Wishing you a Merry Christmas from Canada

Friday 24 December 2010

With Christmas just around the corner, our visit home is coming to a close.  We've enjoyed our time visiting with family and friends, drinking caesars & Canadian beer and eating more than we should.  We fly back to Gabon on the 29th and we certainly didn't get to see everyone we wanted on this short trip but we do want to wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011!

Parlez-vous français?

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Gabon is a French speaking country (I guess that is what happens when you are colonized by France.)  Most people do not speak English and by that, I mean they don't know a single word in English.  Sometimes they'll tell you they do or even reply with a "I speak small-small English," but small-small is practically nothing.  When I had to get blood taken here I asked the nurse if she spoke English and she replied yes.  I proceeded to tell her that sometimes I faint after I give blood (yes, I know I'm a wimp) and she nodded along.  Well let me tell you, she certainly didn't understand me when I was beginning to black out and asking for water and something cold for my neck (I'm a pro at this) as she is wondering why I'm telling her my neck is cold.

I took a lot of French in school.  I followed it all the way through high school and continued in University where I know that my knowledge of the language was at it's peak.  I took my last French class in the second semester of my third year and resumed using the language after I was hired as a French as a Second Language teacher.  After 3 years of teaching ER verbs in the present tense, the alphabet, numbers, and various units on random vocabulary, I needed a break and when I moved to Grande Prairie, French dropped completely off my radar for the next 2 years.

When we learnt that we were coming here I thought it would be a great opportunity to return to the language.  Apparently, my hiatus from the language in Grande Prairie and 3 years of teaching ABC's before that had a terrible effect on my language retention.  When we first arrived I felt like I knew nothing at all.  I was stumbling over the simplest of things and struggling to find words that I had once known.  Silly me never even brought a French-English dictionary and without access to the internet for a few months, it made it really difficult.  Even now, 4 months later, I am still struggling with different verb tenses and remembering which are used with avoir and which with être.  I even find myself wishing I had packed all of my old French notebooks just to give myself a little refresher course.

At the beginning, we had Cardin at our disposal for most things and although his English wasn't great, we could often get across what we needed to him and he'd do all the talking.  Both Joe and I, moreso me, pretended we knew nearly no French.  As time went on, I got a little more confident and as Cardin began working more and more for other people, I was left to my own devices.  Sometimes I surprise myself and the language just flows out of me while other times I'm not so eloquent.  Joe keeps telling me he is going to resume his studies (Rosetta Stone) but he hasn't yet.  He does understand some of the conversations but he often relies on me to speak or translate.

There are times where we both just wish we were French as it would be so much easier like when you are really angry at someone for not doing what they're supposed to, or when there's a problem and you need to phone someone because understanding French over the phone is a whole different story, and especially, when someone is trying to bullshit you and you know they are but just don't have the words to argue about it.  It's coming back, slowly but surely and my confidence increases everyday but I won't lie, I am so looking forward to returning to Canada for a couple of weeks just so I can give my brain a break from perpetual translation.

The Ridiculously Long and Complicated Road to Acquiring a Carte de Sejour

Monday 29 November 2010

Literal Translation: Card of Stay (which is essentially a residence card)

Let me start by saying that we are very fortunate to have acquired this card.  Many other companies have not figured out how to do it for their expats and there are a lot of people who have been living here much longer than us without cards.  Instead, they make trips to Congo or Cameroon every few months to renew visas.

From the beginning…

When Joe was here back in May/June, the company HR guy began the process of getting Joe the residence card.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work and they instead contracted a separate agent to do the entire process for us.  His name is Nestor and he is a Gabonese man who has unlocked the code of securing residence cards (at least for the time being.)

Nestor begins by preparing all paperwork.  I can’t actually tell you what is on this paperwork as he has someone fill in all of the information and I never actually saw it other than to sign the bottom.  Every other day, Joe gets an urgent call from Nestor’s office saying that they need our passports NOW.  Joe complains as he is busy at work and can’t drop everything to drive home, pick up the passports and take them to his office… but he does it anyway.  This paperwork is sent away, to where I have no idea, and eventually returned with an all important stamp/press seal of approval.

Next, we are required to leave the country.  Most often, people are sent to Congo or Cameroon.  Joe and I tried to go to Sao Tome, a resort island off the coast of Gabon, but we were turned down and banished to Pointe Noire.  We are required to leave for 48 hours but it usually turns into more because one needs a visa to enter Congo and they take your passport at the airport to issue it and that usually takes a few days.  (We tried to work our way around that by getting a visa before going but when we arrived they told us the visa wasn’t correct, cancelled it, and kept our passports anyways.)

Upon returning to Gabon, we present the original papers that were returned to us, to an immigration officer.  It is extremely important to have everything perfect.  The papers must be the originals, not copies, the stamp must be in the correct place, the dates must be correct, and we pay 45 000 cfa ($90.)  The officer looks everything over, scouring for loopholes so that you can be denied.  If you aren’t, they scan your fingers, take your picture and provide you with a temporary 30-day visa.  They stamp the papers and return them to you and send you on your way.

Nestor anxiously awaits the new visa and stamped papers to begin filling out the second round of paperwork.  He resumes calling Joe every other day demanding passports or signatures until everything is in order and then a trip to Libreville is booked.

We catch an early morning flight to Libreville and head directly to the immigration office.  Nestor has some sort of connection there as we bypass lines of people waiting outside and head directly to a side door.  It is very important to be dressed nicely as people have been turned away at the door.  Upon entering, we are shuffled on to a bench where 5 people, no more, no less, must sit and wait.  You sit for several hours trying to figure out how everything works because no one actually tells you anything.  Nestor tells us to listen for our names to be called which is impossible because they call from the other side of the room and there are a hundred other people shuffling about and talking.

It appears that Nestor has some sort of deal with one particular immigration officer who may or may not have been paid in order to let us jump the line.  After 2 hours of waiting, I am called forward and surprisingly Nestor accompanies me.  Prior to this, he wasn’t allowed to help unless there was a problem.  The officer scours the papers and finds something wrong with them.  He demands that Nestor explains but never accepts the answer, scans my fingers, and directs me to sit back on the benches.  Half an hour later, I’m called to a different man who looks over our ‘offenses’ and assigns a penalty  (the going rate for us white people seems to be 300 000 cfa or about $600.)  We are then directed to the cashier to pay the fine.

We resume sitting on the benches waiting for our names to be called again, this time for the photo.  Once called, I enter a cubicle and answer a few questions, have my fingerprints scanned again and get the photo taken.  I resume my place on another bench and again, wait for my name to be called for the fourth and final time to receive the actual carte de sejour.

Voila, process is complete.  Nestor swoops up the card telling me that he needs to take it for one reason or another but assures me I will have it in my hands in a few days.

To recap… 2 trips to Pointe Noire, an infinite number of trips to Nestor’s office, 4 passport photos, a wedding, a day at the immigration office in Libreville, several thousand dollars, 4 months of frustration but I am the proud new owner of a Gabonese Carte de Sejour.  If we’re still here, we’ll get to do it all over again in 2 years!

Airport Experiences

Monday 22 November 2010

Every visit to an airport in one of these smaller African countries is an experience.  Most of the time it is hectic, unorganized and frustrating but yesterday was relatively smooth... except for 2 small things.

Apparently, the leader of the opposition party was making his arrival in Libreville (probably from Port Gentil as I think he resides there as do many of his supporters) just after we were to depart and he invited his supporters to meet him at the airport for a march to the government offices.  Those of you who travel know that everyone tells you to stay away from any political protests as they have potential to become dangerous.  Unfortunately, we had no choice as we had a flight to catch.  I was a little nervous by all the red shirts (the colour of the opposition party) taking over the exterior of the airport.  Luckily, nothing much happened while we were there.  There was some singing, marching and cheering but by this time, the army showed up, shot guns and all and corralled people outside.  I haven't heard what happened afterwards but thank goodness it remained peaceful while we were there.

While in Pointe Noire, Joe purchased a regulator box to plug our TV into as the electricity fluctuates so much here that we worry it could damage our bigger electronics.  We were a little concerned as it was 8 kg and we didn't want to be overweight so at the last minute we moved some of Joe's things into my bag.  We checked in, left our bags and returned to the main area to look at some magazines.  As we were standing around, I hear the distinct name Joseph Thomas Reid (with a very French flare and Reid is always pronounced Red) being called over the intercom.  Of course, Joe hears none of this so I get his attention and we report to baggage.  Well I guess a regulator looks like a bomb in the scanner so we had a bit of explaining to do.  After we opened the bag for them and explained what it was, all was fine, but funny nonetheless.

In the end we made it home safely but unfortunately, I have one more trip this week to Libreville for the final step in the residence card process.  I wonder what excitement awaits me then.

Car Shopping

Sunday 21 November 2010

This week we had to leave the country to get things rolling with my residence card (that will be another post) so we had to spend more time in Pointe Noire.  If you remember, we did this a few months ago and really were not fans of the city (see previous post.)  Joe had a lot of work to catch up on so we spent a lot of the time in the room which was fine with me… the incessant honking by the taxi drivers was enough to drive me crazy!

On our way back to Gabon we had to go through Libreville (customs/immigration) and we arranged to stay the weekend to car shop.  There are cars in Port Gentil but selection is limited and we just weren’t finding exactly what we wanted.  This was my first time in Libreville in the daylight (we usually arrive at night and fly out again in the morning before the sun comes up) and I was pleasantly surprised.  It actually seemed like a nice city, at least from what we saw of it.

The main road along the ocean in Libreville.

A view of Libreville from above.

Our wishlist for a car was a smaller SUV with 4x4 (preferably Toyota or Mitsubishi as those are the most common and easiest to fix here,) in relatively good condition, automatic transmission and less than 10 000 000 FCFA (approx $20 000 CAD.)  Yes, that is a big budget for a used vehicle however as with everything else here, cars are EXPENSIVE.  A typical car is close to double what we would pay in Canada for the same vehicle and it is much more difficult to fix when something breaks.

Saturday morning we had our breakfast and hired a driver to take us around to the shops.  Mr. Moussa happened to be waiting outside the hotel and he was the perfect match for car shopping.  He took his job seriously that day and was just as involved in the search as we were.  He didn’t speak any English and neither did many of the salesmen so it really put my French to the test.   I was translating left, right and centre and for the most part we got along pretty well.

We decided on a 2001 Rav 4 as it hit our entire wishlist.  We aren’t out of the woods yet as the money needs to be transferred, inspections need to be done, and it needs to be put on a boat to Port Gentil.  I probably don’t need to mention that we are in Africa and while we are optimistic, the past has taught us that things don’t go smoothly here so we are preparing ourselves for several frustrations and headaches.  I’ll be happy if we have our car by the time we head to Canada for Christmas.

(Hopefully) Our new car.

Below is a picture of a dune buggy we encountered on our daily walk to the café in Pointe Noire.  Joe spent the entire trip trying to convince me that we should buy it instead of a car for me as it would be fine to drive in town and great to take to the beach on the weekends.  (I can already hear Joe’s friends (Baretta, Kellen) thinking this is an awesome idea but no, not an acceptable car for me to take to the grocery store!)

Ménagère or not?

Thursday 18 November 2010

We have officially moved in to our house, problems and all, and I am often asked, "Do you plan on getting a ménagère?"  So what is that, you ask?  Well, it's a housekeeper.  Every time someone comes to the house or hears about our house they ask.  This week the men came to spray bugs and when they realised I was sans ménagère, the man left me his number because his sister is looking for a job.  The head maid in the hotel left me her number and a lady at Joe's office has also mentioned she knows many good women for the job.  They can be hired for about 150 000 CFA per month (about $300) plus taxi fare which is another 10 000 per week and they will clean your house 5 days a week morning until night!  If you've ever inquired about hiring a house cleaner in Canada, you will know that this is very cheap.

Every expat household I know, with the exception of one, has hired a ménagère.  It's a two way street: the expats like the thought of cheap help to do the dirty work and the locals expect the wealthy expats to provide jobs for their people.  It is just Joe and I here so if you ask me, do we need a ménagère, the answer would be no, of course not.  If we decide to hire someone, we would only have her come a few times a week and maybe not even for the full day.

Now that we are actually living in the house, I've been tossing the idea around.


-We provide a job to someone who might not necessarily have one.
-We have 2000 sq feet of tile floors that need to be swept and washed almost every other day.  It's a big job and I don't like doing it!
-We do not have a dishwasher and it is probably cheaper to hire help than it would be to buy one.
-Any tasks that neither Joe or I want to do, we can pass it off to someone else.
-The house will always be clean and there would be no scrambling with those surprise visitors.


-Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, complains about their ménagère.  They either don't do things right or they don't do them well enough.
-It's hard to trust people here as many are opportunists.  We would have to be careful about what was accessible in our house.
-You have someone extra in your home whether you feel like it or not that day.
-It's $300/month that could be spent elsewhere.  Over the course of a year, that would be 1 return ticket to Canada.


So what do you think?  To ménagère or not?

A Gabonese Wedding

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Those of you that have been regularly following our blog know of our trials and tribulations we've encountered relocating to Africa.  Housing has been our biggest dilemma and while we are still sorting that, we also had to deal with my immigration.

Joe secured his residence card quite awhile back and in the meantime, we have been trying to figure out how to do the same for me.  Because we weren't married, we couldn't follow the same procedure that most other couples do when moving to Gabon.  We had heard that we might be able to secure a common law certificate which would be just as good as a marriage certificate so we followed that path for a few months.  Protocol changes daily here and what worked for one person one day may very well not work for another the following day.  Eventually, we were told they just couldn't figure it out.

Joe and I knew this could be an issue ahead of time and being that we were already planning on getting married at some point we figured what the heck?!

We were in a bit of a rush as my visa, which had already been extended once, was set to expire so we quickly jumped on board.  We told our families and let everyone know that while we were having this wedding here we are thinking of it as solely for immigration and we would most certainly have a 'real' wedding at home with our friends and family present.

Everyone in Gabon must be married by the local mayor in order for the marriage to be legal.  We had to have a wedding medical, which consisted of blood tests for HIV, syphilis, blood type and things that would concern me in case we ever want to get pregnant, and complete paperwork.  (Polygamy is legal here and is actually an option on the marriage paperwork.  For those who are wondering, we chose monogamy.)  All of the paperwork was submitted to the mayor and we were told that we would be married on October 30 at 9:00 am.  Funny enough, after we informed our families, Joe’s Grandma told us that her and Joe’s Grandpa were married that very day 64 years ago.

Joe and I had no idea what to expect but we were told that we needed to dress nicely and be prepared for the ceremony to take about an hour.  We arrived with our 4 attendants, whom were surprisingly hard to find as they must also already have a residence card and many of the expats we know here don't, and a few other guests at city hall.  They supplied the music and as we sat awaiting the mayor we listened to Eminem and Rihanna (never thought I would hear them at my wedding but I wasn't about to create any fuss.)

Joe and I sitting front and centre in city hall.

The ceremony was presided over by the mayor and 2 others.  It was completely in French and while we understood most of it, we had our friend Tarik translate just so we knew exactly what we were getting ourselves in to.

Tarik translating before exchanging rings. (I think we were laughing that the mayor reiterated several times that monogamy meant 1 man and 1 woman FOREVER!)"

Disclaimer:  Please do not judge me by my dress.  I searched all of Port Gentil and came up with 2 white dresses.  This was the better of the two.

We said our “Oui’s,” exchanged rings, and signed the documents and are now legally married in Gabon.  Afterwards, we went for champagne at a seaside restaurant and later out to dinner with the wedding party.

Mr & Mrs Reid

The day was nice and relaxed but certainly not what we pictured our wedding day to be.  Luckily, we are happy to announce that we have begun planning our Canadian wedding for the summer of 2011!


Wednesday 27 October 2010

One afternoon, while lounging on the beach, we were able to watch some local fisherman lay out there nets.  A boat came in to the bay and dropped off a few men and one end of the net.

(By the way, I loved the little girls hair on the left side of the photo.)

The boat continued on and completed a large arc continuously dropping the net into the water.  It continued on until it reached the shore again, about 150 feet from where they left the men.  Both groups of men then began walking their end of the net in until they met in the middle where they began to strenuously pull the rest of the net ashore.

Eventually, both sides met up and the entire net was pulled to shore with at least 15 fish caught.  The whole process took about 40 minutes.  Afterwards, they packed up, jumped back in the boat and carried on for round 2.

Notice the man closest wearing the black, WINTER jacket?!?!?!  It was at least 30 degrees that day and he was sopping wet as they were in and out of the water.  We found it a bit strange to choose such a wardrobe for fishing but each to their own!


Lesson Learned

Monday 25 October 2010

We’ve been in Africa 3 months now and I guess we were overdue for a robbery.

Joe and I were at our house this weekend doing a few things in case we actually get to move in.  I went to look for my iPod Touch and realized it was missing.  I was pretty sure I left it on the counter but it was nowhere to be seen.  Upon further investigation we noticed several small items had gone missing.  Before leaving Canada, Joe and I stocked up on several toiletries and put them in our shipment.  A toothbrush, toothpaste, half a box of q-tips, face moisturizer, my stock of MAC makeup (which I really don’t understand because I’m white… no one can use it here) and several other small items were among the missing!

We are pretty sure we know who did it.  There was one occasion where we sent 2 people (one we trusted quite a bit) to the house without either Joe or I.  Everything that was taken was small enough to fit in pockets, as the guard would have picked up on anything large.  There’s no way of getting any of it back and we don’t want to go around pointing fingers so I guess we just walk away with a couple of lessons: we were a bit too trusting of people and we should never send people to our house without one of us being there.

We didn’t lose a lot of things worth great value; the invasion of privacy and betrayal of our trust was the worst of it.  We generally feel pretty safe here and it is easy to get complacent so this served as a little reminder that we are in Africa and we do need to be a little more cautious.

House Update

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Moving into a house here is not necessarily easy.  There are several things that need to be in place in order for the house to be livable and unfortunately, those things run on Africa time.

Halliburton has a separate water tank and pump installed on the house to help with water pressure.  Without it, water only dribbles out of the taps and even that varies throughout the day.  It will also provide a bit of back up for water outages.

We are also getting a generator installed that will be able to run the entire house during power outages.  So far, we’ve only experienced minor outages but some times the power does go out for days at a time so a generator is necessary.

Our biggest problem right now and the main reason that we haven’t been able to move into the house is the electricity.  For some reason, we have yet to figure out why, there is not enough electricity coming into the house.  We have been unable to plug in any of our appliances because that causes the power to go out in the house.  We have notified the power company and they say that they need to come replace the box outside of the house in order to up the amount of electricity we can get.  We were told they would do it last Monday but of course, no one showed and when we inquired they replied, ‘These things don’t happen overnight.’  Apparently, they don’t happen over 18 nights either.

We are getting closer to having things in order.  The water pump has been installed but unfortunately, when it turns on, the lights go out.  A concrete pad for the generator has been set and we are just waiting for the generator.  Everything else must wait on the electricity company and who knows when they might get around to it.

My mother always told me, ‘Patience is a virtue.’


Third Time's a Charm

Saturday 2 October 2010

We have a house!

Street View

View from inside the gate

Now if only we could get a couple of minor things figured out...
1.  Constant electricity
2.  Water pressure that does more than drip
3.  Furniture

At this rate, we'll be moving in next year!

Africa Time

Friday 1 October 2010

Things here run on what we’ve been calling ‘Africa Time.’

When trying to get something done you inquire and ask when they think it will be done and the answer is often, “Maybe tomorrow.”  How do you argue with that?  The problem is tomorrow rolls around and there is no sign of anything being done.  No one calls so the next day you inquire again and you hear, “Maybe tomorrow.”  You wonder if tomorrow will actually be tomorrow and aren’t surprised when it isn’t.

Part of Joe’s job here is setting up the new base.  While Halliburton has been in business here for quite some time, the Wireline division is just being set up.  All equipment had to be shipped in, most coming from Angola.  The equipment arrived in Port Gentil quite awhile ago but had to clear customs.  A few months ago Joe saw one of the guys responsible for getting their things out of customs and asked when they could finally get the stuff.  The answer was, “Oh probably tomorrow.”  That was in June.  The equipment was finally delivered to the base September 24.

Sunday Afternoon

Sunday 26 September 2010

We did a little off-roading to our own private beach and set up to watch the waves!

We had a beer,

chased some waves,

practised a few yoga poses,

and we even survived our first police checkstop on the way home without having to pay any bribe money!  What a great day!

We saw a couple of giraffes the other day...

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Too bad they were wooden.  Unfortunately the only live animals we've seen are dogs, goats and chickens.

On another note, we are experiencing our first African water outage.  No one knows why it happened or how long it will take to turn back on but it appears people are preparing for the long haul.  Joe and I went to stock up on bottled water at the grocery store and people were filling their trunks  (last year the water was off for a full 2 week stint.)  Luckily, our hotel has several water tanks along the side to aide with water pressure so that has kept us going.  Joe and I both took a shower tonight thinking it may be the last for the next few days.  If worse comes to worse, we'll have to take a long lunch and head to the beach for 'bath.'

Think of us as you turn on the water to wash your dishes, flush your toilet, or for a nice long, hot shower or bath and keep your fingers crossed that our water returns quickly!

A Simple Haircut

Thursday 16 September 2010

Joe needed a haircut so we set out with our driver one afternoon to get one.  We tried to go to a place frequented by a lot of expats where a French woman cuts hair but the shop was closed and we heard she was on vacation and may not be back for quite some time.  Cardin, our driver, said he knew of another good place so we ventured into the Grande Village (the locals area of town) to this tiny little shop.  The 3 of us wandered in where Cardin inquired about the haircut and the man replied, “I don’t cut white people’s hair” and that was that!

We left the Grande Village and stopped at another place in town.  The guy agreed to cut Joe’s hair for 10 000 CFAs.  Cardin felt that was expensive and when he said so the guy replied, “All white guys are 10 000.”  We were prepared to pay it (it was only $20) but the guy was going to be awhile as he was right in the middle of a girl’s weave.  We left and figured we’d head back later if we didn’t find any other options.

In the end we stopped at a Chinese hair cutters and Joe was cleaned up.   The man was like Edward Scissorhands.  He had those scissors going so fast all over the place I thought Joe was going to come out with a manicured figurine on his head.  Alas, it was a pretty standard haircut (I think the man only knows 1 cut and it just gets shorter or longer.)  All this and a quick massage for the bargain price of 7 000 CFAs.

Tid Bits

Friday 10 September 2010

Often, meals here start with a basket filled with sliced baguettes and butter.  I have mentioned several times to Joe how I wish they would switch it up with some oil and vinegar as well.  Well, last night we were out for dinner and they brought out the bread with bottles of oil and vinegar.  Instead of pouring them into a plate like we're used to, he left the bottles on the table.  When I picked one up, we realised it was a spray bottle.  So we sprayed on a little oil and then we sprayed on a little vinegar.  Weird... but it does the trick.

We are still homeless and the situation is looking bleak.  What else is there to do when feeling glum?

Spend some time at the beach!

Bumps Along the Road

Friday 3 September 2010

Our week started off great.  Joe and I had just purchased some furniture and I was surprised to find something I actually sort of liked.  We had our appliances on order and were getting ready to move into our own house!  Possession date was to be September first so the day before Joe contacted the real estate department to make our walk-through appointment to get the keys.  Real estate informed us that everything was in order and they were waiting for the landlord to return the call with a meeting time.

The landlord phoned and out of nowhere tells us that another company offered double the amount of rent (that would be $8000/month instead of the $4000 we agreed upon.)  THE DAY BEFORE OUR MOVE IN DATE HE DECIDES TO WITHDRAW!  There is speculation that he doesn’t have another renter lined up but was hoping to secure more money from us.  Regardless, he screwed us out of our house the day before we were to move in leaving us homeless yet again.

Joe and I were obviously extremely angry and upset.  I made several empty threats but in the end, it comes down to the fact that we need to restart our house search.  There are barely any houses on the market right now so we are hoping that something just right comes up relatively quick as I’m not sure how much more of this hotel living we can take.

On top of that, Joe had to make a quick trip to Libreville to get his residence card.  Last week when we re-entered Gabon he was given a temporary card and was to return a week later to obtain the real deal.  I was not going as he was flying into Libreville at 8 am and would be home by 8 pm.  When they landed and were booking their return flight they were informed that the government office decided to close that day for a monthly cleaning so they would have to wait until the next day to get the cards.  The quick trip turned into an overnight trip, which was rather inconvenient as Joe was dressed up, tie and all, and had nothing with him for an overnight stay.

I, of course, was not happy to be spending a night on my own here but had no option.  Finding a cockroach in the bedroom (the only one we’ve seen inside since we’ve been here) and having to kill it on my own before going to bed was the cherry on top of this really shitty week!  (For those of you who don’t know, I deal with all bugs by use of a vacuum as it allows me to keep my distance.  We don’t have a vacuum in the hotel so this required Joe’s shoe and a lot of courage.)

We are quickly learning that securing anything is quite difficult in Africa but we are both trying to keep a sense of humour throughout everything.

Pointe Noire

Friday 27 August 2010

About a week ago, Joe and I departed for Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo which is often in the news.)  In order for Joe to get his residence card he had to leave the country and re-enter through Libreville customs.  This could have been a quick trip except you also need a Visa to enter Congo so when we arrived we surrendered our passports for several days to obtain that Visa.  Confusing, I know.

Pointe Noire is a city of about a million people.  It is similar to Port Gentil in that it is a French-speaking community on the ocean.  Being a bigger city also means the problems are bigger.  The city is busy.  There’s definitely more traffic, garbage, beggars, but also more restaurants and shops.

We stayed at a small hotel in the centre of town, which was convenient, as we didn’t have a vehicle.  Every morning we walked to the The Grande, a small café, for breakfast.  They had the best fresh-pressed orange juice and the atmosphere reminded us of a café at home.  Afterwards, we’d walk… and walk… and walk.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, walking around here isn’t that easy.  In Pointe Noire we were dealing with walking through a foot of dirt on the side of the road with large trucks speeding by kicking it all up.  I actually even commented to Joe that I wish I had one of those masks my Dad wears in grain bins as I’m sure inhaling all of the dirt and dust would not be good for my lungs.

The train station is a bustling place.  We happened to walk by it on one of the days where it leaves for the capital city, Brazzaville.  There were hundreds and hundreds of people waiting outside, many of them with bags, boxes and random items on their heads.  People were not happy, there was a lot of yelling and cursing and it looked like there were several fights about to break out.  It was one of the only times where we felt like we were somewhere we probably shouldn’t be.  I imagine, emotions arose as people lined up and waited for hours for the train.  Let me tell you, that is one train I would not want to be on!  (Not to mention, there have been several train crashes and rebel hijackings in the recent past.)

The beach in the city is a lot more developed than in PG and it is also a lot dirtier.  The waves are quite big and there were people surfing.  There are also restaurants and places to stop and get drinks.  The picture below is from Twiga, a hotel and restaurant on the beach where we had lunch one day.  This was one of the nicest places; many of the others were not at all like this.

It is impossible to find any restaurant or shopping chains from home here.  There aren’t even any McDonalds so imagine my surprise when we stumbled upon this…

I didn’t even go in; we have many things to buy right now and sadly, shoes aren’t on the top of our list.

When all was said and done, we were anxious to return to PG.  We were surprised when the travel department told us we would be picked up 4 hours prior to our departure time but didn’t argue… good thing as the airport is nuts!  That was probably the worst airport experience of our lives.  We passed through 2 security checkpoints just to line up to check in.  The room to check in to all flights was packed with people and there weren’t any separate lines for the different flights.  The company that helps us with our travel didn’t even know how things were working.  We spent over an hour ‘in line’ and moved 2 feet only to be moved to another side, which apparently, just funneled into one line in the end anyways.  People were getting angry and yelling as there are a lot of people who butt in line and no one could really make sense of the system.

When we finally got checked in, we had to go through actual security, which was just as disorganized.  It was impossible to figure out what they wanted from us.  There was a table that stopped us and asked us if we had any money on us as apparently you aren’t supposed to take any of it out of the country.  This seemed ridiculous as they use the same currency in Gabon.  I lied and said I had nothing (I had about $60) and Joe lied and said he had nothing (he had about $200.)  They found about $3 on Joe and confiscated it but didn’t find anything else, thank goodness!  We found out later, they told Joe’s boss (who is French) that it was ok if we were going to Gabon but scammed Joe nonetheless.

After a few more security stops, we finally made it through and out on to the tarmac where there were probably half a dozen airplanes all in the same vicinity.  It was completely unclear as to what plane was for which flight and there weren’t those nice airport workers guiding you to your proper plane.  Luckily we made it on the right one.  It took about 3.5 hours to get through all of that for the 1-hour flight to Libreville.

Needless to say, Joe and I are very happy that we are living in Port Gentil.  It may have less restaurants, stores, and certainly no Aldo but it is a lot calmer, better beaches and the utter lack of security at PG’s airport is gladly taken over the craziness of Pointe Noire.

Insert Jaws Theme Music Here

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Below is a picture of something we encountered on the beach at Cape Lopez last weekend.  There are a lot of local fishermen in the area and many of them set out nets in the morning and retrieve their catch later in the day.  I’m assuming this guy got caught in a net and was brought in and gutted on the beach.  I would say the width of his head, eye to eye, would be about a foot and a half.  Joe immediately stated that he was NOT swimming on this side of our ‘island’ if there were sharks that big out there!

Getting Around

Monday 23 August 2010

Getting around in Port Gentil is… interesting.  When you have a vehicle, driving isn’t actually too difficult to get used to.  We drive on the same side of the road and many of the traffic rules are the same except you cannot turn right on a red light, passing in town happens all the time and apparently, horns are often used as signal lights.  Dodging the giant potholes and the legion of taxis prove to be the most challenging part.

There are hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of taxis here.  Vehicles are expensive and not easy to find and the heat makes walking long distances less desirable so many locals use taxis.  All of the taxis belong to the same company and are easy to spot as they are all blue and white.

Taxis use their horns very frequently.  They honk at you to get out of the way, they honk to signal, and most often, they honk to let you know they are available and actually, sometimes I think they honk just for the fun of it.  When there is 1 taxi there are 10 and even though one honked and you turned it down, the other 9 will also honk as they pass just in case you change your mind.

Taxis generally have 4 open seats and the taxi is considered available until every square centimeter of space is used up.  They swerve and pick up more people until the car is plum full.  There aren’t really ‘shoulders’ of the road here so they will literally slam on the breaks right on the road to pick someone up.  (This is where you have to diligently watch when you happen to be driving behind a taxi so that you don’t end up rear-ending them.)

Joe and I have attempted to walk around downtown PG several times.  Sidewalks are a luxury and few and far between.  The ‘sidewalks’ that do exist are in rough shape.  Many of them are made from cement blocks laid over top of the gutters in the road the problem being that for some reason, these cement blocks actually fall the 3-4 feet into the garbage filled gutters.  So while walking, one must dodge the giant gaping holes into garbage, the taxis swerving to avoid the potholes on the road, and if you are me, the lizards that scurry when you take a step.  Someday I’m sure one of those damn things will scare me and I’ll jump to the side and end up in 3 feet of sewage.

Joe and I have been car shopping for me.  Selection is limited and what is available is expensive.  Because of the state of the roads, which will drastically worsen when rainy season hits, you must have 4 x 4.  We’ve been looking at small(er) SUVs and hope to purchase one in the next couple of weeks.  (We are still unsure of how to do that in a completely cash based economy as 10 million cfas (about $20 000 US) are a lot of bills to carry around!)  Until then, we rely on our driver, Cardin who assures us we can phone at any time (even 3 am) for a ride.

Things to Get Used to… Part II

Friday 13 August 2010

6.  Red Dirt

Fine red dirt is everywhere here.  The red dirt is like flour and it coats everything it touches.  Vehicles go zooming by our hotel sending this powder up into the air.  The trees and plants have a thick, dusk-like layer of red on them.  It finds a way into shoes, sandals, clothes, mouth, etc. quite easily.  I made the mistake of buying a pair of white sneakers just before moving here.  They aren’t so white anymore.

7.  Grocery Shopping

There are a few supermarkets here in PG, the newest and best being Super CKdo.  It is probably a quarter of the size of your average Safeway at home.  The wine section is bigger than the entire produce section.  (Some of you may be thinking that might be a good thing, but I don’t want to come home with liver disease!)  One would think, being in a jungle with warm weather all year long there would be a lot of locally grown produce here.  That is not the case; everything is imported.  The selection is miniscule.  This will prove to be a challenge when planning meals, as you are never sure what you might be able to get.

Aside from produce, most of the non-perishable goods are imported from France.  Brands and packaging are unfamiliar so it makes a simple shopping trip into a lesson as you try to figure out what is what.  There also is not a lot of selection.  At home when looking for a can of tomatoes you find half an isle of different brands and varieties.  You can decide between whole or diced, flavoured with spices or plain.  Here, there is 1 variety.  If you want diced, dice them yourself.

8.  Shopping Hours

Shops, including grocery stores, usually open between 8 and 9 am.  They remain open until 1 or 1:30 pm where they will closed for an hour or two for their lunch breaks/siesta.  Around 3:00, everything reopens.  Everything closes for the day at 7 pm.  There are no 24-hour convenience stores or anything of the sort.  Hopefully I never forget an ingredient or run out of milk or something as I’ll be out of luck!

Everything is closed on Sunday.  There are a handful of restaurants that are open but it is hit or miss and if they stay open Sunday, they’ll be closed Monday.

9.  Stray Animals

It is not uncommon to have to shoo away a chicken or rooster from your vehicle at the grocery store parking lot.  There are a lot of stray dogs that wander the streets.  They aren’t particularly hostile nor friendly.  I actually haven’t heard one bark yet.  Goats also make a regular appearance.  While walking along the main road beside the ocean, Joe and I saw a goat hanging out in a park and he must have enjoyed the 3 weddings that took place there earlier that afternoon.

10.  Cost

Things are expensive here!  Most people are surprised to hear that many of the most expensive cities in the world are actually in Africa.  Libreville, the capital city in Gabon, is #3 on that list this year.

To give you an idea of what things cost here, these are a few prices we’ve encountered recently:

Monthly rent for (hopefully) our new house – 4 000$/month
Old El Paso Taco Kit – 12$
Small bunch of Asparagas – 13$
Small men’s deoderant – 9$
Package of 5 men’s razor blades – 50$
Dinner for 2 at your average, mediocre restaurant (by Canada’s standards) with 1 drink each, no appetizers, no dessert – 60$
Couch, loveseat & chair that look like they’re from 10 years ago but really brand new – 4 000$

Coke and local beer can be bought for 1.50$ each in the grocery store but that seems to be the anomaly.

2 Weeks In

Wednesday 11 August 2010

We’ve survived 2 weeks in Port Gentil and are settling into life here.  We spent a week or so looking at various houses and have settled on one.  It is in the paperwork process right now.  We really hope this deal doesn’t fall through, as they often seem to do here.  It is out of our hands now as the company real estate division and the owner of the property work out the details. 

 My days are long and can get a little boring while Joe is at work.  Our hotel is located away from almost everything except Joe’s office so it isn’t easy for me to venture out.  I’ve had a lot of practice hanging out in hotels as of late so I find ways to occupy myself.  (For those of you that are wondering, I’m finished book #4.  Thank god for my Kindle because I sure didn’t have room in my suitcase to lug around books!)

 Joe and I usually go out for dinner.  There are a lot of restaurants here so it has given us a chance to try out a lot of different places.  People eat very late here (restaurants don’t get busy until 8:30 or 9.)  We try to ward off our hunger as long as possible before heading out.  Sometimes ordering can be a challenge as we aren’t always entirely sure of what we are getting but we are learning as we go.  So far, neither of us have gotten sick so I suppose that is a good sign!

 The beaches are the best part of living in Port Gentil.  There are 2 beach areas: Sogara (where the first house we tried to get was located) and Cape Lopez.  The pictures on the previous post are from Cape Lopez, which is probably 20 miles or more of unspoiled, undeveloped beach.  People drive out, park their cars, and hang out virtually undisturbed.  Sogara is a little different as houses border the beach.  Sogara is also located within a bay so the water is a lot calmer.  There is a restaurant there as well as a locals beach club further down.


 We spent Saturday afternoon at Sogara.  Just as we laid down on our towel, I felt something warm and wet on my hand so I shot up to find a dog sitting beside me.  There are a lot of stray dogs in PG but most of them could care less about the people around.  We aren’t sure if this one might have been a pet because he was so friendly.  He sat at Joe’s feet for quite awhile and would join us in the water or follow us if we walked down the beach.  Had we had a house, we might have seriously considered taking him home.

 Below is a picture of the damn lizards that haunt my existence here in Port Gentil.  Sometimes I think I’m getting used to them only to have one take off running beside me and I get startled and am on edge for the rest of my walk.

Sunday Afternoon

Tuesday 3 August 2010

There may be some frustrating things about living in Port Gentil... but you can't beat this!

Things to Get Used to Living in Equatorial West Africa

Saturday 31 July 2010

1.  Lizards
They are everywhere!  They are small, harmless, gecko type lizards scattering all over the place.  Most of them are a soft green however we occasionally see a black and orange ones that appear to be doing push ups when they aren't running around.  I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to these things.  I don’t care that they are harmless; I don’t want them anywhere near me and especially not in my home.  That’s why I had Joe round up and chase out a baby lizard yesterday.

2.  Language
When travelling, it often isn’t difficult to come across someone who speaks English or has a basic knowledge of it.  Not here.  I rarely hear anyone speak any English aside from us.  Most of the other expats are from France so they speak French as well.

I notice the difficulty mostly when going out for dinner.  I obviously can figure out the basic words on the menu but still often have no idea what I’m actually ordering.  I see ‘poulet’ and think chicken however it could be chicken liver for all I know.  Luckily we’ve had no major mishaps yet.

3.  Help
There are always people hanging around ready to help.  At the airport in Libreville there are 2 options, use a cart to move your luggage for free, or have someone else do it for you for 1000 cfa (about $2.)  It is helpful and cheap however they can be quite aggressive and begin loading up your things before you’ve even asked them.  And don’t try cheap out… they have no problem asking for more money.  The other day, Joe paid one guy with a bit of a tip and the guy told him he wanted one more bill.  You don’t want to mess with the burly man because for all you know, he’ll load your luggage right back up and take it with him.

4.  Technology-less
While this is only temporary, I feel as if I’m on some sort of cleanse.  I have no cell phone or home phone.  I have TV however there are only 3 English channels, 2 of which haven’t worked for the last 2 days so I can only watch CNN.  I have no internet.  The hotel does have internet but it costs $6/hour and it sucks!  The last card I bought I was only connected for about 30 minutes before my ‘hour’ ran out and most of that time was spent loading and reloading pages and/or trying to reconnect to the network.  I have learnt to write all posts and long(er) emails in Word first because when the internet times out, you end up losing everything you’ve done.

5.  Water
As you can imagine, tap water is not drinkable here.  It is tough to get used to keeping a bottle of water at the bathroom sink to rinse my toothbrush.  The water pressure here is also something that is awful.  The water trickles out of the shower and if you happen to turn on the tap in the sink while waiting for the shower to heat up, the water in the shower stops completely.  I think half of my conditioner was left in my hair at the end of it all.  It was probably the worst shower of my life.  In homes, they install a separate tank outside of the house to assist in water pressure… thank god!

First Impressions

Friday 30 July 2010

We have arrived in Port Gentil.  The journey is not a quick one but it actually went very well.  We were fortunate enough to be bumped up to first class for 2 flights, one from Toronto to Frankfurt and another from Frankfurt to Libreville.  That made a huge difference in our travels.

We arrived in Port Gentil early Tuesday morning.  We were picked up by a driver from Joe’s company and dropped off at a hotel directly across the street from Joe’s work.  The hotel is livable.  We have a one-bedroom suite with a small kitchen.  It is fine for the time being but both Joe and I are anxious to find our own home.

So I know many people are wondering what it’s like… I’ll try to sum up some of my first impressions as best as I can.

The City:  Apparently, Port Gentil has around 100 000 residents but it does not feel like a town in Canada with that population.  Much of the town looks a lot alike.  Many of the buildings look a little run down, partly due to lack of upkeep.  The centre of town is littered with homes, expat and wealthier local homes, restaurants, shops and markets.

There is an area referred to as ‘the village’ by locals and expats alike.  I have not ventured there yet and I’m sure it would provide a different scene, as I know that many of the locals live in poverty.

The streets are bustling with vehicles, often dodging potholes, and people.  It doesn’t seem to matter the time of day; there are all sorts of people everywhere.  Generally, people are pleasant and friendly.  The language barrier is a bit of an issue as almost no one speaks English.  Sometimes my limited French isn’t even enough to get the point across.  When it does, they tend to reply back speaking so fast I’m lost after the first phrase.  Hopefully this will become easier with practice.

Climate:  It is generally pleasant.  It hasn’t been overbearingly hot nor cool.  We are in the winter season so it is a few degrees cooler right now.  I’d say it hovers around 27 with of course, some humidity.  It seems most places have air conditioners so it is easy to cool off.

Roads:  I grew up living in Saskatchewan and I thought I knew what bad roads looked and felt like.  Ha.  There are a few well-maintained paved roads through town but they often turn into a nightmare.  There are, literally, potholes the size of swimming pools here… and several of them in rows down streets.  Often times, people drive down the shoulder of the road or the opposite side or wherever they can in order to avoid the potholes.  I imagine this can get dangerous for pedestrians.  Sometimes, it is not possible to avoid them and it is like off-roading in the city.  Just when you think the road couldn’t possibly get any worse, it does.

All in all, while it is a big adjustment, I can see Joe and I adjusting to our new surroundings and enjoying life here.  Things move at a slower pace, the people and the town are vibrant and the beaches are beautiful.

Well this post is getting long and although there is much more to post, I will save it for a later date.

Half Way There

Monday 26 July 2010

We’ve had the most hectic week.  After a quick visit to Quesnel, we returned to GP ready to wrap everything up.  We thought we were pretty organized as we’ve had quite a bit of time to prepare but as with moving, things were deceiving.

As we are frantically trying to pack our house, someone decided to buy it.  Great news but would have been even better had it happened a week earlier as it pretty much doubled our ‘to-do’ list.

Packing our suitcases proved to be challenging as well.  It is not very easy to cram your life into 3 suitcases.  Once the house was packed up, I took to packing my things to take with me.  I carefully pulled all of my clothes out of the closet and dresser and neatly piled them according to article (t-shirts, shorts, tanktops, pyjamas, etc.)  Upon finishing, I stood back and this is what I saw:

And it all had to fit into these suitcases:

Did it?  No.

I ended up making cuts. I narrowed out one small box to put in storage and snuck one vacuum bag into our separate larger air shipment.

Our next challenge was fitting all 6 bags into Joe’s 2-door Prelude.

It took some patience, a few rearrangements, and a very uncomfortable 4.5-hour drive to Edmonton but we did it.  Fortunately, we were able to upgrade to first class for our flight to Frankfurt and let me tell you… that is the way to fly.

We each had our own small cubicle with fully automatic seats that laid down into a bed.  We had a 3-course dinner (which was quite good), free alcohol, and no crammed legs or crying kids.  It was fantastic.  Unfortunately, our flight to Libreville is economy and it’s going to feel even worse after tasting luxury.  Not to mention the fact that they have overbooked the flight and are trying to entice passengers to volunteer to stay over with a compensation of 600 euros per passenger (tempting, but this journey is taking long enough!)

One 9 hour flight, a night in Libreville, and a short flight to Port Gentil and we’ll be in our new home.  I don’t know what our internet situation will be for the next while but will try to post when I can!

Below is a picture of Joe having a beer at the airport in Frankfurt.  It is 7 am local time and he's not the only one drinking (and no, I opted for a coffee.)

Life in GP ~ pre-move

Friday 16 July 2010

We've given away our basement furniture (less to store) so this is how we live these days!  Luckily, it's not for much longer!

We had a few minor delays regarding our air shipment which made us move our departure date back a week.  As frustrating as it is, it gives us time to make a quick trip to Quesnel to see Joe's parents before we go!

Our official departure date is JULY 25!!!!! Ready or not, we'll be on our way... finally!

The House is Listed

Wednesday 7 July 2010

The house is listed.

Storage facility is rented.

Loose ends are being tied up.

All that is left is to pack and arrange for our small air shipment.  If all goes well, we'll be en route to Gabon the end of next week!

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Friday 25 June 2010

Well, we had a house...

The house we had was being built by an investor who doesn't currently live in Gabon.  He and his wife were building the house as an investment and they had a contractor taking care of all of the details.  About a month ago, the investor passed away.  This didn't affect our deal as the wife was taking care of things through the contractor and things were still on.

Unfortunately, a few days ago the contractor also passed away.  This is problematic in a couple of ways.  First of all, no one knows how to get a hold of the investor's wife.  Second, the house won't be finished anytime soon without the contractor.

We haven't been told that the deal is definitely done although it sure isn't looking good!  So I guess we may have to uncheck the 'find a house' box on the list and start all over.

A Couple of Photos

Saturday 5 June 2010

A random street in Port Gentil

A small harbour in town

We Have a House (almost)

Thursday 3 June 2010

After viewing 8 houses and a lot of debate, we finally have decided on a house!

Our soon-to-be new home is located in Sogara Beach which is a small neighbourhood just outside of Port Gentil.  There are quite a few homes belonging to expats there.  The beach and the ocean is visible (slightly) from the backyard and there is a walking path directly behind the house to take us to the beach.

The house has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms (plenty of room for guests.)  It is just being built but is very close to completion and it should be done by the end of June which works out perfectly for our timeline.  The real estate division of the company is working on closing the deal for us so it isn't official but it looks promising.

Now, if only we could get our house in GP under control.  The basement flood has really thrown a loop into things but we're working on getting everything back together in order to put it on the market.  Hopefully insurance doesn't slow us down too much as Joe has told them we'll be ready to completely move to Gabon in early July!

Things Are Coming Together

Thursday 27 May 2010

Well we are one step closer to making the move official.  Joe was given a contract today.  We are reading through it and making sure all bases are covered before signing but so far, things are looking good!  Everything should be finalized by June 2.

Joe has been on the house hunt.  The market isn't huge so he has only been able to look at 3 houses.  We are leaning towards the first one.  It is being built right now and almost done.  It has 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.  It is located a ways from the centre of town and there is only 1 other house on the road.  There's a picture below but keep in mind, it isn't done or landscaped yet.

We haven't agreed to take it yet as we were hoping to find a place with a bit better location.  They think once school ends more houses may come up.  We either hold off and hope something better comes up or risk losing this one.

Joe keeps teasing me with photos of beaches.  Today he had lunch on the beach and says he can see me spending a lot of time there.  There is an expat neighbourhood right there as well so he was hoping we could get a house there.  Keep your fingers crossed for us!

A Beach in Gabon

Monday 24 May 2010

Joe found some time to visit a beach the other night.  This one is about a 5 minute drive from one of our potential homes.  It is pretty secluded, nice and clean.  I can see myself spending a bit of time there!

Aside from spending time checking out beaches, Joe has been fairly busy at work.  He has been putting in some long days interviewing people, working on things for the new shop, and trying to figure out things for our life over there.  We are still trying to decide on a house and whether to ship or store our things.

He will probably spend another 2 weeks in Gabon before returning home and then we'll start to wrap things up here!

Welcome to our new blog!

Thursday 13 May 2010

Hi everyone!

I've created this blog to keep you up to date on our life as we embark on this adventure overseas.  Add this link to your bookmarks and click on the "Sign Me Up" button on this page in order to receive emails when we've added something new.

Also, we'd like to hear from you too!  Please feel free to leave comments below our posts!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
by mlekoshi