Côte d’Ivoire is the first African country I set foot in and where I was bitten by the proverbial “Africa bug.” In the early 1970s, at the height of the country’s post-colonial economic growth, my family moved to Abidjan for three years for my father’s job with the World Bank. Childhood memories include spending weekends at the beach, taking family vacations up north, ice-skating on the rink at the Hôtel Ivoire and hanging out with Michel and Jean-Marie, our cook and house help from neighboring Burkina Faso, after a day at the International School.
As an adult, I returned to Abidjan from 1997 to 2000 to work on a health project. By then, the country’s economic success was in a reversal, and African immigrants who’d come to work from neighboring countries served as scapegoats. When I suffered from back pain, a Ghanaian masseuse named Erica came to my house to work out the knots. Once a week, she appeared at my house, quietly went about her work, and then disappeared again. Because she spoke less than the talkative Ivoirians and Francophones I was used to, I didn’t get to know her well. But once I moved back to the U.S. and began traveling frequently to Ghana, I started to wonder about Erica: What had brought her to Abidjan? How long had she been there? Was her family still in Ghana, and, if so, what prevented her from returning to them? The story “Monday Born” is an attempt to explore these questions.
Photos by Susi Wyss