Back to Abidjan and the Presidential Inauguration

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

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Today was the long drive back from Man to Abidjan. I wanted to leave early so we'd be sure to make it back before dark. We packed and loaded at 07:00 so we could have a cup of coffee and leave by 07:30. Mamadou and Seussié were going to come with us partway down the road, so we could visit a couple in a different village, where they would then stay. We drove together to la brioche and ordered coffee and a pastry. We talked about all sorts of things over breakfast; they were still as excited about the visit and their hopes for the future.
We drove for about 15 minutes before coming to Dwélé, the village where Anicet Seu and his wife live; they attended our meeting yesterday. It's quite an event having a westerner show up to visit you in your out-of-the-way mud-brick village. The neighbors were all watching as we sat in the cool morning air and talked for a few minutes and took some photos. This couple was very excited that we had come; their two teenage sons seemed a bit dazed that something like that could happen because of one's religious beliefs. Before leaving, I also took a photo of their old mother seated at her morning fire. I found it a fascinating shot.
We were down to a quarter of a tank of diesel and there had been none in Man, so Diaby said we would buy some in Douékoué just back across the former front line. There were several service stations there and we were sure to be able to get some. It was 70 or 80 km to get there, so we were down to a eighth of a tank when we arrived, and there didn't seem to be any diesel, or gasoline available at any of the 4 or 5 service stations in town. After driving around we found one station with a tanker in the driveway: a load had just come and had filled the underground tanks. There was a line of cars, trucks, busses, and motorbikes for the one functioning gasoline pump, the same for the one diesel pump (except there were no motor bikes). We got in line and turned the motor off to wait, creeping forward as we could. What slowed the process down was that pedestrians were also there with their plastic gas containers waiting for their turn. It wasn't at all orderly; there was a mob of people, drivers and pedestrians, swarming around each pump yelling at the attendant and pointing at their vehicle or container that they should each be next served
I told Diaby to put in an extra 10 dollars worth more than what I'd planned, just to be on the safe side, to make sure we could get all the way back to Abidjan. When we made it to the pump, Diaby proved he had a commanding presence and a loud voice. We were served very quickly. In the end we had waited 50 minutes in line for our diesel.
On the down the road we went, this time toward Yamoussoukro the capital city. Originally it was just the home village of deceased president Houphouet Boigny. But in typical local style, he wanted to put his home town on the map, so he made it the national capital. He also built the largest Catholic basilica in the world: Our Lady of Peace. They just barely got it built before a civil war broke out.... He spent 300,000,000 dollars on it and doubled the national debt to do so, when less than half the population had running water. There was controversy to say the least.
I was curious about it so we stopped to take photos. I baulked at paying 6 dollars to go inside, so my photos are outside shots. Boigny originally planned to have the dome be a bit taller than the one on Saint Peter's in Rome, but the papacy requested that Rome be allowed to keep at least the title of tallest dome, and Boigny acquiesced.
We stopped for a quick bite in Yamoussoukro, which is very westernized. We spotted a place with a UN vehicle out in front and figured that was a good sign. I had a small pizza, and Paul and Diaby had local style chicken and rice. We've been eating a light breakfast, then what for me is one normal meal a day - not a heavy one, and pretty much skipping lunches to save time, but when I asked Paul if his chicken was good, he smiled broadly and said: I can't believe I'm eating so much, I've been eating like I do at the Feast of Tabernacles! Food for thought...
We drove the rest of the way back to Abidjan slaloming around potholes as we went. Again some stretches of road were good and some were quite bad. We finally arrived back about 4:30 pm in time for everyone to get home before dark. It has been quite an expedition to Man and back, one I'll probably need to make again at least once this year.
After Paul and Diaby left, I got settled in and cleaned up and then took a local taxi to a shopping center to pick up a few things. On the way I asked the driver what he thought of President Obama's election. His French wasn't very good, but we got so excited that he had even more trouble expressing himself. Finally he said "all Americans are great, they are not racist! Maybe now other countries will not be racist."  I told him I was from the States and he responded "I like all Americans" with a shining grin. I arrived at the shopping center at 5:00 pm which was right at the time when the oath of office was being given. In one area there was a crowd of 100 or so rapt people watching the inauguration on a TV. They were transfixed. This election has had quite an effect on people in the African places I've visited over the last months.
When the driver stopped in front of the hotel the driver said "you put me in your suitcase; I go with you America!" I told him with a smile that I wished I could take him; perhaps some day.
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