Tuesday, July 27, 2010

First Impressions

Coming from an erstwhile British colony, I can’t help but compare Cote d’Ivoire, a French colony, with India. I’m yet to figure what exactly went wrong but broadly it could be attributed to the lack of strong leadership at the moment the mantle was handed over. The civil war lasted till 2005, but the damage was done. It had stopped short a tremendous surge of growth that the country had never witnessed before.

My last four weeks here have been amazing. Abidjan, as a city, was pleasantly surprising with regards to the infrastructure and development that one wouldn’t have expected from this part of the world. I’ve picked up quite a few French words already and can make my way around the city. The traffic can get heavy during peak hours but the road sense and lane discipline here is brilliant. Cops and the army stop vehicles here regularly in hope of some quick money which makes me, as an Indian, feel at home in IVC (Ivory Coast). The night life is particularly interesting provided you have the right company. On your own, there are temptations galore, for all the vices of life are dead cheap in this country.

The locals are really friendly and particularly with me. Reasons being a) My name, Ali, is much more familiar a name to them than any other Indian name, since almost 50% of the population here is Muslim and b) Those of you who have seen me recently would be able to imagine me blending into this environment with the look and hair crop that I carry (or don’t). Almost everyone is bald here including the women. Hence you can understand when I say that hair salons and the wig markets are big in Africa.

There is a calm among the Ivoirians, and Africans in general, that commands respect. One can’t help but be polite to them and they, in turn, maintain the highest standards of courtesy, which probably has been augmented by the French culture. The sad part of this is that a large part of the local culture and traditions that existed before colonisation have more or less been wiped out of their memories. Hardly does anyone speak the local languages in public anymore except for isolated pockets.
Lebanese form the largest non-native community here as in most francophone countries across West Arica. Indians are found in larger numbers in the Anglophone countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania. The Lebanese are reputed to be hard bargainers and sometimes ruthless in their trades. Most stay here for ten to twenty years before moving back with their savings.

Culturally, it is much more open than India. Sex as a topic as well as a trade is commonplace and multiple partners is not something that is looked down upon. Marriage is not as integral to one’s life here as it is in India. Polygamy is rampant and no legal binding on any action that seems like a divorce. The extended family concept is unique. If one member of the family earns well, he is obliged to look after every relative of his who seeks help. Any random cousin can come and stay in your house if you’re earning well, and you must provide for him. At the same time, you are not forced to go out and work by your family and are free to choose when and what you work.
The greenery of the countryside never ceases to amaze me. Dense bush swallows the landscape showing nothing but the colour green around you. As you move further north it starts becoming more of a Savanna-ish landscape.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Cote d'Ivoire

Yes, I've been here for the last 2 weeks and I have tons to write about. I plan to cover my experiences in Africa extensively on this blog in addition to the regular eclectica. In the process I hope to give a more accurate picture of the place as compared to what gross misconceptions people hold about this much neglected place.

So I shall speak about my process of learning french, of brilliant dishes at the Makis (local dhabas) of Ivory Coast, the vibrant night life here and the most interesting characteristics of the people here, their hopes of a better life and how the rest of the world strives hard to prevent it.

More in due course. Watch this space.