I was settling accounts as Paul arrived, so after a quick breakfast we were able to be on the road by 7:30. We drove to the edge of Abidjan, and filled the tank with diesel for about $75.00 and started the trip north. We passed several police controls without being slowed and reached the newly completed four-lane highway to Yamoussoukro. They've been working on this for some years, and since the war has ended they made a big push to get it completed. The road is now smooth all the way to the capital. About an hour into the drive, a white mist started coming from the air conditioning vents. "Uh oh," I’d seen that before in such circumstances. Our AC was about to go out. The air became gradually less cold, then cool, then warm, then hot. Ibrahim was not happy, and neither were we. We rolled down the windows. It would be a long, hot drive.
The new road is so good, and drivers so unused to such a fine highway that the number of traffic accidents and deaths made a huge jump, due to drivers testing the capacities of their vehicles by going pedal to the metal. To stop this, the authorities have set up a large number of radar traps with armed police backup. Sedans may cruise up to 120 kph depending on signs and conditions. Pickups are limited to 90 kph no matter what, buses and heavy trucks are limited to 75 kph; that is when the police are measuring their speed. Of course in between radar stations, it’s every man for himself. Since the radar stations are frequent though it did seem to keep major abuses in check.
So we alternated between speeding up and slowing down as Ibrahim, watched for flashing headlights and other signals that a speed trap was ahead. We passed what must have been a recent accident at a place where two bridged crossed a river valley, where it appeared form the destroyed guardrails that two vehicles had gone off the road, in between the bridges and crashed to the valley floor about 100 feet below. There wouldn’t have been any survivors. Crowds of people lines the bridges looking down at what we assumed to be the wreckage which we couldn’t see from the road.
Three hours after we left, we drove into Abidjan. This is an unusual city, ostensibly the nation’s capital, but really a small provincial town. It was president Houphouat-Boigny’s native village, and when we became president, to honor his birthplace, he named it the nation’s capital and built the Our Lady of Peace basilica, roughly the same size as the dome of Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome! It’s quite strange, as one approaches Yamoussoukro, to see a giant dome rising out of tropical fields and palm trees.
It was only 10:30 but we stopped for lunch because this would be our last chance to do so at a reasonable restaurant. We stopped at Le Roi, a corner Syrian restaurant where Daniel, Ibrahim and I ordered schwarma and fries, and Paul, the traditionalist, ordered rice and sauce, “the national dish” I teased, to which he readily agreed.
After lunch, and after using the last porcelain toilet for 200 miles (at least that I know of), we headed into the bush and the roads became obviously worse. This was where a 4WD started being useful. We drove our usual route, Bouaflé, Daloa, Duékoué, Man, stopping once in Duékoué to refill the tank.
We were stopped at Daloua at a notorious police checkpoint where an officer hassled Ibrahim to try to find some minor or imagined infraction in his papers that would allow him to extract a bribe. Ibrahim had to leave the vehicle to negotiate. When he returned he told us he stood strong and didn’t pay, threatening to let them take the truck to be impounded and they’d work it out in court, but who knows.
We finally pulled into Man about 4:00, to be met by Séussié Bleu and some companions in a Peugeot 406. We shook hands and greeted everyone, and exchanged news. They then led us to the hotel, the Goulou Marie, where I have stayed on one previous occasion. It’s actually my favorite in Man. The air con works well as long as the electricity is running and the rooms are a little cleaner and functional than others I’ve used.
We took stock of what there was to do. Because Daniel’s flight home is Tuesday night, we only have Monday to make visits here, so the day will be full. We were tired from the trip, but we still had several hours of daylight, so I decided we’d dive right in and start making the rounds. We drove to the outskirts of Man for a visit with a man and his wife who have begun keeping the Sabbath and were requesting more information. They had just kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread for the first time as well. They are still associated with another Church organization, and as we talked the titular pastor arrived, feeling pretty aggressive. He took exception with an answer I gave about the nature of God, especially the Holy Spirit, and accused me of trying to destabilize them, which embarrassed the others. It seemed to me he was thinking of his job security, but I could be wrong.
We ended the visit cordially. We said we’d send more literature to delve deeper into subjects they were studying and I explained that we don’t enter cooperative relationships with other church groups, but that I’d be happy to work with them as individuals to answer their questions and help them.
Then we drove a few streets over to the home of a young couple who have been helping Séussié answer questions for new and interested people. We stopped for a moment in front of their little cinder-block house, to get acquainted. They immediately launched into a request for funding for a “project” a charity that would open doors for them to teach the truth to people. I explained that we don’t operate like most churches; we don’t do projects to open doors to preach a message. We do our best to make the gospel publicly available to those who are willing to hear and work with the individuals that God draws to us. I quoted a number of scriptures that underscore our belief. This is a topic we have to cover and recover quite frequently; it’s a very different paradigm from most of what’s out there, and it takes time for people to understand.
It was nearly 7:00 pm when we finally ended the visit. We drove back to the hotel to drop a few things, and then drove around the corner to The White House maquis
(bush restaurant), where we ordered chicken, and fish (Paul) and waited 45 minutes while it was roasted. There were no French fries available as accompaniment only attiéké, a slightly fermented cassava meal. It’s not bad, but in my opinion French fries are better….
We sat at a table on the main road as vehicles of various descriptions, including a number of white UN vehicles drove by, and as people walked by. There were many uniformed but unarmed soldiers walking around. Toward the end of the meal, a man walked up behind me. When I turned to see what he wanted, he motioned that he wanted what was left on our plates. We said he could have it all when we left and when we walked away he moved in immediately and started emptying the plates into a plastic bag.
We drove back to the hotel and agreed to meet for breakfast at 07:00 to start the day.
Today Paul arrived just after 7:00 am with a driver named Ibrahim and a 4WD, 4-door Toyota pickup with cab. The last time I went to Man and we went bouncing around the back country in a sedan, we kept losing parts and almost got stuck out in the bush as night fell. I decided then that it would be worth the extra cost to use a 4WD with a heavier suspension to make our visits.