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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 09:57 GMT
Intriguing first impressions in Ivory Coast
Lara Pawson gives her first impressions of Ivory Coast after arriving in the country to report for the BBC.

There's been quite a lot of bad press coming out of the Ivory Coast during recent months.

Troops in Abidjan
Abidjan has seen plenty of trouble in recent months
In fact, ever since September 2002, when there was an attempted coup and the country subsequently divided laterally, between north and south, life in the once stable and thriving West African country, has sounded pretty gloomy.

Before I arrived, I was warned against being sucked into an apparent sense of normality here, which I suppose means, a false sense of security.

I also warned myself against comparing Ivory Coast with the last country I reported from: Angola.

But I'm afraid, so far, I admit to doing both.

Airport

The airport is a good place to start. Shiny walls, slippery clean floors, polished glass cubicles in which immigration officials sit in pressed uniforms. But where are the guns?

No guns. I thought this place was at war - or at least, not in peace - so the airport would be well-armed. But I was wrong.

In fact, two particularly large men, in army fatigues, sitting on a bench just in front of the exit gave me a friendly hand-shake, and neither of them were holding guns.

So far, so good and dare I say it, a long way from Angola's Quatro de Fevereiro Airport. The comparisons don't stop there.

Driving from the airport into town, you have to search for the potholes along the smooth and swift dual carriageways. After four days in this country, I have counted just one pothole for each day.

I must be missing something. Surely.

Driven batty

I was equally impressed by all the pavements in the centre of town: pavements and trees line the streets that sit neatly under tower blocks, some of which are covered with reflective glass.

Perhaps it's inside those buildings that Ivory Coast's CEOs drink the champagne I am told is sold all over Abidjan.

Bats
Fruit bats make a racket outside the window
The sounds and the smells of this city have also struck me.

Sounds of fruit bats hanging upside down in their hundreds. Do they ever sleep?

I thought they came alive at night, and yet they seem to spend all day chattering in the branches at just about the same level as the BBC office.

They're known here as les chauve-souris, literally bald-mice. Why not flying mice or loud mice? I don't know.

On Monday, President Laurent Gbagbo drove past our office. I watched from the eighth floor as he stopped to greet young men and women who were cheering and clapping by the side of the road.

Suddenly, in the branches in front of me, the bald-mice seemed to find the excitement infectious. They dropped headfirst from their branches, before flapping in large circles above the crowds below. How did they know it was President Gbagbo? I thought bats were blind.

Perhaps they have the powers of a Cameroonian woman I met on Wednesday evening.

She was serving me some fish at one of the many small road-side cafes, serving fish, chicken, and other meats on superb grills. Well, at this particular maquis, this lady from Yaounde told me that she could guess the name of one of the men I was with.

I laughed, and challenged her to do just that. And guess what? She got it right! Julian, she said of my husband. "Il s'appelle Julian".

How did she know that? I don't know. But Ivory Coast is indeed an intriguing place.


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