I’m not going to lie, these last few days have easily been the hardest of my life. Culture shock has hit me left, right and centre, and it’s been exhausting to say the least. I’ve had many a message asking “Kay, how is it???” and my reply has simply been “crazy”, struggling to find more words to describe my first experiences in Abidjan. Well, today is the day. Here are some words (more to follow in subsequent posts, I don’t want to inundate you all at once!).
I never thought moving here would be easy, but I was ready for the challenge! However, as someone who quite likes her own space, likes to wander independently and likes to be very planned and organised, this place is everything that I am not. Let me give you some examples.
On arrival at the airport I was given a warm welcome by five local AIESEC members, after which we all piled into a car (with four of us squashed in the back seat) and drove toward where I would be staying. What they didn’t mention, however, was that there had been some complications with the family I was expecting to join, so when I arrived at a one room flat owned by a woman with whom I would be sharing a mattress on the floor, I was quite taken aback. Amenities include no hot water, no internet, no toilet flush, and a bucket to hand wash clothes. It’s not that I was expecting anything fancy, but that I assumed I would have a few “basic” home comforts and a bed to myself to unwind after a long day. Fortunately Sarah* is lovely, and now that I am used to the setup, I feel very relaxed going back to our little flat, collapsing on the mattress and having a good natter in front of the TV (because a flat screen TV is more important than getting a toilet fixed, right?). She also has a lovely family about 15 minutes away, who I am looking forward to getting to know better.
A similar situation happened just a couple of nights later. After having a nice meal out with new friends, we jumped in a taxi and I assumed we were going to drop each of us off at our respective homes. Shortly after, my friend asked the taxi to pull over on the side of a busy road. She readily climbed out and grabbed me to come with her. The door was slammed shut behind me, and the taxi continued on its journey. Confused, I asked my friend where we were heading, and she told me we would be spending the night in her friend’s university room as it was too dangerous to go all the way home at this time of night. Now in principal this was a good idea (if a local thinks it’s dangerous to go home I want to listen to them!), it’s just that once again I was thrown by the delayed information.
I guess part of the reason I never seem to know what is going on is that people here talk French very quickly with a strong Ivorian accent. When I am being addressed directly, I have no qualms understanding and making conversation, however when there is a big group of locals who are all talking animatedly over each other, I end up tuning out. It takes so much concentration to attempt to comprehend what is being said.
In amongst all of this, during the first 24hours I had no contact with home in the UK. Fortunately I was soon taken to sort out my phone by AIESEC members, who have been hugely supportive in my integration. I can now tether my laptop through my phone (it’s a little slow, but works well enough that I can write you all these lovely messages!), and I also have the comfort of friends and family only a Watsapp or Facebook message away in amongst the madness of everyday life.
Acquaintances that I have made here have asked me often how I am settling in, if I like my home, if I like my job. I answer favourably and tell them that I am well, but on mentioning of any of the above, the response is always “ahh well this is Africa ey! C’est l’Afrique!”
Catch you all again soon for more African adventure tales,
*For the purpose of this blog I have named my hostess Sarah 🙂