Grand Bassam

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

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Where I stayed
Ibis Abidjan Plateau
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of Cote D  , Lagunes,
Monday, January 28, 2013

Yesterday Mr. Mrs. Paul Tia were at the hotel at 09:00 with a driver. I has invited to them to accompany me to visit Grand Bassam, the first colonial capital of Côte d'Ivoire, starting in the 1890s. The capital was moved shortly after that and the economic life of Grand Bassam trailed off until it pretty much died in the 1930 and the city became a sort of ghost town. I didn’t know how interesting the visit would be, but they had never been to Grand Bassam (they can’t afford to do tourism) and it is a part of their history that they learned in school. They were excited to be invited to come.

The driver said his name was Sam and I ask him if it was Uncle Sam and he laughed and said it was really short for a long name which he pronounced, but I renounced. I just called him Uncle Sam which he seemed to find amusing.

We put some gas in the car and drove about 25 miles through Abidjan to Grand Bassam. There were lots of colonial era buildings abandoned for the most part and many crumbling. As we stopped at one that seems more impressive than others (the governors’ residence), we noticed a few young men sitting out front. I said I wanted to take a photo and Sam said wait "I need to ask them first, people are bizarre here" he explained. The two young men turned out to be freelance guides who offered us a fascinating tour of the old town.

They explained an itinerary and I asked how much they charged. They replied that they weren’t allowed to fix a price; they relied on the good will of those they guided. But, one continued optimistically, people often paid them 100,000 CFA ($200). Ah, oui. Since it was agreed I would pay what I thought it was worth, we agreed and started off. We walked in the sand at the end of the street to see the dam which had closed off the river (which separates Old Bassam, also called French Town from New Bassam), from the ocean. It was a bit of a trudge, especially in the tropical heat and when we arrived, there was nothing to see but a hill of sand. Mrs. Tia wasn’t used to walking in sand and was already lagging behind. Our tour was not off to a great start.  They asked where I was from and I said the US. They said “oh you’re French American” to which I replied, not really. “Canadian American then?” No. They couldn’t figure out why I spoke French.

We trudged our way to the beach where the fisherman brought their catch to be smoked. There were several fishing boats on the beach, nets lying around, and we could see several boats working in the water. As we walked along the beach, one of the guides said confidently, “you don’t have sandy beaches like this in America, everything is paved.” They were surprised when I told them we had sand in America, and checked to see if I were teasing them. Finally I told them that the ocean is the ocean everywhere and that there are sandy beaches on most coasts. That was a new thought for them.

We finally walked back into the town where the streets were paved and we were shown a series of crumbling buildings: the first hall of justice, the first post office, the first prison, the first custom hall, the first train tracks, the first outdoor theater. To be honest 30 minutes would have been more than sufficient and it’s not really that fascinating, though the site is listed as a World Heritage Site. I’ve seen many crumbling buildings before many of them much older than here, but the site is important in the history of Côte d’Ivoire, and the Tias were very interested.

The guides took me to the old post office building where a famous artist now had his studio. He was a self-important little guy who immediately began lecturing us: “All people are equal, there are no bad or ugly people and if we think they are it’s our problem, we don’t understand them. Man is not created in the image of God and the only reason people think so is because…” I answered for him “it says so in the Bible.” “No, men wrote that in there” he replied.  I hadn’t really been interested in visiting his studio in the first place, and I decided I had seen and heard enough. He kept lecturing and I walked out and down the steps. He complained loudly from inside that he hadn’t finished yet. We just continued the visit. One of the guides told me “that’s not good, he blasphemed! I’m a Christian and he blasphemed.”

On a street corner we came to a monument to the first Catholic priests who arrived here in Grand Bassam. There were a few roustabouts sitting on it. When the guide asked them to move so we could take a photo, one replied angrily that he didn’t have to move, no one had a right to make him move, he wasn’t getting any money from their work etc. I didn’t really care to take a photo of it anyway, so I just moved on and the argument trailed off.

Finally we wrapped up the tour back at the Governors’ residence and I paid the young men the equivalent of 10 dollars a goodly sum here for an hour’s tour. They were of course disappointed, and complained that I hadn’t “listened to my heart” they may still have had 100 dollars floating in their minds. I said it was fair, and we thanked them and drove off, soaked in sweat and a little footsore.

I had wanted to find a pizzeria on the beach and we found quite a nice one, owned I was told, by Alpha Blondy. But they didn’t cook pizzas on Monday.

We found another one on the river side of the island, and it was very nice. We ate under the shade of a very large tree, right on the water with a cool breeze drying us off. I explained what a pizza was, neither of the Tias had eaten any. Uncle Sam had and told them they were good. Paul wanted to try, but Mrs. Tia said she’s stick with rice and fish, which she did. Later she tried a piece of her husband’s pizza and said it was good. I wasn’t too hungry, so I sent the half my pizza that I couldn’t eat back with her for dinner.

On the way back we stopped in New Bassam at the market so I could buy a USB drive for Paul and a small cheap suitcase for me so I could bring my new boubou back – it wouldn’t fit in my medium sized suitcase which was already full. Then we drove back to Abidjan through the thickening traffic.

I settled accounts with the driver and with Paul and took the time to load as much useful information and documentation that I reasonable could on his new driver. Discussed my next possible visit and said encouraged each other to keep doing our work.

Paul left and I now have about 2 hours to repack and take care of last minutes things before I catch the airport shuttle for my Paris flight tonight scheduled to leave at 22:40.
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Fiona Meeker on

Hey Dad,
I'm glad to hear you're safe and sound! Although it sounds like that tour took a turn for the worse...
I love you lots!

thomas.clark on

Hi Joel,
Thanks for documenting and sharing your trip with us all. Be careful what you eat, and we pray your return trip home is uneventful.

Matt and Rebecca Keener on

Love reading about your travels and all the people you meet! Your blogs paint such a picture for those of us back home. Stay safe and we look forward to your return to Cincinnati! Our congregation will be excited to hear more about your trip in person!

Lenna Slaughter on

I pray that you have a safe trip home. Thanks for sharing your pictures and information about your visit. Thank you also for your commitment to spread the word to those with whom God is working.

Mary Hendren on

Hi Joel,

What a tour of colonial Grand Bassam--what patience to make it through the whole town. We're glad the Tias had some special time with you and were introduced to pizza. Hope your return trip is pleasant and restful.


Lonnie on

I have read all your travel blogs over years and find them interesting and informative. Thank you for taking the time to write them. Hope that you have peaceful safe journey home as you need a break!

Jim McTiernan on

Thanks Mr. Meeker for taking the time to write while you are travelling for the work. It seems that the brethren really benefit from your visits. I am sure they appreciate it and we appreciate your hard work taking care of the brethren. Bon Voyage!

Tess Washington on

Hi Mr. Meeker, I finally caught up with you on this blog that sounds like your last one in Cote. What an awesome name, Grand Bassam! I wonder where it came from? I'd like to learn more about this country, Cote! Especially with our brethrens being and living in this part of Africa...Thank you for all the photos, humor and descriptive lines about Cote and our brethrens! God is the one that calls whomever He wants! Our part is to welcome them, pray for them, encourage them and be supportive of their physical needs as we are able! Thank you so much for the tremendous education I received from you during this trip! I know more is to come! Have a wonderful trip to Paris! Bon voyage!

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