May 1st: Workers’ day, a public holiday, a day to sleep in and be lazy but instead I’m waiting in line to check in at Kotoka International Airport at 7am. It’s my first work trip and I’m pretty nervous. Although I’ve travelled outside of Ghana several times in the last 12 or so years, it’s my first trip by air to a francophone West African country. After a 4 hour layover in Abidjan, I arrive in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. First things on my list are to make my way to the hotel and buy a sim card with credit. Fortunately, a new friend offers to drop me off at the hotel and I have plenty of sim card vendors to choose from. After checking in at the front desk (in French btw), I make my way up to my room on the 9th floor where I take a shower and crawl into my cozy bed to watch a Nollywood movie dubbed in French and plan my week.
It’s barely 8am and the temperature outside is 30oC (86F). It’s a beautiful clear day and not a cloud in sight. I look out my bedroom window and I’m dreading stepping outside. If it’s 30 degrees at 8am, what would the temperature be at noon? I wish I could work from my air-conditioned hotel room with good WiFi. I’m also not particularly looking forward to riding the elevator again since I got stuck in it earlier that morning but I’m not going to walk down nine flights of stair either; besides duty calls.
“Bonne journée madame” the security guard calls as I make my way out of the hotel to the car I’ve hired to drive me around for the day. The driver doesn’t speak a word of English and I’m struggling to remember all the French I have ever learned but somehow I manage to negotiate the cost per day to 5000FCFA less than he originally asked for. The journey to our partner’s office is going to take between 30 to 45 minutes so I try to relax and enjoy the scenery in the semi-air-conditioned car. Conversation between the driver and I is limited because he’s not about to speak English and I’m saving all my French vocabulary for when I have to communicate with my colleagues. We do manage one or two sentences between us when he asks me to call my colleague for directions, otherwise it’s a fairly quiet ride. The first few minutes of our journey takes us by the Monument aux Héros Nationaux – Monument to the National Heroes which commemorates Thomas Sankara along with other national heroes. The impressive monument is 55m high and weighs nearly 8000tons (concrete and steel) and represents the people who lost their lives in the revolution as well as the modern expansion of the city.
As we get closer into the city, I see them everywhere – bicycles and motorcycles. These are the major source of transportation for Ouagalais. Everyone rides them – men, women, and children. There’s an entire lane dedicated to these cyclists and they have the right of way on the streets. I’m particularly impressed by the women riders. Some of these women not only have their babies strapped to their backs and another child or two with them, they also carry their goods – from crates of eggs to baskets full of produce. And they ride under the scorching sun. Students on their way to school, workers on the way to the office, traders off to the market. I’m equal parts impressed and terrified. “What if one of the children fall off? Or your basket of goods fall off? Or you get knocked over by a car that’s not paying attention?” But for the women of Ouaga, it’s business as usual. The office workers are in their business casual outfits, women old enough to be my mother or even grandmother are in their cloth skirts and tops and riding like they’ve been doing it their whole lives – which they have. They’re not kidding when they say Africans are resilient. We’ve been finding ways of making things work for us no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We’re willing to work hard to earn our place in the world. Rain or shine, we’re out there working to make our lives better.
“Nous sommes arrivés” the driver’s voice brings me out of my reverie. I tell him what time to pick me up and step out of the car into the dry heat. My colleague meets me at the entrance with a smile. We walk into the research institute to begin a long day of work and finalizing the logistics for our meeting in 2 days.
To commemorate our visit and a successful meeting, our senior partner invites us to his home for dinner that night. He lives in a beautiful, modern 3 floor house in a quiet neighborhood. The night is filled with good food, drinks, laughter and camaraderie. A perfect way to end the week.
I wake up early on Saturday to stop by the arts center to pick up a few souvenirs before heading to the airport to catch my late afternoon flight.
00h25 and 01h10 are the two time stamps that stare at me from the new boarding pass I’m issued in Abidjan. “There’s no way my flight is leaving at 1 in the morning instead of 21h00” I think to myself. My boss’ frustrated stance confirms my fear. We decide to leave the airport to head into the city because when life gives you lemons, you explore the city and make the most of it. And thanks to easy travel between ECOWAS states, we’re able to exit the airport into beautiful Abidjan.
The ride from the airport to the Plateau (the central business district of Abidjan) takes about 30 minutes. The median dividing the freeway has majestic palm trees swaying gently in the wind. The city’s skyline is breathtaking and I quickly forget my frustration with Air Cote d’Ivoire and I’m looking forward to exploring the city. After almost an hour of searching, we’re finally able to get a sim card with which we inform our colleagues and families in Ghana about our delay. We then set off to find our dinner. Dinner is Poisson braisé (perfectly marinated and well-seasoned grilled fish served with a mix of tomatoes and onions served with a side of Alloco (fried plantains) and Attiéké (cassava ground into couscous-like grains) and a chilled glass of passion fruit juice. I just made you really hungry right? After dinner, we grab drinks at a really cool bar where we are treated to a Congolese live band that performs songs in French, Franglais and Lingala (the local dialect of people from DRC). Stuffed and relaxed, we make our way back to the airport to catch our flight to Accra.
It was almost 4am when I walk into my bedroom, completely exhausted but with a full heart. Although the return journey home took a detour, I got to experience a little bit of Abidjan which I wouldn’t have otherwise. So here’s to continually making lemonade out of the lemons life is bound to give us.
Jusqu’à la prochaine fois!