Report from UUMC member Caroline Bonner, visiting the city of Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa
July 1, 2009 - 2:20 pm
So, this is my last week in Africa. My trip has been great, but I am ready to come home. Everyone here has truly been so kind and generous in opening their lives up to me and for that I am truly grateful. This past week I visited several schools in order to see what they are like.
Their school system is very different from ours, of course, because it follows the French system. When I try to explain our school system to them, they don’t really get it and were astonished to find out that we don’t take the BAC. They also think that our school system is much easier than theirs; I told them that just because it is different, it doesn’t mean it is easier.
I visited the first Methodist school in Cote d’Ivoire. It is a primary school and was built in 1955. I think many of the supplies, such as desks and chairs/benches, look like they’re still from 1955. Many of the buildings are in great disrepair, especially the roofs. The schools here are in many buildings and all one to two-story. The ceiling tiles are gone in most of the rooms and there are holes in the tin roofs where you can see sunlight.
When it rains, classes cannot meet in these rooms. I’m not sure where they meet when they can’t be there. There is so much water damage. Something I found interesting was that all of the students live on campus in dorms, even the kindergarten students. I don’t think I would have liked being away from home for that long when I was small.
Of course, the classrooms do not have air conditioning, but are open to the outside to let in the breeze. The students were all still having classes as they await their exams. I was able to visit the classrooms at the end of the day and all of the students waited for me to come to their classes. When I entered, it was to a chorus of ‘bonjour madame’. Very sweet.
I also went to the school for the blind and visually impaired. They have some funding from the government, but it is nowhere near enough to be effective, especially in the way of technology. There is one computer for the whole campus and they only received it a couple of months ago. They have to use old typing machines to translate the written copies of worksheets into brail copies. Their copy machine is broken, so they have to send things to France in order to have enough copies of things like tests for everyone. They seem to be doing a very good job with the schools despite their limited resources and the students seem to be happy there.
I also visited a United Methodist school, which is still a work in progress, even though the school is already open. Their goal is to have closed classrooms with air conditioning, a cafeteria, classrooms where teachers can hold office hours, nice bathrooms for students, and a library. The library building should be finished within the next three months, but the problem is they don’t have any books yet. That is something I intend to work on when I get back to the US.
Well, that is all for now. Tomorrow I think we will go to Assinie and then Thursday we will go to San Pedro. Hope everyone is doing well at home and I miss everyone!
June 22, 2009
So, last week was pretty full. We went to Cocody market to look for things. I got some sandals and a Boubou (flowing wide-sleeved robe). We will go back to another market in the next week to make some more purchases. I visited some schools with Valentine, Ange, Renee and Luc. They are nothing like our schools. It all looks very sparse, with a white board at the front and rows of two-people desks. It is open, in order for there to be ventilation. AC is rarely used.
I saw where my three friends spent their secondary school days and they reminisced about the good old days. On Tuesday, I went with Renee and her father and their new in-laws from Tanzania to Yamoussoukro, the political capital of Cote d’Ivoire. They are very specific that Yamoussoukro is the political capital and Abidjan is the economic capital.
We went to Hotel President, which is the hotel the first President built. It was very nice and on the 14th floor is a restaurant and a panoramic view of the city. It was very beautiful, with the mist covering the city. It kind of gave everything a still shimmer. We then went to the Basilica, which is bigger than the one in Rome. It really was pretty incredible and it only took three years to build.
Next, we went to the first President’s residence. He had half of it built for his family and the other half for business of the state. We drove around the grounds and looked at the buildings. There are UN and resident army people everywhere with their guns, in order to help preserve the peace. They have been here since the war and security is pretty tight. Renee’s father has worked with the president before, so he was able to get us into places like the residence.
We had lunch at the home of one of their friends. I have only seen three dishes served: chicken, boiled fish and fried fish. All served with rice, alloco or attieké… and I have no idea if I spelled those words correctly.
Thursday, I went with out Valentine for a little while, then later in the evening we went to the supermarche (the grocery store) and bought some chicken, beef, vegetables, fruit and a microwave.
That night, Renee, Ange and I met up with Renee’s brother and a couple of his friends, and we went to a night club. It was pretty fun because they only played African music. I am trying to learn how to dance like an Ivoirian. I think we will go back this Thursday.
Saturday, we all went out and ran some errands with Valentine. I saw some more schools and met some Pastors. Shook a lot of hands and pretended like I could speak French. We also went to pick up one of my dresses – it is beautiful, everyone loved it and I can’t wait to show it off at home.
So, Sunday – apparently Sunday being an adventure is becoming a trend. I went to choir practice on Wednesday and Friday nights. Everything we sang was in French, of course, and there wasn’t music or words for anything. Some of the choir members sitting around me took pity and wrote words on a piece of paper for me. I was then informed that I would be singing a duet as part of the anthem on Sunday – in French.
That part went fine and everyone seemed to enjoy it, but the thing is, we didn’t sing all of the songs that we had practiced and we sang a lot of songs that we didn’t practice, so I just had to wing it and pretend like I was saying some semblance of the right words. Sometimes the choir would just break out into song randomly in the service, and here I am, in the front and center – good times! Church was only three and a half hours today, it was a short one. I also brought the offering plates down the aisle – again, I was totally lost.
Today, Monday, we went to the bush. We visited a village called Tiagba, which is by a lagoon. First, we got lost in the bush, but we met some fun people who helped us out and put us on the right path to the village. The roads were dirt, of course, with lots of holes and big water pools. It was a maze of palm trees, coconut trees, heveas (latex/rubber yielding tree), banana trees and trees that they collect sap from. I took lots of footage. The village was certainly interesting. They use the lagoon water for everything – bathing, washing, cleaning pots, cooking, drinking, bathroom… you get the idea. It’s like they think water is water and it’s always clean.
I rode in a canoe-thing that was literally made from a hollowed out log. It was fun and was more like the Africa we see in books, I guess. I was stared at a lot and there were lots of comments about ‘la femme blanche’ – the white girl.
June 14, 2009
I finally arrived in Abidjan, located on the western side of Africa, after a ridiculous travel experience. I ended up missing a flight and spending the night in Paris, France, because Continental messed up my ticket. However, I got here in one piece and so did my luggage. I arrived on Thursday night (June 11).
On Friday, I went to one of the school award ceremonies for students who had excelled during the school year. It was more like an Evangelism opportunity, but it is a Methodist school, so I guess that’s OK. After that, we went to a wedding. The bride was from Tanzania, so the ceremony was in English, which was nice, so I knew what was going on most of the time. It was a Christian wedding, so it was pretty close to what we do at home. I then went back to the house where I am staying. Later, I went with Luc-Olivier, the son of the family I am living with, and Ange, the friend that is like his brother, to the reception party.
Ange speaks pretty good English, so he helps me understands and sort of translates when it’s needed. When we returned, we all hung out in the kitchen, laughing and carrying on. There are three students who are living in the house – Simone, Agness and Bernadette. They are very kind, but English is limited, so we walk around with our French/English dictionaries.
Sunday was an adventure. We went to church around 9:30am and left at 1:30pm. It was service the entire time. In November there is a celebration of the harvest and this past Sunday was the first day in anticipation of November 15. The congregation is divided into classes, kind of like Sunday school classes, but they don’t meet as far as I know. After the sermon, each class went down the aisle dancing to music and placing their offering in a basket.
I went down with the Amonkou family, and then my mother Valentine told me that I should go down with the choir, since I would be singing with them. So, I went down the aisle with the choir and they had me stand in the front of their row and dance an organized dance with handkerchiefs. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I did it. Then I had to stand in front of the church and keep dancing and singing with them – talk about unexpected!
Oh, I also spoke in French in front of the congregation – it was OK, but I was nervous. There is no air-conditioning in general here. There are a few places with window units, including my room, but not very many other places. It was so hot in that church! Afterwards, we went home and I crashed out and took a long nap. After supper, a few of us watched dodgeball in my room on my computer.
Today, I went to the Cocody market – it was neat. There were lots of people and everything was buzzing. I took lots of pictures and some video. I don’t know if i will be able to post them because the internet in their house is not working right now. I am in an internet café, which is moderately sketchy, but it will do.
I am joining the Jubié church choir. Choir rehearsals are on Wednesdays from 7:00pm to 8:00pm – too bad they are going to try and talk to me using crazy fast French and I won’t be able to understand them. Everyone says that my French is improving, but it still isn’t great. If people can speak English, they want to speak it with me so that they can practice.
Anyway, I think I’m done writing for now. Oh, the other thing is they make me eat all the time. If I don’t clear my plate or take third helpings, they think I don’t like the food – really I’m just full. They think that we (Americans) have all of these stereotypes about Africa and they need to make sure that I don’t confirm them when I come back. I miss everyone and, even though I’m having a good time here, I can’t wait to come home! Love y’all.