I set foot on Cote d’Ivoire summer 86.
Next door Ghanians got shinier skin. But hearing French spoken by the people there made me feel at home. In fact, so at home that I, upon discovering a Vietnamese restaurant in town, stopped in for lunch. And they did not even take our money. Fellow countrymen, in a foreign land, as far away as one could possibly imagine.
The owner mentioned about flights from France that would supply needed ingredients for egg rolls and other authentic Vietnamese dishes.
They must have been one of the very few early Asian settlers in the country.
Then, yesterday, on the Newshour, we watched Peter Pham, expert on African affairs, interviewed for the segment on current regime change in Ivory Coast.
I have seen his book on Africa‘s affairs. And to hear him on air, was just as delightful. The word “positive deviant” came to mind.
Instead of rebelling against strict parental and cultural codes e.g. pressures to become a doctor or an engineer, some people harness their passion to pursue something totally “deviant” but with a positive spin. And Peter Pham was one of those. Vietnamese, but expert on African affairs.
A few years back, I was also surprised to see a Japanese expert on Vietnamese language.
The depth of his knowledge about our culture and language would put any of us to shame.
There certainly were some drawbacks being born outside of the culture, but this also is made up by his objectivity and relentless pursuit. In short, he went in deep.
My short stint in West Africa was my attempt to understand a culture so different from mine. To experience the world via someone else’s eyes.
In Liberia and Ghana, I relied on English to communicate. But in Cote d’Ivoire, I was forced to pull out language I acquired in my early years. Oui, oui.
I wish for the people of Cote d’Ivoire the best, when the country can be stabilized and rebuilt to its former glory.
Its boulevards and police posts were so Saigonese that I felt at home there all of a sudden. That kindred feeling that is reserved only for relatives.
That was in 86. I don’t even want to venture about its current state of internal warring. And how a hotel that turned compound for the President-in-waiting can accommodate that much aspiration for change and modernity. Any disruption, if well-capitalized, can be turned into opportunity for growth. The continent is awaiting to see if election model work out for this former French colony. All eyes are on Ivory Coast, including mine.