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  • Writer's picturePhilippe Velings

Love at first sight for Africa (1/2)

My African adventure started quite early in my childhood.

Dad, through the brilliant influence of his best friend Jacques, begins to develop the African market for the Belgian company he works for.

For 30 years, this takes him to West Africa and as far as Central Africa.

The names of countries and cities are all dreams for the little boy that I am when I started on the African continent.

In 1985, I was 14 years old, I made my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa and it was Ivory Coast

What could be more normal, Jacques, Dad's best friend, and his wife Jeannine, my second loving Mom, have been living there for many years.

I never forget the stopover in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).

I need to breathe, I'm standing on the catwalk, at the entrance to the SABENA plane, it's around 7:30 p.m., it's dark.

I feel the heat, the tropical humidity and I discover a new smell in the air..., it is that of this universal and timeless Africa.

The first feelings, the first shivers, the start of love at first sight.

My trip lasts 15 days.

The contrasts with Europe are striking:

  • The intense life of Abidjan, a mix between structure and chaos,

  • The traditional villages after 3 hours of tracks, the feeling of traveling back in time,

  • The dense tropical forests, almost primary,

  • The fine, burning sand along the Atlantic lagoons and beaches,

  • Children still and always smiling who jump into your arms without knowing you, no psychological barriers,

  • Crocodiles sleeping along the lagoons,

  • pineapple plantations,

  • The immense cocoa crops,

It is certain, there is another life than that of Europe.

Jeannine plays her perfect role of guide and teaches me, among other things, the basics of haggling.

It sounds like a price battle, but no, it's a way of life.

Everything is discussed, but we always manage to get along in a good mood.

People are open, friendly, contacts are easy.

This human warmth is incredible.

They have the sun in the sky and the warmth in their hearts.

The human being is at the heart of the company in respect and without any judgment,... what happiness.

Jacques gives me in spite of himself some beautiful life lessons...

Let me tell you this:

Before my departure for the Ivory Coast, my parents kindly reminded me to order so that my attitude was irreproachable; being polite and helpful are part of it.

So, from the first evening at the end of the meal, I decide to help clear the table.

At first, Jacques looks at me and lets me do it but when I come back from the kitchen with a feeling of accomplished service, he calls out to me and says: "What are you doing, Philippe?"

First, I don't understand the meaning of the question and tells myself that maybe I should be like a guest, which maybe in his eyes means I don't have to do that.

But in truth, it is something quite different.

He reminds me that there are staff at home and that is their job.

The shock sentence falls: "Do you want to put them out of work?"

It's so true, if I do the work for them, he just has to put them out of work....

From the top of my 14 years, I take a beautiful lesson of life.

There, where at home in Europe, we are taught to fend for ourselves, to take charge of all aspects of our lives, I discover that there are a number of jobs that have disappeared in Europe or are reserved for wealthy families or have been replaced by machinery.

Here dishwashers, washing machines are not omnipresent.

Hence, domestic staff exists and creates respected and respectable jobs.

You won't take me twice and thank you again Jacques.

Never, I would have thought that this trip would be a crucial element in my life.

What follows will prove it...

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