Last week I wrote an article busting some common myths I have faced time and again about Africa. As I had mentioned, it is my way of giving back to the land that gave me so much. I seek to remove the veil that covers it in shadows formed by misconceptions.
Encouraged by the enthusiastic response the article received, I’m back with another heartfelt post about Africa. This time I share with you some remarkable experiences I had during my stay in Ivory Coast and my visit to Morocco, two fascinating countries that lie within the African continent.
I guess remarkable experiences stem from meeting remarkable people. This one started because I landed up at the library of the US Embassy in Abidjan and ran into Madame Marie Laure, an Ivorian lady with ambitious ideas for her countrymen and women. Among other initiatives she has launched, is the mentoring program for young female students in Ivory Coast, who aspire to become scientists, technologists and mathematicians in the future.
It was an honour to be asked to become one of the mentors for the program and that is how I landed up mentoring two young women, Sabine and Roxanne. The experience of learning back from those I mentored and from sharing ideas with the other high achieving ladies who served as mentors was incredible and one I wouldn’t easily forget.
Africa has given me much in terms of comfort and well-being and early in my stay here I resolved to try to help society here in my own little way. Over my three years here, I was closely associated with three different orphanages and with each one; I have memories that will last. For instance, I remember arriving at one of these orphanages on my birthday with a friend, who let slip that it was my special day. The lovely little girls, ranging in age from three to eighteen, surrounded me and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in English, French and Spanish!
On another occasion, my husband and I were playing with the little children of a center run by the Missionaries of Charity and we were overwhelmed by the love those kids were displaying, especially towards my husband. As they climbed him and hung from his every limb, the Sister who worked there explained to me that though they always had women helpers taking care of them, the little ones craved for male attention and company. In my husband, for those precious moments, they had found a father!
Once again, the US Embassy in Abidjan was responsible for giving me an interesting opportunity. Over a couple of months during my stay in Abidjan, I taught a batch of Ivorian adults the basics of written and spoken English. Our learning experience was mutual, for while they struggled with my language, I strove to understand theirs. In fact, I believe that my willingness to accept that I too sought to learn from them made them even more receptive to be taught by me. By the time the batch graduated, they had developed an affinity for me, naming me an exceptional teacher and I was humbled by their love.
Those of you who read my blogs would remember the article I wrote about How Olam and 500 Women are Changing a Town in Ivory Coast. One of the most unforgettable days of my stay in this country is when I visited Simranjeet and his wife, Naina in a remote town called Dimbokro while on a road trip. Simran took us through Olam’s cashew factory, showing us every step in the life of a raw cashew, from the moment it is cracked out of its husk until it leaves the factory premises in its gleaming glory.
But more fascinating than the journey of a cashew was the way the factory, chiefly employing women, was bringing about a social revolution in the town. Simran and Olam’s efforts, combined with these women’s dedication, is not only bringing prosperity to Dimbokro, but also education to its women, savings for its families and progress in its society. Not to mention, inspiration to other surrounding towns.
One of my most memorable experiences in Africa was during our trip to Morocco when we trekked through the versatile Atlas Mountains. Not only does the experience live on in my mind, it is translating into a more lasting memory by forming the backdrop of my next novel. Yes, in my next book, you are going to see one of the main protagonists as a trekking guide in Morocco.
Latifa, the guide who showed us the beauty of the mountains among which we walked, created a significant impression on me. I still remember the imposing cliffs, the beautiful valleys, the shaded walnut farms, the freezing rivers and the hospitable Berber families we met during our 50 km long hike over three days, as if I did it all just yesterday.
Africa has been a journey of unforgettable experiences for me. The five I have described here stand out, but as I lie back and close my eyes to brood over the end of this journey, I can think of so many more instances that live on in my memories. I hope my recollections have opened a small window for you, through which to take a peek at this lovely continent and share the wonder I have for it.
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.