Thursday, January 25, 2007

War torn hole offers up fine quisine, apertifs

This is the airport restaurant in Abidjan

This photo was taken during my five hour wait at the Abidjan airport, after discovering the plane to Accra was quite delayed.

I resigned myself to the miserable wait and wandered up to the restaurant that they mentioned at the check in desk. Wow - the airport is definitely one of a kind in sub-Saharan Africa! Must be another remnant of French domination. I sat down expecting a disinterested server to toss a grimy menu down, with a list of generic sandwiches, fries and the like. Instead I found a grand stylish restaurant with impeccably dressed waiters and great service. They only had about 4 items on the menu (which is par for the course in the majority of African restaurants I've been to - and I've been to many). But there on the menu - and available! - was a gorgeous salad with real lettuce (unheard of in Ghana), smoked salmon, (smoked salmon?!), capers, grapefruit, avocado, shrimps, tomatoes, vinaigrette... oh and a selection of french wines... HELLO! Have I just spent three days in a war torn country where 12 foot piles of rotting, smoking garbage line the sides of every city street and highway?? Did I not spend three days crusing around in stifling heat through the immense stench of open gutters, and get pulled over numerous times by corrupt army and police officers with massive guns asking for bribe money in order to secure the priviledge of driving on through the squalor??

Abidjan is a city of contrasts - glaring, unbelieveable contrasts between French affluence and design, and the African reality of corruption, poverty, crime, unrest, neo-colonial fall out.

Driving into the city from the airport looks like a miniature Manhattan in the distance. However, as the car passes through massive burning mounds of rubbish, to the extent of reducing complete visibility in the toxic smoke along the highway, it gives the feel of driving into Manhattan on the set of a Mad Max film. It looks like a pessimistic sci-fi vision of the world after an apocalypse...

Within the city streets, the contrasts become quite apparent. There are beggars and roadside sellers, as in most African cities, but they live their lives against the backdrop of glamourous shops and gold glassed high rise office buildings... I stayed at the Novotel with a gorgeous view of the lagoon on one side, and the dilapitated downtown core on the other.

to be continued...

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