Five Abidjan Friends Thinking of Getting Out, Part III, S

S has semi-stripped in seedy European-owned Abidjan clubs, half run-down, maybe open for laundering money, usually nearly empty, with fewer customers than waitresses, wearing the same skimpy outfits, and doing group dances, jokingly provocative.

S loves porn for some reason, and fills her cracked cell phone with it. She smokes weed during the day, drinks a few beers before starting her night job, and then drinks more alcohol when customers buy her drinks.

She laughs through it all, all of this is done very moderately, but sometimes you wonder where the pain is, and where all this is leading.

She likes taking racy pictures of herself and posting them on different Internet dating sites, trying to get money from Europeans who look at them, pretending she wants to go live with them, when all she really wants are their euros.

Web cafes across West Africa have rows and rows of young women sitting under whizzing fans, posting their pictures, surfing the Internet for free, and sharing their profits with the cafe owners, whenever seemingly desperate men on another side of the world, agree to western union them money.

S's email address is aidsvirus in French. This would seem to make her devilish, but she's an innocent soul with a naive heart. Having a good laugh is her favorite hobby.

On her good days, she likes to wear bandannas and write songs, and rap freestyle. On her nights off, she likes to wear sunglasses and go to fancy clubs and pretend she's an American rapper.

S once dated a French military peacekeeper. He promised her he would marry her, and she believed him.

For about 50 dollars a month, he got her a small apartment, enough to fit a mattress, a small tv, a cd player, a few flimsy clothes, a couple pairs of high heel shoes, sandals, a few old magazines, a small bag of toilettries and beauty products, just about the possessions of most young African women living in cities.

S stopped working then, but got so bored she ended up hanging out in the bar where she used to work, where she met her boyfriend, where most of the customers were French peacekeepers.

I thought they were in love, S and her boyfriend. It really seemed so when she talked to me about him. They would incessantly email and text each other messages full of sex.

But when his third tour of duty was up, unlike after the first two, he told her he needed to think about their relationship, and soon stopped emailing and sending money for the apartment. She doesn't know if he'll ever be back or even if he does come back, if they'll ever be together again.

This shattered S for a while, confused her, fogged up the most vivid dream she had ever had. She started drinking and smoking more. She went back to her old job.

Her story is not one like others which involve rape, abuse, utter poverty or abandonment. S just seems bored most of the time, restless, with too much energy, creative, intellectual and otherwise, with nowhere to go, or too afraid or without any resources to break out of familiar patterns.

She comes from a small southeastern town, where the first lady was born, where each person is entitled to an acre of pineapple growing soil.

Her Christian mom divorced her Christian father, a struggling, thin, alcoholic musician who mostly toils in town, and married a succesful Muslim mechanic businessman, who shuttles in and out of Abidjan wearing a crisp boubou.

S has three little sisters, all of them go to school, but the school calendar is always interrupted by strikes and protests emanating from the commercial capital, an hour's drive away through military roadblocks made up of tires or barbed wire.

The family has a nice two-storey home with minimal electricity but nice open space and balconies among trees and other greenery, up on a hill, 500 or so muddy meters away from the town mosque.

There are two small bedrooms downstairs, one for the parents, one for the daughters. Upstairs, there's a main room, mainly for watching tv, either political propaganda, dubbed Latin American soap operas or music and variety shows.

The other main room is the kitchen, where the mother spends lots of time learning how to make northern fare for her new husband.

I guess S just was stifled by this life, even though it seems quite tranquil, and as best as it can get in a country with little economic development for the unconnected, and lots of hustle and bustle, but at a humid and tepid, somewhat lullaby, pace in her own town.

S is shy, but likes to play tough when she can, craving love that her parents seem to reserve for her younger siblings, and something, anything to do with all her energy.

She quit school after sixth grade, even though she was one of the best students. She told me it had been too easy, and that she was bored in class, so she stopped going after getting her grade-school diploma.

After a few years of reselling small wares like flip flops and mirrors and pirated dvds in the town market, she went to Abidjan to become a model and a dancer, but said all the men in that business wanted to sleep with her, so she quit, and instead became a waitress, where she felt more in control.

The first time I met S was at the beach where I tried to make progress in the difficult life and art form of surfing. She was friends with JB (chapter I).

I bought her a few beers, and listened to her funny stories. She liked to speak at a million kilometers an hour, not saying much, but her razzle dazzle was infectious, She also drove me crazy, when she became bored, and would start screaming and ranting, not knowing what to do, but to pester me like the little sister I never had. As we became friends, she liked to remind me of this.

She once told me about going to a person's house unannounced, and not being allowed to go inside, and sleeping outside for three days nearby, going by the house, until I opened the door.

I always thought she should go to the south of France, and become a rapper. But how will she get there?

I once promised her I would take her to Ghana on a road trip but on the day we were supposed to leave, she told me she had recently lost all her papers. I felt that would not be smart going through all the roadblocks, me a foreigner, her without any papers.

That day she cried. She said she had never been outside her own country, and that is all she wished for, to see how other people lived, to feel even for just a few days a breeze of opportunity for change.

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