Friday, December 26, 2008

Welcome to the Monkey House

There is not a lot to do in Cote d’Ivoire. Most of the country is controlled by armed militias – well controlled might be too strong of a word. But we can go to the beach, which means Grand Bassam or Assini.
It takes about 45 minutes to get to Grand Bassam. The drive itself is pretty amazing. You can see people living in shack cities by the ocean, burning piles of garbage, souvenir shacks (no real good souvenirs), palm groves, and resort/restaurants that have not recovered from the political crisis.
However, once you're in Grand Bassam proper, there are plenty of these places, and they are doing pretty well. I've been going to this one a lot with my friends Sarah and Dan. We call it the Monkey Tree place.

Because there are all these wooden monkeys hanging in the tree.
It's impossible to get a good shot of the whole tree so I concentrated on the monkeys. Anyway, the place has a restaurant, bar, rooms, pool, and access to the beach. If you are staying or eating or drinking there you can use the pool and the beach access.
Alas, I never see anything this cute or interesting for sale in the souvenier shacks on the way to Grand Bassam. I would have loved to have found something like this (but smaller) for my first Ivoirian Chrismtas tree.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Cabs of Abidjan

Bonjour -
I have had no personal internet access since arriving in Cote d'Ivoire. But with the help of a friend, I got my pictures downloaded onto a machine with internet. Then, I wrote everything up, told the computer to publish the post and -- poof! It vanished.

Anyway, here is my first blog entry from Africa - The Cabs of Abidjan! Or, God Is My Co-Pilot.

To the point. Pardon. Every cab driver should be saying that.
I am not sure what this one means, so if anyone can translate, I would appreciate it.

"I thank God."
And I too thank God that you didn't take out my rearview mirror.

Note the black smoke pouring out of the exhuast. This is why on every pretty days, I keep my windows rolled up when driving.

"The Eraser."
As in, God erases sins.

"Father, Glorious is Your Name."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

God is My Co-Pilot

Finally I am posting to my blog from lovely Côte d'Ivoire. Abidjan has many cabs, and many of them have religious sayings on the back of them. And quite frankly, given the way they drive, this is not a bad idea.

I'm not sure what this one means.
Any ideas or translations would be appreciated.

This is the perfect thing to be written on the back of a cab. Just think, you're furious because they are cutting you off, or turning across your path when you have the light, or passing you on the right side of the road (IE: the sidewalk) and then you see, "Pardon" and you forgive them.

" Sacred!" I especially like this one because of the plume of black demon smoke.

"Thank God." An excellent cue card. This is what you say after the cab narrowly avoids hitting you.

I think this means, "The Eraser." Not sure how that applies to God.
Perhaps it's a comment on God forgiving sins.

"Father, Glorious is Your Name"
Some others I have seen but wasn't able to get pictures of include:
God is the Beginning and the End
Little by Little
God is Good
God is Great
Prais Allah
Amazingly enough, I have not seen, "God is My Co-Pilot."

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Weekend In New York

I went up to New York City for the Memorial Day Weekend. One of the places I had to go was Florent in the Meat Packing District.

When it opened in the 1970's, Florent was a 24/7 operation and its customers were club kids, transvestite hookers and the guys who worked in the Meat Packing industry. Once I went there, when the area was only just starting to get gentrified, and the waitress asked us if we would like to eat outside. Considering the view was of a bloody sidewalk across the street, I declined.

Well, the neighborhood has changed and the rent on the space was raised to $30,000 a month, so the owner is going to close it down on June 30.

The first time I went to Florent I was with a group that had reservations at a Chelsea restaurant. We arrived and the place was empty. Three of our party had not yet arrived and they would not seat us. One of the guys was furious. Grousing about how Chelsea had become way to obnoxious, he insisted we got to Florent. We did, and I went back many more times.

Once the song "My Baby Takes The Morning Train" by Sheena Easton came on the radio. Awful, catchy song that it is, people started singing along. One of the waiters turned up the radio and the whole restaurant sang along.

I will miss it. The mussels, the burgers, the breakfasts, and the desserts.

I also visited Korea Street for bibimbop, and China Town for Dim Sum. There was a Falun Gong parade in China Town.

Finally, I saw my cat, Ming.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fun on Friday Morning

Its the Foreign Service Institute!

It got up to 81 degrees today, so I celebrated by putting on a short-sleeved dress and breaking out the legs. I got comments on how dressed up I was, but honestly it felt so good to be out of trousers and jackets.

We tend to get in early at FSI. There is an 8:15 shuttle and a 9:00 shuttle. Since training starts at 9:00, we have to be on the 8:15. So, we usually have a good twenty-five minutes to hang around. I decided I would go out and get some pictures of the Ben Franklin statue (he was our first diplomat) and the unofficial mascots - the geese.

My fellow OMS in training, Debi came with me and we got a bit silly. You can't tell, but I am putting bunny ears behind Mr. Franklin's head.

I have a joke about the geese really being robots that spy on people. Anyway, here is a picture of two of the plants trying to gain entrance into the building.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cote D'Ivoire - Not Ireland

As you can see, I have figured out how to post photos!

Above is not a picture of the Irish flag.  This is the flag of Cote D'Ivoire - where I will be stationed for my inaugural post in the Foreign Service.  At the Flag Day for the 100 Specialist Class at the George P. Schultz Center in Northern Virginia this flag caused much confusion.  When it was held up everyone in the class was shouting "Ireland!" Then my name was called.  Many classmates have told me they wish they had a photo of my face.  Not only was Ireland not in my top three of posts where I would like to be assigned, it wasn't even an option.  I was thinking, "Well I'll go, but gosh, you could have given me some advanced warning."

Even after the confusion was cleared up, several people in the class still thought that I was going to Ireland, or that I had been mistakenly given the wrong flag.  

The difference is this:  Ireland goes: green, white, orange.  Cote D'Ivoire goes: orange, white, green.  

Here is the display of 55 flags for the 55 members of the 100 Specialist Class. The water bottle was not handed out, and will continue to serve in the United States.

And below is a Stanley Crane which lent its name to my last posting.  The Stanley Crane is from southern Africa and I liked the weird shape of it's head.  I'm guessing it was "discovered" by the Stanley who found Dr. Livingston.  I'm also guessing that none of the African natives ever called it a Stanley Crane.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Look! A Stanley Crane!

Today I went to the National Zoo.  I should have been working on my computer courses for my FSI training, but it was too pretty of a day, and the zoo is only a subway ride away.

I love the National Zoo.  We went here all the time when I was a kid, a teenager, and later when I became a professional aunt.  It's free.  There are plenty of bathrooms, benches, green spaces, and water fountains.   It's free.  No wonder we went ALL THE TIME when I was a kid.  It's free.  
Yes, they charge you for parking, but I took the Metro.

The zoo has changed.  They are putting in a giant elephant walk so that the elephants can saunter back and forth from various habitats instead of hanging out in one.   They got rid of the fake footprints you used to follow to the exhibits (panda paws to the pandas, bird feet to the bird house, flippers to the seals, etc.).  The place is still full of Mennonites (not Amish - you can tell they're not Amish because they are at the zoo and texting).  The sign, "Coins Kill" which used to show a seal's stomach full of quarters is gone.  Now it's a sign about plastic bags and the damage they are doing to the environment.

I have to give the sign-makers at the National Zoo credit.  One sign shows a bird laying on its back with it's head turned in a way which suggests its neck is broken: "This bird isn't dead." the sign reads.  "This is just how they like to sun themselves."  Just when I'm thinking that someone didn't hose down a cage I encounter a sign, "What's that smell?  It's the Maned Wolf!"

They have two sloth bears now and are very proud of them.  These bears are not very slothful, they just got stuck with that name - probably from some Western explorer in Asia (where the sloth bear hails from).

I saw the beavers being fed!  You wouldn't think this is a great thing to see, but I got to tell you, it was pretty darn cute.  I got some great pictures, and some terrific pictures of meerkats.  However, when I try to put a picture on my blog I get an error message.  I'm still learning.

Yep, the zoo lived up to all my nostalgia.  It was just what I needed to detox from Foreign Service training.  

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dark Falls Church

No, it's not as exotic as - well it's probably more exotic than Utah. I'm in Falls Church, Virginia living in a furnished studio apartment, and I'm doing it at the government's expense. You see, after many years of threatening, I have actually joined the Foreign Service. For those of you who don't know, the Foreign Service are the diplomats who staff the embassies and consulates of the United States around the world. I will have a black passport. I will be able to go through the diplomat's line at customs in the airport. But first, I have to finish my training.

So I'll be at the Oakwood until August 2008, and then I'm off to Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire.

From Oakwood I have a lovely view of a graveyard, which means it's quiet and I have plenty of light. During the day. On rainy days or at night I have to turn on every light so that I can get a slight haze of illumination. I finally figured out that the one table lamp is not a 60-watt max lamp. Oh sure, that's what the label says, but right underneath the label, etched into the metal of the bulb-holder part, it clearly says 250 watts max. And, it takes two turns of the switch to turn it on, and two turns of the switch to turn it off. Yes folks, it's a three way lamp. I bought a 30-70-100 bulb last night and now I can see during my nightly knitting.

I also replaced the 9-watt (who makes a 9-watt bulb?) over my bed with a 25-watt bulb. I was reading by 9-watts. What? Do they want me to go to Africa nearly blind?

The desk has no light at all. And even upping the light in the room has not taken it out of it's dark recess. So I bought a cheap clamp-lamp, like you have in college, and can now work at the desk without using braille.

The large walk-in closet came with 15 hangers. I asked for more and got another set of 15. Luckily, Mom and Dad came by with a bunch.

Did I tell you my studio apartment has two large TVs?

Still, it's pretty nice. I moved the fake plants around (to get them out of my way). And I am amassing the largest collection of dish towels in Falls Church. You see I use one, and put the other away in one of the kitchen drawers. Then when the maid comes on Friday, she takes the dirty one and leaves two fresh ones. I must remember to leave the whole stack out so she won't leave me anymore.

Yes, the maid comes once a week and cleans the studio, replaces the towels and sheets, and smothers me in dishtowels. I haven't vacuumed or scrubbed the tub in three weeks. This is the life.

Come visit. Renting a roll-away only costs me $25 a week.