My friend Susan returned recently from a three-week visit to the city of Abidjan, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), in Africa.
Necessary vaccinations required three needle jabs prior to the trip. She flew without sleep for 20 hours each way, not including layovers, with at least one in Utah lasting eight hours. While in Africa, she braved oppressive heat and staggering humidity with no A/C, large and colorful lizards, restricted travel, and a language barrier, since she doesn’t speak French.
She didn’t stay in the business district, but in a compound with barbed wire topped fences and guards because of the ever-present threat of danger. A little more than a year ago, al-Qaeda militants paid a deadly visit to a beach nearby. There is a strong military presence with armed guards all over the city checking under cars for bombs. She made the trip alone.
Now, I realize some women travel around the world with little care and even venture into dangerous territory, but this was my friend whom I’ve known for years. I figured her for a woman much like myself in the not-all-that-intrepid category, until now. She has left me in the Kalahari dust as far as gutsy is concerned.
What motivation could possibly provide the volcanic-like thrust necessary to make a dangerous trip like that? Possibly it has to do with having a daughter, Melissa, son-in-law, Davy, and her only grandchild, 20-month-old Aiden, awaiting her arrival. They work with a team to help improve the quality of life for the people there.
Because it was Aiden’s first go at coloring Easter eggs, Grandma packed along the customary dye, except all the eggs there are brown. No matter; she was there to celebrate.
The citizens welcomed her with open arms, as if understanding the sacrifice of her coming. When Melissa introduced Susan as her Mama, the group of friends broke into spontaneous applause, kissing Susan on the cheek afterward.
Locals counter the darkness that surrounds their living conditions and demonstrate joy by wrapping themselves and their children in smiles and bright clothing, like living watercolors.
While the two visited the Adjamé Market, clerks admonished Melissa concerning her Mama, “You need to take care of her. You need to be respectful of her. She’s tired. She needs to have some lunch. You’re taking too long.”
At that point, Susan figured she must have looked pretty bad. Esteem for older people is an obvious priority there.
“It didn’t matter where we were. They had such respect for this mama who had come to visit the daughter,” Susan said.
Melissa represents motherhood well, too. She shows courage and a passion for the people there to raise her son within the practical understanding and concern for a global humanity.
“I don’t think she sees color when she looks at people now,” Susan said of her daughter. “She’s humbled by the language issue. People there speak four or five languages.”
Melissa runs in the Abidjan heat, training for a half-marathon she plans to run this summer when she and her family visit the Rogue Valley, where she grew up.
I asked Susan how the trip had changed her, as traveling in foreign countries always manages to rearrange one’s outlook, at least temporarily.
“I really felt like how it must feel to be disenfranchised and not to be able to communicate what I want.”
Her response to how it felt returning home to Southern Oregon was about what I expected.
“How much we can take for granted, the beauty of our area. We just forget how lush and beautiful — how absolutely gorgeous it is, and the abundance that we have. It’s hard living there.”
Happy Mother’s Day to courageous moms facing challenges and hardships at home and overseas.
— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.