From 4th to 26th of March 2013
The road out of the capital is a dangerous one. The broad show-off highways come together into a very tiny African roads and we all, trucks to Burkina Faso, trucks to Abidjan, fast luxurious jeeps and us, bicyclers are on it. If a big broad bus comes my way while he’s passing a car on his side, there’s no room for me and if I would not pay attention to the road and it’s passengers, I would be as well off as the others who didn’t care that much. Off in the ditch. Dead. Things I can not foresee are the pieces and broken parts flying around, propelled by high speeding wheels. Lucky enough not piercing me. Sixty kilometer ahead Yves’ and my road parts. He’s off to Ghana, organized as he is, already got their visa. Another 40 kilometer further I am stopped by a blockade of wind so strong I can’t cycle against, clouds are telling me to search for a place to shelter right now. I look around, all I see are constructions of roadwork, but a little house which doubles as a roadside brothel. I pitch my tent, friendly decline the offer to camp under their roof and being affectionately showered with rain, I manage to keep dry and start a new day. Fresh and very much rested after 12 hours of sleep.
I have to declare:
Following day start on the broad highway, safe enough to plug in my new bought iTunes music and with full vigor and a belly filled with a whole baguette avec omelet and a large mug full of Lipton au lait, having said good bye to Yolande, one of the working woman in the brothel, I want to reach Abidjan. And I certainly do my best. With the pace set by Oliver in my mind I cycle fast and quite constantly, but have to stop if I approach wild animals. This time it’s a wild cat, being shot of course, perhaps by the guy who walks on the highway with his gun out of his pocket. All the killed agouti’s I see have become a normal sight by now but seeing a wild cat is quite something different. I stroke it, my hand smeared with blood by the slice in it’s throat.
Cycling on the highway with it’s little traffic gives me a boost, it’s a huge contrast with the bush. I can feel the grandness of Africa better through it’s trucks and the men waving to me. Each and every truck a window with a head sticking out when they pass me: ‘A woman? On a bicycle? Mad!’ All are friendly and seems to support me, seem to find it normal although slightly unusual. A truck from my village ‘Diepstraten Terheijden’ slide my direction, I find bissap, the sweet hibiscus drink, and homemade frozen yoghurt and fill my stomach with liters of it. I eat at a busy junction, when I am hungry. Fish and atiaki, on of the delicious grated roots. The thought of going to the beautiful named city Abidjan to meet with Oliver and Brendan fills me with prospect . I am happy. I must announce: cycling with people so pleasant is a joy. I am surprised by myself how easy I find it to be in this little group, being so fond of solitude.
And although I did so much my best to reach Abidjan, I can’t, or I would enter the center in darkness. I end up with a fantastic dinner together with the Chef du Village himself, mister Jacob who doubles as the pastor in the suburb of Allokoi, 30 kilometer from Abidjan.
Mister Notable Jacob was shown to me by a young man pushing a wheelbarrow, an unusual sight as most of the wheelbarrows are pulled behind motorbikes. I asked to sleep at the school but the headmaster was a bit worried thieves and bandits and the sort would harm me, so I end up at the house of Jacob. Who asks me: ‘Why do you cycle?’ In my very limited French I could only answer only a petite sentence: ‘Ces’t un adventure’, an answer he repeat in amazed astonishment, and it sure is!
With declining a breakfast but having had a good night sleep and a shower, I move towards Abidjan, through the arches which indicate a huge city ahead, passing many military men who would love to stop me and question me with silly questions. I haul my bicycle over the wrong turn, truckers throwing their thumbs up to me. I decide to eat before I do anything else, and here, the love for Abidjan start!
One People, Different Colors
I sit down at a roadside stall, order two Lipton tea with sweetened milk, and, Ivory Coast logically, get two sandwiches with omelet. Fine. Could not be any better. The atmosphere is crazily energetic, pleasantly soothing and refreshing all at the same time. People walk past, order coffee which is quickly, neat and professionally locked up in a plastic bag, ready to take on the go. Children huddle around me, wrapped in synthetic bathing suits, perfect suitable European clothes shipped in for the African market, running away from me when their curiosity is fulfilled. The military man next to me never fulfilled, keep asking my number while I busily answer messages from Oliver who gives me directions as how to find them, all the while with Lucky Dube fantastic music loudly part of the scene.
The horny cop
Then I am off, flowing, moving, whirling and speeding through pleasantly busy traffic. Huge Maggi advertisements towering above everything else stop me in my track. Impressive buildings raise my wonderment. Many roads passing each others belly’s and backbones, leading me fairly easy to yet another Catholic Mission in the middle of the grown up city. Now, this is a healthy city, Abidjan the crown of a wealthier country than many of the nearby lands. A country which produce the best hand made mint, cacao and carrot soap. The slums are glued against the city, their men, in need to make some money, streaming towards the traffic lights, trying to sell me another pair of sunglasses, glass plates or things no one really want to buy at a traffic light. Huge advertisements catch my eyes where the ‘Katoen Natie’ trows me right back to the city I studied: Antwerp. I love this city.
I do stop sometimes to ask directions and on one of these stops a man his eyes take me up in amazement ‘I have seen you, on the highway from Yamoussoukro! You are here now? Did you take a car?’ I say I didn’t. I say I just came cycling into the city. He press the arms of his fellows and is in complete astonishment that I am able to cycle on a highway with a bicycle. Many people ask me where I go to and when I reply I go to the next town which is 50 kilometer ahead they will response with: ‘Oh, that’s too far for you, you better take a car.’ This is not because they think I am weak, this is also the reply Brendan, Oliver and Yves get to hear. Cycling is just tiresome, and actually it is in the heat we’re approaching now. Oliver and Yves can’t stand the heat anymore, Oliver swears and verbalize his discontent clearly.
The men of the country are also verbalizing their wanting. To me. About me. Men in uniforms are all too happy working at a check-post and so having power to stop me in my movement, only to ask ridiculous questions and never ask for my passport. Some of them are drunk and trying to strike me with their overruling power, some of them are in for some fun and asking doubtful questions pointing to sexual pleasures. I am not impressed, not evoked nor angry.
One of them positioning himself better against his rusty Toyota, in such a pose that his important parts, as well as his gun, are shown of. Then, after he has given me instructions as how to park my bicycle, after he settled himself at his best, he asks me: ‘Are you married?’ I honestly say ‘no’. Most of the time I lie about it and say that I am married, and always to the guy who’s in front of me, often Oliver. And Oliver never lies. Then the cop ask me: ‘Do you have baby’s?’ I again reply with the same answer. His eyes widen, his hope grows faster then the many possibilities formed in his mind. He thinks, stumbles over his sentences, then says ‘vous etes un femme extra ordinateur!‘ He comes a tiny bit closer, his hands touching mine when he gives me his number and details, ‘lieutenant Dihi G. Medard, Officier de Gendarmeri’ wants me to call him as soon as I reach the capital so he will visit me. He will take me out for dinner. In his very own car. ‘Just call me ány time and I’ll be there’. And I know he will. His posture provokes me to imagine him without his uniform. Luckily I don’t succeed, except on speeding quickly, quickly away!
Abidjan, you got my love!
Right into the Catholic Mission where Oliver and Brendan are. From the outside it is not recognizable as where the church is, I notice it by the massive stream of people in their most beautiful clothes: this must be it! I give the Irish a phone call and in his most beautiful synthetic Irish football T-shirt Oliver welcomes me into the church. It is Sunday and as a token of appreciation we all attend mass. Right from the saddle into the wooden benches I sit happily and content between my dear cycle friends. Dressed in a sunlight faded shirt, tied here and there to give it some shape, together with a Chinese legging-alike underwear pants, synthetic as well, Oliver finds my style dreadful. I think it is. I degrade my Chinese underwear to bikini until I trow it away.
Mass takes 2 full hours. All in French. It’s about marriage and being a good partner. I enjoy all the different colors of Africa, and there are many, not only in dresses but also in skin tones. Many Lebanese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Far Eastern and European people living in West Africa contributing to a beautiful mix of people. Children in different grades of brown, standing against each other, got my gaze all mass long. I watch the beautiful style in Afro coiffure and am delighted when suddenly we shake hands with all the surrounding people. It’s a beautiful gesture. I almost feel like I am in an ashram.
Done for the 8 days.
I like Abidjan. I like it so much I cycle through the city almost every day, 115 kilometer in total. Brendan works on his bicycle which by now has a cracked rim, changed for a Chinese one. Oliver has even more problems on his Surly bicycle and has to replace the rim and the hub and the chain and the shifter. Both are troubled a terrible lot by punctures of all sorts. Their brother has send them a parcel, making them into self-acting mechanics, their rooms into a greasy workplace. My Catholic room a heaven of cleanliness and order, where Indian incense is pouring out, accompanied by devotional satsang, which draws Brother Wolfgang, who has been to India as well . I am at home.
However much I like Abidjan, it dawns on me how much I belong to India, how much I miss it, when Brendan and me enter an Indian restaurant to find out their too high prices. Yet, I do enjoy where I am, the streets without light, without covering. No tourist to be seen, white people being Lebanese, being deeply unified, born here. This city is a mix of people, many colors, all so beautiful. Almost all Ivorian being slender and well shaped, healthy and strong looking, relaxed and amazingly friendly, as if we are one of them. Ivorian are not pushy, never asking. Sitting in the backstreets is like sitting in a movie scene. With a smile on my face I watch the scene where I am part of. Being together with Brendan and Oliver feels natural and I keep realizing how comfortable these guys are. Even I melt to paraffin wax in it’s hands, getting softer, easier and yet more energetic.
The city and it’s cultural mix of people let us enjoy the luxuries of colorful ice cream in a cold conditioned ice cream parlour and big tasty pizza’s for my birthday at the Lebanese until our desire for the cheap local food fires up, and finding herbal tea from Niger makes us just as happy.
Abidjan brings more of us, cyclists in Africa, together. I get to meet Tim at the Ghana embassy, a cyclist whom Brendan and Oliver met in the Sahara, and the third person to be invited in the cheap Catholic Mission. I get to know Tim at his weakest: he suffers malaria and it takes him four days to get the correct medication. And then a week more to get over it. It feels like leaving a badly wounded soldier behind when Oliver and me cycle on to Ghana. Nurse Brendan takes care for Tim, a very enthusiastic German, I find out later.
Around the beautiful blossom of the new day at 7 o’clock, after having an enormous breakfast of a plate full of spaghetti with a two egged omelet and two soup mugs of Lipton tea with sweetened milk, I only need to eat again in the late afternoon. This must sooth Oliver as he’s a no frills kind of cyclist: food and rest is for people like myself. And so, being waxafied, I try to eat as much as possible in order to eat not too often. It doesn’t even bother me. It’s becoming a very pleasant ride, where without hills, I am also going fast and steady so we are able to stick together. Oliver and me must be an enjoyable play to watch. Oliver’s mood can only be described as ‘Moody Farmer’ and when we do stop, at the end of the day to have our second meal, after cycled about 100 kilometer, I am happy to be with the Moody Farmer. In his act I get beaten, strengthen by a good act of an unfriendly treatment, which makes the locals laugh out warmly. And I am just having fun, having a wonderful romantic evening because we set up camp between the palm trees while the sun colors the clouded sky where the moon manage to pierce through. And when I am making masala tea I am unknown that Oliver soon is going to hand me over a sandwich with avocado, bejeweled with salt and pepper. Retiring to our comfortable mattresses, unseen from the road far in front of us, I realize how great it is to discover people.
The following morning we again take a boat across the lagoon, struggle through a beach town with loose sand while some mental guy give me robust advise as where to push my cycle exactly. He’s so irritating that I ask him to do it himself if he know it all so much better, so he keeps a distance but doesn’t stop his support. He continues screaming from a distance until we are on the beach. No path in sight, only an immensely broad and quiet beach. On to Ghana…