Just after I wrote yesterday’s conclusion, that we are from now on just transiting, Alonso spots a few youths along the road, in traditional dress. We stop at the next village, called Zoukougbeu, to inquire, and indeed, they are part of an initiation group of 40, that spends some seven months in the forest. To become a man – girls are excluded, of course. The boys are between 18 and 25 years old, an initiation rite is only held every five years; but the most striking thing, as far as I am concerned, is that these things still happen, in this modern era. I wonder if they are allowed mobile phones, in their bush retreat.
For a small contribution, and a bottle of liquor, the village is prepared to mobilise a few of the boys, for us to see. And to take pictures, of course. The boys are covered with a raffia suit, with something mostly akin Christmas decoration on the top. Amongst themselves, we are told, they are naked, but covered in black ointment, for protection – making them even blacker than they already are. Around ankles and wrists they wear rope, apparently also for protection. The good news? Everybody graduates on completion.
On our way back to the truck a child appears, dressed up, as well, and with a crude wooden mask. He or she is surrounded by a larger group of children, who chant and cheer on the child to dance. Quite a nice surprise, although the role and significance of this particular part of the ceremony remains a mystery.
We continue our long day driving, with minimal stopping. Alonso is clearly determined to get to the end as quickly as possible. We pass the Buyo Lake, an artificial lake behind the Buyo Dam. On the edge rice paddies have been built, there is enough water available here. Halfway the town of Man the countryside is changing, still very green, but the first hills are appearing, mostly granite from what I can see. Granite is that useless surface cover that large parts of Africa suffer from, it keeps no soil, exposes bare rock instead, and if it rains, all the water runs off in one go, causing flooding of the nearby fields and villages.
The villages here are clearly poorer that earlier in Cote d’Ivoire. Most houses are still stone and concrete, but there are more adobe houses again, even the occasional thatch roof. The accommodation of ancestors is often more important, they rest in elaborate, tiled tombs that regularly line the road outside many of the villages, an open cemetery. Sometimes several tombs are stacked next to each other, presumably representing a family. Many of the tombs are overgrown, so I am not sure how much value these ancestors have on in the long term.
After Danane, where we have lunch, we get off the tarmac – so far every road in Cote d’Ivoire has been excellent, surfaced, no potholes. A dirt road leads to the border with Liberia. The police checks appear again, we all need to get out and show our passports, which are subsequently photographed by the officer in charge. At least this is an improvement from writing down the details. Then he wants a group picture! – as if he is going to link each passport to one of us in the group. Ten minutes later we have another police check; they obviously get nervous, so close to the border.
The last challenge before the border is a huge market, which blocks most of the road. It is incredible that Alonso manages our truck through, without flattening any of the market stalls. And then we are at Gbeunta, the border, theoretically a piece of cake, because we all have our visas. Theoretically, because it turns out that my 3 months visa is valid from 17/1/23 to …. 16/1/23. An obvious mistake, of course, and on Sofia’s visa, issued at the same moment by the same person, is does say 16/4/23, but he, never let an opportunity to make some extra money pass. The customs lady flatly refuses to stamp my passport. But I cannot go back to Cote d’Ivoire, having just left that country on a single-entry visa. Being confronted with the prospect of having me around for the rest of her working life, she relents. She wants to know how much we paid for the visa, and then suggests we pay her the same, again. I think it is a hundred dollars, but I am not going to pay that. Not my mistake, no? And she is the official, she is the one who can rectify this. Hmm. She seems to agree, but then the two men around her intervene. Rectifying this is a service, so that requires a service fee. Being faced with an endless discussion about the level of the service fee, ultimately, Sofia offers to buy them a beer each. Well, they will buy the beer themselves, if we can just give them the money. Three beers is about 5 US$. And we are in. With the visa altered, and an entry stamp.