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!
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