Article by Fatoumanta B. Diallo
I recently moved to Côte D’Ivoire after living in the United States for nearly 14 years. Abidjan was never really on my radar until about 2 years ago, when I visited the city for the first time. I always planned on moving back to West Africa (specifically to Guinea, where I am from) but as the years passed, leaving the U.S. permanently seemed
We all know that several West African countries are not exactly politically stable (among those Guinea and Côte D’Ivoire have had periods of politically-inspired violence in the past couple of years). There’s the lack of certain kinds of infrastructure and corruption is alive and well; sanitary standards are very different and sometimes simply nonexistent, not to mention the current Ebola epidemic. But I am not stating anything new and, although all these conditions exist, there are wonderful things going on in the region that you wouldn’t know about unless you lived in the region or traveled back often: which wasn’t the case for me. And when you are far away from your home, what’s the most common way of keeping yourself updated on current events? Besides family and friends, the NEWS.
The problem is that it is so difficult to hear positive news at all, whether it’s from people or the media. And when it comes to Africa, besides the commercials displaying starving children or the wars/genocides periodically taking place, it is hard to see coverage about much else. The truth is that negativity grasps attention the most and people are more prone to remember and spread bad news. The media knows this and uses this strategy to keep their station ratings high. So, in a nutshell, I fell into the trap and believed all the one-sided extrapolations and ‘information” the American media (particularly CNN) fed me, particularly about Africa. I had become an “Americanah” (Ifemelu would understand where I am coming from ha)!
With about 2 weeks of vacation per year, trips to Guinea were not a priority, especially because my family would come visit me at least once a year in the U.S.! So between 2005 and 2013 I did not set foot on African soil. As a result, I started feeling like a stranger to my home country and part of a different crew, the crew of the “Guineans living in the U.S.”. I gradually developed anxiety and feared the thought of moving back, especially when I thought about how my young kids would manage in a place where mosquitoes, malaria, yellow fever and dust are rampant (did I mention I used to have hypochondriac tendencies? Well now you know).
Where would my children go if they got sick? There is no ‘911’ in case of an emergency! What about this Ebola business, considering the fact that Côte D’Ivoire shares a border with Guinea? People are easily corrupted, there is chaos in the streets (traffic is especially horrible) and the concept of being a “law abiding citizen” is not quite the same as in the West (I can’t even count how many drivers I’ve seen run red lights just because they could, or men urinating publicly in the middle of the street for everyone to see!!!). These years spent overseas made me forget (at times) that I was from Guinea and that I had lived there at all. I had transformed into a person who was scared of everything.
But, despite all the reluctance I had, and thanks to the encouragement of family members already living in the West African region, I made the move with my own family; and I’m glad I did. I’m happy that neither the media nor the opinion of some of my American friends got the best of me! Coming back to my roots, to an organic life, to SIMPLICITY, was what I needed to kill the anxiety I had been feeling for a while.
I remember when I was 22 weeks pregnant with my first child, I had to be hospitalized because of a possible preterm labor threat (It turned out to be nothing serious ;-)) and the nurse, after reassuring me, said something that has stuck with me: “Here, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” I think that phrase describes, quite well, what American society has become. It is hopeful but always anticipating a disaster of some sort. People tend to be on the “qui vive”, prepared for the worst case scenario. Whether it’s a possible snow storm, hurricane or terrorism threat, folks are either quickly running to the store and grabbing everything (if they could buy the entire store they would), preparing to be snowed-in for days, or being suspicious of people with certain facial features or clothing (beards, turbans etc.). Don’t get me wrong, Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 happened after all; BUT I believe that, given the media’s tendency to sensationalize news, things are often twisted and exaggerated to scare people.
And now the constant fear and anxiety is all gone. Unlike in the West, where everyone wants to be in constant control and prepared for all eventualities, in Cote D’Ivoire (as in most developing countries), people just rely on their faith in God for everything. And that’s about it. Take the 2003 and 2011 Ivorian Civil Wars for example. Many civilians continued going to the “maquis” to eat and party, despite the political unrest. In fact, due to the nightly curfew, people entertained themselves during the day time, starting as early as 7am! They believed that they would be okay and a “civil war” was not going to get in the way of them enjoying life.
Moving to Abidjan is one of the best decisions I’ve made for me and my family. It allowed me to finally realize that God is truly in charge and that all this worry and fear I had been dealing with was a complete waste of time and energy. Even the most risk-averse person in the world won’t be spared from troubles if it is God’s will.
At last, I am finally able to chill. I no longer “bathe” my children in anti-mosquito spray, hoping to prevent bites, or get upset when family or friends come to visit and pick them up without washing their hands first. I’ve realized that living in fear took away from my happiness. I also did not want to pass along this sentiment of constant worry to my children, who constantly watch and imitate us. Regardless of how this experience will turn out for us (we have been here about 7 months now), I doubt that I will ever regret moving to Abidjan and starting a new life; but I know that I would have regretted it if we had not tried!