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  • Writer's picturePhilippe Velings

Love at first sight for Africa (2/2)

1999, I am 28 years old, it is already 14 years since I made my first trip to Ivory Coast.

I decided to go back there for the end of year celebrations.

Mom is accompanying me and Dad is due to join us on December 24 at the end of his 2nd annual African tour.

Again, right out of the plane, the heat, the tropical humidity and that timeless smell go straight to my guts and shivers run through my whole body.

I no longer have the same look as 14 years ago.

The teenager has become a man and works.

I am in the observation of the organization of the Ivorian society more than in the permanent amusement of the first discoveries during the first initiatory journey.

Despite this other look, I find all the elements of the first trip.

The hectic life of Abidjan,

The sense of the human through an intense community life,

Nature and time passing without the watch but with sunrise and sunset.

Definitely, Africa is very different and I like that.

I find there a sense of humanity that corresponds to me.

The desire to change things in the European way sometimes crosses my mind but quickly the question of "why" catches up with me.

Why would you want to ensure that here too the activities, the organization of society, community life function as in Europe.

What a great mistake to think that and what right would I have to impose my European way of life.

The planet would be very sad if we all lived the same way.

Long live cultures as long as they do not constrain men to their individual development.

Despite the economic difference with Europe, Ivorians do not complain, they live life to the full and much more in the present moment.

This present moment that we tend to lose in our European lives based on permanent planning for the future based on endless growth.

This growth that pushes us to never be satisfied with what we have and therefore to the need to want more.

In Ivory Coast, advertising slogans reflect this state of mind.

I do not forget that of the most popular beer in the country; "At low morale, you have to drink Simba".

This second trip is prolonged, despite myself, by 4 days.

Indeed, soldiers returning from a mission of UN blue helmets, decide to take up arms and partly power in order to claim their balances which they have not received for several months.

This leads to a curfew and therefore confinement at home.

But I still remember that crazy afternoon of December 24, 1999 when the scuffles started.

Mom and I take Jeannine to her game of bridges, which she plays weekly with a few friends in the hushed salons of the Hôtel Ivoire.

After having visited the impressive 5-star hotel a bit, we decide to go to the city center, called the "plateau", to do some shopping.

At the entrance to the hotel, the staff quickly stop us and forbid us to go into town because there is gunfire.

The information is not yet clear but it speaks of a kind of coup d'etat.

We are confined to this magnificent hotel.

We discover that there is a movie theater and what could be more normal to redo “The Lion King” which is showing there in order to “kill” time.

Once the session is over, we find Jeannine waiting for us in the lobby.

We decide to go home despite the not very clear information on the current events.

I drive the car but not everything goes perfectly.

Arrived at the first roundabout, at the exit of the hotel, rebellious soldiers are busy gently getting the passengers out of a large 4-wheel drive car in order to borrow it in the more or less long term....

In view of this situation, in our little Peugeot 106 which no one is interested in, Jeannine orders me to listen to her and obey her finger and eye.

Message understood, I execute....

We take the roundabout in the opposite direction and we rush into the streets of the residential area where the house of the presidency is located, among other things.

Left, right, straight ahead, the orders fly and we arrive on the main boulevard which takes us across the large Charles de Gaulle bridge.

Finally, we arrive home more easily than first imagined.

It's Christmas Eve.

Dad is due to arrive tonight but given the circumstances, we don't know if his plane will be able to land at Félix Houphouët Boigny International Airport.

Félix Houphouët Boigny, president of Ivoru Coast from independence in 1960 until 1993, had succeeded in developing the country, establishing stability there with an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Unfortunately, since his death political life has been rather chaotic.

But that's another story.

Against all expectations, we are surprised by the arrival of a taxi and to see Papa there get out.

Despite the closure of the airport and the curfew, he manages to reach the house of Jacques and Jeannine.

I don't know how much he paid the driver but he's there and that's the most important thing.

He landed with the last plane before the airport was closed by the rebellious soldiers.

On this evening of December 24, the table was ready for 10 people and here we are at 5 because the others cannot join us.

We still decide to celebrate Christmas, not without being sometimes disturbed by a few bursts of Kalashnikovs fired into the air on the main boulevards to remind us that the military still has control of the city.

The first night of confinement is not going very well for me.

Despite myself, dark thoughts cross my mind.

Are we going to be evacuated by C130s and Belgian or French soldiers?

How long will all of this last?

The images jostle in my head and prevent me from falling asleep.

Fortunately, the next day, things become clearer and we understand that it is not a coup d'etat but rather a justified rant from some soldiers in need of money, even if the method is questionable.

Despite these events, my stay is going well and my deepening of the Ivorian culture delights me.

Again and again, the sense of humanity and dense nature gives me intense energy.

I feel good.

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