Sunday, December 28, 2008

Obama's Election in Ivory Coast, West Africa

Were the people of Ivory Coast delighted by Obama's win ? You bet they were. When CNN announced that he had won, the hotel ballroom where the Obama Election Night watch was being held erupted in shouts of joy and happiness. The next day, a stranger came up to me in the streets of Abidjan, reached out, shook my hand, and said, "Thank you Thank you ! Thank you ! "

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm Back from my 2008 Trip to Cote d'Ivoire

Hello, Folks,

I'm back from my 2008 trip to Cote d'Ivoire. Took the last few days in October and close to 3 weeks in November. As I mentioned in my blog describing my goals for the trip, I did indeed take about 4,000 photos, so I may well have a good enough selection for a photo book. I am still transmitting hundreds to an organization I took many of them for, but I will get back to posting many of them regularly here, too.

In the meantime, happy holidays to those rare individuals who actually come to this blog and look at my pics. May 2009 be your grandest year yet !

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Coming Up -- The Abissa

I am now not quite a month out from my departure this year for Ivory Coast. It promises to be an especially interesting and exciting one.

Like last year's trip, this one will be primarily photographic. I'm planning on taking 4,000 to 5,000 photos. My objectives will be threefold: 1) To get enough photos to finish a photo book on Ivory Coast and The Gambia; 2) To photograph the Ivory Coast Bodybuilding Championships for my friends; and 3) To photograph the last few days of the "Abissa."

The Abissa is a local holiday said to last approximately two weeks. As I understand it -- and I reserve the right to be wrong and to correct my mistakes as I learn of them -- the calendar of the N'Zima people, who occupy an area that is now comprised of Southern Cote d'Ivoire and part of Ghana, is 50 weeks long, The extra two weeks are given over to celebrations and occur at approximately the same time each year. My trip was scheduled and my air travel reserved for dates that bring me to Cote d'Ivoire for just the last few days of the celebration. Next year I should plan on coming earlier because I will miss the first week of the event.

While I am there at the end of the celebrations, there will be a reception for N'Zima businessmen on one day, another reception for N'Zima chiefs on another, a procession of 50+ bodybuilders dressed as traditional N'Zima warriors through the old French Capital of Grand Bassam, and a bodybuilding competition. There may be dancing and drumming and all kinds of other things packed into those last few days, too, but I don't yet know what the schedule is like.

Two especially interesting aspects of this celebration -- I am told, and haven't verified it from several sources -- that husbands and wives get rid of their pent-up aggressions against each other by cross-dressing and publicly making fun of each other; and the Abissa itself is said to represent the origins of Caribbean carnivales, the idea having been taken from this area by slaves who were shipped to the New World.

Granbd Bassam, where the celebrations take place, was for just a few years at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the colonial capital of France in the area. This ended after about six years when an epidemic of yellow fever wiped out 3/4 of the people, both locals and French. The capital was quickly moved elsewhere, but many of the old French colonial-style buildings are said still to be there, some restored, many in disrepair and occupied by squatters.

I will try to get photos up in this blog soon after my return in mid-November.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Looking Forward to This October - November

I shall be returing to do photography in Cote d'Ivoire this October - November, and I am greatly looking foward to it. I shall be spending five days -- my first five -- at Grand Bassam, a beach area that used to be the French administrative capital of Cote d'Ivoire until early in the 20th Century yellow fever wiped out a large number of the French. The area has been nominated as a special World Heritage Site, and if the United Naions has not yet designated it as this, it may do so soon.

What is special about the timing of my visit is that I shall be able to photograph dancing and traditional ceremonies involved in the Abissa, which is a celebration lasting up to two weeks that is said to be the ancestor of all Caribbean carnivals, including the one at Rio. This should be a rare opportunity, and I should return with hundreds of photos -- no, thousands -- some of which, I hope, will be great ones.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bread ! As photographed at Chez Paku

At Chez Patu (Ivoire Pastisserie Beaumais), I found in addition to lots of gooey pastries, a wonderful assortment of fresh bread. Here are a few photos of the breads they sell. Don't these bricohe make the perfect complete to a bowl of cafe au lait ?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gasoline Prices in Cote d'Ivoire

I think it is worth sharing with you news I received about gasoline prices in Cote d'Ivoire. If we think we have it hard here in the United States, we should put ourselves in the shoes of the average worker (those lucky enough to have a job !) in Cote d'Ivoire. In the United States, if we earn $30,000 or $40,000 and have to pay $60 to fill our car's gas tank, we still have a lot of slack and wiggle room to absorb recent price increases. (Cut out the Starbuck's frappocinos each afternoon !)
For the average worker in Abidjan, the nation's largest city and main commercial center, the situation is very different. Until a few days ago, gasoline prices in Cote d'Ivoire had been frozen since 2005. A week or so ago, the government raised gas prices 29% and diesel prices 44%. This was because there is a limit to how much a relatively impoverished government can subsidize fuel costs. With the increase in gasoline and diesel prices, public transportation fares have had to be increased.
Now put yourself in the shoes of the worker who lives in a distant part of the city and who works at the port. He or she has to take a bus. Just to go to work and return home each day now costs about US $80/month. The worker probably earns between US $120 and US $200/month. Would you want pay twice as much for transportation as this leaves you for your family ?
We here in the United States are not the only people having to deal with the consequences of Bush's failed policies. His blunder in taking us to Iraq is hitting the poor of the world even harder than it hits us.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gooey Cakes, Tarts and French Pastries

One of the great pleasures of visiting any foreign country is that of sampling the food. Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), having been a French colony, still has a great deal of French influence about it. Never mind the fact that the one language that appears to unify everyone is French, there is also an educational system modeled on France's, too. I got the impression from speaking with friends that if you drop out of school before or during university, it becomes exceptionally difficult to get back into the system.

One of the delightful French influences isthat of French cuisine. At the Ivoire Patisserie Beaumais (Il Plateaux or, a pleasant place to have an omelet and coffee for breakfast that was handy to the hotel where I was staying, there was also a wonderful selection of French pastries. The prices were certainly less than one would have paid in the United States -- perhaps half -- and the quality was excellent. Here are a few photos of the gooey goodies that I took during visits there.
Incidentally, the locals refer to this patisserie as "Chez Pako," so that may be what you'd want to ask for if you're trying to track it down.

Friday, July 11, 2008

More Cakes and Pastries

Here are just a few more of the gooey, delicious offerings you can find at Ivoire Patisserie Beaumais. You won't gain weight just by looking at photos !

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Here aree just a few of the portraits I took during both trips to Cote d'Ivoire. The last two are of Benjamin, one of the local bodybuilders. Along with Said, who won the Mr. Ivory Coast a few days after my arrival, Benjamin took great care of me.
(For that matter, the portrait of the fellow wearing all the gold at thew beginning of this blog is Benjamin, too.I wanted a photo that would reflect royalty and something very special, so we rented the gold -- yes, you can do that in Cote d'Ivoire - and spent a morning trying to get two or three really great photos. I think we succeeded, but you be the judge.)
Both Ben and Said were very solicitous of my welfare. Since Benjamin and Said are quite a bit larger than the average fellow in Cote d'Ivoire, when I walked along with them the crowds parted.

When traveling in a foreign (to me) culture, I have always made it a point to have a local guide who could keep me out of trouble. If you're ever to travel to Cote d'Ivoire, I strongly suggest that you get in touch with me and I'll put you in touch with Benjamin or Said. They're honest, careful and trustworthy folks who can show you the sights and keep you away from problems.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nice Long Telephone Chat with Benjamin

I had a nice long chat yesterday with Benjamin, whose photos you can find elsewhere in this blog, and briefly with his wife, too. It was 1 a.m. (a day later than here in California) Ivory Coast time, even though it was late afternoon or early evening here. Benjamin works for a taxi company as a driver. He commented to me that gasoline is becoming VERY expensive in Cote d'Ivoire. He did not give me details. However, I subscribe to a Google service that lists news items about Ivory Coast, and when I received my daily notice with the list of todays URLs I saw an item about how the cost of gasoline was just raised by the Government by 44%, effective yesterday.

Looking at this with a more global perspective, how are the world's poor going to be able to survive, much less prosper, when the price of oil keeps going up and up and up, and with it the price of food ?

I saw a while ago in the Google feed some news items about people rioting about the increase in the cost of rice. This was in many countries, not just Ivory Coast. Another Ivory Coast friend told me that many people there switch to other forms of starch, so it doesn't affect the people we know as much as it might. I recall that whenever we ate at a restaurant in Ivory Coast, the Ivoirians (is that the word ?) would always accompany their main dish with a HUGE serving of rice or cassava or some other local starch. Benjamin told me yesterday that the people we both know are not having problems getting enough to eat, and that their present situation is okay.

Monday, July 7, 2008

On the Beach in Cote d'Ivoire

We drove several hours from Abidjan to a coastal area that a while ago had been a thriving resort. Iwas told that before the start of the rebellion, frequent charters from Italy used to bring hundreds of tourists here. Now, of course, there are no tourists. One passes empty resort after empty resort. A few people come out from Abidjan to spend the weekends here, but certainly noit enough to sustain many of these accommodations.

How long it will take for the tourist business to regenerate is anybody's guess. In a recent phone conversation I asked a friend how the tourist business was shaping up and he replied,. "The last one departed this past November for California." He was referring to me.

The U.S. and British embassies still issue these dire warnings about how unstable the country is, and tell travelers not to visit Cote d'Ivoire unless it is absolutely necessary. In large measure, these embassies are responsible for the present hibernation of Cote d'Ivoire's tourist industry.

This is a shame. The country has warm friendly people, fascinating cultures, fine French food, and lots of things to see -- wildlife preserves, the largest Catholic cathedral in the world, a cocoa industry, a growing rubber industry. I'm on my way back this there this October.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Largest Catholic Cathedral in the World

Early November, 2007

Would you believe that the largest catholic cathedral in the world is in Yamosoukro, the capital of Cote d'Ivoire ? It is bigger than St. Peters. I was told by a guide that it has been full only two times, once for the Basilique's consecration by the Pope and another time for the funeral of Cote d'Ivoire's first president, Houphouet Boigny.

All the photos here date from early November, 2007. I am not posting these accounts and photos each day as events actually happen. I am writing and posting almost a year later. The official Google dates of the blog poasts have been changed because that is the only way I have been able to order my posts in some kind of coherent narrative about what I found in this West African nation.

Monday, June 30, 2008

More Views of the Cathedral

These photos date from early November 2007.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Everybody's Hustling -- In A Good Sense of the Word

In Abidjan, everybody's hustling. I don't mean this in the bad sense of the word. This a country where, if you are uneducated and lucky enough to have a job, perhaps you make U. S. $2.00/day. Maybe you can only make $1.00, and that might or might not be enough to buy enough food to keep you going.

The lady below is just one of hundreds I saw by the side of the road carrying on their produce business on their heads. I'm not sure where people get what they are selling. If this were Samoa, it would have been from garden plots they have outside town. Maybe these people come in for the day from villages. Maybe they buy their goods from relatives or friends -- in effect, from a wholesaler. I was told that many of the people selling pineapples go down to the wharves very early in the morning and get their pineapples free because the fruit they are given has been deemed toi ripe to ship.
How people manage a living always fascinates me. It also makes me realize how lucky I am.

The next two photos are of street salesmen selling their wares. There's a bridge in Abidjan where traffic goes very slowly, and as the cars creep along, young salesmen like these walk slowly by cars, trying to make eye contact with the drivers, and trying to sell whatever they are carrying..

It looks like this first young man is selling photo frames and "Welcome" door mats. He has lots of competition because the other young man in the picture below the first is selling the same things. They're probably just two of dozens with identical wares.

I saw alarm clocks, tool kits, boxes of kleenex, paintings and many other items being sold by these young men. I was told that most of them are from other countries, have no education, and work in this line of business simply because they have no other way to earn enough to pay for their daily food and accommodations. You have to admire anyone with enough fortitude to get out there in the strong, hot sun and work like this.

And you have to realize that this is a desperate business. If you don't sell enough during the day, you won't have enough for food that evening and the next morning. My overall impression of Cote d'Ivoire is that although there are some very wealthy people there, the majority of the population lives very close to the edge.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More Streetside Commerce Photos

What my photos cannot capture is the heat. Despite the temperature being in the high eighties to high nineties Farenheit, people are carrying on strenuous labor even at noon. You can see in several of these photos that the guys are not stripped down to shorts without a shirt, the way they would be in Samoa. They are fully dressed the way we in Northern California would be if it were a pleasant spring day.

Everywhere you look, guys are trundling these carts, delivering goods to one place or another. Well, that's one way to beat the high price of gasoline. If things get worse here in Oakland, California, we may all be doing the same thing !

Women are out there, working, too. I saw many of them selling time on cell phones, selling vegetables, selling eggs (as above).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Caimans in Cote d'Ivoire

When we were in Yamosoukro, Cote d'Ivoire's fairly new capital, Benjamin suggested that we go
see the caimins. These are large crocodiles said to resemble alligators. A large lagoon in front of the President's home is a hangout for a great many of these creatures. One or two local fellows come to feed the caimins late each afternoon, and the caimins, knowing this, throng to the spot. Dinner isn't a sure thing for all of them, only the largest ones. The smaller ones just lie about, hoping against hope to get a small scrap, which they usually don't.

Here are some photos of what we saw at feeding time.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ivory Coast Bodybuilders

Here are some tough hombres, five Ivory Coast bodybuilders who competed in the "Woody 2007" bodybuilding competition. "Woody," as I understand it, means about the same as "tough hombre."
I was in Ivory Coast for a number of reasons. One was that I am known internationally for my fitness and physique photos. Because Ivory Coast has such good -- and totally unknown -- bodybuilders, I was trying to asssist them in getting known on the world stage. I also wanted to get photos for an eventual photo book of the country. And I have to confess that I really needed a change and a vacation.
Incidentally, the fellow in the middle of these five bodybuilders is Seid, the current Mr. Ivory Coast. The fellow on the left, Madou, just might end up as this year's Mr. Ivory Coast.