Around West Africa it’s common to meet expat aid workers who’ve spent time in Abidjan. I’m biased, but in all honesty, I’ve never heard anything negative and many people talk about the experience as one of the highlights of their career so far, which is good news if you’re thinking of moving there. Here are the first things that regularly roll off people’s lips:
– Great food
– Fantastic night-life
– Cool beaches
– Ivorians are really fun
The latter is particularly striking. Although many West Africans are considered welcoming – Ghanaians, Burkinabe, Senegalese (though opinions vary), Sierra Leoneans – I do notice that foreigners tend to be pointing to a particularly good relationship they’ve had with Ivorian people.
It’s hard for me to pin down what that might be, but let me have a stab. I was recently lunching with a friend from Cameroon in Dakar and he said (to paraphrase very poorly) that he felt Ivorians were notable for being at ease with modernity, and not being torn between a traditional and modern side. My own experiences as a westerner in Abidjan is that I found far less barriers between myself and nationals, something that can be a wide gulf in other countries. Intercultural relationships are common.
There may be many reasons for this. A common language for one. A development project that bore fruit in the 60s and 70s rather than being a new phenomenon. Perhaps the large French population in the two decades after independence. Relatively high levels of education. A large Ivorian middle class.
Walking down the street is not as traumatic an experience as elsewhere – in my experience you’re rarely asked for money, and rarely singled out with shouts akin to ‘moundele’ (Congo) or ‘mazungu’ (Kenya). You’re not made to feel as odd and freakish as elsewhere.
To use an Ivorian phrase, the electric current flows.