1971 TO 2015: FORTY-FOUR YEARS OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESS

“WHAT’S GOIN’ ON?”

ODIENNE AS IT WAS

 The year was 1971, it was August, and the Rural Housing Program up in Odienne was done.  Kaput. Finished. The town’s French, Lebanese, and Chinese residents had moved on to more profitable pastures.  Me?  I wanted to get out of town too – nothing was going on by way of construction of anything - but after several months of angling with the Peace Corps for a transfer to no avail, I decided to hike myself down to Abidjan – unannounced.  I hitched a ride with the German children’s health program volunteers to Korhogo, an eight hour trip over washed out roads in their Mercedes Defender (of course!), overnight in the Korhogo Hotel (where hot water flowed miraculously at the turn of a tap) and then the twelve hour train trip down to Abidjan’s rail terminus just south of the Presidential Palace. 

ODIENNE AT UPPER LEFT
The Peace Corps Director – I think he was one of the three temporary directors we had during my sojourn in Cote d’Ivoire and, to me, he hadn’t a clue – greeted me with a shocked look on his face when I showed up at his office door.   We’d already spoken several time by telephone so he knew what my frustrations were – basically sitting up North with nothing to do.  An archeological site in Cameroon had been dangled in my direction and so had a Town Planning post up in Morocco.  I was hoping to push things along in either direction but like all government agencies getting someone to actually act was no easy task.  (Eventually I did wind up in Morocco two weeks before the Second Annual Assassination Attempt against King Hassan.)

I was feeling pissed.  I mean really angry.  It seemed as if no one had any damned authority to do anything on my behalf.  Anyway, the Director asked where I was staying – I told him I had planned to stay at the Grand Hotel just a few blocks from the Peace Corps office – and he offered the house of one of the Voice of America staff who was back in the States for R&R.  I said sure – at least it would cost me nothing and the Grand Hotel – despite it’s name – had lost its grandeur about 30 years ago.

ABIDJAN TRAIN STATION ON THE RIGHT 
Took a taxi to Cocody, one of Abidjan’s upscale neighborhoods and where the U. S. Embassy was located.  From the outside the Bell’s house looked pretty much like all the other villas in the neighborhood big, gated, and attractive.   Inside, it was luxurious.  I mean beautiful furniture and furnishings with all sorts of expensive West African sculptures scattered about.  The contrast to my own digs up North – cinder block book shelves, twice-hand-me-down sofa and cow infested front yard – could not have been more stark.  The house backed up on the Lagoon and in the walled back yard were a couple of dogs, a goat, several cats and, amazingly enough, a pair of tiny Tik Tik deer. 

Not only was the villa gorgeous, it had AIR CONDITIONING a luxury I hadn’t experienced in nearly two years! But what struck my eye the collection of albums in a massive bookcase lining one wall in the living room, I guess one of the perks of working for VOA.  I spied Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” (surely one of the greatest pop music albums of all time) which had just been released and I’d heard a couple of tracks on the radio up in Odienne.  Then, there was that stereo system to die for with four foot high speakers.  I was in heaven.  For four days.  Needless to say, my impromptu visit to Peace Corps HQ resulted in nothing. 

I was prompted to post this today since I happen to hear Marvin’s “What’s Goin’ On” and it made me think back to the first time I heard it. This morning, however, I was impressed with how many of the topics he covered back in 1971 are still with us today – war, oil spills, poisons in the atmosphere, fish full of mercury, etc.  "Mercy, Mercy Me" was Gaye's "ecology song" and it was a surprise that a Black soul singer would take on this topic.   It too was a massive hit, however.  While we’ve made some progress along these lines, I keep wondering how much further ahead we would be if it hadn’t been for the thirty years of conservative “just ignore it and it will go away” as public policy.  Give a listen and you'll see what I mean.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efiDnHS3fzk

Apologies for the friggin' advertisement.

PS:  It's nearly impossible now to post a music video from YouTube to a blog without going to the source since all are copyrighted by Mega Worldwide Industrial Conglomerate Sony Music.  How lucky we are all.    





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