Five Abidjan Friends Thinking of Getting Out, Part V, MM

This is the last of five portraits on Abidjan twenty and thirty something friends who spend lots of their time thinking of leaving Africa, but never quite find the enormous drive needed to get up and go, and struggle every day to find their place.

MM has tried going back to school on many occasions. She tried computer classes. She tried going back to grade school even though she is well into her twenties. But her eyes hurt.

She's tried different ophthalmologists, different pairs of glasses, but every time she tries to read, or focus her eyes on a screen, her eyes tear up and burn. She doesn't know why.

So she weaves, in salons or in private homes, her hands turning a short buzz into an extricate, flowing, multi-colored, latest craze do, sometimes twelve hours straight, without taking a break, her hands making tiny knots and composing the shiny shawl, while her client chats, listens to music, sips a drink.

Fake hair is a class institution in Africa, the less fake it looks, the richer you are, the faker, the trashier.

MM gets her own done when she makes enough money from weaving others. Sometimes she also waitresses at the tennis club, where I was friends with M (chapter II). She makes about five dollars for a full day's work, but isn't allowed to eat any of the kitchen food. Transport to the club and back is about four dollars from the small flat she shares with several friends, and takes hours going from one bus to another on a complicated route. So sometimes she says it's not worth her energy.

MM has a beautiful elongated face, delicate features, long legs and arms, and flowing grace, like an elegant bird, perched quietly.

She has an older boyfriend who made it to Switzerland. He sends her money which she uses for rent, and texts her messages to tell her he loves her.

She figures it's probably so she can be one of his ready girlfriends in one of his business port of calls, and that he'll never marry her. She doesn't like this situation, but says she has no choice. It's that or homelessness in the big city, or going back to the village. She says she's just not a villager, and plus if she goes back, she says, relatives she'll encounter will be jealous of her father's success, or her beauty, and anyway she'd be forced by village elders to get married to the first available cousin, and she says she wants none of that.

MM has lots of pride, and won't talk about her dreams. She says it would make her too sad, to even start to think about them out loud.

Once, she bought herself a refrigerator, and made cold bissap drinks, but she said the work to sell them was too difficult, and that she couldn't trust anyone out on the streets to sell them for her. The Lebanese merchants send out young people to sell their wares in traffic, but they have gangs to enforce their business. They don't write anything down, but if someone owes them money, they'll remember how much, and find a way to find them. They also have a way to chase down their competitors.

MM says she's too much of a lady for business if that's the way it goes.

She uses whitening creams, and looks a little yellow. Every time she sees a lighter-skinned woman, she'll remark how beautiful she thinks she is. She has owl eyes and dark lines around her fingernails where the cream doesn't stay. She says she uses safe creams, and that they aren't for lightening, just for moisturizing. Whatever the labels on her bottles say, it seems these creams are no good, but she spreads them over her body every morning and every night.

I once took MM to the beach, and she went in the surf with a boogie board, and just laughed in the waves for hours on end. She only got out when it was getting dark, and time to drive back to Abidjan, a slowly decaying city, where its potholed bridges across the lagoon were rightfully described in the post-independence era as mirages that would sink in a brutal world of militaristic, polluting and consumeristic, media crazed globalization, where images and products and resource grabbers and manipulated and manipulative leaders assault and continue to enslave.

Slave castles are museums, but the injustices and oppression and theft and greed and misguided concepts imposed from outside remain. Large families in a context of poverty and few opportunities may be a problem as well, but in cut up territories, with politicians brandishing the ethnic card, nascent democracy equated with ethno-politics, one ethnic group, one vote, why would population control, like in China or India, even be suggested?

Source of life and regeneration are still wonderful, and there still seems enough to share, and grow together, but lots of African youth who remain on the continent feel increasingly left behind. Many though who toil in cities aren’t rushing to have kids of their own anymore.

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