We are going to Ivorian Nzema to visit other family. The plan was to leave early so that we could make it to Grand Bassam before dusk. We needed a new taxi since the other one was damaged by the goat. We had discussed with Old Man and his family the possible complications we could face at the border given that the Ivory Coast is having an on-again off-again civil war. But Mama was prepared to see her mother no matter what and who could blame her?
So early morning we set off. We had a leisurely hour ride to Elubo, the border town, only to find out that the border between Ghana and Ivory Coast was closed. Apparently, early that morning Ivorian rebels had attacked the border guards on the Ivorian side who then fled to the Ghanaian side. Hmmmm! Well, not to worry. We called Uncle Old Man to alert him about our trouble at Elubo. He wanted us to come back home, but Mama still wanted to visit her mother. We had the option of taking the ferry to the Ivory Coast so we turned around, drove back to Half Assini, and onward in the other direction.
The main road in the other direction from Half Assini was a dirt road. Not even 40 minutes on it our taxi broke down. The driver tinkled with it to no avail. Luckily for us, we had stopped close to little thatch villages on the beach. The people here did not speak Nzema, Twi and certainly not English. Mama said they were Ewe – the Anwola kind not the Ayigbe. Don’t ask me what Ewe people are doing in the middle of Nzema. With some difficulty, we explained our problem, obvious to see, and they gathered to push the car. Still no luck. The taxi simply wouldn’t start back up. Wow, was God trying to tell us not to go to the Ivory Coast?
A trotro headed to Half Assini drove by. Our driver went with it to go get a mechanic from town. While we waited we noticed children climbing the coconut trees. The children must not go to school as there does not seem to be anything here besides the huts on the shore. The grown folks were fishing. Seeing the children in the coconut trees reminded me that I was thirsty and getting hungry. We asked through gestures for coconuts which they gave freely to us. They refused to take the money we wanted to give them for their troubles. The coconut was such a refreshing drink and meal!
I saw a boy pulling along a toy truck behind him. I smiled and he shyly smiled back. On closer look, it was an empty gallon container outfitted to look like a truck. Wow! I so badly wanted to take a picture of the excellent craftsmanship but the boy run away. Luckily, an older boy brought out the car so I could admire it better.
After a couple of hours our driver returned with the mechanic and soon the taxi was fixed and we were on our way. At the border, we faced a million and one questions from the Ghanaian border patrol. They were holding us up because of the American visa stamps in our passports but what they asked from us was for our yellow fever vaccination record which we had both left in Accra. Come on, how many local Ghanaians go get yellow fever vaccines just to cross into Ivory Coast. I wasn’t even asked for it when I landed in Accra from the US. After parting with a little money we got our departure forms filled out.
A small lorry was to take us across no-man’s land to the Ivory Coast border control post. It was a true bone
shaker. We didn’t even have the luxury of a dirt road. No, the boneshaker lorry weaved slowly through the coconut trees on the sandy beach for a good hour and a half. Ivorian soldiers stopped the lorry several times asking for the carte identité of the passengers on board coming up with some excuse or another about why we should pay them before we had permission to continue our journey. We were 10 passengers squeezed into the back of the lorry, and at each of these stops, we would each cough up 1000 CFA to line the pockets of the Ivorian soldiers. Some passengers soon run out of money (or so they said) and they would have to get off the lorry to go beg for pardon before we could all continue on our way. What a hassle!
On one of these random stops our passports were stamped confirming Ivorian arrival. The lorry took as to Manvia/Assini where we boarded a large canoe. It took us across the river Bagbe in about 15 minutes. Money was running short for all the travellers and tempers were flaring. No matter! Various Ivorian hustlers were determined to profit from the travel of the weary. They demanded money for taking our luggage out of the lorry, money for carrying it to the boat, and more money for putting it in the boat. Everything, money! So as not to have to part with your wealth so easily you have to rush to claim your bag before one of these “helpers” touched it! Oh what a headache!
On the other side of the river, another mêlée met us. Drivers aggressively tried to get us into their taxi, and for each car, there were about 5 men hoping to get money from us for their help in finding a car, opening the door for us, or putting the bags in the car. As if we even asked them for their help! At this point, it had been a long day, and I was beyond pissed at the ridiculousness of the situation. I can’t even begin to make up half of what we went through.
Luckily, we managed to get into a car with an Ivorian woman who was also heading to Bassam and as she spoke both Nzema and French she translated for Mama. We were stopped several times by soldiers asking for our carte identité on the road to Bonoua. Once again we would have to part with 1000 CFA before we could continue. In all, we parted with about 5000 CFA each just for these BRIBES!!!! It’s not really about the money for me, after all a 1000 CFA is only about 2 US dollars, but considering the minimum wage here is about $60, this is a lot of money for them to extort.
Once again, the sun set on our journey. We arrived at Avenue Zero, grandma’s house, around 7 pm. Finally!!!! At this point, I seriously hoped that Mama would decide to take private transportation or even fly all the way back to Accra. Of note we learnt of the seriousness of the troubles at the Elubo border. Wow! It was more than just laziness or cowardice that closed the border. The attack was a serious one as the rebels had decapitated 3 Ivorian border guards and wounded several more.