Yamoussoukro to Man

Trip Start Jan 13, 2013
Trip End Feb 04, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hotel du Guety

Flag of Cote D  , Dix-Huit Montagnes,
Thursday, January 17, 2013

I'm sitting at a scarred desk in a scarred room, in a town and region scarred by years of war. I can see the fading daylight through cracks in three wooden panels of the front door, and along most of its opening side. The lock holds in place by a sliver of wood. I lock it, knowing a slight push would admit even a child. In the bath room, there is no seat on the toilet and the top of the French-style tank has been replaced by a wooden board. The room is superficially clean, but I know it’s best not look closely, or around the edges. This room has been pillaged at least once by rebel soldiers when they took the town, possibly several times, and all its cheap furnishings carried away. This room, I know, with its gouged desk, its cheap-foam-mattress bed, its small jury-rigged television showing one grainy French-African station, and its tiny air conditioner wedged into an unevenly-sealed, plywood-filled opening twice its size in the wall – and losing the fight against the ambient heat, represents unattainable luxury for almost everyone who lives in Man, Côte d’Ivoire, where I will spend the next few days.

The Muslim call to prayer is reverberating in the evening air as the day dies, not slowly as in temperate climes but abruptly in the manner of the tropics. The electrical power suddenly stops and only my laptop lights the room. I dim the screen in case the power outage lasts and mentally locate my flashlight, cell phone, and other possible light sources. I sit in the dark and listen and let my senses extend. It is pleasant, but I’m still relieved when the power comes back on and the air conditioner starts; without it mosquitos would make sleep difficult.

It’s time to leave for dinner, so I’ll write more later….

Back from dinner: This morning, we were tired from yesterday’s travels and travails, and we didn’t have so far to travel today, so I suggested a 09:00 breakfast and a 10:00 departure.

For breakfast we had what the menu called a café complet ("a complete coffee"): a packet of Nescafé, a packet of powdered milk, boiled water, sugar, an omelet (I ordered mine Spanish style), two long lengths of very chewy baguette, a pad of butter, and a small packet of jam. Cost: 3 dollars. The coffee was very welcome in spite of the form in which it arrived.

At 10:00 we headed to a bank so I could change the money we would need for this trip, the amount was more than I could change at a hotel lobby.

We stopped at a first bank and I went in and walked to the desk marked “change.” I told the lady that I wanted to change some money. “We haven’t started changing again yet” she said. I asked for clarification. “We stopped changing money for the end of the year, and we haven’t started again yet” she explained cheerfully as if that was perfectly clear and logical. Right. She suggests another bank down the main street, so we drive there next.

I arrived in the lobby about 10:10 and explained to the pistol-packing security, cum receptionist, that I wanted to change some money. He told me to take a seat. Along the wall to my left as I walked it was a line of 12 chairs; the guard pointed to the empty 12th chair for me. This seemed like a very comfortable way to wait in line. There were an unknown number of cashiers behind a partial wall to our left. Each time a client come from behind the wall having concluded his business, the person at the front of the line walking behind the wall and we all got up and moved one seat. Sort of like musical chairs without the music. I thought to myself, 12 clients, two or three cashiers, this shouldn’t take too long. However it didn’t take me long to notice that it took a very long time between clients. Time dragged. Should I go someplace else and take my chances? Should I stick it out here? It was a Hamlet moment. Finally inertia or more likely the fear of having to repeat this process and start at the end of the line again in another bank caused me to stay. It took me an hour and 20 minutes to get to the front of the line and change my money. Almost an an hour and a half for two tellers to treat 12 transactions….

I had decided to take Paul to see the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace) which was finished just before the civil war broke out. In many ways it rivals Saint Peter’s in Rome, on which it was obviously patterned. The former President-for-life Houphouet Boigny paid the 300,000,000 dollars for its construction out of his own very-well-lined pockets. It is strange to be driving through the dusty savannah of central Cote d’Ivoire and to see a dome the size of Saint Peter’s loom up out of the African bush.

It costs the equivalent of a dollar for locals to enter, two dollars for foreigners (it’s an included camera charge, the ticket agent reassured me). We left Kony, who is Muslim, with the car, and walked to the front door where we were assigned a guide, whether we wanted one or not. It is an impressive building, all columns and stained glass. Pope John Paul came to do the consecration in 1990, and accept the keys, so to speak on behalf of the Church.

Paul was very impressed; he’d never seen anything like it, nor would he probably ever pay to visit such a thing. I saw many comparisons with St Peters. They have their own wooden version of the pieta, patterned on Michelangelo’s and the baldachin is clearly based on Saint Peter’s as well. We took the elevator up to stand on the upper terrace and take in the view. The guide told us the dome is higher than Saint Peter’s but everything else I’ve read says that is not so, the cross on top makes it higher than the dome in Rome but the dome itself is less high (some say due to the personal intervention of the Pope).  After the visit Paul and I had an interesting discussion of the Catholic Church and how people look to what is impressive to the eye, and we compared with biblical values. It was interesting. We take such cultural visits for granted; westerners almost always have the disposable income to visit such places if they have the interest. It is not so in much of the world

We drove to the usual Lebanese restaurant for lunch. I ordered hummus and shwarma. Paul had never tasted either hummus or olive oil before. He was delighted. We didn’t finish all the hummus so I ask for a box; they brought us a plastic bag, the usual method of transporting food here.

We drove on to Man a four-hour drive over some very bad roads, finally arriving at sundown. Séussié met us on the road side and directed us to Hotel du Guety, the hotel where I stayed on my first visit to Man two or three years ago. The hotel had not improved since that time, but it didn’t appear to have gotten any worse either. We unpacked a little and then at 7:00 pm we drove to our usual maquis la Différence Plus. A maquis is a sort of simple restaurant which usually has two things on the menu: chicken or fish. The raw chickens and fish usually sit on trays on the counter, you pick your selection and they prepare it either brazed and served with tomato and onion (and chili sauce) or “en soupe” in a sort of thin sauce they call a soup. To accompany it they may have cassava, rice or potatoes.

I ordered chicken, the other three chose fish; they only had cassava to accompany. Once the order is placed it takes right at an hour to be served. People here are in no hurry, they live at a slower pace, and really like to take their time when they eat since eating is not to be taken for granted.

As we waited we discussed plans for the next days. And I watched the animated street: hawkers, beggars, UN employees in their big white 4WDs, bush taxis careening past, overloaded semi-trucks roaring into town, there is rarely a dull moment. The temperature drops after sundown and becomes very pleasant – to me, that is. Paul shivered from time to time, and Kony got so cold he finally had to wait for us in the car

We drove back to the hotel at 9:00 pm. We’ll see how we sleep tonight. 
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Bernard on

So good to hear from you again. The room sure looks spartan in western standards. Glad you were able to accomplish a lot and take care of our Brethren in Côte d'Ivoire. Take care.

alzoo on

Definitely good to hear about your adventures again. All the best for the rest of the trip.

hervedubois on

Thank you for the many details of your trip and your commitment for the brethren in French speaking Africa.
Take care.

Ted Franek on

Glad to hear your doing ok despite the bare necessities you have to contend with. Praying all goes well for the remainder of the trip. Thanks for taking the time to fill in the details so well.

mary hendren on

Hi Joel,

It's great to read this latest entry and know that you are back in touch. What an amazing monument patterned after St. Peter's, really a contrast to the other parts of the country. We trust and pray that the remainder of your work will be productive and encouraging. Thanks for the pictures.


Tess Washington on

Mr. Meeker, good to read about your current trip to Man. So much details, I took my time to read and learn from it. Interesting to know that the Catholic religion is prominent in that place. Is it being practiced in the whole country? I got a chuckle reading about the pistol-packing security, cum receptionist and the musical chairs! I think that was hilarious! This was one interesting blog...I can relate to the use of your laptop, cellphone, flashlight as sources of light in a darkened room and mosquitoes in the tropics! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what the natives are living with everyday!

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