My personal misery of the Ivory Coast. Not yours.
It is amazing how your inner negativity can destroy your positive perspective.
I am sitting at the border to Ghana now. But still within the Ivory Coast. The problem this time is that they will not let me out of the Ivory Coast? That must be irony at its very finest??!
But before I got to this point I had to "suffer" for about a week in Sanniquellie in Liberia. And it is still all a question about perspective. But my mind was focussed on my girlfriend who in the end arrived to Ghana almost a week before me. I feel anger, rage and perhaps hate!! But I have nowhere to direct it. The Ivory Coast is an undeveloped country and with that comes a lot of undeveloped ways and bureaucracy and meaninglessness. I can deal with that...if I have enough time on my hand I can deal with that. But with a deadline in front of me which is important to me - it "kills" me!
I felt like I was knocking on a brick wall...
Sanniquellie is in really beautiful surroundings and I would get up and walk out into the basic surroundings of a small town village with no electricity and no running water. Also no bank and a very limited access to internet. Limited to when the generator is running. The roads are unpaved and that creates a lot of red dust. But around all of it you have a breathtaking nature and a dramatic landscape. Something which would otherwise take my focus, and actually sometimes did.
My friend, Fansu Koné, at the Red Cross in the Ivory Coast was working hard on getting the signatures I needed in order to cross the "officially open border" with my valid visa. So I could do nothing but wait. And I waited. And the days became long. I had several mornings where I was told that it was highly likely that everything would get ready and that I would be able to cross the border. So I would pack and wait. Then in the afternoon I was told to be patient. And then in the evening I was told "maybe tomorrow...probably tomorrow".
I originally had it in my head that I would arrive to Accra 4 days before my girlfriend. Then that went south but I still knew that I would reach Accra 2 or 3 days before her. Then I was stopped at the border to the Ivory Coast and I started wondering if I would reach a day before...or reach her on the day of her arrival...or the following day?
I guess Kashif was pretty wrong :)
I am away from my country, my culture, my language, the traditions, my friends, my family and my girlfriend. That is my own choice and I am usually happy with that. But it is difficult to coordinate when and where to meet when she finally has some precious vacation time which she is willing to spend with me somewhere in the world. It however lights me up from inside and gives me something above everything else to look forward to. This time she had 3 weeks and I was looking forward to being with her - like a madman! :) Then this border situation stole away 1 day from me...then another...
I got pretty desperate as the days went on. It was unbearable to see the days disappear for no good reason. I needed signatures from 4 ministries including the prime minister of the Ivory Coast!! What was the point of that exercise? Why not just call the border and say: "okay, let him pass"?!
I got a lot of reading done. Then more reading. I slept. I waited. I called the Ivory Coast nearly 100 times and spent all my money on phone credit. I hardly ate any food. I doubted if waiting for these signatures was the right thing to do?
Eventually I needed more money and had to make my way back to the nearest town which is about an hour in the wrong direction. The ATM wasn't working at the first bank and the second back was closed. But they were kind and let me in. Then the next challenge was that their ATM wouldn't give me any money. Finally after around 15 attempts it gave me $50.00 which was enough to keep me afloat for a few more days. That was close!
The alternative would have been to go back to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and look for a boat. If I found one then I could sail to Ghana directly but that would likely take 3 days. In addition to that I had to calculate the time I needed to get to Monrovia along with the time I would spend searching for a boat. Was that a better plan? I didn't know.
Eventually Friday came and my girlfriend had already been in Accra waiting for me for 5 days. I knew in my mind that if the signatures didn't come through Friday then nothing would happen during the weekend. And if they got them ready Monday, after the weekend, then it wouldn't be until in the afternoon. That would lead me to cross the border Tuesday and with the 24 hour rule I wouldn't get to see her before Wednesday!! This is where I would normally curse!!! (But my father told me not to in the blog). 10 days with her out of 21 gone because of senseless bureaucracy!!
I had to go 4 different places before I managed to print the documents. And in the process I also had to update the software of the computer I was borrowing!
But fortunately the signed documents were sent to me last Friday around noon and after locating a working printer I had them in my hand (on my 5th attempt! - who knew there were so many broken printers in Sanniquellie). I quickly raced to the border on the back of a motorcycle and I was officially on the side of the Ivory Coast at 2:11pm. The soldiers, the police and the gendarmerie were surprised to see me for the 4th time. And they all wanted to see the documents and it was clear that they were disputed and confused. Could they let me across the border? Should they? Then I was asked to fax the documents to their department in Abidjan (Ivory Coast)?? This had me a little upset. But I was able to call Koné and ask him to fax the documents from his office. He did that immediately. Then there were several phone calls between me, Koné, the military, the police and blah blah blah...
If you needed to get the Prime Ministers signature for someone - could you?
It was clear to me that everyone at the border was scared to make the wrong decision. And that the paperwork by far had not made it to their little rain forest outpost. And furthermore, they probably couldn't comprehend how I could have permission to cross when they had been told to keep the border closed. "Closed" is a relative term, because as I sat there 20-30 locals crossed the border along with 3 trucks. And the truck drivers didn't even get out of their vehicles. They never even stopped?
According to the Ivory Coast all of this fuss is about Ebola and not wanting to let Ebola into the country. Which is ridiculous!! Because there are several animals that carry and spread the virus and there is no way of stopping them. But also because everyone of those people who crossed the border could have carried Ebola within them and nobody was asked to wash hands or have their temperature taken. Besides: there is no Ebola in Liberia! Imagine how much it has cost to get those documents signed?! All the people involved, along with the high ranking politicians and doctors. Simply to allow me to walk 100 meters. Pointless and ridiculous bureaucratics.
Finally the police and the gendarmerie said is was okay and they let me go. I picked up my bags, said goodbye and started walking. But now officer Gongo Womele of the military wasn't happy. Obviously he hadn't bothered with the thought that the others might let me through because he wasn't ready to let me go at all. And the cherry on top was that they now needed to use my phone to call their military bosses, because they didn't have any phone credit. Perfect.
Eventually I was allowed to walk 100 meters inside the military camp. That was new land for me so that was definitely progress. A higher ranking officer looked through the paperwork and after some time decided to let me go. All of this had taken a few hours. Perfect.
Gondo Gone Augustin, of the Ivory Coast Red Cross, had as a part of the agreement to get me over the border, arrived to meet me. He is a really cool guy who really doesn't speak English. But his personality is so calm that it actually calms everyone else down too. Because of the harsh road conditions he had arrived with a driver - on a motorcycle. And as if it was the most normal thing in the world he gestured to me that I should get on the bike...behind him...and the driver...with my luggage. Interesting! But it had me smiling for a long while because that was quite an experience :)
We had almost left the border and I was starting to feel free when a lot of angry men stopped us. Now what!? These men wouldn't allow us to travel like that and wanted us to hire another motorcycle...one of theirs. Augustin calmly talked the men out of it which was going well until someone stole the key to our motorcycle. Now we had to pay tax for being in their area! For heavens sake?! But Augustin talked his way out of it and we continued. I got a really good physical workout done from of being on the back of the bike with my bag pulling me towards certain death! Or at least towards a muddy fall. The roads were awful! And to think that everyone in Liberia said the roads in the Ivory Coast were really good? I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.
Côte d'Ivoire / Ivory Coast
That is Augustin in the middle and Alfa is in front :)
The nature surrounding us was however undeniably beautiful and breathtaking. All the rainforest villagers had a good long stare at the 3 of us on the bike. A checkpoint officer put on the face of a cartoon figure with wide open eyes and mouth when he saw us. Then he offered me a sip of his coconut wine and I accepted. Delicious. It took 90 minutes for the motorbike to reach Danané which is the first sign of real civilization after the rainforest. I wasn't keen on spending the night there but I was warned about nighttime bandits on the road to Abidjan and that it would almost certainly go wrong for me. This was confirmed as the bus would also not leave during the night. It would leave in the morning at 08:00am and arrive at 5:00pm in Abidjan. First of all I do not trust the timing (what's indicated is never true). But also, the thought of arriving at 5:00pm would mean another night in the Ivory Coast and another day without my girlfriend.
NO!! This was certainly where I could and would go over budget. I wanted a car and a driver and I would pay for that. It was a costly affair but it was worth it. I really wanted to go during the night but as it was ill advised I spent the night in Danané. I was told by Koné on the phone that the drive would normally take 6 hours and that it would be safe to leave at 06:00am. So I told the driver to pick me up at 05:00am.
Many of the roads were bad. But there was a freeway stretching from Yamoussoukro to Abidjan which was perfect!
The driver picked me up at 05:06am which was okay but late by Northern European standards. Then he proceeded to get gas which wasn't okay. Because the station was closed and he waited 20 minutes for nothing. Then he realized that and got a bottle of gasoline from a roadside shop and we continued. It was now 05:40. And I was very uncomfortable with the initial delay. But we had time - right? No...his stupid car couldn't go much more than 100 kph and the road conditions were often terrible. We were just about the slowest vehicle on the road and we were even overtaken by a number of buses which of course had me stressed and irritated. Because what could I do? I was in the wrong car with the wrong driver but going the right way...
The Ivory Coast is a very beautiful country. Everyone I have met, except for a few border guards, have been very friendly and forthcoming. I have been reading about the history of the country and it is just as deep and profound as the neighboring countries. The culture and traditions are as interesting as they can be. Looking out of the window I would sometimes forget my immediate feelings and marvel over the grandeur of an enormous tree which towered over the lush green nature. Was that the tree of life? I would sit and think to myself that the Ivory Coast has the same right to be viewed as the best country in the world like any other. I would think about how perfect a vacation one could have in this country. But my focus wasn't really on all the positive. My mind was somewhere else.
We eventually reached Abidjan. More than 8 hours after we left Danané! Nearly as much time as which was nominated for the bus!! My disappointment was grand and my concern for the time was ever present. The driver was on the phone, coordinating where to meet with Koné, as there was no way I wasn't going to meet Koné after everything he had done. I could go into detail on how much work he has put into getting me across the border - but I am not sure I know the extent myself! The driver got lost a few times...losing more time. Finally I met Koné along with Christal Kouadio who is also a Red Cross colleague. We sat down for a quick lunch and then they took me to where the minibuses leave for the border to Ghana. I initially wanted the hopeless driver in the slow car to take me to the border in order to save some time making arrangement. But he wanted to go home.
That is Fansu Koné in the middle and Christal on the right. Koné is some kind of hero!
We reached the minibuses, and as it is everywhere else, they do not go anywhere until they are full. So I bought 5 seats and whipped the driver to get out of there in a hurry. The drive to the border should take 90 minutes from Abidjan. And with that in mind we would be in time to reach it before it closed at 6:30pm. It was already a bit of a disaster because my girlfriend had made her way to the border from Accra in order to meet me when I crossed. We were supposed to meet at 3:00pm but I called and told her I was beginning to look like 5:00pm. But with the bad road conditions, the traffic and the distance there was no way...or maybe? Come on driver!! But the traffic killed our mission and we arrived at the border at 7:00pm. 30 minutes too late.
The border seen from the side of Côte d'Ivoire.
Was it the 30 minutes that the hopeless driver lost in the morning? Or did I spend too much time with Koné? Or should we have left earlier in the morning? Or should I have pushed through the night and hoped for the best the night before? Probably all of it. But done is done and although I write this with a touch of rage within me I cannot change anything now. I know my girlfriend is disappointed. So am I. Now we are not much more than a short drive from each other but cannot see each other, touch each other, be together...
Another night at another border.
Believe me I tried the border although I arrived late. I tried everything possible. And everything impossible. I told them things which are doubtfully true in order to convince them to let me through. But they said that I would never get through the Ghana border at the late hour and they also said that it was far away...7-8 km. And furthermore they said that the territory between the 2 borders is dangerous and full of bandits which would surely strip me of everything. What is it with all these nighttime bandits??! :)
Ghana on the left. Côte d'Ivoire on the right.
Well, in spite of the last smiley...I can hardly smile right now. Because my heart is heavy and I feel like I have failed. But the optimist would say that now I only need to sleep one more time before I can be with her. And the optimist would say that we still have 2 weeks left together which is much more than most could hope for. And the optimist would be right.
24 hours later...
Every good story must have a romance ;)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - learning about life and perspective and hoping to have a second chance of seeing Côte d'Ivoire.