A family from France are staying for a few weeks. They introduced a cheerful, bustling and friendly family background noise of argument, proposition, enquiry and discussion into my previously lamb-silent abode and are defraying the rent. I am therefore temporarily living the life of a co-locataire, which means unexpected chaos in the kitchen and strange sounds in the hallway, washing lines bulging with strange clothes, wide-eyed children sidling around corners and peeping through windows, and the unfamiliar sound of my own doorbell coupled with the unfamiliar practice of locking my living space within the villa. But it has been a long-lost pleasure to hear the sounds of a real family around me again and tripping over unidentified shoes in the hallway. There are two small children, a mother and aunt and assorted friends, partners and hangers-on who turn up sometimes in the evenings to demolish the mountains of food that are cooked from my kitchen. They all ask me regularly how my day has been or how I slept or whether my weekend or evening went well. I have not been asked such questions directly and so regularly for two years, and it feels unusually good to go through the familiar emotions of selecting which of several appropriate responses to make. There are also the normal scrapes and scraps. One day, Mohamed had left the machete lying around outside after doing some bush-slashing. After glancing out of the window, I had to run out to stop Solomon, the little boy, waving the machete around his sister Nakisa’s head; she was merely poking him with the shears. I was invited to Nakisa’s 10th birthday party, for which a huge feast was prepared and duly consumed. A plate was warming in the oven for me when I returned from work. I am often invited to share their meal, even as I meekly prepare my quinoa or rice, carrots and cabbage. When they left to visit their ancestral village a few hours north of Abidjan I felt abandoned and almost asked if I could come with them. In vicarious mitigation I loved seeing the excellent photos from a sunny Burgess Hill showing at least half the Miles family enjoying themselves together in Broad Oaks, and Alli with her Belgian friends in Leymen. Here in Abidjan, I have had a few nights out in between the storms. One night I went to a concert of Malagasy music at the Institut Francais “Emotions de Madagascar”, an enjoyable mixture of different traditions, and a hint of the south Pacific in the tunes, rhythms and instruments. I also went to two swanky drinks parties of bank employees and their predictably circular gossip (which I was disturbed to find involved me – I denied it).
Malagasy concert at the Institut Francais, July 2018
The television coverage of the World Cup also impinged on my evenings as the English national team broke with hallowed tradition, played quite well and got to the semi-finals. This illustrious event finally got me officially invited to the British Embassy to wave a flag and drink gin and tonic while watching them lose to Croatia. It also continued to rain with determined abandon, mostly at weekends. I have been more often at my new local, where Michel, the rotund French proprietor, talks to me about football, and I struggle to appear knowledgeable. I spent an evening there playing petanque on their new boulodrome with some local French expatriates in the light of the reddish moon and the tinsel of Mars. I won myself a respectable reputation for both knowing how to play as well as playing well enough to win the approbation of my team. One evening after too much extra time and not enough VAR I left my wallet and phone behind on the counter and it was returned the next morning by the proud bar staff (Edna) together with an affidavit from the local security agent that he had witnessed the counting of the contents, and politely asking for my counter-signature after checking the list.
I went to Assinie for the weekend with a friend from work and spent time at the O Sole Mio, an eccentric hotel on the beach run by a crusty old Italian lothario named Antonio. The hotel was decorated on the inside with white driftwood, an elephant skull and antique carvings. The food was authentically Italian, and the breakfast featured a good cup of coffee, an almost unbelievable bonus. The place wasn’t tidy from the outside since the heavy rains had washed away much of an already eroding beach which had made infill sandbagging a necessity. Sandbagging in Cote d’Ivoire is not about sturdy burlap and hemp bags tidily stacked to look like brownstone walls but about random old reinforced plastic bags once containing concrete mix, coal, hardcore, or bin-liners filled with rubble, which made the exterior look as if it was garlanded in bunt-flapping rubbish. We came back via a well known restaurant in Port Boue half of which the rain and sea had demolished a few weeks ago. Half of the dining area of Le petit bateau had collapsed at the cliff-edge of the sea which was still hurling itself at the jagged outer wall. The beleaguered staff were still cheerfully taking orders for langoustes, homard, sole and capitaine. I sat in the wind watching the cruel sea and the moored fishing boats which were decked with the drying underwear of their crew.
Show Boys Fishing Boat in Assinie, July 2018
For my knees, I have had injections of artificial synovial fluid, which apparently work by mimicking the body’s own fluids. The operation did not immediately improve my rolling arthritic gait but apparently it takes some weeks to work. A slow but steady weight loss continues, albeit erratically. I spent one Saturday drowsing for hours on a balcony overlooking the crashing waves in the rain in Royal Bassam after wolfing down a huge pizza at a restaurant up the road. In less affirmative news I abruptly got relocated against my will to the Bank’s communications function. This has created a dysfunctional period full of doubt, disturbance and indecision as I evaluated other unattractive options and talked with others about different roles within and without the bank. I am pushed to and fro like furniture that no one wants to lose but cannot properly place. Interruptions to water supply and the internet at home reduced my home life quality, severe headaches affected my sleep for a few days and my car is still being tinkered with by incompetent mechanics after two months off the road. These and other setbacks have led me for the first time to sort through the enormous emotional cost of two extremely challenging years of hermetic life, originally and mistakenly initiated to refill family coffers and instill new and useful elements into my career. However, I am making bushy-tailed plans to lighten the darkening scenario with tinsel, stardust, and other silvery linings.
Here’s hoping that moon was a balloon,