Jean Roger Sery Baly, 40, born in Côte d’Ivoire
Odette Lia Siam Sery Baly, 36, born in Côte d’Ivoire
Grace Ourielle Marie Sery Baly, 6, born in Côte d’Ivoire
Christ Bénélick Jean Roger Sery Baly, 3, born in Côte d’Ivoire
Jean: We were all born and raised in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, which in English is often referred to as Ivory Coast. It is situated in Western Africa; to the north are Mali and Burkina Faso, to the east Ghana, and to the west are Guinea-Conakry and Liberia.
Odette: Jean and I are both career diplomats, and were assigned as members of the staff of the diplomatic mission to the Embassy of Côte d’Ivoire here in Beijing to represent our country beginning December 2006. Jean is the Head of Protocol for the Embassy. He is responsible for ensuring that the ceremonial side of diplomacy, including matters of diplomatic courtesy and precedence, are handled smoothly. He also participates in a variety of other diplomatic roles here in China. I am the Associate to the Director of Tourism at the Embassy, where I help to promote tourism between China and Côte d’Ivoire.
Ourielle: I go to the French International School of Beijing. I’m in first grade this year. My baby brother Christ is really excited to go to school this year too. He’ll be in kindergarten. My mom is going to have another baby soon, but the baby won’t go to school because it will be too little.
Jean: Our whole family is quite athletic. I enjoy karate, swimming, football, handball, and most anything athletic. Ourielle has begun to learn Judo, and also enjoys swimming and dance. In her school, she is part of the dance group and choir class. She has a natural predisposition for sports and activities. Christ is still a bit young for sports, but when he is a bit older, he will probably also participate in swimming, karate, tennis and football. At home, he is already showing signs of wanting to pursue these types of sports.
Ourielle: I want to be a pharmacist when I grow up, so I can help people who are sick.
Jean: With lots of hard work, we have no doubt Ourielle can achieve her dream. She’s very persistent. Christ is still too young to have an idea of what he would like to be, but we hope that he will also pursue serious academics and attend a major international university, just like his big sister.
Odette: We really appreciate the quality of life we have here in Beijing. This is a beautiful city. The children have flourished here. Since we have lived here, the city has become very clean and the standard of living has improved dramatically, but in a few more years, Beijing will be just like other cities in developed countries. Unfortunately that also means that the cost of living is increasing quickly, but for now the basic commodities are affordable
and available in the markets.
Jean: When we first arrived over five years ago, it was uncommon
to see foreigners except in the diplomatic areas of Beijing, but now you can even see foreigners in the countryside. When I was on a mission in an undeveloped province of China, the local Chinese were very surprised and curious to see me. Soon, a small crowd approached me to learn more about my origin and especially the color of my skin. Initially, I felt a little embarrassed, but I understood that this was the first time they were seeing a black person in real life. Some even asked if they could touch my hair and skin because to them it was a mystery. So I acceded to their requests because for me it was just another way to help people in this province understand and be comfortable with black people. My good humor and willingness to be poked and prodded made me a star among the members of the mission delegation.
Odette: It is very difficult to compare life in China to life back home in Côte d’Ivoire. China is a great country and the level of development is already comparable to that of developed countries. Although Côte d’Ivoire has one of the highest per capita income levels in Africa, it is still an underdeveloped country with many needed improvements. The largest differences are noticeable in cultural traditions and eating habits. In addition to its native African culture, there are many French influences in our country.
One thing that was a little surprising at first, but now is just commonplace, is that most Chinese have never met black people before and so when given the opportunity, they are very curious to know more about our habits and lifestyle. They often wonder what life in Côte d’Ivoire is like because for them such information is very limited in China. For sure, our life is never boring here!