Posts Tagged ‘maquis’

Abidjan miniatures 8 and end

December 31, 2020

Abidjan is probably the easiest place on earth to find a taxi. They beep at you incessantly the second you place yourself on the pavement, even when you just want to cross the street. They are, in fact, louder and more insistent than their colleagues in Dakar but somehow manage to be less annoying, mostly because in this city literally EVERYONE is making noise… So: taxi. Within seconds.

The driver fills his seat to overflowing and he has positioned his corpulent self like someone on an extended relaxing holiday. But he is most assuredly at work and does not miss a beat when manoeuvering his orange Toyota through the throng in this, the busiest part of the city. And in the meantime: he talks, virtually non-stop. “See this traffic jam?” Er, yes, I do. We are in it. A long procession of private vehicles, blue wôro-wôro, buses, taxis (including mine), vans, gbaka stands still and does not move. This may be a looong ride…

“You see? These people are not even leaving Yopougon. They’re on their way to the next maquis. Everything is here! You want beer, there’s beer. You want food, there is food. You see that bar over there?” He points to his right, across a pavement, lined with food stalls and busy like a bus station. “Yes, that one. Now! When that maquis on the other side closes…” he points to his left: amidst blocks of apartments I spot part of an open space packed with tables and chairs and I pick up the sound of a band that is clearly attempting to top L’Internat in the decibel production department. You only have ONE guess as to the music it plays

“Yes – that’s the place I mean,” my guide and driver continues. “Now. When that maquis closes everybody crosses the road to come here. You see the girls getting ready?” He was not only referring to the ones selling food. “This is the new Rue Princesse, you see? After they had knocked down the old one they all came over here.” Rue Princesse, for the uninitiated, is the busiest street in the area, where boys with money meet drinks meet food meet girls looking for a good time and some money (and maybe even the other way around)… hence the name. You may, by now, have reached the conclusion that the urge to turn life into one giant party is irrepressible here and you would be right.

After an interminable ride through Yopougon we emerge onto one of the three bridges that give access to the six-lane motorway that is part of the giant motorway system linking all constituent parts of this giant city. There’s always a bit of anarchy going on here, to put it mildly. My driver, forever slouched in his seat, belly protruding as we hurtle along, explains that there’s a lot of accidents happening on this stretch of road (in fact I saw an overturned gbaka minibus on the way in) because people don’t keep their distance.

Neither does he, as he alternates between one line of fast moving vehicles and another…

Angré. Oh dear…are you really going back there…?

“So Angré it is where you’re going, right? But there’s nothing there! No life!” The traffic starts thinning out as we get to our exit lane into Cocody, leading to the Boulevard that takes us to Angré. There’s still a bunch of cars about but nothing in the way that Yopougon was crowded. My driver is almost triumphant as he weaves his way in and out of smooth flowing traffic on the two-lane boulevard. “See? Told you! Nothing here! The bosses are sleeping!” It is just after 10pm and we are, indeed, entering a more affluent part of the city. “Now, in Yopougon, hm, you will see people out and about at midnight. One, two, three in the morning. Yes! And do you know why there are so many banks in Yopougon? Simple: when people are having a good time and the money runs out, there’s always one who will say: ah, let me just pop over to the bank and get some more money for our next beers…? You see? But here….”

But then some doubt creeps into his discourse. “Look, I am working really long hours to get some money and then I pass those maquis – every day of the week, and the same guys sit there at eleven pm, twelve midnight, three am…and they are supposed to work the next day? Of course not. And then the next day…I see them again! Where do they get all that money from? I don’t quite understand…” It is likely that the equally ubiquitous Western Union agencies have something to do with that seemingly endless flow of money…

And then he drops me off in far too quiet, empty and miserable Angré. And he almost feels sorry for me. “Look at you, I’m leaving you in this stone dead neck of the woods and look at me and where I am going: back to life, back to joy, back to good food and plenty drinks and gorgeous princesses…” Do I get the picture?

Yes. Certainly. I do. See you soon in this city, enjoyable and exasperating, full of life, noise, crime and grime but in possession of copious amounts of Never Say Die. I will be back.

An Excellent New Year to You All.

Abidjan miniatures 6

December 29, 2020

Here’s a picture. Take a look. Yes, Cocody wôrô-wôrô driving past, well spotted. In the middle but a bit removed from the front you can see a tower. It is attached to one of those oversized church buildings that have gone up all over Abidjan. If they did not act as places of worship, they’d be concert venues; they can easily accommodate 3,000; and a lot more standing up. Service can start as early as Friday evening, carry over into Saturday and find its apotheosis on Sunday, when proceedings can go on all day. It was one fine Sunday morning when I was making an attempt to cross the street in the centre of this picture when a cheerful young lady came walking in the opposite direction and greeted me with a heartfelt “Bonjour le Blanc! Jésus vous aime!”

Now bring your gaze a little to the front of the picture and you will see that large white building on the left. It is home to a row of shops, a supermarket and there is also a car wash streetside. Between the car wash and that row of shops there is an open triangular space. What do Ivorians do with an open space? They fill it up with tables and chairs, put a fridge somewhere and start selling cold beers. Soon, the tables and chairs are surrounded in a most friendly manner by a series of open air kitchens where people busy themselves with preparing roast chicken, roast fish, atiéké, alloco, rice, all manner of sauces, brochettes, and even pigeons. While the tables get stacked with clients’ beer bottles, smoke rises and the smell of roast chicken, fish and beef fills the air. In short: it becomes a maquis.

Now, I want you to take a look at the name of the building. INCH’ALLAH. Close to a church and overlooking a large open air bar. I like that. It is yet another symbol, testament to a capacity for living together and religious tolerance that I challenge you to find to a similar degree somewhere else.

Simplistic reports on the Ivorian conflict in the Dutch press a decade ago referred to the issues at hand as a fight between ‘The North’ and ‘The South’, a proxy for a religious conflict: Christian versus Muslim. Which of course explains the presence of a huge cathedral on the northern side of Le Plateau, Abidjan’s central business district, and an equally impressively sized mosque on the southern side, with plenty more of both dotted all around the city.

Let’s be clear: the list of unresolved issues that could potentially still bring harm to this country is long. Failed national reconciliation, failed reform of the security forces, the obstinate refusal to address the problem of the yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots, the circulation of unregistered arms and the presence of armed gangs of various stripes in different parts of the country, political polarisation, the risk of communal violence, land ownership…….. But religious strife: no. Can’t see that happening.

However, I am loath to turn this into a tract on the kind of religious tolerance that is the norm in this part of the world, in spite of what you may have been told. So just bring your gaze down from the top of the INCH’ALLAH building and have a look at that open air triangular maquis. Where the following scene took place one fine evening, not long ago…


He was walking very slowly, meandering past the tables and chairs. I was sitting at one of them, under a parasol because of the alternating sun and rain. I had been going past the line of cooking places, eliciting the usual good-natured comments when this weirdest of weird phenomena, a White chap without a vehicle, comes sauntering past.

One young guy shouted: “Bonjour, le Blanc! Ya volaille ici, hein…” Pigeons, in fact.

Two women were trying to sell me roast chicken but then suddenly stopped and pointed accusing fingers at my T-shirt. What’s wrong with it…Errrrrrrr …you do realise, do you not, that you’re wearing your T-shirt back to front…? Oops. Quick brisk walk – as briskly as my back will allow – to hotel room may in order. Thank you ladies.

And elderly Muslim man was busy getting a fire going, looking out for customers, putting all manner of items into their right place and selling brochettes.

I got back, having sorted out the offending T-shirt and sat down. Ordered a beer. Bought chicken and atiéké and fresh pepper and that lovely tomato-relish. Finished it. Had another beer. And then I saw him again, still manoeuvering gingerly among the tables and making sure he did not stray too close to the food departments. You could see why as he approached. His jacket was threadbare and dirty. Ditto his trousers. Cheap Chinese flip-flops. He had nothing but a few rotten teeth remaining and his hair was untidy, which is a sin in West Africa but inevitable when you are sleeping rough. And then I became aware of a faint sound. Tink-tinkatink-katink-tinkatink… Not your easiest rhythm. 

I could not determine where it was coming from. Until he shuffled closer and I saw he was holding a small empty bottle in one hand close to his body and a bottle top in the other. With the bottle top he tapped on the glass, in a complex rhythm that may have come from the forested Western regions of the country; rhythms that carry across borders and go into Guinea and Liberia.

And he sang, in a very soft voice. In French mostly, which became audible when he got ever closer. And then I noticed he was not just singing anything. He was improvising words on the spot. A round and well-dressed character in sunglasses occupying the table next to me got a compliment for his riches and perhaps could he share a little…?

And then it was my turn. It went something like this, with him sing-speaking in a melody that followed the rhythm of the tinkling.

“Good evening mister White Man.

Where do you come from?

You have come from far to see us.

Thank you for your kindness and generosity.

May God give you a long and healthy life…”

I gave him a little something and he smiled his ochre smile. Once again, he wished me a long, healthy and this time also prosperous life. And then slowly, never stopping his rhythm with the bottle and the bottle top, he shuffled away, past the line of smoking kitchens, to the next set of tables.