Travel
Photo by Audrey Lang.

Travel Diary: Audrey Lang Connects To a New Home Away from Home—Côte d'Ivoire

An OkayAfrica contributor captures her vibrant and on-the-go experience in Côte d'Ivoire's Abidjan and neighboring cities.

In OkayAfrica's latest Travel Diary, our contributor Audrey Lang shares her musings while exploring Côte d'Ivoire for the first time.

During a visit to Dakar, Senegal for the Biennale last summer, I met an advertiser and DJ named Lio. He excitedly described his impending move to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire and implored I make it my next stop on the African continent. Lio spoke of an invigorating creative scene in which he would thrive and I yearned to interact with the creatives telling its story so I could do the same. With little convincing, I obliged.

My desire to travel around the African continent is aimed at being able to refute a common media narrative that is often detrimental to its creatives and locals. Luckily, we are living in times where Africans far and wide are at the helm of a change in tide. Our stories are being told the right way—raw and unapologetically. They are as diverse as they are expansive. What is manifesting is nothing short of extraordinary.

Furthermore, because I am a second generation Cameroonian-American, travel is also aimed at connecting to a home I've never had the chance to live in, yet feels very much like it is mine. I am a product of an environment in which I was consistently reminded that despite the fact I live here, I am not from here. With time, I have learned that trips such as these are critical to forging a path in a world that so often attempts to dictate how you should identify and how this identity should make you feel. More often than not, my connection with heritage drives me.

Côte d'Ivoire is a West African country with idyllic beaches, a French-colonial legacy and a people who are friendly and warm. This country is honestly a gem that's heavily slept on.

From the moment I hop off the plane, I am moved by an ease. There is an air of not taking things too seriously. The doctors who administer my yellow fever shot jokingly offer to take me to get attiéké, alloco and garba (notable local dishes). The immigration agent who stamps my passport happily speaks on her phone about what appears to be a matter of no importance to her work.

Abidjan is a refreshing mix of post-colonial France and traditional culture. It's a sprawling metropolis with people very much on the go. I caught myself smiling at the locals' take on urban attire that reminds me of America.

The images I took engaging with the local landscape of Abidjan and some neighboring cities and towns do the best job of conveying just how lively the country is—check them out below.


Photo by Audrey Lang.

Dozo doubles as a concept store for a variety of African brands—namely Ivorian ones including Kente Gentlemen, Loza Maléombho, Olooh Concept, Missouwa, and Vintage Nation—and as a creative hub where tastemakers gather to brainstorm, unwind and plan events. The space, centered around travel and discovery, allows for a unique shopping experience as founder Aziz has made it his duty to empower local creators.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Bathed in former glory, Grand-Bassam is coastal Côte d'Ivoire's centerpiece and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It's greeting is in the form of verdant palm trees stretching along the Atlantic coast.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

The colonial-era stone buildings constructed between 1894 and 1920 are characterized by wide verandas, balconies, shuttered windows and colonnaded porticoes. Though dilapidated, walking through them was the most irresistible part of my trip.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

This town center is void of the tourists it merits because of civil wars that remain fresh in the mind of the world, but its couple thousand inhabitants make it come alive.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

It was elating to watch hoards of children make their way out of school. They came from all directions, varying in age but not in joy. Their chatter and laughter resounded as they rode bikes, played games and ran towards what looked like everywhere but home. Where some scurried by saying, "Tu es jolie, tata" (You are pretty, aunty), others blushed and said, "Merci, tata" (Thank you, aunty) in response to the compliments we paid them for their tapered hair cuts.

These four girls affirmed they were happy with the pictures we took of them.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Côte d'Ivoire, is home to an edifice that towers over the city like a mirage. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is the largest church in the world, surpassing St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Despite being able to hold 18,000 people, this oeuvre commissioned by the first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, typically holds mass for only 700 to 1,000 worshippers.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

There is no denying this meticulously constructed church consecrated in 1990 is a grandiose form of propaganda.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Philip has been giving guided tours at the Basilica for 3 years. I am amazed by his wide breadth of knowledge about the structure—every aspect of it has an intent. We walk up what feels like 20 flights of stairs to view the church from a different angle but he doesn't join us, for his knee is paining him.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Street vendors are the epitome of hustlers. When they aren't weaving in and out of ongoing traffic, they are posted on the side of highways beckoning you to grab a piece of bread, fruit, sim cards and more.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

This beauty sold coconuts near a gas station. What I admired most was how she could do so under an incessant, scorching sun coupled with high humidity. When I asked for a portrait, though bewildered, she gave in.

*

Audrey Lang is a Boson-based writer and merchandiser. Keep up with her on Instagram.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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