Alli’s difficult and frustrating work selling our house in Leymen has finished with the transaction formally concluded at the beginning of the month, after some brain-cell and wallet-reducing last-minute hitches. The sale took place almost exactly ten years after we bought it (we beat the national average by 3 years). Kind-hearted brother-in-law Anthony drove his sister and the dogs to England. They are now staying in my parents-in-law’s house in Sussex, where Alli’s other brother Nick and his son are residents, and where we lived for five years over 20 years ago before moving to Hassocks. Alli is now relieved and happily re-visiting all the old haunts that we both know and love, especially while walking the dogs in the enchanted tracks and open spaces around Ditchling, Hassocks, Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill.
My work at the African Development Bank has also finished and I packed my papers, transferred my files, returned my badge, residents’ card, and laissez-passer. Sounds simple doesn’t it? I’ll remain in Abidjan until mid-December, busy with the Bank’s labyrinthine retirement process, ‘cooling-off’ administrative procedures, several diverse and unexpectedly difficult personal writing projects, fixing and selling the damned Jeep, as well as packing up my possessions and arranging for their storage .
I accepted an offer to go with Ivoirian friends Arthur and Edna to the village where their mother is buried and Arthur’s father still lives. The siblings were preparing, after many years, to surround themselves in family memories and connections apparently not always happy or peaceful. Arthur, who runs a posh car hire business, drove worryingly fast and deep into the interior of the country to a remote village near the town of Gagnoa, called Tipa-Tipa. The unusual name is because many generations ago a Frenchman had been a resident benefactor but when he announced that he was leaving the village, the locals were heard to plead with him in their local Ivoirian French “Tu parties pas?” but pronounced it “Tipa-Tipa”. The village adopted the name after his departure. When we arrived, Arthur and Edna were recognised by their relations, who quickly set out chairs under a tree for us all. There was tension at the start, with some hard words and pointed fingers, but we hadn’t told them we were even coming and younger family members hardly knew whom we were (my presence might have been a complicating factor). After some rather stilted preliminaries, we left for the hotel after arranging to come again the next morning. We sat down to an excellent outdoor dinner in bustling Gagnoa. After refusing my friends’ offer of a visit to the local night club, I retired to the Hotel Fromager, a place so expansive and empty it reminded me of the hotel in ‘The Shining’, let alone the interior colour clash of lime, pink, mustard and orange. On Sunday morning we all went to the mother’s grave located on the edge of the forest near the village like so many African rural cemeteries. The mother’s children had a quiet moment there together. We then returned to an empty village – almost all the villagers were living it up at the village Catholic church, where some ethereal but rhythmic and spirited music could be heard. Eventually the father came out with other relatives and we all sat down again. The second sight allowed the atmosphere to change. Soon the various family members were talking and laughing together as they recalled a partly shared past under a hot morning sun. It was a powerful moment for me, seeing at close hand the wide and diverse family group slowly relaxing, suspicions and prejudices disappearing, and people’s faces and reactions as they joined in the interweaving conversations and exchanged their stories. There was common but unspoken consent for mutual respect. It became a positive circle of consensus and reconciliation. We finished the visit with a delicious lunch of fried fish and chicken at a very relaxed roadside café near the village before returning to Abidjan under gathering storm-clouds.
Family group at the Bar Petit Bassam, Tipa-Tipa, near Gagnoa
I was at the South African embassy in Abidjan to witness England’s unexpected capitulation to South Africa in the rugby final. Although it was a disappointing end to a breathless world cup, it was very uplifting to see how much the victory meant to South Africans there, around the world, and especially South Africa. Since there was an awkward gaggle of about 25 English people (including the British ambassador) and about 150 South Africans, it was a hidden blessing since the aggregated disappointment would have been overwhelming had England won, giving us English at the ensuing braai an uneasy sense of social discomfort despite our own rather less passionate celebration. The long-suffering South Africans have the greatest need amongst all the big rugby nations for sheer joyous national celebration, as the last few years have been so difficult for the country and its people. I found the story of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi particularly inspiring.
This has been a very turbulent period in in my professional career, our family fortunes, and external tectonic events which are creating a transition between eras, a risk-filled turning point in our histories, heralding a change of personal, generational, and political culture. “From this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething, As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing”. Or maybe for boomers and billionaires it’s just the earth trembling from the imminent unleashing of the UK’s potential, like the dawning of the age of Aquarius, but with rather less content, credibility or reason. Impatient and helpless, like Prometheus I voted by proxy while held temporarily here, willing Trump’s impeachment and Brexit’s reversal, in an African country of massive suffering but nonetheless tolerant, cheerful, and with an actual future.
Yours in fast thick pants,