The Harmattan Winds in Africa bring in a dry, dusty breeze from the north. The winds originate in Northern Africa and make their way over the Sahara desert into West Africa where the dust causes the sun to dim and the moon’s light to refract – sometimes resulting in the slight appearance of two moons. These winds have a tendency to start in December/November here in Northern Côte d’Ivoire, and they will go through the end of February and into March. They keep things a little cool around here for a change. Whereas a good portion of the year is hot and humid (of course, the hottest months of the year comes right at the end of the Harmattan winds), these few months are dry and cooler. Now I don’t need to wear a jacket or anything, but I do find the need to use at least a sheet when I sleep.
These winds come at a pretty ironic time. Creating a change in the environment of Côte d’Ivoire right when the New Year creates a sense of change in all our minds – if not in our resolutions then at least in the sense of a clean slate. Well, changes are happening here just like they are happening all over the world at this time of the year, and it’s not just because of the Harmattan.
10: Excitement – There are times when I feel like I’m in a movie. When I ride in an old UN Land Cruiser down a road through nowhere with foliage encroaching on both sides as I speed at 120 kph along a bumpy-yet-relatively-smooth paved road, I can’t help but feel a slight thrill. As the motorcycle I am riding on the back of weaves in and out of “lanes” on a street whose pavement cannot be seen due to an overcrowding of people, merchants, and other vehicles, I feel like I should be taking a video of the experience. When I travel 30 kilometers down a barely-existent dirt path to a tiny village of about 100 people, I can’t help but foolishly wonder if this is what David Livingstone felt like.
- 9: Traveling – Though Côte d’Ivoire is only about the size of the state of Oregon, it has the same diversity in it’s various locations as does the United States (though perhaps on a smaller scale). So having the opportunity to see many of these locations has been wonderful. Cities like Bouake, Abidjan, Yamosoukro, Korhogo, and Ferkessedougou. Towns like Niakaramadougou, Kong, Nielle, Boundiali, Sucaf, and Sinematiali. All of these places, I either have been to or will visit in the near future and every single one of them has their own culture, landscape, and personality. In addition to this, I have had the opportunity out in the region of Kong to visit many neighborhood-sized villages. These opportunities have not gone fully unappreciated. Each place has left me with a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for Ivorian life.
- 8: Food – Okay, so some of the food here makes me want to vomit at the very thought of it. But some food is really, really good. I have never had rice better than the rice I eat in Kong that is harvested straight from the field. Foutu Igname is also one of my favorite meals of all time, and the way they roast peanuts here…I never knew that peanuts could actually be better. Oh, and whenever we have the chance to eat some of Rod’s homemade viande, I make myself sick by eating too much.
- 7: Landscape – Many of you have seen my pictures of Kong’s landscape. Right now, it is pretty gross – dry, brown, lot’s of dirt, and very reminiscent of a Texas August. But when the rainy season is in full force, the green comes out vibrantly. In Nielle, autumn was one of the best experiences; especially when I could wake up in the morning at 5:45 to crisp, cold air and a golden sunrise over a hill of slowly-hibernating trees. The hills in Korhogo are surprisingly majestic, and one of my favorite things to do is climb them. The well-kept campus of Village Baptiste in Bouake is very much like an escape into Eden while the palmy beaches of Abidjan call for much-needed rest and relaxation.
- 6: Animals – I’ve never been a huge animal person. But here in Côte d’Ivoire, I have found myself in the presence of wild chameleons, iguanas, cobras, pythons, porcupines, and a wide variety of astonishing birds and bugs – and none of these were behind glass walls of a zoo either, though some of them were dead when I came across them. There is also a chicken/turkey creature called a pentat (I believe it is something like a Guinea hen). It’s the best meat I have eaten here. Unfortunately, squirrels are apparently setting into motion some evil scheme to take over the planet. They are about as common over here as they are roadkill in Texas.
- 5: Family – One of the most interesting parts of Côte d’Ivoire is the way families are formed. They are not traditional families like we know them in the United States. Cousins, friends, friends’ children, etc. are all included in the main family without much if any distinction. Someone who is called a son may actually be the son of a best friend; but then that best friend is actually called a brother. And everyone in this seemingly makeshift and complicated family is treated just like we would treat a direct relative in the United States or Europe – and actually they are probably treated a little better in some cases. Family and friends come first here in this society. Everything else is second.
- 4: Night – This is probably really strange for a number four. Regardless, I love nighttime here no matter where I am or what time of the year it is. On clear nights, the Milky Way can be seen quite clearly as can many constellations that are invisible in Dallas. When the night is overcast, lightning is a common form of artistic entertainment. When the stars are concealed and the moon confused by the dust of the Harmattan winds, controlled brush fires light up the invisible fields all around with the same beauty as Christmas lights out in the country. I also like the night because it is the coolest part of the day besides the early morning.
- 3: People – The people here in Côte d’Ivoire are pretty wonderful. They do have their issues both familiar and foreign to me, but they are still a refreshingly simple people. Not simple in the sense that they are stupid, but simple in the fact that they go back to the basics of society – friendliness, hospitality, sharing, caring with sincerity, helping strangers, etc. I have observed in many cases the warm, friendly nature of so many different people in so many different parts of Côte d’Ivoire. I actually feel a degree safer putting my trust in an Ivorian whom I have never met before than I would trusting some acquaintances back home. My friend and French tutor here in West Africa explained the idea of hospitality to me this way: “You Americans and Europeans are always concerned that you are being a burden to other people; but we don’t think like that here in this culture.”
- 2: Life – One of the best part about Côte d’Ivoire has also been the most difficult part for me to get used to – the way of living. As difficult as it is to grow accustomed to a culture that is completely the opposite of my own, I am becoming increasingly intrigued by the necessity of greetings and small talk, the hard work in the fields, taxi rides on motorcycles, making my own yogurt from scratch, Fanta soda, and a seemingly perfect blend of African life with Western influence that makes things flow just as smoothly as the traffic on a busy road – at first it seems hectic, but after observing it for a while, a rhythm emerges.
- 1: Faith – The faith of the Christians here is quite remarkable. It’s not a place where Christianity is exactly encouraged. Christians and Muslims get along here almost better than they get along in the States, to be honest, but that doesn’t make life as a Christian much easier. They are a large minority and still find themselves struggling with the influence of old African paganism, yet they continue to flourish. But what impresses me the most is how often they find themselves in situations that would make many of us back home abandon our faith. And yet time and time again, I watch them push forward with a faith so strong and so willfully reliant on Jesus that I can’t help but wonder at my own lack of faith.