Travel

Abidjan: First Impressions & Why I’m Not Returning to Nigeria

August 26, 2017

My brother, Mayowa, and I are currently in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, working a project that’s near and dear to our hearts. The initial groundwork has been completed, and we just need some time to plan, scheme and put things together! We knew we wanted somewhere in West Africa, and preferably with a culture not TOO close to Nigeria’s. Dakar, Accra and Cotonou were all on our short list, but Abidjan made it to the top because it was Francophone, the ticket price was reasonable and we’d heard great things about it!

And now I understand why people rave about Ivory Coast so much. This is now the 4th West African country I’ve visited and I have to say it’s my favorite so far. Granted, I’ve only been here a few days, but here are my first impressions of this beautiful city!

Things WORK

The very first thing we noticed about Abidjan is that, to an extent, things seems to function. Right from the airport, we had to get a yellow fever vaccination (Mayowa hadn’t had one before, and I didn’t have my card) which was a very straight forward process with price and explanation clearly posted. Before leaving the airport, we noticed one of Mayowa’s hand luggage was missing – the flight attendant had moved it further down the plane since it didn’t fit above our heads. Near the lost and found, we found someone that worked for another airline and he tracked down our bag for us AND he didn’t ask for any money. AND he did it all with a smile and while teasing me for dancing in the airport. When we were waiting for the bag, we were taking pictures, this man got close to me and started asking me lots of questions. When it was clear that I was uncomfortable, he identified himself as police, asked a few more questions, then went about his life.

People actually went around the subtle round about.

These all seem like little things, but having just come from Nigeria, they are HUGE. You simply wouldn’t have interactions like this Lagos. By this time, about 15 people would have tried getting money from you. The police man would have been shouting and trying to intimidate the answers out of you and then would have wanted money to leave you alone. The lost and found guy would have just told you to wait for someone from Air Cote d’Ivoire to show up (their office was empty) and definitely wouldn’t have used his own credit to call his colleague. If you don’t agree with me, please let me know below! I’d love to be proven wrong. I also know that Cote d’Ivoire, civil society isn’t all the way where it should be either, but from my few days here, it’s certainly better than Nigeria’s.

abidjan airport
In addition to people just explaining who they were, clear signs for the price of vaccination and relatively easy process to find our bags, my initial impression of the infrastructure here is also MUCH better than Nigeria. That said, I haven’t seen ALL of Abidjan, but our drive from the airport to where we are staying (M’Badon), was painless, particularly since there were no potholes! In addition, where we are, light and water is constant! That’s HUGE because even in the government quarters in Abuja, you can lose light up to three times a day. And this area is definitely NOT government quarters.

In addition, at the supermarket, there seems to be an expectation that you will bring your own bag! I definitely like that. Although, I haven’t been able to figure out how to recycle our plastic water bottles yet.

If any Ivorians are reading this, I’m sure you might think I’m seeing a sugar coated version of your country, and perhaps I am, but just know that you’re already doing way better than Nigeria. So whatever you are doing, keep it up and I pray that your country continues to move upwards and forwards. Amen.

People are SO nice

I never really understood when people would say “the locals are SO nice.” I always thought: “How can you just decide a whole city or country is nice?” Clearly I just hadn’t been to a locale where people actually WERE nice!! I know for a fact that no one has gone to Nigeria and returned saying “oh my goooosh, the locals are SOOOO nice….” if you did, you need to unshine your eyes boo…or maybe you were in a super remote village the whole time, who knows!

Also in Dakar, Senegal, known for its “Taranga,” I did NOT feel it at all. Taranga, loosely translated, means “hospitality.” While I met several people that took me in like one of their own, and met other nice people along the way, I definitely did not leave with the sense that “oh my gosh, everyone is so nice!” Far from it! I was there on a school program, and some of the Black girls, and definitely one Asian-American girl that was constantly harassed, would DEFINTIELY agree with me; whereas, I feel most of the white girls would disagree with me – so read into that what you want. All I know is that, yes there were very awesome people in Dakar, but I was NOT feeling the Taranga.

abidjan children laughing

Better customer service:

Alternatively, here in Abidjan, the majority of people I’ve met are very pleasant and the customer service is WAY better than both Nigeria and Senegal. People here seem engaged with their job and attentive to their customers. For example, this girl fell down the stairs as she was welcoming me to the shop, and after she finished laughing was still determined to help me find a good wine.

In Nigeria, the best way to describe any customer service personnel, whether at a restaurant or a government office, is APATHY. Some even act like they are doing YOU a favor. People behind the counter can really ruin ordering pizza for you. [That said, I’ve met some REALLY nice customer service personnel, but again, I’m talking about MAJORITY, not trying to imply everyone is this way].

abidjan market

People mind their own business:

So back to Abidjan. People just don’t seem miserable here. They are patient and kind and will smile at Mayowa’s limited French and my terrible grammar but they will still help us. And another thing that has been interesting is that not that many people have asked where I’m from. My French is bad enough that I’m sure they have guessed I’m not Francophone, and I usually turn to explain something to Mayowa in English. Despite that, hardly anyone asks where we are from.

Par Contraire, many Nigerians, as soon as they hear my accent, lose their minds! We cannot move on with the conversation (even if it’s just trying to buy akara and bread), until they have found out exactly why I sound the way I sound. Many have acted indignant and rude saying they don’t understand me, when we are both speaking English. 

Similar to not asking about where I’m from, people here in Abidjan just seem to mind their own business more. The men don’t stare as hard. I haven’t been catcalled. Everyone leaves my brother alone when he’s taking pictures. They might act camera shy, but they don’t run away, and they don’t threaten to break his camera. They’ll stare at us a bit, but they won’t ask questions or demand we put it away. The only person that has seemed annoyed without picture taking was a restaurant owner – but perhaps she feared we were doing some kind of recon work. And although it was obvious she was mad, she still tried her hardest to ask nicely why we were taking photos, rather than just demanding we stop. I even crashed a wedding and snapped a few beautiful shots!

The exceptions:

Granted I’ve met a few shop owners that were impatient, but there are mean or moody people everywhere. Only three people have really made me roll my eyes: our taxi driver from the airport, a comment the friend of our Airbnb host said, and a gateman to our building. When we were negotiating the taxi fare, the taxi man suddenly said he shouldn’t be negotiating with me because African women are supposed to be calm and quiet and in the kitchen. He wants to negotiate with my brother. I replied too bad, you’re negotiating with me. Later in the ride, he told me I was like a white woman. He was shouting across to another taxi man, and I deduced from their conversation that the other taxi driver was Senegalese, so I shouted across as well and greeted him in Wolof. The taxi driver looked surprised and told me I was like a white woman (I guess for being so forward?). I told him he had never met Nigerian women if he thinks all African women are quiet. But to be honest, it’s great compliment!

Arguing with a whole taxi fleet. None of them would take my price, but our taxi man was all the way at the back and reluctantly agreed. Guess he never had to negotiate with a Nigerian woman before.

The friend of the Airbnb host, was explaining the cleaning supplies to me, then said “oh, but you’re a woman so you know!” I just rolled my eyes. When we were leaving, I got into the front seat of the taxi, and my brother got into the back seat. That seemed to amuse him and he made a comment about it, but I didn’t really pick up more than “interrestant….femme…” and his gestures. Then the gateman – there was a different one over the weekend. This new one ignored me the three times I exited and re-entered even though I said hi to him once. Then finally I came down with my brother, and he jumped to greet him and say hello and shake his hands and I just couldn’t believe it.

But sexist men aren’t going to ruin my experience here, or anywhere for that matter.

The place is beautiful!

And of course, Abidjan is just beautiful! There’s a lot of snap worthy scenes and great views to take it. I love the mixture of colors here and even an over cast sky look gorgeous! There are pops of green and orange and everywhere. While the foliage is of course green, the pops of orange and some of the greens are very deliberate and mirror the Ivorian flag. Houses and store fronts are colorful and people dress in very colorful clothing. That, against the back drop of the grey concrete of construction and overcast skies has been eye candy and photographer paradise!

 

 

I’m definitely looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful city and what it has to offer! Stay tuned, and if you have any suggestions or questions, please drop them below! And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to stay up to date on my adventures!

Always,

Omolayo Nkem

All photos without my logo were taken by Mayowa Ojo. All copyrights applied to this site apply to those photos as well. Please do not use without attributing to the photographer. Thank you. 

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