Let me Introduce you to my Friend ...
Ouattara is my boss, brother, friend, colleague, and inside scoop to school going-ons. Despite being one of the younger teachers, Ouattara is the head of the English department at Collège Moderne de Cocody. As such, he manages all 12 teachers and ensures that all 57 English classes at the school are running smoothly. Originally from Yammousoukra, Ouat has 9 brothers and sisters, and does his best to provide for them all. Getting to know Ouat over the past few months, I've often been amazed at how generous he is with his time, resources, and attention, both in his personal and professional life. Ouattara spends countless hours outside of school tutoring students who need additional help. Without fail, he listens to all of my crazy ideas with an encouraging, though often bemused, smile; helps me organize activities for the English club; ensures that I find a good lunch each day; insists that I need to dance less and rest more; and cheers me up when American politics get me down. All he asks for in return is that I buy him a "big American car. " (Working on it bud). He was my first point of contact at Collège Moderne de Cocody, my first friend in Abidjan, and will inevitably remain one of my best. I feel incredibly luck to have Ouattara as part of my family here in Côte d'Ivoire!
Every day that I have school, my first stop is always to see Francis at his "kiosk vert" on the side of the road, just outside Collège Moderne de Cocody. What for? One of the things that I hold most sacred: breakfast. Our ritual is almost always the same: I arrive and take a seat at one of the stools in front of his counter. Francis starts making me an egg sandwich with tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and spices. As he cooks, he asks me why we haven't married yet. Each day I give a new answer. Generally, the theatrics of this exchange are relative to how many other customers there are at the kiosk. If there's an audience, we give them a show: (in French / Nouchi): F: Akissi, you should be my wife. Why haven't we married yet?; C: Tchié! Why haven't we married yet? Because I'm too young and you're too old!; F: Oh Akissi, that doesn't matter.; C: It does to me, grandpa!
It's worth noting here that for the life of him, Francis cannot and will not remember my "other name," Cathryn. He only calls me by my Baoulé name, Akissi. Great husband material.
Fosseni & momougou
While this exchange with Francis is going on, Fosseni (foo-she-knee) makes me my to-go coffee, otherwise known as aboki. Fosseni - top right hand photo with the kind eyes and cautious smile - is much, much shier than Francis, and took much longer to befriend. While Francis was happy to return my "Bonjour! On dit quoi?" from Day 1, Fosseni took about a month to finally respond. Momougou (moe-moo-goo), Fosseni's brother - bottom right hand photo - hardly speaks at all and walks with a limp, but is always smiling. He works in the back doing dishes, and always comes out to say hello when I call good morning to him. Francis, Fosseni, and Momougou are all from Burkina Faso, a country north of Côte d'Ivoire. In addition to running the kiosk, these three live together just down the road. Seeing them every morning is the best start to my day: delicious food, hot coffee, and the indescribable comfort of being an expected by people who care about you. A lovely milestone of easing into life in Abidjan was becoming a regular at Francis' kiosk.
Otis was my doggy for a week and a half! During the first week of December, Sue & Bill (a couple from the embassy), went on safari in Botswana, so Nathalie, Debbie, and I agreed to house-sit and take care of this big guy! Otis loves to eat, sleep, fart while lying next to us, and snore loudly. He's about 7 years old and has followed Sue and Bill all over North America and Africa. (Prior to being stationed in Côte d'Ivoire, Bill and Sue lived in Botswana, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo).
Otis is a bit slow and a bit smelly, but every time I look at him I can't help but chuckle with affection.
This fierce cutie stole my heart just as easily as she stole the spotlight. Just look at this girl! Rose was one of the few children who didn't run up to me in the village of Alèpè or insist on having her picture taken. In fact, she spent the first ~15 minutes that I was meeting her family sitting inside the house (pictured behind), watching us. Once she came out though, she had such a commanding, quiet confidence that even her older brothers seemed to fall in line. After asking if I could take her picture, she immediately assumed this power pose. Not much of a talker, Rose, nonetheless, has a captivating presence that forces you to pay attention.
I am indebted to Jean-Claude for: (1) insisting that I try crocodile when we went to Chez Pedro in Alépé; (2) making it clear that absolutely nothing must go to waste in a meal, not even a squirrel's tail or brain; (3) and introducing me to the best palm wine (or bangui) that I've had so far in Côte d'Ivoire! JC is a fun-loving teacher from Lycèe Moderne de Cocody - Angrè who spends most of his free time in discothèques "dancing out all his stress." He laughs easily, eats heartily, and welcomes new friends warmly.
Debbie is my roommate, fellow Fulbright ETA-er, and all around constant companion: it's rare that she, Nathalie, and I aren't together outside of school hours. Having spent most of her childhood in Haiti, Debbie speaks fluent French and is often called in to assist us when communication with locals is going south (merci beaucoup Debbie!). Though at first she may seem soft spoken, don't be fooled: she's got fierce determination, a no-nonsense attitude towards BS, an incredible drive, and a lovely playfulness. Debbie is our research expert, our "big sister" (ripe old age of 24), and our accidental comic: she has a proclivity to give sincere compliments in a completely monotone voice and occasionally/accidentally drops coconuts on sleeping men's heads. Debbie teaches at Lycèe Moderne de Cocody - Angrè, and to no one's surprise, she is very loved there by students and colleagues alike :) It's Debbie's goal to go into the Foreign Service, and it's hard to imagine anything stopping her from achieving it. Other tidbits to know: She's afraid of dogs, has crazy soft skin, and expertly cuddles.
Nathalie is the Third Musketeer of our current ETA group in Abidjan. (The 4th ETA, Mallory, arrives in February). Half French, half American, 100% thoughtful, Nathalie comes from Orange County, California, graduated from Iowa State, and is stationed at Foundation Alfred Nobel, a semi-private school in Marcory. A dessert enthusiast (it's somewhat unbelievable how many cartons of ice cream and boxes of cookies she can go through in a week), Nathalie loves to cook food from all over the world and somehow always manages to make something delicious from very few ingredients. Needless to say, Debbie and I often benefit from this passion of hers. Having known Nathalie for an intensive few months now, I'm often amazed at how emotionally in touch she is with herself; how patient, invested, and willing to grow she is in relationships; and how committed she is to openly communicating with others. Whether it's to foster understanding, explore a new idea, or shut down sexism, Nathalie always speaks from the heart, and in so doing, inspires everyone around her to do the same.
Marie-Louise's two favorite things to say to me are: "Tu es trôp gentille" ~ ("You are too kind") and "Je suis faché avec toi" ~ ("I'm mad at you"), which most frequently happens after I can't finish one of her delicious, but disproportionately large, meals. Marie-Louise is the housekeeper of Mr. Serge Koffi, our first host parent in Abidjan.
When we first arrived at the house, Marie-Louise kept a respectful distance: not saying much, not spending a lot of time with us, etc. However, after excessively flattering her food, volunteering to help with chores, and giving her a free pass to always play with my hair, we quickly became family. Every time I come home, I can expect a big hug, and every time I go out, I can expect her to ask when I'll be back and if I'll need food.
Though well into her late 30s with a 14 year old daughter of her own, Marie-Louise has a youthful playfulness that manifests in sporadic giggling, theatrical episodes of being "faché" with us (she once told us she wouldn't sleep that night unless we ate ALL the food she put on the table, and when we considered moving houses to reduce costs, she burst into tears), and a habit of repeating herself until she gets what she wants, which most recently resulted in buying her two pizzas. In addition to the cooking and cleaning, Marie-Louise takes care of our 13 year old, autistic host-brother, Yoan. The pair spends most of their time teasing each other in a bit that closely resembles a Tom and Jerry cartoon, though at times it's difficult to tell which of the two is actually Jerry.
Despite being one of the younger members of his school's staff, Mr. Gnana is the head of the English department at Lycèe Moderne de Cocody - Angrè. Always very put together and often wearing one of his many chic jackets (the red velvet is my favorite), Mr. Gnana brings the same colorful approach to teaching as he does clothing. He has a natural charisma with his students and peers that seems to demand engagement. Get to talking with Mr. Gnana, and you'll quickly detect his enthusiasm for learning and his insatiable curiosity for the nuance of language. Currently, Gnana is finishing up his dissertation on the socio-linguistic patterns of English and certain Ivorian tribal languages, and we're all very excited to support him when he goes to defend it!
The first characteristics I noted about Mr. Bolo are as follows: his rich, booming voice; his huge, broad smile; and his absolutely indefatigable commitment to teaching, which never ceases to amaze me. Mr. Bolo is one of the ten incredible English teachers at Collège Moderne de Cocody. He's been a teacher for 18 years; speaks Gouro, French, Spanish, and English; is the President of the Teachers Association; and deftly manages classes of 100+ students. Each morning, Bolo arrives at CMC at around 6:15 am to avoid Abidjan traffic and claim his seat in the corner of the teachers' lounge, and it always brightens my day to see him there. I truly can't imagine Collège Moderne de Cocody without this amazing man, and I feel very lucky to call him my friend.