Thursday, September 6, 2007

Saturday, August 18

I'm saying good-bye to Peter. We all left Ghana feeling such a sense of loss. Both Peter and Padmore were so much fun to travel with. Just recently, Peter informed me that he has been offered admission to pursue a Master of International Law and Economics at the University of Berne, with a scholarship.The package was granted by the World Trade Institute headquartered in Berne, Switzerland! Hopefully, he will be able to apply his new academic skills toward improving the lot of Ghanaian cocoa farmers, who are treated so badly by the international cocoa trading system.

We got up early and arrived at the airport around 7:00 AM, well in advance of an 8:50 AM departure. As we stood at the counter, chattering cheerfully, the woman behind the counter was staring at her computer screen a look of puzzlement on her face. After a few minutes of clicking and squinting, she announced that, even though our tickets stated “confirmed”, that in fact none of our names were in the database. She asked us to sit in the corner of the room and wait until they could get a passenger list of our flight which was already enroute from Lagos, Nigeria. After 15 minutes of silent agony and self-recrimination for not having re-confirmed the flight, I asked to talk to the manager. He explained that the fault was that of my travel agent. He asked us to please be patient and wait another 30 minutes until he could get a passenger count . At 8 AM, I asked him again, and he called Nigeria. He was told a number that led him to believe that there would be places for us and he instructed us to go ahead and check in. Eureka! What a relief!

The trip lasted 1 hour and during this time, they managed to serve us a breakfast--a daunting task considering the hop-scotch nature of the flight. Unlike years past, we actually waited in line to show our passports. Other years, Evariste paid someone off and we scooted around passport control. Security must have tightened. Or, Evariste had lost some power.

We entered the main hall, having successfully passed through customs only to find no Evariste. Koffi, Marius was waiting for us, however, as were a few other people. A couple minutes later, Evariste appeared. We went out to the parking lot and found the car and driver. It was an old Peugeot station-wagon. Large enough to hold us, but disappointing compared to our Ghanaian vehicle. We pushed it through the parking lot, the engine caught, and Vroom, off to Port Bouet, Evariste’s home.

This was quite a downer for my companions. No Peter, no Padmore, and, gee, a hunkajunk! Oh well, vive la différence!

At Port Bouet, a seaside community located near the airport, we met Evariste’s mother, wife, daughter, brother, and the latest addition, Petit Tom.

Evariste, his wife, and Petit Tom. I have known Evariste since 2004, and we have been visiting villages in the regions of Daloa and Issia since then.

Evariste's mother and le Petit Tom. In 2005, I sent Evariste's mother the money to purchase a freezer so she could earn money selling frozen water and bissap (African hibiscus drink) in their compound. Recently, she has become ill, and is no longer able to run her business.

We walked around Evariste’s neighborhood and then crossed the highway to spend a little time on the beach--all strategies to get us off our duffs while the driver went off to find a roofrack for the old Peugeot.

Evariste's daughter (right) accompanied us on our walk. Here we are standing next to a little store selling vegetables.

We crossed the highway to the ocean side and walked a little on the beach. Like most beaches in West Africa, it's covered with broken up rubbish; people treat the beach like it's a dump--and a bathroom, so watch out! The sand slopes steeply out, so the waves break in close to shore. Rip tides are very prevalent.

The first roof-rack was too large, so they took off in another taxi and came back 30 minutes later with an antique that fit. The claws that grasp the roof edges were so rusty that parts had eroded away, making their grasp of the roof tenuous. I had serious doubts that this would work, but Mark, the logical engineer in our group, stated that the machetes, as heavy as they were, would hold the rack down. Sure enough, after 7 days of driving, that rack never did depart from the roof. The downside of putting boxes of machetes on the roof, though, was the signal to the ever-present police, who saw money in those boxes and therefore demanded larger "cadeaux" every time they stopped us. Later, once we got to Depa, only a suitcase stayed on the roof, and the size and frequency of the "cadeaux" diminished significantly.

We left Port Bouet at around 2 PM. We drove about 20 minutes--past Deux Plateaux area of Abidjan to the first police barricade, the place where, four years earlier, I had fostered my first international incident by peeing under the Défense d’Uriner sign and had to pay a penalty of $10. This time, I didn’t need to pee, but we were stuck in gridlock of trucks. Our séjour lasted better part of an hour, thanks to the myriad trucks blocking our way, a reflection of the end of the war and the surging of economic ties to the northern half of Côte d’Ivoire. As we sat there, our diesel chugging away, we discovered a new problem (other than not starting)--the fact that it would overheat. Water vapor was gushing out from under the hood, so the driver got out, raised the hood. Lo and behold--no cap on the radiator! Mark explained the benefit of leaving the cap off: if you put it on and there’s a radiator leak, every time you twisted off the cap, you risked painful steam burns. This way, while vapor came out from under the hood (and also entered the passenger cabin through the “air conditioner”), you could readily replenish it as it evaporated away. Besides pouring more water into the radiator from a jug kept firmly ensconced between the driver’s legs, he also poured water all over the engine.

At one point, he even bought plastic bags of ice water. I took this picture while we sat and the driver was squirting ice water from plastic bags you purchase from passing street vendors.

Because of the evaporation problems associated with sitting still, the driver turned the car off. When trucks began to move, the car refused to start, so the driver hired a couple guys to push him and the engine roared to life.

This was the only long stop that day, and we drove north toward Yamassoukro, reaching the city around 8 PM. We checked into a hotel. Mark and Kate were too tired to eat dinner, so Stan and I went downstairs and regaled ourselves on Goat Kedjenou (a stew flavored with chilis and tomatoes.)

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