I Still Go To School

on teaching, learning, travelling


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What matters in the end?

I have enjoyed an eventful last week in Abidjan: going to the local Zoo, visiting a Reggea Club, celebrating July 4th at the US Embassy, go-karting, and visiting many friends.

Unfortunately my mobile phone got kidnapped by a friendly taxi driver. I realised it was not with me immediately after I left the taxi and it drove off, but when we called with a different mobile a minute later, he had already switched it off. Had to happen 4 days before I leave 😦 I got a cheap replacement and Orange replaced my SIM with the same number. The guy who gave me the SIM was happy to speak English to me, so he didn’t charge me anything, so I had got that going for me, which was nice.

 

So anyways, I lost my pictures from the art market “CAVA” (Centre Artisanal de la ville d’Abidjan), which is a completely underrated artisan village close to the shopping center “CAP SUD”. It’s literally a village, where the artists are in wooden huts or outside of them, creating all kinds of art: painting, many carvings, jewellery, decorational weapons, traditional masks and much more. It’s the best place to get ripped off and spend lots of money as a tourist! Not everyone overcharges you, but I just tell you: beware the Senegalese 😉 So best visit the place with a local friend, whose mere presence already makes the artist/merchant nervous and lower the price. Anyways there is also the arts market in cocody, which is much smaller though, and less authentic. I recommend going to CAVA to anyone interested in traditional African art, or who wants to get a souvenir.

Another must is spending an evening at Parker Place, Abidjan’s best Reggea club. It’s not too overpriced, plus the live bands on the weekends are rather amazing. They play classics as Bob Marley, national music as Tiken Jah Fakoly or Alpha Blondy, as well as their own songs. Rastafaraay feeling all inclusive (excluding the drugs, no smoking in the place!)

Abidjan’s Zoo is bit of a sad place. Not only because there are animals in captivity (for preservational reasons), but because during the civil war, many animals died, as there was no caretaker for them. So the lions are gone, and there is only one elephant left, and one python. Else, they got lots of monkeys, crocodiles, chimps, a leopard, some birds and one of the few remaining pygmy hippos. Because of policies (greediness), visitors have to pay to take pictures. Didn’t want to reward that silly policy, so we only took a picture in front of the gate.

Friday, on the evening of my departure, Lorette was invited to the Independence Day party at the embassy, as she’s been working there a long time as a French/English teacher.  The US Embassy has wide grounds in Abidjan, and the building is rather humungous! But – no pictures allowed. You find something on google, though. The Independence Day celebration was quite nice, with the Embassador giving a speech, the Stephane Wrembel Band playing their jazzy tunes, and snacks for the attendees.

After the celebration we arrived back home just in time for the World Cup game Brazil – Colombia. It was fast-paced, and a bit too foul, but many great moves and nice goals. The better team won in the end 🙂

But then it was time to say goodbye! So many people took care of me during the 10 months I spent here. I got to know new faces and have made many new friends.  This is what matters most in the end!

Now that I’m back in Austria, I will take some time to settle back in. I’m on a holiday until September, when I will start teaching physics/chemistry at a school in Vienna. So I will continue writing the blog, as surely there are many more things to be experienced and written about. And who knows where else I may end up teaching for a while…

 


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Bonjour, Le Blanc!

Most of the residential areas in Abidjan, at least the more wealthy ones, have gatekeepers for their streets. It’s kind of a communal decision, and everybody within the “cité” pays their tribute. Anyways, this one gatekeeper kept calling me “Le blanc” (the white guy) and saluted me every time I enter or exit my cite. Saluting, not figuratively, but literally – putting his hand up to his head and standing straight, as in military. It was funny in the beginning, but when I realised also outside the cité I was being called le blanc, I started to sense there is a certain image or expectation linked to it.

The old President as painted at the garden of the University, which carries his name

The old President as painted at the garden of the University, which carries his name

As a white person in Cote d’Ivoire, you have already won the minute you set foot in the country. People will treat you with respect and friendliness unparalleled in your home country. You will be offered marriage multiple times a day if you’re among people, you will be offered food and drinks everywhere you go, people have been asking me to visit them at their homes and to meet their families. When you leave your friends’ places, they ask you to give them a call when you arrived home safely. Taxi drivers will offer their services as soon as they spot you from hundred metres away, up to the point where it gets annoying. Security controls will let you pass without any questions asked.

But why this favouritism, unconditional trust and respect? The situation in Cote d’Ivoire is very special. There still is a big French ground force in zone 4 of Abidjan, and in total there around 10.000 men of UN troops in the country. During the reign of President Felix Houphouet Boigny, the country opened its borders to foreign immigration from far and wide, and especially drew in experts and entrepreneurs from France. His policy was that “Cote d’Ivoire is a friend to all and an enemy to none”. The result was a great rise of economy in the private sector. Unfortunately, the 90s were a tough time due to financial mismanagement, economy collapsed and didn’t rise again. The country divided into south and north, and ten years of civil war followed. During war, a country cannot develop. People are focussed on survival in the moment, instead of looking into the future. This way of thinking still persists up to now, when times are peaceful.

A picture of the younger Felix Houphouet Boigny, when he became President in 1960 at age 55.

A picture of the younger Felix Houphouet Boigny, when he became President in 1960 at age 55.

 

When President Laurent Gbagbo came to power, his approach was to get the whites out of the country. “Go home, French!” was one of the mottos. When he lost elections to Alassane Ouattara in 2010, he didn’t accept the result and still “crowned” himself President. One cannot follow two masters, so unfortunately an armed conflict broke out. Many of the families that I know here escaped to Ghana, others withdrew to safe zones like the hotels which were hosting foreign workers and ministers, and were defended by the national army. During this time though, a great part of European, American and Asian immigrants fled the country, never to return again. As a result, many companies collapsed, and the unemployment rate rose. Furthermore, about 65.000 ex-combatants were left without a job, but with their weapons, mostly old Kalashnikovs, imposing a great threat to public security. Who in his sane mind would return to a country in such a condition? Only the bravest did.

After Gbagbo’s forces diminished due to his not being able to pay them anymore, he was brought before the ICC (International Criminal Court), and peace once returned to this country. President Ouattara now speaks of “regaining our former glory”, and he is opening up again for foreign investors and immigration.

So, that was a bit of a background info. Unfortunately in other places there is such strong resentment, such as The Gambia and The Republic of South Africa, where politicians and even Presidents openly degrade and speak against “European Colonialism”. Cote d’Ivoire is very different in its approach toward whites.

I’ve been reading the “New African”, a pan-African magazine in English. Going through the interviews, my heart is split. The general agenda is anti-UN, anti-Europe and anti-ICC (from most authors). There is pride and ambition to develop a strong Africa, but often the scapegoat or source of inspiration is hate against whites, against Europe and the US. One reason why I came here is to help the country develop and for it to improve the living conditions of its population. But if many African countries rise to power and become prime countries of the world, will this spirit of anti-Europeanism result in anything good? Will the former slave turn against his former master, once he feels the power to do so? Are nationalism and racism an inevitable crutch on the path to a profound African identity? Whites have exploited and still are exploiting Africa to this day. I am only wondering what I can do to apologize and bring reconciliation. Is it enough to buy fair trade products? What can I personally do?

So what I thought I’d do is that I tell the gatekeeper my name. He still salutes me, but we also shake hands now. 🙂


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It’s all a matter of perspective…

When you think of “Africa”… what comes to your mind? Starving children, straw huts, overcrowded cities and slums? You are mostly right.

This post is in response to what I wrote about the market Adjamé. It is the reversal of Adjamé – The “Hypermarché Sococé”. The huge structure almost seems like it’s copied from a modern European or American shopping city: fancy restaurants, manicure, electronics and a big department store.

Upon entering the acclimatised department store, I felt like I was back in Vienna. It is full of products imported from Europe and America, with personnel at every corner, and packers after the cashiers. And they sell everything here… from shoes and clothes, to electronics, toiletries, meat and cheese, yoghurts, drinks, sweets, fruit and veggies, and everything the exquisite home cuisine could require, even the original olive imported from bella italia. Even the setup is similar to European shops: the most frequently needed products are at the opposite side of the entrance, so that you have to make your way through the entire store; little, expensive “kid-traps” at the cashier; cheap products at the bottom of the shelf, expensive ones at top and medium in the middle of the shelf. Feels like home 😉 Just one thing is different: the typical opening of the fruit at the entrance is replaced by the electronics.

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Sorry that the pictures are blurry, I felt a bit awkward taking pictures of a shop and forgot to adjust the settings.

This is what you see when you enter the store: electronics, and that they are starting to decorate the place for Christmas. WHITE CHRISTMAS! With Christmas trees and pictures of snow falling on presents.

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The toys section! Everything is imported, of course. And sorry, no black dolls available, only white and two stages of tanned.

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My good old friend from Ghana! Forget Magnum, Cornetto and whatever, FanIce (€0,40) is seriously the best! Its taste also most closely resembles the one of the old “Cheesy” ice-cream.

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Yoghurts and milk products are seriously sinfully overpriced. This blurry package of Danone Actimel costs CFA 11300 (€ 17,40)! Yoghurts are around CFA 800-1200 (€1,20 – €1,80) per piece (50-70g). Milk products are a privilege.

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My favourite place: the sweets 😀 You can find HARIBO from France. It’s daylight robbery though: CFA 1050 (€ 1,60) for a package of Haribo of 100g.

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Spending time in the chocolate section is the most infuriating task…. if you are aware that Cote d’Ivoire is the World’s #1 cocoa exporter! And all you can see is…

  • Milka is CFA 1650 (€2,50) per 100g bar
  • Lindt is CFA 3500 (€5,40) per 100g bar
  • Kinder bars – 5 pieces CFA 1200 (€1,85)
  • Small box of Ferrero Rocher is CFA 4500 (€6,92)

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So cocoa is harvested by the poorest of the country and shipped to Europe. It returns as expensive chocolate, only afforded by the rich of the very same country. Only recently Cote d’Ivoire started to produce their own chocolate: “Amigo”. One bar for CFA 600, and pretty awful in taste, worse than American or Asian chocolate (no offense)

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After getting some FanIce and a drink, I met Maxim and his half-sister. Maxim’s mother is Russian, his dad Ivorian, but he has always lived in Cote d’Ivoire. He works as a technician for RTI, the country’s main television channel. Everyone wants English lessons from me! In the background you can see a fountain, a dry cleaning place and that there are two levels of shops.

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Sococé is the biggest of its kind in Abidjan, and there is Cap Nord and Cap Sud. West and East are already in the planning, a sign of a growing bourgeois. In a way it’s comforting to see that, as most social and economic change stems from an active middle-class.

Are there any other products of which you would like to know the price? When you see these products, do they seem expensive to you in your own standards? How much are these products in your country? And now consider that this is supposed to be Cote d’Ivoire, a developing country, where 42,7% (2008) of the people live in absolute poverty (on less than $1,25 per day).


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Summer, sun and beach!

I surely do have the best and most peculiar boss/headmistress one could ever wish for.

This Saturday, four of us went to the beach! The most popular place would be Grand Bassam, one of the most important colonial cities of old, now famous for its art and beach tourism. Also, it’s crowded and loud. We went to a lonely beach shortly after the city gates of Abidjan. I much preferred that place, as it was peaceful and friendly, and the food is much better here than in Bassam, so I’ve been told.

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See the men at the waterside, casting nets in the surging tide? 😉 The boats are rather small and fragile, but the nets are unbelievably huge. There were round 10 ppl on the boat, helping to bring them in. Fish is of high economic and nutritional importance in the region – we have it almost every day.

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The ocean never fails to impress me. It has something majestic – it is serene, yet powerful and vast, seemingly infinite. The roaring waves crushing onto the beach keep you away from swimming. The currents are way too strong, too. So we settled with just staring into the distance and stuck to the pool for swimming.

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I don’t often like pictures, but I do like this one. It says a hundred things.

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These jellies were a mystery to us. Does anybody know what it is? Smaller and bigger junks of this transparent, soft jelly were spread over the entire beach. It doesn’t seem synthetic. It’s not jellyfish either. One of our theories is that it was a carrier jelly for the caviar.

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There seemed to be a soapy liquid in the waters. See the little holes opening up the foam? That foam left a sickening yellow trace of colour on the sand.

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Coconuts all over the place! I also climbed one of the trees, but couldn’t get anybody to take a picture. I brought the coconut back home.

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Mme Elias, Billy the guitarist, and Ouatta, the Maths teacher. I wonder how many headmistresses I will ever meet who sing “Redemption Song” on the beach under coconut trees.

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As you can see, the place was almost completely empty, apart from a family who worked at the US Embassy.

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Finally, the sunset at the beach. I could sit there forever, but it only lasts a few minutes until pitch black darkness.

I will leave you with a song, an Ivorian classic, and hope you can catch a bit of the relaxed playfullness of the tune.


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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.

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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€)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

A rather extensive collection of necklaces.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.