The city of Man is in the main hub of Côte d'Ivoire's North-West region, an area where many different ethnical groups intersect: Yacouba, Guéré, in additions to the Lobi from Burkina who've settled here for working in the coffee plantations. This make for interesting discoveries, but unfortunately it was also here and particulary in Duékoué that many massacres happened during the war of 2002-2003 and the crisis of 2011. This has left scars in people's mind that will take a lot of time to erase. More practically, the city of Man is pretty run down, and badly needs rebuilding.
I'd read that the Wé villages south of Man are known for their very specific traditions and arts, most notably child juggling. No, not juggling performed by children, but guys juggling children
. Now seriously..? I've got to get there and figure out how it looks like. In Africa, it's often difficult to figure out what is "authentic" (and interesting), and what's here just for the tourists to look at. As I've learned earlier in the trip, you have to reach far into the Namibian backcountry to find Himbas who're not there just for the show, and Mali's Dogon country is veering dangerously close to being a tourist trap (fortunately they're not there yet, and the current lack of tourism will probably put an end to some of the excess).
Naturally there are a maze of tracks fanning out as soon as you leave the tar road. I've got to stop numerous times to ask for directions, which isn't bad in itself, because it's a nice way to chat with people, sometimes having a coke or a small snack at one of the roadside shacks.
Eventually I arrive at the village. I see a parked vehicle and lots of people waiting next to the dispensary. Today an organization based in Man is visiting the village, and the villagers have come en masse for an examination.
People are pretty surprised to see a stranger here, apparently. I quickly befriend some people and get myself invited for the night. The usual African welcome. The head of village isn't present at the moment, so I'm spared a visit.
I ask around for the jugglers. Hmmmm.. yeah, there's one but he's out in a nearby village for a burial. But he'd probably be happy to come back for me. My host wants to go now to get them (on my bike - there's no other vehicle here), but it's too late so I say tomorrow. The teacher comes to see me, he's a really nice guy and of course he speaks good French. He leads me around the village to visit his parents, brothers, etc.. who of course all want me to sit down and share some food. When the falls, everything goes dark as there is no lighting. All you can see are the few flashlights and the fires lit for cooking. The options for socializing are next to nil, I'll have to wait for a nightcap. Everybody goes to sleep pretty early with the transistor on full blast for good measure.
The next morning I pick up my guide and leave on the bike for the village where the burial is taking place. Many people have gathered for a big ceremony, involving a lot of food and drinks of course - they even killed a whole cow for good measure. Some rich guys from the capital have come in a Mercedes, and they offer me to sit down and have a drink with them. Pretty boring, but you can't just waltz in in a ceremony and leave, there are certain rules and you have to pay respect to the important people there. The first one is to sit down, listen to what they're saying, and eat what they're giving you.
Finally I get hold of the jugglers. They want me to take 2 guys pillion but I don't feel comfortable with the load on such bad roads. So they find another 2 bikes for the 5 guys and off we go. Arriving at the village we discuss the plan. Forst off, the price. What he's asking for is way off charts, so I calm him down and offers what I'm ready to spend on the show, which is considerably less. He doesn't seem too disappointed, and quickly agrees, because (as he says now only), he's still in training mode and the show isn't fully rehearsed. Ah-ah, oh well never mind.
Hanging out in the village while the team prepares, I come across those two guys who''re heading for some kind of traditional party in a nearby village. It's nice to see that they keep their traditions alive.
The show isn't just dancing, it's an old tradition with a very strict program. First the juggler and his gang of young girls go to a special, sacred place in the woods to prepare. They put on make-up and special garments. Then they go out following a small band playing drums. I'm there with many other villagers, and I observe the dry run
of the show.
Diourouzon from Laurent Bendel on Vimeo.
The concept is a bit freaky but nothing dangerous really, as the girls don't come in contact with the knives.
Then we all leave for the village. The first stop is at the house of a former dancer - she's now an old woman but she seems to appreciate that the show is still on. Some more tossing of little girls in the air and we continue on.
Of course the whole village knows about the ceremony and they seem to enjoy it. The next stop is at the village elder. The custom asks that I offer the old guy a shot of brandy, which is easy to find everywhere in small plastic bags. That's not going to make him no harm I guess..
Finally, we arrive a the 'city hall', well the house of the head of the village. A lot of people are already here, it seems that the real performance is going to take place here. I go greet the head of village, who starts to admonish me for not visiting him (and presumably, not having brought him some booze). Then the show starts.
Well, it doesn't really takes off, the lead juggler approaches and tells me that the girls are not ready and therefore they can't do the dance.
Instead he will do some 'magic'. Dude.....
Magic it ain't, it's just a guy inserting various foreign objects through his skin. I don't really see the point, but this guy has found creative uses for wheel spokes
At the end of the day it was a pretty amazing experience to live the life of the ordinary people in a village far out in the bush.
Back in Man, I check back into my hotel, and head off the find a functioning cyber cafe. There aren't many, some are supposed to work, most don't. I get a tip from somebody, there's a library in the hospital and they have computers there. Indeed, inside the hospital compound I find a room full of bran new computers with LCD screens, a rarity in Africa. The internet link is kind of decent, I mean, probably worse than a good 3G cellular link in Europe, but above average for West Africa. I also clean up my air filter which is bogged down with tons of dirt. Thank god for the pre-filters and the washable foam filters.
But tonight's biggie is the final of the CAN, Africa's football cup. Côte d'Ivoire and his millionnaire Drogba is playing little known Zambia for the title. Needless to say, the shops stay open and turn on their TVs for the passer-by to watch, for most people the only way to watch the game. Most of them are smallish CRT, but there's one TV vendor on the main street who's taken a big flat-screen TV on the street and hooked it up to a SAT dish. I don my orange jersey and sit down on the floor next to the kids.
The match is dull and the Ivorians are out-played by the Zambian. It drags on through extra time to the penalty shootout, much the excitement of the crowd of course. Unfortunately, with Drogba the mega-star missing his shoot the Ivorians lose it to the Zambians and everybody go home in a deafening silence.
Tomorrow I'll head for the border and enter Guinea.