December 21, 2014 02:35 UTC

As It Is

Writer Captures Flavor of Life in Ivory Coast

From the cover of Marguerite Abouet's book "Aya de Yopougon."
From the cover of Marguerite Abouet's book "Aya de Yopougon."

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
Originally posted 08/10/13



Hello, and welcome. I’m June Simms with VOA Learning English.
 
Today on As It Is, we tell how cinema has returned to the Hamra neighborhood of Beirut.
 
And we hear about an Ivorian writer whose increasingly popular comic book series has now been made into a movie.
 
Writer Captures Flavor of Life in Ivory Coast
 
A series of French comic books set in the West African country of Ivory Coast has gained the attention of many readers in Africa and overseas. A film based on the books was released in French movie houses in July and will soon be shown in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan. VOA’s Lisa Bryant recently spoke with creator Marguerite Abouet in Paris. Christopher Cruise brings you her report.
 
We are back in the 1970s, in the Ivorian city of Abidjan, following the lives of Aya, Bintu, Fanta, Ignace and other colorful characters. They all live in the ethnically-mixed neighborhood of Yopougon.
 
These cartoon characters are the stars of a series of comic books and now a new film, called "Aya de Yopougon". The Yopougon is where Aya’s author, Marguerite Abouet, lived as a little girl.
 
“I deliberately chose Muslim and Christian names for my characters, because I had the chance of living in Yopougon, and in Ivory Coast. Abidjan was the crossroads of West Africa at the time. Everything passed through the country. And my neighbors could be a Muslim who had married a Baoulé [one of Ivory Coast’s many ethnic groups], and so in a single household you could have very different names.”
 
Marguerite Abouet worked with French illustrator Clement Oubrerie, to help bring the Aya books and movie to life. They tell the story of life in Yopougon: the loves, heartaches, hopes, dreams and the difficulties. The books touch on sensitive issues like homosexuality, betrayal and physical abuse.
 
The Aya series has become a best-seller both in Ivory Coast and in France. In some ways, the real story is Ms. Abouet herself: the little girl from Yopougon who made it big in Paris.
 
During holidays in Ivory Coast, Ms. Abouet would return to the family’s village.
 
“During vacations we would go to the village where our grandparents lived, with all of our cousins. We had no electricity or running water. Our grandfather was our television. Every evening he’d gather us all around a big fire and tell us stories.”
 
Ms. Abouet took those stories with her when she moved to France. They became material for her writing.
 
Thierry Laroche is an editor for the French publishing house Gallimard Jeunesse. He says there is reason the Aya series has been so popular.
 
“It was completely original, completely exotic. We were able to discover the insider’s Africa. And it wasn’t talking about negative things, war or sickness. It doesn’t mean hiding these problems, but talking about Africans and how they live.”
  
The Aya comic books have gained fans in both Africa and France. Thirty-four-year-old Edia Aikessi, who bought a ticket to see the Aya movie in Paris, grew up in Abidjan. She says the books bring back her memories of the city, the expressions, the dishes people eat and all the smells. She says it is really like being in Abidjan.”
 
Years of conflict have severely hurt Ivory Coast and the Yopougon of Marguerite Abouet’s childhood. But the writer praises the strength of Ivorians who lived through those dark times, especially the mothers. The Aya movie was made in honor of them. I’m Christopher Cruise.
 
And I’m June Simms. You are listening to As It Is from VOA Learning English.
 
Lebanon’s Arts District Brings Back the Silver Screen
 
The Hamra neighborhood of Beirut was once the intellectual capital of the Lebanon. In the 1950s and 1960s, Arab writers and artists from across the Middle East traveled to the area. There they could watch the latest American movies in more than 20 neighborhood theaters. But, the 15-year Lebanese civil war, that began in 1975, led many writers and artists to flee the area. And many of the movie houses closed down. By the end of the war in 1990, even the small theaters had closed.
 
But, now theater life has returned to Hamra with the opening of the first neighborhood movie theater in the district in about 10 years. The Prime on Bliss Street is just across the street from the American University of Beirut. The theater has large, modern screens and the latest, high-quality sound equipment.
 
The theater’s manager, Jean Elhelou, says moviegoers like the surround-sound and big screens that capture the special effects of the major action films.
 
“Customers are now are different from the customers from the past, because in the past there were no technologies. The people in the past were coming to watch a movie, to watch and listen to the story. There were no technologies in the movies. But right now we have a lot of technologies.”
 
But one thing has not changed -- the types of movies that are being shown. The films at the Prime are mainly American or European instead of Arab films. But, Jean Elhelou says this is what the moviegoers want.  
 
“The Lebanese people love to know everything about the European and the American style and they want to live like the European guys or the USA guys so that’s why they are addicted to see people how they are acting outside Lebanon and they want to act like them.”
 
Local people say they used to go to the Hamra theaters during the civil war to forget their troubles. This latest generation of moviegoers may now do the same.
 
That’s As It Is for today. I’m June Simms. Thanks for joining us.
 
Stay tuned for VOA world news at the beginning of every hour Universal Time.
 
And remember, we want to hear about the issues and ideas that matter to you, in your world, As It Is.
 
Email your questions or comments to learningenglish.voanews.com.
 
Have a great evening!
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Camara from: Mali
08/20/2013 8:01 AM
As African, I really liked this report so much. Although I am not an Ivorian citizen but I had spent some of childhood period there. Moreover, all the neighboring countries in West Africa are quite similar in their cultures and traditions.
the report has waked up my mind, we were making circle around fire in the village listening to our grand parents. they used to told us so many things. the most impressive one was the fiction stories with African narration and songs. I can say, I am too curious now to watch or read Aya de Yopogoun. thank you.

Learn with The News

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Obama participate in a welcome ceremony for President Obama at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    Audio Is China Starting to Live its Dream?

    Trust in the American dream may be disappearing. But halfway around the world, a new dream has been gaining strength -- the Chinese dream. To be exact: President Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream. But, what is the Chinese dream? And how has President Xi started to make his dream for the country a reality? More

  • Audio I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

    Music fills the air. Colorful lights shine brightly in windows. Children and adults open gifts from loved ones and friends. These are all Christmas traditions. Another tradition is snow. In many places, a blanket of clean white snow covers the ground on Christmas Day, making it a "White Christmas." More

  • FILE - A Muslim woman releases a dove as a symbol of peace during a rally against the Islamic State group in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 5, 2014.

    Audio Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

    Indonesia estimates that more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State militants. That would represent an increase of 50 since last month. Most of the Indonesian fighters do not come directly from their homeland, but from other countries where they may be working More

  • Audio Turkey Rejects Criticism of Raids on Opposition Media

    Turkish officials say recent arrests of more than 20 journalists were made in connection with a plot against the government. But the European Union says Turkey is increasingly becoming more authoritarian. It said the media raids were in conflict with European values. More

  • US Cuba

    Audio Obama Moves to Normalize Relations with Cuba

    President Barack Obama announced a major change in United States’ policy toward Cuba this week. He said he wants Congress to ease more than 50 years of U.S. sanctions against the island nation. And he said the two nations should once again formally recognize one another. More

Featured Stories

  • Video Music Shows in Private Homes Gain Popularity

    Attending a live musical performance, be it in a huge arena or a small cafe, is an exciting experience. But here in the U.S., a very different kind of performance is gaining popularity: house concerts. “There's just a totally unique experience as opposed to playing like a coffee shop or a bar." More

  • Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomatox

    Audio Southern General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox

    General Robert E. Lee’s military skill and intelligence helped extend the war between the states. But even his skill could not save the South from the industrial power of the North and its mighty armies -- armies that were better-fed and better-equipped. On Sunday, August 9, Lee surrendered. More

  • Uganda Playground for Disabled Children

    Audio Helping Uganda’s Disabled Children Play

    You may think that all children have freedom to play. But for children who look differently from others or have physical disabilities, the idea of play can seem far away. An organization in Uganda is seeking to change that. Read on to learn words needed to talk about this sometimes difficult topic. More

  • A microneedle used to inject glaucoma medications into the eye is shown next to a liquid drop from a conventional eye dropper. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

    Audio Tiny Needles Treat Eye Disease

    Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. In the United States, more than two million people suffer from the disease. Now, researchers are developing very small needles that may offer a more effective and painless treatment for glaucoma and other eye diseases. More

  • The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement in Las Vegas

    Audio Mob Museum Tells About the Mafia in America

    The U.S. government has long used public money to fight organized crime. Now, public money is also paying for a museum in Las Vegas to tell about "The Mob,” and not everyone is happy about that. But some say it helps the local economy by bringing people to a part of Las Vegas that few visit. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs