I am definitely in the "real" Africa, but my situation is sort of sur-real. I mean, in a way, it is crazy here. In 2010 the country was in the midst of a civil war. Now things are in a tentative peace, but there are some who fear another eruption of unrest in 2015 when there are elections again. People here feel the constant nagging of unease.
There are many police and soldiers carry large automatic rifles flung over their shoulders out in public. So there is the presence of the UN Peacekeepers who drive around in white vehicles (some armed); there are the national police, the city police, and most of the private homes have guards. Many stores have guards. At our school we have armed and unarmed guards. And finally there are the private guards that surround the President’s Mansion. It is sandbagged with raised guard towers – guns are trained on the people passing on the street.
To clarify, I am not sure what the "real" Africa is, but I know that Egyptians and Moroccans are mostly Arabic and so dis-associate from the black Africans. Here in the "Ivory Coast", the population is mainly from the various tribes of West Africa and many of the tribes cross country lines. The Akan are mostly to the West and are both Ivorian and Ghanian, the Mande are spread throughout West Africa and the Krou are towards the East and Liberia. To further complicate (or simplify) things, because of the colonial history, this African country, Cote d'Ivoire, has a national language of French.
At the International Community School of Abidjan, the curriculum is US focused. My boss is African American. However, we celebrate more Muslim holidays than Christian. I hear the call to prayer every day from the Mosque across the main street from my apartment. They are scheduled by the phases of the moon, so the dates change every year and often cannot be predicted. So for example I have a dentist appointment on Monday- unless it is a holiday, then the appointment is on Tuesday... no joke... like that's how it works here. Same for school, at this moment, I have no idea whether or not this is a 3 day weekend coming up. It will be announced by Friday. I want to go to the beach and spend the night if it is...
There are many dangers to life here, mainly driving and malaria.
What makes my life so surreal is that I work for the US Government and get paid in US dollars. This makes me upper middle class. A part of this is living a sheltered standard of life. It is quite the opposite from Zimbabwe in that I am the one I never wanted to be before- driving in cars, or being driven by a driver. I, and all the teachers in the building, actually have help. Three of us share a driver and a car. Also, I have house help and the three of us also share her services. From one angle, we provide good jobs for Africans in the community who in turn share their earnings with their family and friends. So, there is a lot of hard work that I no longer have to do nor am I permitted to do! Also my apartment houses only expat teachers - we are all American or Canadian, so we have a pretty strong community and really take care of each other. I feel really well taken care of all the time.
So I am part of this country and still I feel apart, by language, culture and socio-economics. Certainly, I feel dis-connected to the poverty. All the people who work for me take such good care of me, not even letting me carry my bags up the stairs, or order a cup of coffee myself. I think I needed this kind of care in my personal life, from a sort of karmic perspective, but it is hard for me to feel like I have so little control and independence. I love the feeling of community and having the extra help of a driver and a maid, but at the same time, I have less independence. It is weird. I have to think about this more.
Karla Brundage is an American living abroad. She currently teaches at International Community School of Abidjan in Cote d'Ivoire.