The Façade – Part 2

Ébrié Lagoon and Pont Charles de Gaulle in front. To the left at the end of the bridge: Grand Hotel, where I took the previous picture. The white tower on the right is the newly refurbished and extremely expensive Hotel Ivoire.

Abidjan: Ébrié Lagoon and Pont de général De Gaulle (I kid you not) in front. To the far left: Grand Hotel, where I took the previous picture. The white tower on the right is part of the newly refurbished and extremely expensive Hotel Ivoire.

 

The next stop from the border on an increasingly impassable road is a nondescript town called Ouangolodougou, where we have a customs station. We are told to leave the bus and walk to a crossroads nearby. Regulars on this route have no qualms leaving most of their stuff behind, unsupervised. And sure enough, a mere ten minutes later the bus re-appears from behind the building where it had been parked and we all pile in again.

There is no way the entire contents of the holds could have been checked on whatever it was they were looking for.

‘Something has been arranged?’ I enquire innocently.

‘Sure.’

Common practice. Senegalese and Malian customs officers go through the contents of an incoming bus with a comb, taking all the sweet time in the world, because they are looking for things to steal. The Burkinabè, once again, less so but nothing has in my experience matched the seriousness, thoroughness and professionalism of the Senegalese drug police in Casamance, who check every outgoing bush taxi en route to Guinea Bissau meticulously. They look for drugs and do not lay a finger on your belongings.

Not so their colleagues in Côte d’Ivoire. Barely out of the ordinary customs station’s gate or the bus comes to a halt again. What on god’s green earth is it this time? Chaps in T-shirts (it is very hot) order the hold opened again and proceed to take luggage off the bus. Including, as I happen to see, my suitcase. By the time I am on my way to the scene, a package with cloth that I was requested by a neighbour to bring to a relative in Abidjan has been laid aside.

First of all, you do such a thing in the presence of the passenger. Had I not been seated on the same side as my luggage and decided to stay on board, that little package would have disappeared.

‘What’s the problem?’

‘Is this your luggage?’

‘Yes it is. What’s the problem?’

‘Have you declared this? Drug Police Officer asks me, pointing at the innocuous package.

He knows he’s bullshitting.

The whole bus knows he’s bullshitting.

I know he’s bullshitting.

Everybody knows he’s bullshitting.

The thing to do now is to ensure that he doesn’t lose face and I don’t lose my package to a taxpayer-funded thief.

‘That’s just a package that goes from one relative to another. Is there a problem with that? It’s a family thing.’ Safest route. Always invoke family; nothing is more sacred and held in more esteem than the extended family. Even religion doesn’t come close.

The prospect of easy loot is fading. Dozens of people are overhearing the conversation and the bus company’s luggage loader is nearby. He uses gentle persuasion.

‘Chef…’

Everybody knows that Drug Police Officer is the least and the last deserving of this title. But it is the correct and respectful term to use. He relents. Hilarity ensues when on entering the bus and out of earshot I declare that I have prevented a case of theft.

 

A little background to this madness in Part 3.

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