Monday, September 20, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I can think of few things less glamorous than being attacked by a fierce colony of swarming black flies as you empty your bladder in a makeshift toilet in West Africa. It happened to us while we loitered impatiently in that stretch of land where one country border meets another, a place literally referred to as No Man’s Land because it belongs to no one, perhaps in the case I refer to here because no one wants it. This particular No Man’s Land is at the border where the western post of coastal Ghana meets the eastern post of Ivory Coast in sub-Saharan Africa. Lisa and I were simply trying to survive the brutally long car trip west from Ghana’s old, boring capital, Accra, to Abidjan, the contemporary capital of Ivory Coast. After several months hanging around provincial, small town Accra, conducting research for our college degrees and at the same time trying to stay healthy, we were excited to visit a city where we’d heard stories of skyscrapers and croissants and nightclubs. To us at that time, Heaven didn’t hold more promise than Abidjan.
The journey to the Promised Land was a rough one at best. Our overstuffed hired vehicle raced down roads impossibly laced with deep holes, like a highway made from Swiss cheese and dirt. Every few miles our car was stopped in the rain by military police men looking for something to break up the monotony and, if it was a good day, a bribe as well. As we sped past villages comprised of mud huts and an occasional lonely tree, we ran hard over a fleeing chicken. Normally something like that would have been devastating to me, but after three months of being rudely awakened at four in the morning by the roosters outside my window in Accra, it felt like some sort of karmic justice. That was the first animal ever hit in a car I was in, but in Africa, sadly, it wouldn’t be the last.
By the time we reached the border to Ivory Coast six hours after leaving Accra, both Lisa and I were more than ready to use the facilities. There at No Man’s Land, a local (of which country I wasn’t sure) pointed a bony black finger towards a cement structure free of the usual dust that permeated most buildings on this part of the continent. The old man proudly declared that the toilets there were new and very nice. Delightful! We ambled down the rain-soaked path to the new concrete box that would certainly compete with the bathrooms at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the nicest bathrooms I had ever seen. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Inside the box were smaller, door-less boxes and in each box a single hole in the ground and a box of crumpled-up newspapers. Ouch. We each entered a stall and commenced doing what you do when you’re in a small concrete box with a hole in the ground in West Africa. Seconds later there was a roar coming from somewhere nearby, a sound unlike anything either of us had ever heard before. I thought it sounded like a train careening down the tracks and said as much to Lisa. Since there were no doors in the structure, just walls, she was able to hear me, but just barely over the roar. Before I even had the opportunity to consider that there were no trains in that part of the continent, the source of the noise became only too clear. Giant black flies came shrieking out of the cement holes, obviously disturbed by our presence and bent on revenge. Without any discussion, Lisa and I adjusted our clothing and ran screaming from the nice new toilets, trailed by flies the size of gold finches. Filthy, disgusting, disease-ridden gold finches.