Abidjan Friends Thinking of Getting Out, An Update Part II, J

J. has all his life in a little black carrying case -- fashion magazines, creams he has invented for an assortment of hairlments, he will tell you it is good for this and that, he will give you full recounts of customer satisfaction (so the Indian guy told me, 'J., my wife is mad at you, she thinks you want me to have a new girlfriend, because she says with the hair back...'), all his accessories for trimming, buzzing, cutting, massaging, his calling cards for on call expat-home services, which he walks to even though Abidjan is spread out; his three ping pong rackets which he uses to hustle for small change in the basement of the Hotel Ivoire, or anywhere else there may be a ping pong table; with his professorial paunchy stature and glittery eyes, he seems easy to beat, but the slints in his eyes, and his quick hands and feet have a ferociousness his opponents will soon find out; sheets on which he's written a few r and b songs, pretty much his whole life and street-level renaissance act is in there, onto which he lays his head at night, wherever he may sleep; a homeless clipping singing ping ponging vagrant living day to day; hour to hour.

Since he depends on a foreign English-speaking clientele for his smooth talking massaging clip clip clipping cream inventing artistry, his cell phone is his lifeline. But it's partly broken now so when he receives calls, they can't hear him on the other end, so after every call, he races off to a local cabine, an outdoor makeshift booth with someone renting out their phone; and pays for a minute's return call, hoping it will be a customer. His stomach often growls, he doesn't have enough money to share his life with anyone, for one more week he will sleep here in this rundown parlor, on the hard wooden table with his black carrying case as a pillow, before being out totally on the streets once again.

His latest attempt at running a hair salon has failed. The space in which he's tried belongs to an older Ghanaian woman, and she says her cousin wants to convert it into a clothes store, buying cheaper clothes across the border in Ghana, which he said, he wanted to do as well, at the same time as the hair salon, but he's behind on the thirty dollar rent, Ramadan business was slower than expected, so the woman doesn't want to work with him anymore, even though he says, he was starting to spruce the place up, and put up a giant faded Jennifer Lopez picture outside, and nailed down a few wooden shelves inside what is basically a bare wooden box onto concrete floor.

I wanted to make a movie about J. but like my best ideas, what happens to former rebels in East Timor after living in the mountains for decades? what is the reform movement? in their own words in post-Suharto Indonesia with descriptions, full quotes, black and white photography, it's not happening.

J. is a schemer who once faked being a Liberian refugee to get free food, but he missed out on getting a visa to the United States. He apparently once had a student visa in New York City but went home after his father died in Nigeria. I used to doubt him about some of the details of his life, but his English does sound very much like it has Brooklyn affectations. People say he once won the horse racing lottery they hold in Abidjan on races run in France, but that he squandered his savings. I'm really not sure on what. I never asked. It's not always good to press on the difficult matters unless there's a constructive reason. Talking about money in Abidjan is also an invitation to open very wide the charity vault.

He wants to go study in Canada. He's also applied for a grant from the post-war Ivory Coast government for young entrepreneurs, even though he is veering decidedly toward middle age.

I thought a movie could make him exist in some ways. Would I be using him? Giving him attention he doesn't need? He uses a public bath every morning.

It's a hot zone, he used to say, about Abidjan. He is behind one of the fanciest supermarkets in Abidjan, but just a few streets removed, so it's a different world than the one of large Lebanese families, the voluptuous saleswomen, the guards in their canary crisp guard suits, the parking attendants blowing their whistles constantly, as if whistles were a new thing, the French men without their families but 'nicely accompanied' as they say, here it's hustle and bustle in a dusty street, with people trying to get by selling each other cheap resold items and services, his boarded up salon with the faded Jennifer Lopez has done very little to attract the clientele, here he says women in boubous sometimes come by to have their hair washed, and they pay on credit, he just paid a five dollar deposit on a fifteen dollar fan.

I give him the ten dollar difference so he can resell it when he is back out on the streets, he gives me a sample of hairlment. He locks up saying he has a ping pong match to play, I bid him goodbye and tell him "I love you bro."

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