For Easter break, my friend Aashna and I decided to travel to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. We decided to fly there from Accra, which would take about 45 minutes, rather than take a series of buses across the coast for ten hours. I had read online that one could just buy a visa at the airport for Cote D’Ivoire, and since I had been to Togo and purchased my visa at the Ghana-Togo border, I didn’t question it.
We were excited for our trip. All we really knew about Abidjan was that the people spoke french, the beaches were even more beautiful than the ones in Ghana, and we could eat great pasta. The only aspect of the journey we were nervous for was the warning posted by the U.S. Embassy about going out in public on the Easter holiday.
After a very stress-free morning of flying, we were in the Abidjan airport going through customs. At the passport counter, a man flipped through my passport and then stared at me. “No visa,” I stated confidently. He pointed over to Aashna. “Yes, zero visa.” He collected both of our passports and handed them to a police man who spoke broken english. “Please,” he said, “the doors.” He wanted us to leave customs. “But, what about the passports?” I asked. “I come. Small.”
So far, this definitely wasn’t the weirdest experience I had had in Africa, so Aashna and I stepped through the doors and waited, eyes rolling. After a few minutes the policeman appeared and took us through the entire airport, through three sets of glass doors, and up two staircases to a long, ominous hallway. On the right side were rows and rows of small offices, and on the left side was a thick cement wall that didn’t quite touch the ceiling.
We were directed into an office filled with policemen. They all took turns flipping through our passports. “Please, where is your visa?” they kept asking, over and over.
“Can we buy one?”
“What you say?”
“We read online that we could BUY A VISA. That must be possible.”
This conversation repeated itself about ten more times. At one point, I took my phone out and recorded a video of five police officers yelling at each other/us in french and waving their hands. Aashna and I were extremely patient. Of course things weren’t going to go smoothly here. What were we thinking? Things have rarely gone smoothly this semester, but we’ve always been fine in the end. So we waited.
Aashna and I were taken into another office with a policeman who reminded me of The Shadow Man from the Disney movie Princess and the Frog. “Soo…” he drawled. “We will keep your passports, and when you return you will receive your passports. This is the only way.” “Absolutely not,” we barked. “We will pay you a fee, but we will not leave our passports behind.”
After four hours of arguing with the policemen, getting dragged into numerous offices, and looking up french phrases for “bribe” and “fee” while An African City (Ghanaian Sex and the City) played on a little TV, the same policeman who tried to keep our passports sat us down in his office. “I talked to my supervisor,” he said. “I will allow you to keep your passports and leave the airport, for a special fee.” Aashna and I were preparing to pay around 100 US dollars each, but we decided to start with a very small amount. I slapped two 10,000 CFA bills on his desk. “Ohh no no, this is no good.” I slapped down one more 10,000 CFA bill. “Mmmmmmm…. ok yes, please you are free.” Aashna and I ran out of the airport.
We each paid 25 US dollars to bribe our way into Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.