NOV 11, 2022
From high up in the air, they could see the magical beaches of Abidjan. The wide sand was swallowed by the tropical woodland that seemed perpetual. Gwafa navigated the plane over the Bandama River and after a few minutes, they were over the heart-stopping Ébrié Lagoon. Mapacha listened as he tried to decipher the instructions Gwafa received from the air controller. He banked right over Île Boulay then banked left the minute he saw the turquoise waters after which he banked left twice the last being over Abouabou before he lined up the plane to the runway. The landing was far more gentle than Conakry. Gwafa taxied the plane and halted it on the apron.
Port Bouët Airport was far busier than Gbesia or Josephine. On the apron were assorted aircraft from the various operators, though the one that caught Mapacha's eye was a Sud Aviation Caravelle that proudly bore its Air Afrique logo. Mzee Tembo and Banou peered out of the square windows of the Skytrain, still in partial disbelief that they were actually in Abidjan. For Banou, her return to Abidjan in a tin can felt like a major fall from grace, given that the last time she was here had been in a majestic Convair Coronado. As the engines died down, the groundcrew placed the chocks underneath the plane while Gwafa opened the crew door. Mapacha slipped out and opened the cabin door that allowed Banou and Mzee Tembo to step outside and stretch their legs. It had been a long flight. The humidity whacked them despite the approaching evening. Gwafa was absorbed in small talk with the ground crew and porters and this frustrated a fatigued Mzee Tembo.
"Hey, Gwafa, can we go?" Mzee Tembo asked wearily. "This old man requires a bathroom and to lay his head down."
Gwafa turned with a wry smile as he asked for a porter to lug their bags.
"One moment Tembo."
Mapacha unloaded the bags and handed them over to the porter while Gwafa secured the plane. They then all wearily abled towards the terminal building past the monumental Agave Americana plants that lined the walkway. As they entered through the white louvred double doors that were labelled "PASSENGERS TO ABIDJAN", they were met by the loud cacophony of the airport announcer, who broadcast in French, then English. It was a huge relief to escape the stifling heat and humidity. For a moment, they all forgot they were smuggling weapons shielded by diplomatic cover.
"Bonjour. Bienvenue en Côte d'Ivoire," came the monotone drone of the immigration officer over the counter.
Mapacha had become aware that immigration officers were the dullest people you could ever meet. The immigration officer looked up and saw Gwafa.
"Eh Gwafa, salut, ça va?"
They exchanged salutations in French and for a minute, they animatedly talked.
"Passports," Gwafa requested the trio.
He handed all their passports over to the immigration officer as they continued their conversation. The immigration officer quickly perused the passports, matched the photos to the faces, banged the heavy stamp onto their passports and handed them back over. On the floor above, behind a bannister, two men donning ill-fitting suits and dark sunglasses silently scrutinised passengers. The hall echoed with the announcer's voice as Gwafa steered them to customs. The officer abruptly examined their luggage and checked the tags on the diplomatic pouches before he gestured them on. They slowly made their way down the stairs into the main lounge which was decorated with large posters that advertised the various airlines. Mzee Tembo, a newspaper fan quickly perused the newsstand for the vast array of periodicals, with the President's picture prominently splashed on the cover of Fraternité Matin. They walked out to the foyer and were immediately enveloped by the humidity they had forgotten since they were airside. They had successfully made it into Abidjan.
Gwafa called for a taxi and a brightly polished yellow Citroën DS Station Wagon quickly drove up to them. The driver swiftly made them for tourists and broke out his well-practised English.
"Hello! Hello! Welcome to Abidjan. Where can I take you?"
Gwafa responded, "The Little Parisian in the Village Ivoire area. How much?"
They haggled over the price, and he quickly loaded their luggage into the boot. They all got onboard with Banou wedged between Mapacha and Mzee Tembo in the back seat.
Alongside the Ébrié Lagoon lay the grandiose city of Abidjan. Its modernity and splendour were out for all to see. The mysterious atmosphere it exuded was drowned by the thick humid climate. It was a pleasant drive down the wide boulevards, that thronged with modern-looking cars. Amongst the forest of buildings, chic Ivorians in splendorous wear melodiously strutted. The marvellous orange spectrum of the setting sun reflected off the majestic towers that cast a looming shadow over the pedestrians ending their day.
Abidjan homed half a million residents and fostered thousands more with open arms. The taxi crossed the lagoon at the Charles De Gaulle Bridge and made its way through Plateau, into Adjame and finally into Cocody. Mzee Tembo was fascinated by the multitude of influences that stemmed from the mix of influences of Cote d'Ivoire's diverse culture, displayed in its different architecture and fashion. Cocody considered the bourgeois part of Abidjan was famed for the honourable people that resided there. Its discretion, simplicity and quiet made it one of the most desirable districts in the country.
The taxi entered the bustling streets of the Village Ivoire area and meandered through the various paths where they parked in front of the nondescript hotel that was The Little Parisien. The white brick building barely stood five floors and was obscured by the various towering buildings around it. Gwafa paid the taxi driver, and they all got out, as the hotel porter jostled the bags out of the boot and hauled them into the lobby. The receptionist flashed them an inviting smile as she greeted them in impeccable English.
"Welcome to Abidjan. This is The Little Parisien."
She saw Gwafa and her smile grew wider."Bonsoir Djeneba," he greeted her.
"Hi Gwafa, bienvenue."
As with the others, Gwafa chatted with her for a minute, and he got her to laugh and reveal the depths of her pearly whites.
They chatted a bit longer before she addressed them all in English.
"Could I have your passports please?" she asked them.
Gwafa produced his as did the others and they handed them over to Djeneba. She quickly registered them as Gwafa negotiated the hotel rates with her. As he counted a few notes from the large wad of francs he carried, Djeneba's eyes twinkled. She verified the money and marked it as a deposit.
"On se voit plus tard?" she asked Gwafa.
"But of course," he replied in English, as he winked at her.
"If you would like to change your currency, there is a Bureau De Change over there," she said with a pointed finger aimed at the modest office.
She furnished them with their keys, and they followed the porter through the foyer as he led them to the furthest hotel rooms.
"You guys rest, shower and we meet in the reception at eight so that we can get dinner OK?" Gwafa proposed.
"Sure thing." Mzee Tembo replied as they all entered their rooms.
For one adolescent moment, Mapacha imagined that he was on the path to more luxurious living. This was a far more elegant hotel than the Fair Highway Hotel. He squeezed the mattress on the queen-size bed and was hugely awed by the cushioning feeling he experienced, underneath the spartan sheets and loose tan cotton cover. It complemented the ample room favourably.
To one corner was a small office desk and chair with a notepad emblazoned with the hotel logo and a biro. The other side comprised a small sitting area with a single lazy leather chair in front of a Sanyo television set. He checked the facilities and was pleased to find a modern toilet, a shower and a sink. On his face, a shallow smile appeared. The balcony that overlooked the grassy courtyard had two low-slung chairs and a narrow table. He absorbed the atmosphere and suddenly the fatigue from the rigours of the day caught up with him. Almost automatically he went in, removed his shoes and stretched out on the bed. Uncharacteristically, he napped.