There is no doubt that I stick out like a sore thumb in the Ivory Coast. A country pretty much devoid of tourism isn’t going to contain many Europeans, Americans, Asians, apart from the odd expat who has moved here for work. Considering I’m living with a local lady, I don’t live anywhere near the big hotels or the areas in which you’d be likely to find expats, thus increasing my (already high) chances of being noticed in the street.
I live outside the “expat bubble” and so I could say I’m (pretty much) the only white girl who uses public transport, who goes to local markets, who eats in “maquis”(street restaurants) and definitely the only one who carries a six-pack of 2 litre water bottles all the way home due to a lack of car. (The shop assistant carried the water outside for me, only for me to tell him I didn’t have a car – he looked at me astonished as I took the water pack from him, lifted it up into my arms and walked off into the distance. I received a few more strange looks as I made my way home. A white girl doing manual labour? Crazy.)
However being noticed in Abidjan doesn’t simply mean being stared at. People want to say hi to me, to have a conversation with me, while others will yell across the street to me “La Blanche! Ça va?”. I have found my “admirers” to be of two types. The first and largest category is without a doubt the single Ivorian men.
I met my first eligible bachelor when I was lost and looking for the British Embassy, which is located in probably the only part of town which is so calm that there is not a soul in the street to ask for directions. Not a soul that is, apart from Sam the Student, who noticed I was lost, was very helpful and guided me to the door of the embassy, and after a pleasant chat asked for my number. I felt rude refusing someone who had been so kind to me and thus obliged.
Bachelor number two was Mike the Policeman. Yes a policeman on duty stopped me in the street to ask me for my name and my number. I didn’t feel comfortable, but who am I to say no to a policeman. I don’t want to get into trouble. Can’t give a wrong number either as these clever Ivorians will check the number works before you’re able to walk away.
Then Bachelor number three came along. By this point I was waiting. I knew exactly what he was up to when he started humming a tune behind me, catching my attention. Apparently he had spotted me from afar (not hard to do) and came running after me to catch up. He told me I was beautiful (I saw right through him) and he asked for my number. Now. This is when I learnt to say no. However “no” is apparently not an acceptable answer when someone has run after you, and running after a girl is supposedly enough of a reason for her to give you her number… Hmm I was having none of it, but continued to pleasantly chat to him. I have to be nice to everyone here see, as it’s very plausible that they will recognise me again in the street at a later date, even if I don’t recognise them.
This I know to be true, as I have climbed into the same taxi three times without realising. On the third journey, I went to explain to the driver my destination, but before I was able to get a word in edgeways, he had correctly guessed where to drop me off. He then explained that it wasn’t the first time I had jumped in his taxi, and did I work in the area? Oh Abidjan will never fail to surprise me. Stay tuned for part 2!