Arrival in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
Trip End Feb 15, 2009

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

About 15 minutes before I needed to head for the boarding gate for the flight to Abidjan, the staff of the Air France lounge announced over the intercom that we all needed to evacuate. A bag had been found abandoned nearby which always raises the possibility of a terrorist threat, and part of the terminal was being cordoned off pending the bomb squad investigation. That seems to happen fairly often in Charles de Gaulle; I've already been through similar incidents four or five times at this airport. I was more worried about a delay in the flight than anything else, and in the end there was no bomb. Fortunately my flight left from a part of the terminal far enough away from the suspicion that we were able to board and depart on time.
I sat next to a French Canadian couple from a rather remote area of their province. I think they said Abitibi, but I'm not sure - their accent was very difficult for me to understand. I had to ask them to repeat everything they said. I felt better when I noticed the Air France staff did too. They were very friendly however and it was pleasant, if slow, to talk with them.
On the other side of the isle was an Ivoirian fellow who really liked his drinks; he wanted refills on everything with alcohol in it - insisting rather loudly at times, and he wasn't speaking very distinctly by the time we arrived. He became a little boisterous toward the end but things didn't get worse than that.
I dosed on and off and read during the flight. My mother had recommended a historical fiction author to me recently - Dorothy Dunnett - and I have found her Lymond Chronicles wonderfully spellbinding. I'm on the third book now and it's a joy to read as were the two preceding tomes, which was good because I was tired and sometimes struggled to concentrate.
We flew over the gigantic Sahara; I never tire of looking down at that colorful, sublime expanse of sand. It's so huge it's probably best viewed from high above.
We arrived on time about 7:00 pm, shortly after nightfall. The Abidjan airport is very modern and everything still works well: air conditioning, lights, luggage carousels etc.  I cleared immigration quickly and my suitcase was one of the first ones out. After clearing customs one last agent asked for my passport before I could leave the departure area. When I handed it over, she said "Oh, an American passport - you can go" and handed it back. That was pleasant.
I waited at the hotel desk for close to half an hour before the shuttle driver arrived. In the meanwhile I talked with an off-duty security agent who was leaning on the desk. He asked why I was in Côte d'Ivoire and what the weather was like at the origin of my trip. When I said -20 (Centigrade) he had trouble comprehending that. He asked how people can live in that kind of environment, what precautions do we have to take? We talked about the recent US election. He said that the whole country was glued to the television to see if Barak Obama could win. He said there was lots of celebrating (especially drinking) when the results became final.
A bit later he steered the conversation around to that fact that he was trying to figure out how to get home. Their government bus was in the shop, he said, someone had filled it up with gasoline though it ran on diesel. Even though they flushed the tank it still wasn't working right. He hinted that perhaps I could make a contribution to help him get home for the night, but I replied honestly that I hadn't changed any money yet. He tried twice more in a gentle was but didn't seem unduly upset not to get a handout. Government employees usually have it about as good as it gets in West Africa.
The half-hour drive into Abidjan went without any problems and Paul Tia was waiting for me in the Hotel Ibis lobby. I checked in and then we discussed our plans for the next few days. Tomorrow I will meet with two groups of people, one in the morning in Abidjan, and then our congregation in La Mé in the afternoon.
Sunday we plan to start our expedition to Man about 400 or 450 km from Abidjan. That will be a three day trip in all.
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