Abidjan, my first venture into West Africa...did I hear of Ebola?


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October 4th 2014
Published: October 6th 2014
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What am I doing in Ivory Coast? Well, it's a funny story with the explanation coming next! Not easy to find out proper information about visiting Ivory Coast. As you will find out even on Travelblog, the last entry dates back to 2012...and there are way less than 80 entries on the country...that is maybe the number of entries on Bangkok...every single week! My first entry is on the capital, Abidjan...my second one will be on a village, that a lot of you have heard before...and on which I will be the first one to write about here.



And yes, I'll even share few words about Ebola...at the end of the day, as of today, Ebola is just few hours on the road from Abidjan...so in the Ivory Coast capital....everybody is speaking about it...even if it is "in another world"...right now...



So why Abidjan? Why not? You remember I had to use this return ticket to Europe from Kinshasa in business class. Well....landing at 9pm in Kinshasa from Europe to leave the next day on an early flight with Ethiopian Airlines to Asia is really not my stuff. Trust me, if I can spend less time in Kinshasa airport, I'm an happier man! So I asked to Brussels Airlines end of May if I could switch my return to any city in Africa in Brussels Airlines network. Answer was positive!



I would have loved to visit Dakar or Kigali, but none of the timetable was fitting my tight schedule...so why not Abidjan. At the end of the day, I could also have done Freetown, Conakry or Monrovia...but even before Ebola, there was not a lot to do in those places. So Abidjan it was...3 nights and 2 full days, and my first time ever in West Africa...as well as my 123rd country...yes it is! And they even issued me a visa on the spot at the Consulate of Ivory Coast in Bangkok...easy!



Abidjan is very very French...that the locals want it or not. They use the Franc CFA, linked to the Euro...and they have a Sofitel, a Pullman, a Novotel and even two Ibis...but all crazy expensive for the quality you get. So I settled for a nice B&B on 2 Plateaux neighborhood...run by a nice Belgian couple. You can feel pretty well everywhere that the city is just recovering from the civil war that followed the elections two years ago. Oh, yes, and forget about tourism here...locals don't even think you are a tourist when you walk around. They simply don't seem to have tourist here...for now at least!



What I love about this city...business is going all around...and you see very few of those big SUV...you know my point about those. I love the fact that this city may be a mess....but it is a living city...The UN is clearly visible in the city...but none of those massive NGO SUV all around.



I spent my first morning walking around the Plateau area. This is the main downtown area, should I say the mini Manhattan of Abidjan...that should make more than one laughing. Businesses and Administrations are based on the Plateau....and it's pretty easy to walk a good two hours around. Ok, as even locals will admit it, there is not a lot to see in Abidjan. So after my morning walk, lunch in a French brasserie....could have been in France, or even in Saigon...for the start of the week-end, on a Friday lunch time. I spent my afternoon going through the area of Cocody. Did get on top of the Sofitel to enjoy the view, and finished by a drink by the terrace of the golf...huge club house, empty place...and my clubs are still in Congo!



It was Friday night, so I did end up having a drink with a friend, yes it's a small world. Initial plan was after this to go for a birthday party...but they seem to like to start pretty late and to stay up all night, and my driver was picking me up at 8am next morning for more adventures...so just after midnight, I was in bed, for my next adventure.



And now...back to Ebola! It did start to get way more serious in the middle of the summer. As of few days ago, the virus was only affecting...and killing people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry (plus few cases in Nigeria)...and another Ebola virus was also killing at the same time in Congo.



Congo case first...seems to be limited to the province of Equator...to get there, you take a flight...than few days on a boat and walking...basically, it looks like in another world...till you found out they have few people...either infected, either in quarantine in the main hospital of Kinshasa....just 400 meters from my hotel!



For your info, when the SARS did it the world 12 years ago, I was living in Hong Kong, the epicenter of it all at the time...so yes, I do remember pretty well how things run when these viruses hit! And I was already running around the world...at the same time...



Two weeks ago, not a single control at Addis airport...one of the three main hubs, aviation wise, in Africa. Insane! Arrived in Lubumbashi where they operate a basic temperature control...but heard that those happened only from 8am to 5pm...different if you flight land at 10pm! Nothing the next week when I arrived in Kinshasa on a domestic flight. Just a week ago when I left Kinshasa...they checked our temperature....but nothing on arrival in Brussels. Nothing when I left Brussels, but a check on arrival in Abidjan. This morning, nothing to leave Abidjan, but finally a proper check in Addis...curious to update you on arrival in Bangkok! Arrival in Bangkok, and the proper...and not intrusive temperature checks are well in place!



At least 12 years ago, they asked you where you were! What was your seat in the plane, and how could you be contacted in the coming days...here nothing...insane! Speaking of Africa, as in Bangkok, due to yellow fever, they do ask you to provide your seat and contacts details. Procedure in Thailand have been in place, they just make sure they apply them properly these days!



Back to West Africa. Senegal and Ivory Coast have closed their land borders to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The only two commercial airlines still flying in Conakry, Freetown and Monrovia are Brussels Airlines and Royal Air Maroc. You cannot get infected by somebody who has ebola, but hasn't developed yet the symptoms...aka, a serious fever. So normally, I say normally, crew should be fine. Well...that is in a non-corrupt environment where people don't try to flee anyway they can, because they simply want to live. So I can understand the stress of those crew...



Than you have the international comment begging Royal Air Maroc and Brussels Airlines to keep flying in, because MSF need them to fly their emergency staff in. Well, that sound logical...if you don't know about Africa. Which airline is the biggest one in Africa? No it's not Air France or Ethiopian, its' the UN...go in messy places, and you'll see their planes everywhere....from DRC to Sudan...and those are not only cargo planes...they are also jet...yes, those that you would qualify as private jets. I saw them...everywhere!



And this is where I'm furious about the global mis-information going around! First, MSF, aka Doctors Without Borders...should receive one more time the Nobel Prize...because they are doing the job of the UN...all those big NGO linked to them...and of all those governments around the world who simply don't care...yet! But let's be accurate...there is MSF...and few top private NGO...and don't know all the names, but let's not forget to thank those people too!



Why do we need RAM or Brussels Airlines to fly doctors in...when the UN has all the planes to do it! Why do we move so fast to rightly try to destroy ISIS, even if it's too late...

And why does the world do nothing for West Africa...when planes were on the grounds hours after the Haiti earthquake. Well, Ebola is a virus and kill....if we think by simply closing the borders and forgetting about it, it will go away...we are seriously wrong.



And you don't send blankets or tents to cure ebola....you send doctors, field hospitals...and medical supplies...and you don't do it tomorrow, you should have done it yesterday! And you don't ask MSF to save the world...they do it...our own governments should do it first...where is the UN? Where is China? Where is Russia? Where is everybody?



Are we going to contain Ebola? The way we do it...no...and West Africa is not an island....you don't close the door and throw the keys...next stop is Ivory Coast and Senegal...and than...what next?!?



At the same time we should also educate our own people and media. You do not get ebola by speaking to an African! America may go wild with their first case...because probably the doctors in Texas had never heard of Liberia before...or should I say West Africa. You are contagious with Ebola only 8 to 10 days after being contaminated...and only once you have developed serious symptoms. So in the States...or anywhere in the world....you don't see people going to cinema with a heavy fever and vomiting all over the place...these people don't move, they contaminate their own families...and therefore you have time to quarantine and save people around...because the health system in Europe, America and even most Asia can cope with it.



And for me, if ever I was that unlucky to have the most improbable contact with Ebola....that you can only catch by fluids...and if I was to develop any fever...it would be straight to the hospital with full disclosure...because at the end of the day, this is the only way to cure people! Even if at the end, a high fever would mean 99% chance it's a malaria. Sad reality, malaria still kill over a million people each year in Africa...when nobody should be dying of malaria anymore! But for now....let's our governments from developed countries move in...and not tomorrow....because it's not anymore about West Africa...it's about all of us! And to the people of MSF, and others involved....my serious respects and thanks!



But my last few words will go to the people of Ivory Coast. Thanks for your welcome, I have to admit, I love your people...such a welcoming nation! Wish in Abidjan you will soon be able to speak only of your traffic jams and business coming back to normal...even if we know it may not happen. I had a great time in Abidjan, thanks to the people...even if I'm not sure when I'll be back!



And finally full disclosure, as of today, not a single positive and official case in Ivory Coast...as of today...


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7th November 2014

Meant to reply to this blog earlier. I thought this was really well-written, Pierre! Such an interesting insight to the current views (and misinformation) on Ebola as well as the heroes like Doctors without Borders and many of the other groups willing to get out there. We've also read a lot about how local nurses, doctors, clean-up crews are often ostracized by even there own families due to the fear the E-word seems to strike. As with many diseases, the stigma can be just as devastating.

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