First Week, First Impressions

ABIDJAN IS BUSTLING

A cacophony of people negotiating, honking, laughing, cooking, eating, selling, lifting, yelling, and living is the steadfast background music of life here, and it's everyone's job to add their own rhythm to the fast beat.

 

THE FOOD IS AMAZING, AND MEANT TO BE SHARED

I have yet to eat a meal I don't like. I also have yet to eat a meal that's made me sick! Though I anticipated stomach problems upon arrival, I'm delighted to say that I'm eating local food and drinking tap water, and the only duress I've experienced is when I do too much of the former (which is actually quite often because Ivoirian portion sizes are INSANE). Thankfully, you're rarely expected to tackle a meal by yourself. Meals here are served family style, and everyone takes from the same large plate. Considering the fact that we all eat with our hand (only the right one), this constant sharing of food may not be the most hygienic approach to meals, but I've certainly taken to it :)

 

SPENDING TIME WITH OTHERS IS PARAMOUNT

This is the land of extroverts! There's a forceful, ubiquitous, at times beautiful, at times exhausting compulsion to always engage with others, to create community, and to nurture relationships. The idea of "having a night in by yourself" just doesn't fly here. Coupled with this proclivity to socialize is a tendency to be joyful. Already we've been to an incredibly fun birthday party, have received an invitation to a wedding, attended a Sunday foutou lunch, and have made loads of new friends.

 

Making foutou igname at Masina's house with Debbie

 

There's a LOT more that needs to be said on this subject (to what extent are people's engagement with me informed by my whiteness? by my status as an American? is there any sense of quality vs quantity when it comes to socializing?), but it seems pretty clear that this idea of togetherness, sharing, and socializing is central to life in Abidjan.

 

EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE. EVERYTHING.

The cost of your taxi? Negotiate. The cost of that coconut? Negotiate. How much the tailor will charge to make you a dress? Negotiate. Fixed prices only exist in spaces such as western grocery stores, shopping malls, Orange / MTN wifi centers, etc. - spaces whose products are tied up in globalism. In the streets of Abidjan, however, all bets are off. The following is a formula that more or less describes my experience with prices here.

Price CFA = standard rate multiplied by me being white and foreign divided by how much I know about said product plus time of day minus theatrics of negotiating and how much the driver/vendor likes me.

My go-to negotiation tactic:

1. immediate and dramatic outrage ("TCHIÉ?!") at any and every first price offered

2. insistence that every time ("chaque fois! ") I've bought this before, it has cost X amount. (X is normally just as made up as the vendor's first price for me was).

3. the use of nouchie (local slang) to continue expressing said outrage. This always throws them off because "... how does that white girl even know that word?"

4. humor: parts 1 and 3 combine and the driver/vendor/etc. starts hysterically laughing. Without fail, once I've made the other person laugh, I win the negotiation!

Until Next Time,

Akissi

xx