28th of December was my first healthy day after suffering an attack of malaria. It’s a bad fever, so I was fortunate that it lasted only two days. Lauren, however, became sick a num-ber of days before me, and remained ill for a number of days.

I have a few facts about the village Africans that may be of interest to you. Their average life span is forty-five to fifty years. This is probably due to a number of reasons. They have plenty of food, but it is a poor diet, unbalanced. It’s a hard life. Just keeping body and soul together takes a lot of physical exertion. They seem to do many things the hard way when it would or could be in their power to do things easier. For example, many sleep on mats, which are made of a strong, cane-like grass. This mat is placed on the concrete or just on the dirt. I cannot see how this
can be comfortable, but they don’t mind. A foam mattress is not too expensive. They don’t seem to approach life like we do, always looking for ways to make things easier or more comfortable.

Adolescent youth rebellion doesn’t seem to exist here. That is a problem of our decadent, personal-fulfillment-oriented society. Family social bonds are very strong, and boys of twelve or thirteen years will take two cows, harnessed to a cart, and travel two days to sell their family’s produce or wares. Two days’ travel would be about one hundred kilo-meters, given that cows are slow, need to eat, drink and rest, and don’t maintain direction and speed like a horse. These boys will take turns at literally pulling the cows by a rope attached to the mouth. I would not imagine that these young-sters would abscond with the family’s wages.

Language barriers affect everyone. Over one thousand lan-guages are spoken on this continent, with over 80 in Cote d’Ivoire alone. Considering that education is limited, and the desire to immerse oneself in the culture/language of another is not prevalent, people stick to their own. There are some migrating or nomadic peoples, like the Fulani cattle herders, and the Tuareg (twareg) desert-dwelling traders, but for most, Africa is an unfathomly large place. Even I astound the locals when I speak to them of neighboring countries and capital cities. The Americans tell me that some of the villag-ers we met on the building outreach have never even ven-tured to Bouake.

Corruption in Africa is a problem as common as TV-watching in the States: everyone does it. Young boys will put mock bandages on when begging, to make you feel sorry for them. People who do not rightfully own the public toilets will ask you to pay when you already have. Foreign ex-change con-men will attempt to confuse you. Police will pull you over and ask for money. Army men stop vehicles, sup-posedly to search for weapons or drugs, then blatantly ask for a small sum. When it is paid, no search is made. If you had plenty of cash, you could get away with anything here, liter-ally, murder.

Reading back over my last paragraph, I need to explain more to you about the police and army so as not to give you an unbalanced view. The police are very corrupt, always asking for bribes. However, they are not very powerful. A typical police stop would be located at a fixed point on the road, with a few old tyres blocking one lane. As you slow to go around these, they blow their whistles and angrily point one arm and finger. When you stop, they ask to see your papers. The African taxis that we have been in, when stopped like this, place one or two dollars’ equivalent inside their little book. This gets them on their way. It only takes a few sec-onds to do this. In the city, I have seen drivers that gear down on the approach, then drop the clutch at the crucial moment, then speed away. The police are angry, but they don’t have any cars or radio contact, just a uniform and a whistle. Australian youth would make a mockery of them. However, they do have guns. I’ve heard one report of a run-ning taxi driver being shot to death when they fired on his vehicle. The hue and cry about this had the police reprimanded.

Since the beginning, missionaries have explained the passage where Jesus taught the soldiers not to ask for bribes and be content with their wages. They have made a policy of refus-ing to pay bribes—-in a respectful way. It works. This reputa-tion is widespread and longstanding, giving us a convenient out word: “missionaire, missionaire.” Many of the mission-aries do present tracts to the police, and this sometimes re-sults in being stopped for some reading material!

When we were in Ghana, our nine-seater fast car was stopped. The driver told us to file past the officers behind a desk in a small shack and give them 2,000 cedes ($1.35). Lauren and I just stood a couple of meters in front of them and made small talk for about a minute. I think they were embarrassed. (Remember, Ghana has a high national honor; they would hate to think of us making a bad report.) So we walked away and got back into our car.

The currency in Cote d’Ivoire is francs; 425 cfa=AU$1. A taxi ride lasting about ten minutes will cost $2.50. If you travel by woro-woro, which is a taxi travelling a set route, the same distance will cost you $.50. A fifty-two seater bus is called a “car”. You can take one of these from Abidjan to Bouake, about four and a half hours, for $7.50. Accommoda-tion in a quality guesthouse will cost between $10 and $20. Beverage quantities are measured in centiliters. If you order a beer at a sit-down drinking spot, it will come in a 65cl bot-tle a cost $1.20.

At the markets you can find the largest range of quality fab-rics you can imagine, well over 1,000 patterned and plain cloth. A 1 meter x 2 meter piece is worth $5.00. Bargaining is necessary. You can have this fabric made into a garment by a quality tailor for $5.

All forms of skilled labor are very cheap: furniture makers, upholsterers, tailors, chefs, mechanics, wood craftsmen, hairdressers, etc. You can employ a household worker or building/trade laborer for $6 to $10 per day. With minimum wage $6 per day, and many entrepreneurs earning less than that, many Africans live a poor lifestyle.

Many of the Africans have work ethics different to ours. Being easily side-tracked, often lazy and late, they have no idea what customer service means. For example, in the mar-kets where you can purchase all kinds of household goods like dishwashing liquids, candles, serviettes, light bulbs, etc. The shelves holding these are behind the counter, and on request, someone will get them for you. But they just throw everything so it lands on the counter!

Food, if you eat African-style, is dirt-cheap. On most street corners, at noon and in the evening, street food stalls are set up. They sell fried and grilled plantain, sweet-cakes, grilled fish, and meat brochettes (shish-kebabs). You can buy or-anges already peeled, sliced fresh pineapple, or peanuts in glass bottles. Here you can really feast for $2. At a small
eat-in restaurant (not too classy), a well-prepared meal of high standard will cost $3.50. Soft drinks are $.60 for 30 centiliters and come in a glass bottle, but don’t take it away, they want the bottle back. Cans are three or four times this price. Hence you can see how missionaries are able to live here for as little as $12 per day.

Fruit that we are used to: grapes, apples, peaches, etc, are extremely expensive as they come from Europe. A bunch of grapes costs $5. Doctors are expensive and hard to find; prescription glasses cost a lot. Many things we are used to are simply not available. Phone boxes are rare and poorly maintained. If you need to make a call, you go to an office for public phone use. Someone will dial the number for you and charge $1 per 3 minutes for a local call. Most houses do not have the phone on, as it can take from six months to a year for the phone company to make the installation.

The Americans here think that my accent is amusing. I inten-tionally stay away from Australian colloquialisms like “G’day, mate, how ya goin?” because here it just sounds so silly. However, many things that I say, they have not heard before, and have no idea what I’m saying, even when I’m serious, e.g. “heaps of blokes” and “that’s what I reckon” and “are you having me on?”. Their understanding of Australia is limited to “The Man from Snowy River” and “Crocodile Dundee”.

Christmas is a major celebration among the Americans. Jesus and Santa are placed right next to each other in the decorat-ing. This is disheartening to me, so I politely kept to myself.