Long before arriving in Abidjan, I assumed I would end up moving around a bit before finally finding the place I wanted to stay. Pricing, host family dynamics, distances from school, and a myriad of other factors play into deciding where to live. I did not, however, expect to move 6 TIMES IN 6 MONTHS! Though the moving certainly gave me a greater sense of Abidjan and how to get around, I'm happy to say that I've finally found home sweet home. Here are the various places I've stayed on along the way:
SEPTEMBER - NOVEMBER
Immediately upon arrival in Abidjan, Nathalie, Debbie, and I moved into our first house with our first host family: the Koffis. Intent on living an immersive lifestyle, we thought it best to be with a family who could tells us where to shop, what are fair prices, expose us to Ivoirian customs, speak French with us, etc. In this house, we lived with 2 host brothers: Ilan (19) and Yoan (13); the host father: Serge Koffi; and the housekeeper: Marie Louise.
Though the Koffi's home was a wonderful landing pad and Angré had a lot of wonderful maquis (we still go back to our favorites), we gradually came to suspect that we were getting a bad deal on housing. A very bad deal. This suspicion grew week by week as fewer and fewer services were provided but rent stayed the same. Things like meals and even toilet paper suddenly became personal costs. After negotiating prices, trying to work things out, and speaking to other friends who confirmed that the rent was exorbitant, we ultimately decided it would be best to start looking for a different place.
BILL & SUE'S HOME
DECEMBER - 2 WEEKS
Turns out, finding housing for three ETAs with a host family isn't as easy as we'd hoped! Sure, it's easy enough to find a place for one person, or maybe even two, but finding one family that would take in three people proved difficult. Thankfully, December is a big month for travel at the embassy, and multiple families were looking for house-sitters. Insert the homeless ETAs! For the first two weeks of December, Nathalie, Debbie, and I house sat / dog sat for Bill and Sue, a lovely couple from the embassy with a gorgeous home in Valon and adorably rotund dog named Otis. After the drama at our last house, house sitting at Bill and Sue's house honestly felt like a vacation for us too!
DECEMBER - 1 NIGHT
Alright this hardly constitutes a full move, but that was a location where we lived out of a suitcase for a night and was still part of the saga of ensuring we had a place to sleep. After Bill and Sue's we were lined up to house sit again, but there was a one day gap in between the two gigs. Shaina, a Fulbright Clinton Fellow and good friend, had already left for the US for Christmas and graciously let us crash in her apartment for a night. Admittedly, not the best sleep - I got the rock hard couch - but we once again had secured housing as needed.
BECKY & FORREST'S HOME
DECEMBER - 2 WEEKS
Once again, we were lucky enough to find a house/animal-sitting opportunity. This time, instead of dog sitting, we hamster and cat sat. The cat hated me, scratched me, and would hiss at me even when I was making its dinner, and the hamster tried to escape its workout ball at least once a night. All things considered, a very small price to pay for a spacious, comfortable, and *decorated* home. (Before leaving, Becky and her family decorated the house for Christmas, which means we were lucky enough to have everything from a tree to toy snowmen come Christmas day!).
By the end of December, as our time house sitting for Becky and Forrest drew to a close, we began to get desperate. The countdown to being without a home again relentlessly ticked away while our prospects remained at zero. Thankfully, since it was the holiday season, the embassy staff were having lots of parties, which afforded us lots of opportunities to ask around. At one party, we got a good lead that would ultimately turn into home #6 (aka: home, sweet home!), but at the time it seemed unlikely to pan out. Eventually, we were at yet another holiday party at a woman named Bonnie's house. Bonnie is quite the party animal (her Dia de los Muertos party in November opened our eyes to how crazy embassy people could get outside of embassy doors), and happened to mention after some Christmas spirits that she actually had two spare bedrooms in her house. Although we couldn't stay for too long, probably a month max, she said we were welcome to stay with her if we couldn't find anything else.
Well surprise, surprise - we didn't find anything else. So for the entire month of January we moved in with Bonnie and it was amazing! We had so much fun getting to know her, sharing her preferred (and by that I mean only) meal of choice: tacos, and hearing about her amazing experiences in the foreign service. Although we moved out the first week of February, we'll always have a soft spot for casa de Bonnie.
HOME SWEET HOME: THE KUADIO'S
FEBRUARY - JUNE
Like I said, we first met the Kuadio's in December at a holiday party. They mentioned that they might be able to help us out. After several rounds of phone tag, it seemed like our chances of were fizzling. Nonetheless, half-way through January I reached out again, and this time we actually got the ball rolling! By the first week of February, we had agreed on rent and moved in!
By the end of week one, the Kuadio's home felt like home!
Nathalie, Debbie, and I have a small bedroom and living room off of the main house. For the first time since attending camp when I was younger, I'm back to sleeping in a bunk bed! Although I was a bit skeptical at first, I sleep better than I have at any other house so far. Occasionally it gets hot (I'm on the top bunk), but a cold shower before bed usually does the trick.
Our family is large and includes: Eric and Achille (our incredibly welcoming and very relaxed host mom and dad); their daughters, Marie-Eric (9) and Annaelle-Eric (7); their niece, Claudia (16); another niece, Elaine (12); two house keepers: Marie Lore and Agnes; two small dogs: Alex and Tobby; and the ginormous puppy Rottweiler: Mystiglé.
Other lovely facets of living here: from our house, it's only a 2 mile walk to my school. On the weekends, I give English lessons to the girls. Each time we come home, we all greet each other with hugs. Each night, Agnes makes us delicious Ivoirian food. Seriously - the best. And every single day, I am so, so grateful to be here :)
The past few months have been a whirlwind, but in the process I've learned a lot about myself, Abidjan, and my preferred ways of living. For example, I can say quite confidently now that I do not like living out of a suitcase. (To all my consulting friends - what is wrong with you????) Furthermore, I've come to appreciate that finally finding the right home-base is a huge and really rewarding milestone when living abroad! I've loved Abidjan from the day I arrived, but my sense of belonging has been amplified ten-fold by having a home and family that I look forward to coming back to at the end of each day. To that end, host families are 100% my preferred way of immersing myself in a new city. Though I had considered the possibility of getting an apartment, the learning and love that takes place in a host family far outweighs the occasional logistical challenges.
It's certainly taken sometime, but I am so pleased to finally say that I am home, sweet home :)