The west coast of Africa was a notorious trading ground for European colonizers – once they arrived, they started to claim and divide the land according to what resources interested them. They drew borders around their claims and called them accordingly, ie. Gold Coast (present day Ghana) and Grain Coast (Liberia). Côte d’Ivoire doesn’t have many elephants left, and that’s probably because their tusks had all tuned into the fittings of European piano keys, but it’s the only country still referred to by it’s colonized name. Apparently the French used the coast of Côte d’Ivoire to access the sub-Saharan interior, gaining favour and support of local chiefs on the way, and for this reason were able to colonize so much of West Africa.
The French here is easy to understand, because they speak it slowly and tend to use vocabulary I understand. I speak just bad enough French that people think that if they talk quickly I won’t understand, but I can always understand when they’re talking about me right in front of me, since what I can say in French isn’t the same as what I understand in French (a blessing and a curse of speaking languages you don’t practice enough). I don’t try to convince them I’m fluent, since I’ve always said I cant carry on a discussion on politics, but then I spent an afternoon discussing why Burkinabé people are more peaceful due to a stable government.
I loved being in Abidjan. I spent nearly a week living with an Ivorian family just outside the city in a small, pedestrian village. It was called Trois Rouges, in the “police city”, and I became a local celebrity on my first morning there after giving out 20 toothbrushes and 20 pens to the neighbours kids. The next few days were spent shaking the hands of all the parents and grandparents who wanted to thank me. I wondered why it’s not this easy to make 100 new friends elsewhere with a few pens and toothbrushes, and became even happier to be where I was. I started getting used to the idea that family life is social and your private life is public. They wanted to know my love life history and entire family tree, and since food is such an important part of the day, they needed to know when I had eaten, what it was, and also when it was ready to come out so I could have the toilet and shower shared by 9 ready for me. They catered to my western needs by always following me to the toilet with toilet paper (I still haven’t figured out the plastic kettle system ) and buying singular Nescafé instant coffee packets every morning so I could have my caffeine fix.
My daily routine was not busy or stressful; I laid around in a hammock reading books on tourism and war in Côte d’Ivoire, and anytime I wanted to take a walk through the villages, I was followed by an entourage of 5-8 young men. They respected me as a sister, but begged me to ring them some big and sexy white women back for them later. Or atleast change the visa system in Europe and North America so they could go and find one themselves.