Parlez Vous Anglais?
It’s been almost two weeks since we arrived in Abidjan and I’m still unsure if we are supposed to call it Ivory Coast or Cote D’ivoire. Anyhow, We had never heard anything about Cote D’Ivoire prior to our visit, however, we were excited to see what the country had to offer. As we flew into the country, we saw the sheer beauty of this West African country. From the lush landscape to the beautiful beaches. From above it was breathtaking. Once we landed, we collected our belongings and we were off to explore one of West African’s most developed cities, Abidjan.
Word to the wise, get to know some Ivorians before to plan a visit to Cote D’ivoire, especially if you don’t know French. We arrived with no ability to speak the primary language and really no plan of what we would be doing during out three week stay. Not the best move on our part, but you live, you learn, and we figured we could just use the internet to formulate a game plan.
Day one in Abidjan was quite interesting. When we woke up we noticed the Wi-Fi at our Airbnb was not working and we hadn’t purchased local SIM cards to access internet on our phones. No internet, no beginning French app, no translation app, and no contacts! However, the Parks are rarely discouraged by setbacks. We decided we would do what we could to get out and see the city so we attempted to take a taxi downtown. We tried to explain to the taxi driver and our concierge that we wanted to go downtown and they just looked at us with puzzled faces as we “chopped and screwed English/French.” After failing miserably to get our point across, we hopped into another taxi and managed to find our way downtown. However, when we arrived everything was closed but we got to see a big catholic church (see below). That was pretty much the highlight of the day! (insert sad face here)
|St. Paul Catholic Church Abidjan|
After being in Abidjan for a few days, we had been mainly confined to the house attempting to watch TV in French and no subtitles. As we would soon learn from an Ivorian family, Ivorians go to work, go to school, and go home. Abidjan being the business capital of the country, is not good for young families unless you’re a home body or like to party all night long. We have heard that the nightlife is highlight of being here. Unfortunately for us, staying home all the time is just not an option when you have a rambunctious 4-year old boy who wants to jump, run, shout, and play all day. We desired to find something to do to keep him entertained and us sane. We placed him in Taekwondo at a local school, headed over to the zoo, and bowled at the mall. But the options are limited! We started to question our decision to visit Abidjan.
|Brother Frank Toh and Family|
Social media is a powerful tool, when used correctly, and has the ability to connect people. It only took one FB post about our discouraging feelings for us to be connected with some wonderful people. That FB post turned this trip around for us! Soon we received multiple messages from our beloved followers giving us encouragement and one provided contact information for a family that lives here. The following day we connected brother Frank (Ivorian but raised in the states) and his family. We met up at Abidjan mall and had a great conversation, while our kids played their hearts out in the play area. So far, they have connected us with a former Ivorian diplomat to discuss land, we worked out together, and even met and broke bread with their extended family.
The dinner with Frank’s extended family generated an interesting and educational conversation. During the conversation his uncle stated, “Your people (meaning African Americans) have fought so hard for the life you enjoy in America today, but you come here wanting to live. Although, I welcome you home, I’m just wondering why you wouldn’t stay in America to continue the fight for your people there? Almost like you’re running away like Africans do when they leave Africa for America or Europe.” This idea of “running away” has been a topic of discussion since leaving America. We have been accused by some of our African American brothers and sisters of running away from the issues in the black community back in America. However, it was shocking to hear it coming from a continental African. The fact that he referred to African Americans as “your people” only illustrates the huge disconnect between continental Africans and Africans born in America. But that’s a conversation for another day. After explaining our thoughts on why staying in America to “fight the good fight” was a waste of our time and lives, we simply asked, “Why is it when black people decide to do something for their own well-being, and something that brings them joy, we are selfish or turning our backs on the black community? Whereas when other ethnicities decide to do the same thing, they are courageous, exploring the world, or just living life. In that moment, we had all realized that there is a double standard that needs to be addressed in our communities. The conversation would have been never ending, but after about 4 hours, we called it a night after exchanging contact information and hugs.
|Brother Frank's Uncle and Cousins|
After leaving that night, we received a text message telling us how much they had learned from our conversation and how they were happy that we had chosen to “come home.” These types of moments and conversations are one of the reasons why we feel our journey was the right decision for us. Just having people to communicate and commune with has given this trip a whole new light. Over the next couple of days, we have plans to explore other cities within the country with our new friends. We are looking forward to getting away from the business hub and checking out the natural beauty that exists more inland. Until next time……