|Talking with Tony D’Sousa (page 6)|
| Talking with
|Tell us a little more about Cote d’Ivoire and your experience there as that is the central story of your novel.|
I loved Cote d’Ivoire from the moment I first saw it, when the plane descended through the clouds. It was a world of green, like Conrad’s Africa. We were flying over the palm oil plantations, though I didn’t know it then. Then there was a long lagoon and a man poling a dugout canoe across it. It was a misted morning, steam coming off the trees. It is so hard to escape the West, and twenty years from now it will be completely impossible. Well of course it already is. There are televisions and cell phones in every village, even if the villages are purely mud huts. Actually, I did find a few tech-free villages here and there and they were always a treat to spend a couple nights in. But the people had all their conceptions about the West and what we have as opposed to what they perceived they did or didn’t have.
|Why did I want to live in a “reduced” state so badly? Because the people there want all the tech that we have, they think it will make them happy. Well a young adulthood in the West with all its racism, inequality, cultural arrogance, and disrespect for the environment hadn’t left me skipping through tulips. I wanted to know what it is like to grow your own food, to live by the cycles of the seasons, to see the stars in a place with no lights. I mean, I would have liked to known life as a pre-agrarian hunter-gather. Maybe [Thomas] Hobbes was right and it was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” It seemed to have worked for us for 190,000 years, and they had plenty of time to paint that outrageous stuff at Lascaux and the Matopos. I don’t know that that wasn’t better than the West’s current, “overweight, bored, dim, harried, and frightened.”|
I was sent to a Muslim village of 700 people on the edge of the forest and savannah, what would later be the war front. Cote d’Ivoire was violent all of the time that I was there, in fact I was pulled down from site twice and spent roughly four weeks on consolidation before the eventual evacuation. My regional capital, Seguela, was a particularly violent place, and Peace Corps held us Seguela region Volunteers on consolidation even after the rest of the Volunteers had returned to their sites. We had a little flop house in the city, and twice in 2000, we spent a week or so in that house with no services while the military seized the city. This was before anybody was talking about civil war. The people were so angry with the government, and we were so in tune to what was going on that we’d call Abidjan and say, “Uh, there’s probably going to be a big hullabaloo next Thursday, maybe you should pull us down,” and they’d be like, “Oh, no it’s going to be calm, go back to your site.” Then I’d sit in my village with my friends and we’d watch these heavily armed commandos march along the road with rocket launchers and all the gear. Then on Thursday, just like everybody had said, the town’s youth would kill a couple soldiers at a checkpoint and burn their bodies and liberate everybody from the jail, even the crazies, and then the soldiers would roar in on their jeeps to take the city back and one of the teachers from our school would wander into the village to my hut and hand me this note with an official stamp on it from the School’s Superintendent in Seguela, “Monsieur Tony is kindly informed by Peace Corps to appear in Abidjan for a special training meeting.” That of course was the consolidation code for me to get the heck out of there, and what could I do but just shake my head because to get out of there I had to go to Seguela, the belly of the beast. And of course the military would siege the city and we’d all get stuck in the center of the maelstrom with no food or water so that by the time we could get down to Abidjan a week later, the trouble was over and to add insult to injury, after a week of not knowing when you’d eat next or when the military or the mob would come in and kick down the door and say goodnight everybody, we then had to spend a week going to Peace Corps training meetings.