with your dad

At the Forsteralm, skiing with my dad.

At the Forsteralm, skiing with my dad.

To enhance the quality of your culture shock, it’s advisable to engage in national cultural activities, such as Skiing. 🙂

Right after skiing I had our national (soft-)drink, Almdudler, and Wiener Schnitzel with potato-salad. Metamorphosis complete? Not quite…

During my time in Africa, I tried to immerse myself in the prevalent culture. If in Rome, do as the Romans; if in Africa, do as the Africans. But as we know there is a big difference between “do as” and “be as”. I saw that I can never “be African”, whatever that may mean. I can adapt traits, habits, morals, but I cannot say I have been able to fully adapt. What I can do is learn to love the country and it’s people, and for that, I do not have to “be African”, yay!

a good place to reflect is nature

Hiking in the woods of Gaflenz!

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! When I arrived at Paris, the travellers were welcomed by a choir singing Christmas carols. People from everywhere in the world, coming and leaving, stopped to listen and enjoy. I hope this song can give you a bit of a Christmas feeling.


Real fake wares of unknown origin

To really experience Africa, one is bound to visit the places where people mingle. There is especially one place – loud and chaotic, yet colourful and entertaining – the markets of Adjamé.

Adjamé, infamous for pickpockets, brawls, drugs and faulty wares, is a system of hundreds of market-stands, lined up on each side of the streets in its district. It is Abidjan’s biggest market, and there is nothing you could not find there: beautiful African clothes and tasty fruit, mobile phones, jewellery, watches, HiFi systems, iPads, sunglasses, food, and so on. The owners shout out their prices and best bargains to attract as many customers as possible. Next to the young boy shouting “Shoes, 2000 francs!”, there was guy pushing 60, waving with a bag filled with little sachets of Marihuana, all neatly labelled. He, too, was exclaiming his prices without holding back. Adjamé is also said to be Abidjan’s biggest “black-market” (no pun intended). Nonetheless, in the roughly three hours that I spent there, I haven’t seen a single policeman. Neither was there any white person, no Asians, not even Arabs, who are elsewise so common in other markets. “Feeling unique” does not quite express the mental state when I went there.


This is the market in the early morning, and not the most crowded place, where I couldn’t even find space to take pictures. Ladies are walking carrying around with water, one bag for 100 CFA. (0.15€)


Of course I did not go to the market on my own. I may be open to adventures, my curiosity still drives me a lot… but I value my health and belongings a bit too much, still 😉 I was shown around by Il-Shim and two of his friends/acquaintances, with whom he does business. They mainly trade with lady-shoes, which they buy for 1000-2500 CFA here in Adjamé. They then clean and repair the shoes, and sell them again in their own districts, at an eight-to-ten-fold price. They advised me to best go to the markets early in the morning, meaning 6 a.m., to get the optimum prices and the best wares.


As you can see, they just pile up the shoes, and customers even walk on them. Everything is second hand, but not broken or torn. Very much like the shoes you’d rather be giving to the clothes collection for the poor than throwing them away. Probably that is also where these shoes came from…

Yes! Lacoste and Diesel slippers, 2000 francs (3€) a pair! These are not even fake, as the good quality indicates.


The market has sections for each kind of product. Now we enter the tech-street. You’ll still find shoes everywhere in between.


Here we go! The newest mobile phones for unbelievable prices. Of course, haggling is unavoidable, but once you got the hang of it, it’s quite fun actually. It sort of builds a connection with the merchant. If you’re white, though, expect to be ripped off by at least 10% / 20%. Bring along a black friend for business and let him do the talking, which, by the way, is mostly done in Djoula, spoken by the Maleké people. They originally came to Cote d’Ivoire as merchants, and their position maintained unchanged since then.


Especially with electronics and watches, be careful. Most of the wares are fake and don’t actually work. Try out everything before your final purchase, even before asking the price. With watches, for example, most of the apparatus’ functions like the barometer or the calendar are simply printed onto the face of the watch. Africans love heavy and shiny stuff on their arms, which they can show off to their friends! Mostly you find “Tag-Heuer” and sports-brands like Puma/Adidas.


As I wanted to get some cultural items, we continued our shopping tour at the Cocody culture market. This place is the most empty and peaceful area I’ve been to so far, haha! The three of us were the only customers in the entire street.

I don’t know in how far everything here is genuine, but it looked good anyways! In Cocody market you can find amazing African bracelets and necklaces, hair-pins, statuettes of people and animals, masks, crocodile-skin wallets and bags, pictures and instruments.


Such beautiful masks! The ones with bronze or aluminium [a-lu-‘min-nium]  metal fittings are from Mali. Their origin is also distinguishable by the hairstyle of the person- every tribe wears their hair in a different fashion.


The orange-yellowish mask with the “God”-symbol on the forehead is from the Ghanaian Ashanti tribe.

A rather extensive collection of necklaces.


So, those are the items I got at Cocody: a statuette of ebony for 8000 CFA (might be fake, but it looks good, no?), a letter-opener with a lions-head for 2000 CFA, and a game of “Awale” for 3000 CFA [Ah-wah-‘leh], of which I yet have to find out how it works. It is pretty popular all over West-Africa.



At Adjamé I bought a new watch and shades. The shades were 1000 CFA. I decided not to get the Giorgio Armani ones, as they were bare ugly goggles, and, of course, fake.


The watch has cost me, after a tough haggle, 6000 CFA. It’s one of the few without the fake stuff on them. It has a nice leather band with it and is the most humble watch I could find. I am still not sure if it’s a “Pramado”, as engraved on the side and the back, or if it’s a “Promodo”, as it says on the face.


But anyways, it’s of the “Premium Collection”, and also the “ROYAL COLEECTION”. 😉


The blue-and-yellow bracelet is a gift from one of my students, yay!

I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to check for clothes this time, but it’s still on my list to get myself some “Lacoste” shirts, hehe.

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On dit quoi!

Ondiqoi (How are you/ do you have time/ what are you doing?)

I thought I’d let you know how “life” is here. Specifically, what I am actually doing day in, day out.

The days start really early here. I get up every day at five a.m., which I thought was an accomplishment, until some of my Muslim students told me they got up at four a.m. every day. It seems to be normal not to sleep much at all, and despite the scorching heat, there’s no such thing as Siesta either. Bedtime is between 10 p.m. and midnight.


Traditionally, you start your day with an early “bucketshower”. There is no shortage of water, but there is little reliability on the pumps. Often you’d want to wash your hands, but there’s only a faint cough and a few drops of water escaping the tap. Storing water in buckets is a smart thing in two ways. First, it’s building your own reservoir for use. Secondly… bucket showers are more eco-friendly! While in Europe an average shower takes 80 litres of water, a bucket holds 20 litres, which is more than enough. Furthermore, the water remains unheated, saving electricity.

To my own surprise, tap water is drinkable here. If you’re not used to it though, it will mess up your stomach pretty badly until you adapt. By now I’m fine with it.

Breakfast consists of the same palette every day: white baguette with jam. Fortunately there is fruit as well.

I used to go to school by public transport. The more common way is school-busses. As most sub-Saharan countries, Cote d’Ivoire has a very young population, so in the mornings, the streets are crowded with students and school-busses. Good luck though finding a reliable and safe driver! And even then, with our school-bus, we were involved in three crashes and had a narrow escape in another case. The school-bus costs 40.000 CFA per month.

Upon arrival, I seek the calmest spot at school: the library. I link up with the internet. The only chance to get a connection is in the early morning, as not so many people are online at this time. By 10 a.m. all websites are only displayed in text mode, and scripts stopped working.


An equivalent to the bucketshower are these emergency batteries for the computers. You never know when a power outage hits the district, or sometimes the entire city. The more severe problem of outages at school is that the ACs stop working, and with all the heat in the classroom, focus is lost completely.

So after checking mails etc, I teach. I will write another entry solely about that part later on.

I get back home at around 6 p.m. every day. My district is called “Riviera Palmerai”, the Palmtree Forest. It’s the local burgoise, who built nice houses and estates round here. Europeans/whities settled rather in the districts “Golf” and “Marcory”. I barely see any.




This is where I live. Rue Baobab, Riviera Palmerai. I share a room with Rodrigue Kisung Aka.


Rodrigue’s dad holds an important position at RTI, the main TV channel of Cote d’Ivoire, so there is always a bodyguard with a Kalashnikov round. There is a guard for the gate, a driver, and there are two cooks. They are treated almost as part of the family, though.

It gets dark between 6 and 6:30 pm every day, so most of my evenings are spent inside, studying French, and preparing lessons for my students. To relax a bit in between, I read books. Right now I’m reading Charles Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby”, which I can really recommend.


I was finally able to get a haircut at a place in Palmerai. 3000 CFA (€ 4,60). Hair cutting is an entirely male job here! So instead of “your holidays”, the main subject of small talk is football, haha! Also, so far I have spotted three hairdressers who use pictures of Puff Daddy on their posters. I wonder if he knows…

Saturdays, I try to go out a bit more. Until now, though, I am dependent on other people’s guidance. Today, I am meeting with So-Sheloba, who has a project for a new school in plans.


Curiosity killed the cat

Though media has mostly lost interest, there is still war in Africa, claiming lives every day. One hot spot is Liberia, the neighbouring country. Around two weeks ago, I met two Liberians in front of Sococé, a big store for the rich. Their names are Stephen and Mike. Mike found me first, and was very happy that I spoke English. So they told me they had fled from Liberia and were very hungry and so on. I didn’t want to give them money, so I thought I’d buy them some rice, which they were also happy about. They were quite unhappy, though, that I couldn’t give them money for more food. I told them that was all I could do for now.

A short dialogue follows:

  • Stephen: Are you Christian?
  • Me: hmmm, sort of.
  • Stephen: Mike and I prayed at the church this morning, and I feel that God has sent you to meet us, you are the first person we can trust.
  • Me: So why did he send me to meet you?
  • Stephen: We feel you are the first person we can trust, and who helped us.

They were quite enthusiastic at this point. We exchanged mobile phone numbers and went our separate ways.

Last Wednesday, Stephen called me and told me he needed to talk to me. I was curious, so we agreed to meet at Sococe again on Friday.

Having some African ice-cream after a long day with my bro Mafoya!

Having some African ice-cream with my bro Mafoya!

Fridays, I happened to meet Mafoya, a good friend of mine. I thought it’d be best to bring him along to meet Stephen and Mike. Right before meeting them, we agreed that if he wants Mafoya away, there is probably something fishy about this whole thing. But… cats love fish. PUN!

We met Stephen, whose smile from seeing me faded as soon as he realised I was not alone. He asked for five minutes alone with me. So, we sat next to the big market and a busy street. My curiosity was playing with my conscience. If he wanted food or money, he could just have asked straight away. Is it right or arrogant to look into this case with no intention of giving money?

We sat down and he told me his story. Mike and he had fled from Liberia about three months ago. His parents and older brother had been killed in the war. As they had been living close to the border to Cote d’Ivoire, they ran for it. Finally they made it to Abidjan, but they had to leave their luggage behind at the border. And there was the big deal: in their luggage, they had money. One Million US Dollars. Stephen couldn’t tell me where it was from or how they got hold of it, but he clearly indicated that he wanted to go there and bring back all that money. Travelling is expensive, though, so he entrusted this information to me. “It is very confidential,” he said. “It is 22.000 Francs to get there, and about a day’s journey.” He ended up talking for about 20 minutes, with me patiently listening and trying to make sense of it all.

So what kind of response was he hoping for? One theoretical (!) option is going with him and seeing myself if there was money. This would count as self-abduction. Second option is to give him the money and simply trust. Less risky, equally stupid. What I felt he was trying to do is to nurture off my generosity, based on our common faith. I also couldn’t help but feel he hoped for me to want a slice of the cake. Greed is something to count on in human beings, right? This is the truth of the world he lived in all his life.

That’s why I gave him the only answer that seemed reasonable to me: “I feel God has led you out of Liberia to live here, in Abidjan. You have to forget about the money and start building yourself up.” Of course, he didn’t like hearing that. After he continued on for another fifteen minutes about how that was impossible and he needed the money, I decided it was time to go. He stayed polite, yet was clearly disappointed. “Ok, I will call you later,” he said. I am still waiting for his call.

Having heard many stories and explanations of corruption, abduction and fraud in Africa, my initial curiosity was mainly because of the details. The fascinating thing is that the stories do not seem implausible. The storylines are well spun, and the thread clearly leads towards me giving them money. It is not simple begging, but a quite elaborate form of stealing, or fraud.

What do you think?