Five Abidjan Friends Thinking of Getting Out, Part II, M.

M. woke up in the morning with some business to deal with.

He had driven with me to the beach the night before through roadblocks, chatting up drunk Ivorian soldiers, making them laugh, even though he was one of the enemies, a Burkinabe with a fake ID, taking a day off work.

His friend, R., a rich expat son of a container mogul, who had been bilked of half of his after-high-school-graduation- (family gift) school money, by a Nigerian con man who'd driven up to him in a fancy car, but said he'd been bilked of all of it so he had an excuse never to go to any university, had for some reason, forcibly taken his cell phone card, because his had gotten stolen, or he may have lost it.

R. had a fancy four by four, surf boards, nice clothes, free room and board at his parent's gargantuan fully guarded serviced home, and what not what else, while M. slept on the dingy living room floor of a friend's cramped two room apartment near the slowly crumbling, weed infested, tennis courts where he worked.

He couldn't receive phone calls from his clients ordering up lessons, or canceling last minute. In Africa, the service goes in one direction; everything goes in the direction of the one who pays. There are no guarantees or protections of any sort for the one who provides the service. Coercion will not work either since the paying party can always order up his own coercive service to counter initial coercion, which will -- due to the dynamics of money in this equation -- be weaker.

Anyway, R. and M. had a strange friendship, whereby R. considered M. his property. He gave him money, took him out, or gave him discarded items from time to time. Since his cell phone had been stolen, and he was too lazy to buy himself a new card, he had just ripped out M's card, and said he needed it, because he was expecting a call from a married woman who had given him gooey eyes.

R. didn't dare be seen with M's own half broken down cell phone so he had just taken the card and put it in one of his many state of the art phones he had laying around.

On that morning, M. was having none of it. He went straight to the beach bar, and drank down his monthly pay in the dazed space of a few morning hours, downing some cold Flag beers.

Then he smashed one of the bottles in two, and proudly held the broken off top of the bottle, glimmering with the now broiling sun, and his eyes, more forceful than usual, but still the smile creasing in his somewhat sarcastic, tending toward fatalistic, lips.

He asked to be driven to the shack where he thought R. was probably napping off the morning surf session.

Me trying to be a practitioner of non-violence and having my own tense history with R. decided it be best that someone else drive M..

Apparently, after being dropped off on the side of the coconut lined sand track, M. walked slowly toward R's shack, but before he could come to a stop and wield his broken bottle with any additional menace, word seemed to have passed. The cook R's gang had brought along for the beach trip came out with the cell phone card, no discussions needed.

M. is a street philosopher. He is illiterate, but he reads people's minds down to their last paranoia, their last shred of pretension.

He can analyze, psycho-analyze, “debablify”, dissect, inspect, theorize and pontificate about any living entity that crosses his path.

He drinks a lot sometimes it seems so his thoughts can be slowed down in a drunken swirl.

His mother is a peanut seller on the side of a road in Abidjan. M. grew up so hungry in Burkina Faso that he chased down and stole his neighbor’s chickens to feed himself. He says his dad wants to build himself a retirement home, and that he needs to send about 600 dollars home for this purpose, but he can't seem to save any money.

M. walked by the tennis club in Abidjan in his early 20s, talked himself into being a ball boy and then self-taught himself tennis when the courts were empty. He and I were the only ones who enjoyed playing when it was the hottest between one and three. I could edge out wins if I played with rotten balls like the ones I played with when I taught myself topspin tennis against a garage door in an alley in Washington, DC. With decent balls, he would crush me with his overpowering serve and service returns. Whichever way the score went, our games would usually turn into a running comedy show -- at least to ourselves -- of taunts, and post-point celebrations and hi-jinks.

M. has a way with kids and all his expat or rich African tennis-playing clients, bringing them immense joy from their appointments.
Many of the other "renvoyeurs", or tennis teachers, at the club, seem a bit jealous of his ease with words, and friendliness with worldly people. None of them are paid a salary, just whatever the client agrees to pay for an hour's play.

M. had a serious German girlfriend ten years ago, until she cheated on him with a Lebanese guy, both of them his former tennis clients.

His heart never seems to have recovered from that experience. He must have thought she was his ticket to another world, than the one in which all he owns are a pair of jeans, a tennis racket, a few shirts, shorts and tennis shoes. But maybe he is wiser than that.

A Korean peacekeeper from the United Nations mission offered him a strange, improbable deal, whereby he would have to work in a factory in the United States for three years, and then get his green card. M. thought long and hard about it, but by the time he was still undecided, the Korean was gone. Following anti-foreigner riots in Abidjan, the many expat girls he went out with were also gone. He says he doesn't have enough money for an Ivorian girlfriend, and that he doesn't want the rich ones who treat him like property either.

I also left Abidjan, tired of the roadblocks and recurrent malaria, leaving M to say "On se plaint pas" ("we are not complaining"), when I call him from my new base in Dakar, on his reconstituted phone.

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