Bondoukou, Cote’d’Ivoire: Lessons from the Countryside

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Bondoukou, Cote’d’Ivoire: Lessons from the Countryside

Nature and the simple life have always held a special attraction for me. Growing up in Delhi, in what was a suburban part of the city, had instilled in me a love for nature and solitude. With India urbanizing at a rapid clip, and having lived for the most part in its cities, it was in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire where I got to experience the calm of rural life for the first time.

As I mentioned in my previous post – Living in Abidjan, Cote’d’Ivoire – I had joined Olam International, a now renowned name in agribusiness, as a management trainee. The company had a process of putting a select few new managers on a rite of passage that involved living in rural parts of Africa to handle procurement operations for the company’s globally traded commodities – like cashews, cocoabeans, coffee, cotton and sesame.

So within 2-3 weeks of landing in Abidjan, where we (my fellow trainees and I) went through some classroom training sessions, I was selected to be shipped to upcountry locations (including Bondoukou) to get an organic certification project off the ground for the company’s Cote d’Ivoire origin cashew exports. My tools of the trade – a Mitsubishi Pajero SUV (for travel), a desktop computer (to organize my work) and a local SIM (for communication).

A Diary from Upcountry – Bondoukou, Cote’d’Ivoire

Hotel Marhaba. Bondoukou. Sometime in October 2006.

Being adjacent to the sprawling acres of the United Nation’s headquarters offered the innocent traveler some initial respite :). Draped in all-white, its 30-rooms were categorised in regional affiliations – Abidjan, Yamassoukro and so on.

Mornings in Bondoukou could be quite pleasant and often chilly. A cup of coffee with some omelettes and french bread were perfect for an early start to the day. I would often chat up some of the French soldiers and Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers in the restaurant, and get filled in on the travails of holding fort in these rather desolate parts! Rising late on weekends, I would sometimes be jolted out of bed with some untimely party music, and the frolicking of 12-13 somethings in the pool.


Road to Bondoukou. PIC: AS

I always had to pre-order lunch and dinner, as the cuisiner could be absconding to any hungry resident, if not given adequate notice! My social life revolved around Marc, a helpful chum who did a fairly decent job in the kitchen and liked to watch any Chelsea game with his patrons.

Living alone without the company of ‘people of my type’ made me learn the crucial lesson of putting myself out there - in the middle of nowhere. I got to experience the joy of living, leading and learning independently.


Rooms were, well, nightmarish at first and took some getting used to. Network connectivity was poor, save for that 10 square meter space in the parking lot, and I was often frustrated during telephone conversations with loved ones back home. Hotel Marhaba. It may not thrill, it can easily disappoint. But, whatever the case, any trip this far will land you at its doorstep every single time. Soak it in 🙂

Learning French

I can wax eloquent on this forever. To be able to survive in Francophone Africa as a native English speaker could have been a massive challenge. But the opportunity to live in the middle of rural Cote d’Ivoire, where even French was a secondary language, did wonders for my language abilities. Within a couple of months I had begun to easily navigate French and to survive all the vagaries of a sleepy rural town and my work in it with sign language thrown in for good measure! After years of having left that world behind, I am still able to speak French reasonably well. I would like to learn a couple more languages in this really exciting way – like settling myself in German-speaking Europe or Spanish South America 🙂


Hotel Marhaba on a Weekend Morning. PIC: AS

Language opens doors that cannot be explained in purely economic terms. Learning to say what you already know in another language is not just an added skill, it gives insight into the differences between your world and the French, German or Spanish-speaking one.

Rural Life for a City Dweller

Over the next two years, I experienced living in most parts of rural Cote d’Ivoire as I graduated from a trainee to manager. It offered me some perspective into the relative importance of many sundry and invaluable aspects of life that I had lived unconscious of. Living alone without the company of ‘people of my type’ made me learn the crucial lesson of putting myself out there – in the middle of nowhere. I got to experience the joy of living, leading and learning independently.

On the flip side, FOMO (fear of missing out) hits you big time when based in the hinterlands. Being out of touch with my social circle made me home sick and question my reasons for being in the middle of nowhere in West Africa. Often I found myself yearning to get to Abidjan to be around my fellow colleagues. In such an environment, it was only work that kept me going. And to work without having to navigate the vagaries of corporate life and its hierarchies in cubicles and conference rooms was an altogether different experience. I also saw for myself what rural life has to offer the city dweller, and that the relationship need not be a one-way street in favour of the latter.

Quietude, pristine surroundings, purposeful work, and happy, content and helpful people in ‘the rural digs’ have become priceless memories and sources of inspiration for me!

Arpan Singhal

Arpan Singhal

I am a business consultant part-time and a health consultant full-time. Having lived in all corners of India and a few in Africa, I have some stories to tell about the nomadic life. A passionate traveler, I am currently based in my parental hometown of New Delhi, preparing for my next adventure.

1 Comment

  • Erika

    I’d love to hear more about your time in Cote d’Ivoire!

    June 9, 2017 at 9:22 pm