Sunday, November 11, 2007

DAY FIVE and the last...

Ok, I know I've started all of these entries with "I got up early" and I did, but on this day, I got up 4:15am, before the Sun was up so that Benedict, Rhene and myself could appear on "Bon Matin", the biggest morning TV talk show in the country. Picture "Good Morning America" but in Africa. It was a surreal thing to be in hair and make-up, getting wired for sound and worrying about camera angles on this trip but it was a great opportunity for us to speak to the nation about Children's Hope and The Next Right Thing.

Our host on the show was a woman named Yoland Kuidou, sort of the Ivorian Oprah, and we all had a great time bantering about my travels, taking calls on the air and getting the word out about what we're doing.

By the time we were through with the interview, the phones were lit up and people had come to the TV station to ask us to help their children. It was truly touching, overwhelming and heartbreaking. It made me realize just how many children need our help in, not only this city but in the country and continent.

Afterwards, I got to meet one of the one of the biggest Reggae singers in the country, Solo Jah Gunt, who was at the station to promote his latest album. He gave me a copy and it's great. If you can find it on itunes or somewhere I highly recommend him.

When we walked out of the building, we were met by the owners of the TV station and some members of Parliament who praised us for our efforts and promised to help. They also, knowing I am an actor, offered up the TV station and anything one might need, to make a movie there so, if anyone out there wants to make a movie in Cote D'Ivoire, you know...we're in.

After that, we walked out into the parking lot and all of a sudden two Mercedes with dark tinted windows pulled up abruptly and a small but foreboding man dressed in an orange shirt and orange cap emerged surrounded by a bunch of big intimidating guys. I asked Benedict who it was and he and Rhene got excited and said it was the guy I mentioned before who is like the Che Gueverra of Cote D'Ivoire. Unfortunately, I can't remember his name. They "presented" me to him and I felt like I was meeting the "Godfather".

When we left the station, we began a massive search for an ATM that would accept my bank card because I originally thought I was only staying in Abidjan for a couple of days and had run out of cash at this point. We literally scoured the entire city and went to about a dozen ATMs to find out that, due to the vast amount of credit card fraud on the continent, my bankcards were essentially useless. Being stuck in Africa, broke was interesting. Luckily, Cori Stern of the Next Right Thing payed for my hotel through Paypal with some of the money I had raised and I had packed alot of Powerbars in my carry on. Next time I'll plan a little better...

This was my last day in Abidjan and my flight was to leave at 10pm and I really wanted to see the ocean while I was there so we decided to go to a beautiful little beach town called Grand Basam. This was perfect because it was also where Emmanuel's host family lived so I'd get a chance to check in with him and make sure he was settled with good people before I left.

Grand Basam is basically a peninsula with the ocean on one side and a beautiful river with marsh on the other. We all took a little walk on the beach, which was beautiful, had a great lunch on the river side of the town and then went to see Emmanuel.

We went to an orphanage for little girls where Emmanuel's host mother works and while Benedict and Rhene went in to try to find her, I heard the kids playing out back in the yard and went to say hello. These little girls were adorable. I'm pretty sure they had never seen a white person...ever because when they saw me, they all ran away screaming and laughing. I squatted so I was their height and just smiled and they slowly started to approach me with complete wonder. I held out my hand, kept smiling and they slowly came around and realized that I was harmless. I told them in my best French that I was very happy to meet them and we started running around and playing. It sounds corny but it was amazing to connect with these little kids and realize that I was making an impression on them as the first American they'd ever seen and that the impression was of love and happiness. It'd be nice if that were the impression we, as Americans, could leave everywhere in the world...

Anyhow, Emmanuel's host mother was not at the orphanage because she had gone home for the day so we went to her house. When we got there, I was relieved to find a beautiful apartment that seemed like a very cared for home. I sat down on the couch and all of a sudden, Emmanuel came out. He gave me a big beaming smile, jumped into my arms and shouted, "Todd! Come meet my mommy!" I just laughed as he dragged me over to meet this wonderful woman who had clearly developed a strong affection, just as I did for him in a very short time. I was relieved and felt that I could now leave Cote D'Ivoire knowing Emmanuel would be happy and loved. As I walked down the long corridor out of the apartment, little Emmanuel stood at the other end and just stared at me and waved goodbye. Once again, it was really hard to leave him...

That evening, all of the guys drove me to the airport to give me a proper send off. As I said goodbye to Bendict, Rhene and the others I was sad and promised to return and keep working with them. I look forward to realizing our dreams of helping many more children. Just as I had connected and formed a deep bond with Emmanuel in a short time, I also fell in love with Abidjan and it's people and I hope to return for many years.


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