Friday, June 30, 2023

One Month in Abidjan

I arrived in Abidjan on the last day of May, and here we already are, the last day of June.

I've enjoyed it so far! Many of my colleagues ask how I'm settling in and I'm never sure how to respond. I still don't feel totally settled in, but I wouldn't expect to after just a month when I still don't have all my stuff. I'm happy with how things are going.

Some random thoughts:

  • I still only have my luggage, and I'm glad that I was more intentional this time about maximizing how much stuff I could bring and choosing carefully. I forgot a few things--I wish I'd brought a sieve for rinsing rice and beans in my luggage--but generally I've been able to live and dress and entertain myself with what I brought.
  • I just heard today that my UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) is in Abidjan! It could take as much as 10 days for it to clear customs, but hopefully I'll get that stuff sooner rather than later.
  • My HHE (household effects) are on the cargo ship Maersk Seletar. I discovered that you can track cargo ships online and I've been checking in on this one--it seems to have gone through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, and now be on its way further south. It says it will get to Abidjan July 13. Not sure why it's circumnavigating the whole continent before it makes its way here, but okay!
  • I've been adjudicating non-immigrant visas (NIVs) almost since I first arrived, but it's only this week that I got up to 80 adjudications per day (in about four hours in the morning, so 3 minutes per average adjudication), which is the Abidjan post standard. I definitely have to stay focused to get through them all, but it's manageable. I'm liking using French for work, but we actually have a lot of Ghanaian applicants coming from next door, especially for student visas, so it ends up being a mix of French and English.
  • My French seems to be adequate! I definitely want to keep studying and improving, but I'm managing.
  • The formal Independence Day Reception already happened--it was surprisingly early due to some conflicts with holidays. I was a "puller", welcoming people as they arrived and introducing them to the Ambassador. It was a working event, but I was also able to have some fun.
  • There are lots of social events here.
    • The first Friday of every month is a big get together at the Embassy Annex (a separate facility with some recreation facilities like a gym, playground, running track, pool coming in October, and with some more practical amenities like air to fill up your tires and a gas pump [we can get gas at a lower cost through the Embassy]).
    • There's a running group Saturday morning.
    • There's trivia Saturday at noon.
    • There's HIIT Sunday morning.
    • In addition to the formal Independence Day Reception, there was an informal community event the following day.
    • There's a book club.
    • In addition to more pre-planned, recurring events like these, I've also gone out to hole-in-the-wall bar with colleagues for someone's going away, hosted a board game afternoon (we were going to go to the beach but it was raining like crazy), and gone shopping and to brunch.
  • It's been nice so far that there's only a four hour time difference with the U.S.! I've been able to join Civ 6 gaming with my dad/siblings and join a virtual happy hour with my grad school friends because 5 P.M. ET is only 9 P.M. here. Once the time changes it will be a 5 hour difference--a little tougher to manage, but still not too bad.
  • I already have a car, because I got put in touch with a family departing post looking to sell theirs. It's a 2018 white Nissan Rogue, and it's working out great so far! It's a reasonable distance to walk to work, but with the weather, it's wouldn't always be very pleasant, and it's been very helpful for grocery shopping/errands. (There's a shopping shuttle you can request to pick you up on Sundays, but it conflicts with HIIT.) The driving is a little rough. My first week here, someone got in a fairly serious accident (car totaled, she was banged up but fortunately no serious injuries) turning left leaving my apartment complex. Honestly though, it's not so bad--there are SO MANY motorcycles going the wrong way/pedestrians crossing without looking/cars swerving into your lane/potholes/etc. that you never let your guard down. It's so constant that it doesn't feel remarkable and no one's going to catch you unawares. My commute to work is fine, minus that one turn, and I'll gradually get more used to some of the longer/more crowded routes I'll have to drive.
  • I'm living in a lovely, way-too-large-for-me home with three bedrooms and five bathrooms. (It came with wi-fi already set up, which is amazing!) I just hired a cleaner and she'll be a big help. The Embassy is leasing three buildings in this apartment complex, each of which has four units, and I'm the only person currently living in my building. Last night a worker went into the apartment across the hall and set off the alarm by accident--but I didn't know it was a worker, so I got a little freaked out and went into my safe haven and radioed Post One! They sent mobile patrol who confirmed there was nothing to worry about. Good to know the system works, and everyone was very nice about my reaction, even though it wasn't really anything to worry about.
  • There are a few other Cameroon RPCVs here, and more people with Cameroon connections! People say the Foreign Service is a small world, and it really is.
  • I took a pilates class today! A challenge both for my fitness and my French. In Monterrey I got into hiking about halfway through and really regretted that I'd "wasted" my first year not hiking as much. I'm trying to remember that and try lots of things early on here so that I find the things I like and can start doing them right away. Pilates was great, and it's in my apartment complex, so it could hardly be more convenient. I'll definitely go at least a few more times.
  • On that note, the running group here turned me on to a, which organizes trail running events--apparently they find really cool trails to run that you'd never think of usually! Definitely joining for those.
  • It's a weird time to be here--I got here right at the start of the summer transfer season, so many of the people I'm meeting are leaving soon, or going on an extended summer vacation. I think ultimately it will be nice because I'll get to meet new people gradually as they arrive and settle in over the summer while things are a little quieter here, but it's also odd to attend all these recurring events when they're doubling as goodbye parties for people I've just met!
  • I'm enjoying consular work pretty well, but I'm definitely a little sad not to be a reporting officer anymore. I heard the conversations they were having during the Reception and I was a little jealous--just a few months ago, that was me, and in a couple more years I'll be doing that again, hopefully! Consular is important and engaging, and doing consular work here in Abidjan I'm getting exposed to more of the managerial/policy level responsibilities and decisions that I was never aware of in Monterrey (both because it was a consulate and a lot of that has to go out of the Embassy and because it was a much larger sections so the managers kept that all off our plates as entry-level officers). Here in Abidjan I'm already going to serve as acting consular chief week after next, and I think it will be a really good experience. But I'll also be glad to get back to the reporting officer work that's ultimately what I found more engaging.
When people here I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, they ask if/assume that the two countries are pretty similar. And they kind of are, more than I expected given the distance, but there are also some differences--at the same time, it's hard to say what real differences I'm noticing and what just seems different because my lifestyle was so different in the Peace Corps. The rainy/dry season pattern is the same. Abidjan is warmer than where I lived in the U.S., but not by a ton. The food seems pretty similar, with a heavy emphasis on plantains and cassava, but Cameroon had way more bean dishes--but is that really a major difference between the two countries, or are beans just poor people food and I'm not frequenting the "bucket mamas"/road side stalls I did in Cameroon? I definitely haven't seen any spaghetti omelets here. Cote d'Ivoire seems wealthier, with a bigger middle class, as evidenced by more upscale restaurants and grocery stores than Cameroon had (and more than could be supported if just patronized by expats).

One of the things that triggered the biggest sense of deja vu was pagne shopping with some friends (and even though I was trying to restrain myself, I'm sure I annoyed them a bit with how much I brought it up!). I was surprised by how vividly I remembered certain brands, and how quickly I remembered feeling my way around different qualities of pagne, how strongly I felt about what pagne should cost. Even though this was in a fancy store rather than a random stall in a huge market, it gave me major flashbacks.

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