Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Abidjan

Mon cher Ado/Mona. Part 31

Fuyant la guerre civile au Liban, nous avons atterri à Abidjan en Cote-d’Ivoire . Notre fils qui n’avait que trois ans était surpris de se trouver entouré d’une foule de Noirs à laquelle il n’était pas habitué . Sa mère non plus.

Cette année-là , ma chère Mona , nous avons fêté Noël sur la plage de Grand-Bassam , ancienne capitale de Cote-d’ Ivoire d’où les négriers chargeaient les esclaves pour les emmener sur l’autre rive de cet océan monstrueux qui n’avait pas cessé d’engloutir au passage un certain nombre d’entre eux. (Quand j’ai passe’ quelque jours a Abidjan, on ma fait visiter cette plage)

Pour Walid c’était inconcevable de fêter Noël en maillot et sans le sapin tout chargé de guirlandes et de lumières .
Nous y avons été donc pique-niquer avec un couple d’amis et leurs deux garçons de l’âge de notre fils , les Ferzli , un couple des plus charmant qui soit .

Aujourd’hui , ils résident aux États-Unis avec leurs enfants et mènent une vie tranquille , sauf que c’est loin du Liban.

C’est vrai que sur cette plage nous n’avions pas le sapin traditionnel , mais nous étions installés à l’ombre des cocotiers, en face d’un océan fort agité ce jour-là mais qui n’empêchait pas certains baigneurs de se hasarder à piquer du nez dans les vagues qui venaient inlassablement s’éteindre sur la plage.

Ce qui amusait le plus les enfants, c’était de voir les petits Ivoiriens nous proposer des noix de coco afin de nous rafraîchir car la chaleur était torride , et de les voir les ouvrir avec leur machette afin de nous désaltérer en buvant leur eau qui était toujours fraîche à l’intérieur de la noix .

Ce qui m’attriste aujourd’hui , c’est d’être éloigné de tous ceux que j’ai connu au cours de ma vie , et que j’ai aimés , car éparpillés aux trente six airs du vent , comme les Ferzlis qui se trouvent à des milliers de km de nous .

Mon cher Ado

Mon cher Ado, n’oublie pas de me raconter comment s’est déroulé le tournoi de pétanques au village , hier ? As- tu gagné la coupe en or ? Sinon ce ne sera que partie remise . Moi je vais bien ici à Royan !

L’air marin est bénéfique et le soleil est au rendez-vous. Avec mon compagnon , l’océan Atlantique , on s’entend bien . On se raconte des histoires , surtout lui avec son bavardage continu. Il ne cesse de me conter des contes , ceux d’aujourd’hui et ceux d’hier , et même ceux d’avant hier .

J’aurais aimé y rester toute ma vie , mais bientôt nous rentrons à Paris . En attendant l’heure fatidique de ce retour , je me raconte mes souvenirs .

Après avoir assisté au feu d’artifice qui a eu lieu hier  (Juiller 14?), sur la grande plage de Royan, je suis rentré me coucher la tête comblée de soleils qui éclataient dans le ciel de minuit .

Mais le soleil de Guinée est resté dans ma tête , omniprésent , pour me rappeler les années de bonheur que j’ai vécues au cours de mon enfance.


Je me suis rappelé que mon père, ce héros , comme l’a dit (Marcel) Pagnol, dans ” La gloire de mon père ” , avait trois camions : deux Mercedes Benz et un GMC rouge que Seni, un jeune Guinéen conduisit.

Seni n’était pas que simple chauffeur, il chantait et dansait à merveille . Un Travolta méconnu , et toujours le sourire au lèvres , affichant ses dents d’une blancheur de Cygne . 


Un jour , il nous a emmenés sur son camion pour aller décharger les tonnes d’oranges , chargés en vrac. Si je raconte ce souvenir , c’est parce que nous avons fait le trajet , étendus sur les oranges . 


Vingt ans plus tard, j’ai revu Seni à Abidjan où nous avions été rejoindre nos parents , fuyant la guerre au Liban!


Un jour , après avoir été voir des amis , Amale , Walid notre fils de quatre ans et moi , nous avons pris un taxi pour retourner chez mes parents, et devinez quoi ?

j’ai été surpris de m’apercevoir que le chauffeur n’était autre que Seni!

Et quand il as-su qui j’étais , il a arrêté son véhicule, il est sorti et s’est mis à chanter et à danser comme vingt ans auparavant à Kindia en Guinée

My tour in West Africa

Note: Re-edit of “Touring West Africa (Introspection, continue 30) January 19, 2009”

I stayed with the Lebanese  company CAT about less than 6 months, all in all, before the company decided to transfer me to Cyprus.  

Actually, I never received a formal transfer order of what I should be doing in Cyprus.  And frankly, I believed that Cyprus would be a brief stage before official dismissal, fired and sent to Lebanon. 

 

I had a mind to tour Africa, to visit with my brother the dentist in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and a few relatives in neighboring States before going to Cyprus, but my tour extended for over 6 months and I lost my “position”. 

I did visit my brother Ghassan without a visa; he must have bribed officers at the airport to let me out of the airport. I visited a couple of friends in Abidjan, was invited to a night out and a day at the beach. 

I was not impressed with the “Paris of Africa” Abidjan.

 

I visited my cousin Joseph and his wife Silla in Burkina Faso (Haute Volta at the time) without a visa, but I am not that sure. Later on, Joseph told me that once his brother Nassif came to visit without visa and he was turned back on a chicken train.

 

I boarded a somewhat comfortable train for long hours.  Years later I was reminded by Silla that I taught her to drive  I met with the little Sa7ar (2 year-old).  Joseph gave me once a ride to the Capital Ouagadougou, hopeful to find  job.

After three weeks Joseph gave me a ride in his Peugeot 604 to Segou in Mali, without a visa, I think.  

 

I spent over a month in Segou at my cousin Samira’s.  Her husband Sessine drove me to Bamako to apply for a work permit and I took advantage of the trip to retrieve a copy of my birth certificate.  (I was born in Bamako in Mali). 

 

I had the opportunity to visit Niono (up north and close to Mobti) with a Lebanese merchant living in the open air there. I guess that it barely rains in that flat and vast town that was denied asphalt and you had to endure dust hanging in the air.  I guess my hosts were getting short on ideas of how to fill my time

 

I met a US Peace Corp girl from Boston and had the opportunity to dust off my American slang and I learned a little bit more of how this organization is aiding Africa.

At a certain level in my subconscious I wanted to visit Sikasso where I lived my first 5 years, but it was not to happen because I didn’t ask. I guess that if I inquired of any acquaintance there, then I would have managed a ride to Sikasso.

I still want to visit my birth place, where I almost died of Typhoid fever at the age of 5, an illness that precipitated my sending off to Lebanon and changed my life.  

 

Uncle Asaad, father of Samira and Joseph and married to my aunt Josephine, had the only bakery in town and was doing well. He used to have acupuncture sessions for his back and leg pains. I tried a session out of curiosity but it had no effect on me: I suffered of nothing in the first place. 

 

I was and felt practically redundant because I was not that needed in the bakery or the shop of Samira. I was in a very confused  situation because I had Not decided to return to Lebanon and had no idea what to do in Africa. I had no idea of what I wanted to do next after I overstay. 

My decision to leave was forced upon me by a mean procedure that I think was not necessary.  I was shipped in a Taxi to Banfora where I spent a few days at Joseph’s.

 

My return to my brother’s in Abidjan was not a cheerful occasion: my brother’s wife Diane alluded that her apartment is not to be considered a hotel, simply because I turned in around 11 pm. 

I slept at a friend of mine and in the morning, waiting for a taxi to the airport, my two suitcases deposited on the street were robbed.  I stupidly followed my friend to his shop across the street to retrieve a gold necklace as a gift to his family in Lebanon. Actually, I am pretty sure that this friend assured me that it is safe to leave the suitcases for a minute.

 

I arrived to Lebanon with nothing but my handbag and the cash in my pockets.  Among the lost items was an expensive local ceremonial robe that Samira hand ordered for me. I had to endure days of humiliation; the guy that came home after a year with just a handbag!

Something about my stay in Lebanon from late 1979 to mid 1985

 

We had a large apartment in Beirut and it was almost vacant for the duration of the civil war. One day, I passed by for a couple of minutes, for no reason, and the phone was ringing. A secretary for a local company was summoning me to an interview the next morning. I had no recollection of submitting a resume to the CAT Company. Next morning, I was meeting a high level representative, who came from Cyprus for a couple of days, just to hire new engineers for their expanding business in Nigeria.

 

Nigeria

 

The hiring representative did not ask me questions. I did not ask him questions. I needed to be off and out of Lebanon. At the airport in the Capital Lagos, two agents from the company met me and facilitated my entrance. I flew the same day to headquarter in the district of Benin and was lodged temporarily at a motel. I met an American young man at the dining room and ended up sleeping with a very young girl, sort of she was sent to me in my room.  I stayed in this motel for maybe 10 days and I realized that my hidden money was dwindling everyday; the cleaning woman didn’t confirm or deny but I carried al my cash with me.  I gave ample details on my stay in Nigeria in my piece “I could break your eyeglasses”.

I spent four months in a field compound, out in the nowhere, at a poor town lacking television transmission, called Okitipupa, and at 5 hours from headquarter.  The engineers, I was one, were supposed to wear regulation tall brown boots for discrimination purposes. Within a week I had malaria, even though I was taking the quinine pills regularly; an Egyptian physician was sent for me; I had a harrowing four days.  I lived with a civil engineer and we had a “boy” to clean our boots and prepare the table. I think that we had no cafeteria for the compound; as far as I recall, the menu of the “boy” was roasted chicken; the “boy” had a peculiar smell that made feel like vomiting and I could never get used to that smell; I should have thought of offering him soap and discover the difference but I was not an imaginative person.

The golden rule, as a member of the higher staff, was never say to subordinates “I don’t know”.  That rule was whispered to me by an English mechanics foreman; I had many occasions to verify the rule. Our plant engineer in Okitipupa, a Palestinian by origin called Sami, never handled anything; somehow, he once was in the mood of showing off his dexterity; he ruined three expensive pairs of fitters without succeeding and then got up as if of nothing; I tried my gentle touch at it and did it from the first time; I think that this person didn’t forgive me for taking over the task.  The next day, Sami assigned me a heavy duty vehicle to “fix” all by myself; I had never before touched any mechanical tool; I am an industrial engineer and had nothing to do with mechanics or mechanical engineering; a notion that it is hard to dissipate due to the wrong connotation given to industrial engineering which is basically managerial and not into mechanical design by any long shot.

The Lebanese and Syrian mechanics used to bring me, in secrecy, voluminous maintenance books to read sections and explain details; I had this feeling that management was very reluctant to instruct workers through manuscripts; as if the engineers were assigned to be the sole “priests” for the interpretation of the written manuscripts.  A Syrian foreman mechanics had an objective of opening his own heavy duty maintenance shop after he ends his contract period and was eager to purchase the appropriate expensive tools of the trade and the precision processes.  Obviously, management was not happy with my smooching with the workers: I used to go out with them after work in town and meet girls.  There was nothing in town for entertainment and the compound was a vast prison camp where I had to wear long brown boots of the bosses in that blasted hot and humid country.

A few thugs entered the compound one night; they killed three guards and threatened the manager to open the safe. We were awakened at three in the morning by the Lebanese manager, from the district of Koura, and we lodged a complaint at the town police quarter.  We drove by the slaughtered watchmen.

 

I was recalled and ready to be shipped out to Cyprus, supposedly the mother maintenance headquarter or something of that nature. I was somewhat reluctant for this sudden transfer even after this harrowing experience. I had to stay for another month redundant at headquarter.  This old English “personality”, supposed to be the official writer of letters, and from whom I used to borrow books from his private library in his allocated rented house, enjoyed repeating “Are we redundant today?” thinking that I didn’t know this word and wanted to impress me with his flatulent language.

The company accommodated me at a house with a private driver and a house male servant.  At night, the Nigerian driver would take me to a dancing place in the open air that was surrounded by a few huts.  It is from there that I was introduced to paid girls. (I wrote about this experience in my file “songs for women” under the title “I could break your eye glasses”). We were paid in Sterling pounds to an account overseas, mine in Lebanon; they had a complex money mechanism that served two purposes of avoiding taxes and keeping us under strict control financially. I had to borrow cash from my manager which was offered as gifts.

 

During that month I had the opportunity for several “adventure” trips.  I recall one particular trip that was truly an adventure in the nowhere.  I drove with a Lebanese foreman at a very remote tiny project site; after four hours of land driving we had to board a canoe to cross a murky river where people lived on the river; I think National Geographic would have made me rich if I had a camera; I am pretty sure if I fell overboard I would have been eaten by an alligator or piranhas. Well, after seven hours of crossing lands and rivers we reached destination; I looked around and found nothing of a project.  We did nothing; I would like to believe that we left a piece of tool and we were back and arrived by midnight.  My friend had another well hidden project, somewhere in Alice Wonderland: I declined. Nigeria is a vast country and that adventure trip was an eye opener to the extent of miseries. 

 

My return trip to Lagos airport was not a happy one and I was not accompanied by any agent from the company.  I boarded a ten-seat small plane; I thought that they have mistaken me for a parachutist.  The rickety plane was noise of hell and we experienced several air pockets and free falls; I was not perturbed: I had seen Nigeria.  At the airport I was searched four times, my suitcases completely ramaged through, until all my little alcohol bottles were accepted as gifts.  You need company agents to go in and go out of Nigerian airports; it was true then and true even more so today.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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