In Australia, September 1st is noted as “Wattle Day” because it’s the nominal first day of spring and wattle blooms with the warmer weather.* (BTW, the green and gold of wattle are the reason why Australian athletes competing around the world are clothed in such a hideous colour combination. I knew you always wondered about it…)

Australian wattle, August 2009
Although no longer part of the Mimosa genus, wattle continues to remind me of the Ivoirien soccer team ASEC Mimosas.

Since I’ve been logo-conscious from childhood, I still associate wattle with the yellow and black shield of the main soccer team in Abidjan. Africans are soccer-mad, and ASEC was a popular team in Côte d’Ivoire — probably because they brought home the UFOA Cup (West African Club Championship) in 1990, only the third Ivoirien team to do so since 1977.

When big soccer matches were held, Africans all across the city would tune their radios to the soccer broadcast. Huge roars would echo through the suburbs when a goal was scored, and the partying (for those whose team won) would go on all night. Although as a family, we didn’t particularly follow the teams or the matches, we could tell when a big match was on just by the cheering coming from the homes around us.

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In the early nineties, I remember riding my bike with the Leppards out to Riviera, which at this point was still undeveloped suburbs with only the streets marked out and very few houses dotting the lots. At the end of dirt track, we leaned up against the chain-link mesh fence and watched the ASEC team train on a grassy field.

The youths wore mismatched clothes, many were missing wearing plastic Bata sandals instead of cleats, and their ball was hardly new. However, the skill and determination of such young soccer players have led to the international success of individuals like Arsenal’s Kolo Touré, Anderlecht’s Aruna Dindane and 10 members of the line-up at Belgian Cup finalists Beveren.

There’s no doubt they remember their days at the academy in Riviera and think about how far they’ve come — like me.

Cocody neighbourhood, Abidjan, circa 1990
Here's Cocody, looking over the petrol station and part of the Cocody Market. The white high-rises on the left housed a ground-floor legendary patisserie and chocolatier called Michel Eynards. We lived in the ground floor of the apartments on the right of Blvd de France. The pedestrian crossings painted on the road were a guide for pedestrians only — cars were not obliged to stop for foot traffic, and you always crossed the road at your own peril!

Riviera neighbourhood, Abidjan, circa 1990
Because the road to Riviera snaked past the lagoons, water was freely available, and enterprising gardeners set up nurseries to cater to the European and ex-pat tastes in floral arrangements.

Cocody neighbourhood, Abidjan, circa 1990
The kids in our neighbourhood would play with whatever was available.

Abidjan, circa 1990
Women started cooking early in the morning in big aluminium pots to cater for the workers that would gather under the tin shelters for lunch, eating bowls of spicy sauce with rice, foutou (pounded and shaped manioc or plaintain) and atièke. Meal prices were set according to the portions of meat allocated.

*David just pulled me up to correct me on the date. “1st August is Wattle Day!” he insisted. And he should know. Growing up, he knew his birthday was “Wattle Day”. So I did a little research. Where he grew up (in NSW), Wattle Day was designated 1 August, rather than 1 September, because the wattle bloomed earlier in the warmer climate and ladies who sold the flowers for charity wanted to take advantage of the blooms. They complained that the later date meant fewer wattles were in flower. So they got the date changed in 1916. But in 1988 the Governor-General (Australia’s official head-of-state) proclaimed the official National Wattle Day to be 1 September. So somehow the charity-workers are forced to cope with adverse conditions — they probably just sell plastic made-in-China wattles!