Christmas In POG

Wednesday 28 December 2011

This year, we spent Christmas in POG and it was certainly much different than any other Christmas I've experienced.  Normally we're in cold Canada, sipping caesars, playing games, opening stockings, watching movies and eating A LOT with our family.

We started the Christmas weekend off with a dinner out with friends December 23.

Chez Jimmy with friends.

Christmas Eve was spent at a friends house.  Each of us brought a dish and drinks and we chatted, ate and laughed the night away.  When I looked around the table it was evident just how multicultural our lives have become - Joe and I represented Canada, our hosts were Japanese and we also had Indian, Indonesian and British couples.

Christmas day, Joe and I woke up and watched "A Christmas Story" downloaded ahead of time, ate cinnamon buns made by me, and relaxed.  Later on we spent a few hours on the beach before returning home to make Pad Thai.  Certainly not very Christmassy but fine nonetheless.

Beach time!

However, I did enjoy something Canadian...

I'd been saving that "Caesar Pleaser" packet since August when a fellow Canadian gave it to me to try.  Not near as good as the 'real' thing but did fine in a jam.

A Week in Paradise

Monday 26 December 2011

Mauritius is beautiful - plain and simple.

The colour of the water, the beautiful beaches, the charming people and their hospitality made it the perfect holiday destination.  As I mentioned before, Joe & I were really looking to relax this trip.  We've had a busy year full of ups, downs and travels so we were ready to head somewhere where we didn't have to do anything but had the option to do something in case we got bored.

We stayed at Hotel 20 Degres Sud and it was PERFECT.  Again, we chose something on the smaller side as the last thing we wanted was a giant resort with music blasting and big buffet meals.  20 Degres Sud has 34 uniquely decorated rooms and it was beautiful, tranquil and subtly luxurious.  It was so great that we didn't even really want to leave --- so we hardly did and we don't regret it.  Our days were filled with beach, books, drinks & food and instead of describing, I'll let you see for yourself.

20 Degres Sud from the water

Our room that also included a giant claw foot bathtub overlooking the ocean and an outdoor, rainfall shower.

Our private terrace.


A glimpse of the beach.


In Grand Baie

Airport Grievances

Thursday 22 December 2011

Nothing like going on vacation to remind you what a nightmare travel in Gabon can be.  It doesn't seem to matter when we travel, how prepared we are or how much we've paid for the tickets, we will have problems.

The Port Gentil airport has been working on a new runway in hopes that Air France will begin direct flights here instead of through Libreville.  This started months ago and they had hopes to be finished in January but of course, they are behind schedule.  Sunday night the government announced they were going to close the airport from 6 pm - 6 am commencing immediately.  Most international flights arrive in LBV 5:30 pm and after so this means everyone who is arriving must now find accommodation for the night.  Did I mention, this is going to continue for at least 2 months?  (Luckily, Joe's company re-arranged everything for us while we were in the air so we didn't have to do it when we arrived.)

Air travel in Africa is something very different from the orderly and routine travel we're used to in North America.  It can be incredibly aggravating and I could probably write grievances from now until the new year arrives but I'll pick the worst.

  • Regional travel in Gabon is a nightmare.  On average, I'd say 30% of flights are cancelled.  This is almost never done ahead of time.  Often, you are at the airport and checking in when someone comes to notify you that the flight is no longer going.  Sometimes, they don't even refund your ticket.  There are weeks where things are pretty stable and then there are weeks where the majority of flights don't go.  Of those that do fly, 95% are not on time.

  • We're used to checking ourselves in to the flight and showing our passports to verify our identity.  Here, anyone can check you in.  Often, you have 1 man ahead of you in the line and he makes several trips unloading dozens of bags in front of you.  The 1 man in front is actually checking in 6 different people with multiple bags.  It's ridiculous and it slows things down incredibly.  The attendants complain, we complain but no one ever puts a stop to it.

  • There aren't many laws here that are enforced so many people just don't understand how to follow the rules.  When traveling internationally either to Gabon or from Gabon, a lot of passengers completely disregard the carry-on baggage allowance.  People show up at the gate with 4 giant bags and get angry when they are told they have to check 3 of them.  It also means that you have to make a mad rush to board just to ensure you have room for your one allotted bag because often the overhead storage is full before 1/3 of the plane is boarded.

  • For some reason, someone decided that all large flights coming from South Africa, Germany and France should depart and arrive within 10 minutes of each other.  This is never compensated for in terms of immigration and customs.  Undoubtedly, there are hundreds of people lined up and only 2 immigration workers stamping passports.  Often times, one of those 2 immigration workers decide they need a coffee break just as you make your way to the front and no one replaces him/her leaving you to return to the back of a now, much longer line.

  • The regional airlines have conveniently made their baggage weight a few kilograms lower than all other airlines.  (A clever money making strategy for them, but annoying for us.)  We are almost always overweight on the inter-Gabon flights so after you've finally fought your way to the front of the check-in line, you are told that you now have to find the ticketing counter, pay your excess baggage costs and return to the line to present the receipt to get your boarding ticket.  Just when you couldn't stand that line a second longer, you have to go back.

I'm not even mentioning that much of this occurs without air conditioning in 30 degree heat.

Flying from Canada, South Africa & Europe, even with their problems, is like a breath of fresh air after Gabon.

I know I've been a bit absent from the blog but that is because Joe & I were enjoying a fabulous vacation in Mauritius.  We're now back in POG and as soon as I get the rest of the photos uploaded, I'll post about the trip!

It's Beginning to Look A lot Like Christmas

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Wait, no it's not!

I'm finding it a tad hard to get in the Christmas spirit.  Everyone is posting their tree decorating pictures and without that, I might not even know it's the Christmas season probably because there is no

-Christmas carols playing in the shops,
-Christmas commercials,
-red Starbucks cups,
-homes decorated with Christmas lights,
-extended shopping hours,
fireplace channel on the TV,

Christmas baked goodies.

Instead, all I have is the view of the Port Gentil Christmas tree lot...

This lot is conveniently located 1/2 a block from our house.

It includes a black tree still covered in white cotton - I assume it was used for Halloween as well.

Cultural Differences

Wednesday 30 November 2011

When you move across the world, you expect to encounter innumerable cultural differences.  Most of the times we only think about the big ones (food, language, politics, etc) but I think the hardest to cope with are the little things.

Some things we assume are common sense are actually cultural differences.

Joe's company has a bunch of resources for those moving and living overseas and one of those resources is access to a database of information on other countries.  They talk about everything from climate to currency to finding schools and healthcare.  Last weekend, we were browsing the site looking at Gabon (to see how accurate they were) and I decided to look up Canada.  Reading the "Social Customs" section on our home country was quite amusing and it reminded me of some of the cultural differences we face while living in Gabon.

Some of my favorites are:

"Canadians are most comfortable when given ample personal space during conversation. They prefer not to stand very close when talking, and generally do not punctuate conversation with physical contact."

This is so blatantly different here and it still drives me nuts!  For example, last week I was in a travel agency booking flights to Libreville.  The office is a fair size with 5 travel agents sitting at a long row of desks.  I was the only client in the office at the time and was seated across from a man who was confirming my booking.  The door opened and an older Gabonese woman entered the office and proceeded to sit right beside me.  There were probably 12 other chairs in the room and other agents who weren't serving anyone yet she chose to sit in the chair directly beside me and directly across from my travel agent as if she was in the meeting with me.

The grocery store is another common place where I feel my personal space is being invaded.  In Canada, everyone stands in line at the checkout but we often give the person who is currently being helped more space.  Here, while I'm leaning over my purse trying to count out cash to pay for my purchases, there is almost always someone practically touching me while they watch me count my money.

Probably the most concerning place we notice this is the doctor's office.  The one we use has a desk at the front with blocked off lines to check-in.  It is meant to form a single file line and there really isn't room for 2 people to stand side by side.  One day, Joe was checking in, I stood behind him, and a man shimmied his way past me, right up to the counter beside Joe and looked on as Joe explained why he needed to see the doctor.  It was very awkward (for us) and had the potential to be embarrassing (depending on what you need to see the doctor for.)  Had my vocabulary for communicable diseases been better, I might have come up with something a little more amusing.

"Canadians are courteous with strangers and passersby. The uses of "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" are common."

I can't elaborate much on this one except to say, it doesn't happen here.

"It is considered extremely rude to push ahead of others in line."

While people do line up here, it's not uncommon for someone to "join" the line ahead of everyone else.  If you happen to have an acquaintance already in line, it's no problem to join them ahead of others.  Sometimes, someone sees the line, measures everyone up, and then decides they are more important and must move to the front.

One of the most aggravating instances happens while driving.  (This applies to many French men as well as local people here.)  Perhaps because there are no road rules that are enforced, people feel they can make their own.  When stuck in traffic or at a light, people begin adding lanes on either side of the actual lane and then force their way ahead of everyone else.  If you don't let them in, they yell, honk, raise their fists at you like it's your problem they have no where to go.  Perhaps, if they hadn't driven through the ditch to pass 10 cars at an intersection, they wouldn't be stuck there to begin with.

"Gestures in greeting or loud conversation generally are frowned upon."

I often find myself wondering, 'what all the yelling is about?'  In general, people speak quite loudly here and they aren't embarrassed to hold a rather private conversation, loudly, in public.  Because we live above a store, I'm often privy to these conversations in the parking lot below.  Sometimes people are having an all out argument right there in front of everyone.  They'll get quite animated, throwing their arms up, pretending to storm off only to return and yell some more and then seemingly out of no where, it just stops.  Both parties shake hands, wish each other an enjoyable day and head in their separate directions as if nothing ever happened.

While some of these cultural differences can feel incredibly frustrating, sometimes there's nothing you can do but laugh (or join them.)

**The quotes above come from, Canada destination guide, as provided through the Halliburton network.**

My Beloved Kindle

Friday 25 November 2011

I'm a reader and I need a book on the go at all times.  I learnt my lesson when living in Houston that lugging suitcases full of books back and forth when traveling is just not reasonable.

Luckily, Joe bought me a Kindle for my birthday before we moved to Africa.

And thank goodness...

There is not an English book to be bought in Port Gentil.

I go on, buy a book and it appears on my Kindle - or I connect my Kindle to a data network and do it directly from there.  Easy.

While nothing replaces the feel and smell of a 'real' book, I'm not sure what I would have done without my Kindle this year, especially in those early days in the hotel with nothing but CNN and time on my hands.

The Ugly

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Welcome to the final post in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” You’ve heard about our friends and the beautiful beaches, the horrendous roads and the outrageous costs of everything here and now you’ll hear about the nitty, gritty, ugliness of Port Gentil.

  • Public Urination – It would be an odd day if I didn’t see someone pee in the street.  I’m talking men, girls, boys and on rare occasions, women.  I know this occasionally happens at home on long road trips or in dark alleys after the bar but in Port Gentil it’s midday on Main Street.  Most of the men don’t even turn themselves away from the traffic – it’s just right out there in front of everyone and no one seems to care.  I couldn’t even count how many times I’ve exited my yard to find someone peeing on our wall.  I respond with a “C’est ma maison, ce n’est pas une toilette” but I usually just get a shrug in return.

  • Garbage, Garbage, Garbage – It’s everywhere; heaping, rotting, stinking garbage.  While garbage collection appears to happen regularly, there is often more garbage around the bin than there is within (mostly due to lack of bins.)  All of it sits and rots in the blazing heat and it smells TERRIBLE!  As you can well imagine, no one sanctions littering around here either so as people walk, they throw their bottles, carrier bags and wrappers on the ground.  Each morning our guard rakes our parking area and each day there is a mound of garbage.  Yuck.

  • Poverty – Gabon is one of the richest African countries and with a population of only 1 million its people should be thriving, but unfortunately they hardly see any of that wealth.  The further you get from the city centre, the more dire the living conditions become.  People live in shacks we wouldn’t even keep our lawn mower in.  It’s sad and it’s hard to see.

That completes my version of "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly."

Jungle Joe in Photos

Saturday 19 November 2011

Joe and his colleague, Emmanuel.

The Jungle

The Luxury Accommodation

Jungle Joe

Thursday 17 November 2011

Joe is somewhere in the Gabonese jungle.

Normally when he goes to a job, it's offshore but due to a lack of qualified engineers, he's been sent inland.  He took a 1.5 hour helicopter ride to get there and he doesn't really know where he is except for the fact that they followed the coastline South for about an hour before heading inland.

The jungle in Gabon is crazy - it is so dense and lush that you often can't see through the wall of forest.  It's also home to forest elephants, silverback gorillas and countless other snakes and bugs.  While he has yet to spot the elephants (apparently those on the rig at night have) he did come across a giant snake yesterday which he says was as thick as his leg.  The local guy he was with thought it was a viper so perhaps it's this one.

He continually reminds me that he's glad I'm not out there as he's encountered huge spiders, cockroaches the size of rats and moths that are as big as birds.  I think this will be one of those trips that he'll be happy to have done once and hopefully not again!

You know you've been in Gabon too long when...

Thursday 10 November 2011

1.  You begin to think of the bars in people's windows as decorative fixtures and you notice (and maybe even comment on) 'fancy' ones.

2.  You use the horn in your car more than your signal lights.

3.  You give someone a generous tip because they actually brought you what you ordered in a reasonable time and weren't rude about it.

4.  You walk by the man peeing in the street and hardly notice.

5.  You look for the token naked man on your drive across town.

6.  You find peanut butter in the grocery store so you text your friends to let them know it's there and then buy several for yourself.

7.  You spend more time driving on the wrong side of the road than you do on the right.

8.  It no longer surprises you that there is no money in the bank machine and no fuel at the gas station.

9.  You phone your friend on the other side of town to ask if there's any police check-stops before you head her way.

and lastly,

10.  A baby cockroach runs across your table at lunch, the waitress helps you kill it and you still stay to eat.

We're Going to MAURITIUS!

Monday 7 November 2011

Joe & I try to spread out our holidays throughout the year as it's best to take regular breaks from Gabon and the difficulties here.  We saved an extra week of Joe's vacation days just for this purpose as we knew we wouldn't be coming home for Christmas this year.  (Singapore was an added bonus!)

After our busy trips to Canada, South Africa & Singapore this year, we decided we needed something a little more relaxing to decompress from work for Joe and life in Africa for me so we decided Mauritius was the place to be.

Mauritius is to the right of Madagascar - the tiny little island that says "Port Louis."

Mauritius is a small island in the Indian ocean to the East of Madagascar.  It's known for it's luxury accommodation and rich culture as the residents come from Indian, African, French & Chinese heritage.  English is the official language however, French and Mauritian Creole are widely spoken as well.

Joe and I will spend 1 week in Mauritius taking in the sun and then we'll fly back to Johannesburg and spend a couple of days there to stock up on anything we need in Gabon.  We'll get home December 20 just in time for a Christmas in West Africa.

The Bad

Friday 4 November 2011

Here we go, “The Bad.”  There could be a whole lot of ‘Bad’ but I’m going to narrow it down to the baddest of the bad.

  • The Roads – I found when I was home this summer this was one of the most difficult things to explain.  The roads are horrendous and sometimes, I’m not sure why we call them roads.  Joe & I were discussing his best route home one day and he told me that sometimes route B was better because it wasn’t paved.  Paved roads mean sharp patches of pavement and deep, gaping potholes.  Unpaved roads mean dirt roads with holes so big they have to be driven through, not over.  These holes are filled with water 10 months of the year and one never knows how deep they are until you are in it.  I’ve had water come over my hood.  Keep in mind, I’m not talking about a couple of potholes.  There are more holes than road.

  • The Food – The food just isn’t that good here.  It really makes you realize how lucky we are to have good quality meat and vegetables in Canada.  The meat is famously tough here and the vegetables are few and far between.  The Gabonese certainly aren’t known for their farming; there are some people who have gardens and sell their produce but that can be touch and go as well, especially when you aren’t sure of the conditions it was grown in.  Most of the ‘good’ stuff is frozen but after awhile, you really crave something fresh and when you do find something to have fresh, you worry that you can't cook all of the bacteria/parasites out of it before you eat it.

  • The Price – It’s one thing that we lack quality products here but it’s another when you look at how much they cost.  Last week I made bruschetta and 4 good-sized tomatoes cost me 9000 cfa ($18.)  Everything is double, if not triple the price that we would pay at home and the quality is nothing to rave about.  I had to pay for my own flight to Libreville when going to Singapore and the round trip (1/2 hour flight) cost 255 000 cfa (over $500.)

Imported peppers - $20/kilo and if you saw them up close, you'd see wrinkly soft skin that doesn't look that fresh!

  • Isolation – Because Port Gentil is sort of an island, it’s really not easy to get anywhere.  We have to take a boat or flight to Libreville and then onward.  We can’t jump in the car and do a road trip inland.  In fact, the furthest we can go is Cape Lopez and that is maybe 20 km from our house.  The bordering countries (Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea) aren’t places that cater to tourism either so if we want to travel, we have to go quite far.  The ‘weekend away’ just isn’t an option and it makes it quite difficult and expensive for anyone to come and visit us.

  • Unreliablilty - You just can't rely on anyone or anything here, even the people you think you know.  Something breaks, you call someone to fix it and when they finally show up (days later than promised) they make a worse mess of things.  Spoken agreements (actually even written agreements) mean almost nothing and things rarely go as planned.  While it is still frustrating (see the post on our internet problems here) we have gotten used to this and are pleasantly surprised when something gets done.  Currently, the most unnerving thing is the unreliability of flights.  Sometimes you have checked in and as you line up to board the plane, they tell you it is no longer going and you need to get another ticket for another flight.  No one apologizes and no reason is ever given.

And those are the baddest of the bad when it comes to life here - at least for us.

Have I ever mentioned...

Wednesday 2 November 2011

We have really nice beaches here?


Today is All Saints' Day and a nationwide holiday.  (No Halloween though!)

Yes, while it was dipping below zero for our friends and family at home, it's reaching above 30 here.

We played a little frisbee, snorkeled, found hermit crabs and had a beer.

Yup, while you are bracing yourselves for snow, we're heading into some of the best beach weather of the year.

Christmas in Gabon anyone?

The Good

Monday 31 October 2011

Awhile back, another blogger that I follow did a series of posts on “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly” of living in India and it inspired me to start putting together my own list for living in Port Gentil.

So we’ll start with the GOOD.

  • The Beach – We have really nice beaches here, probably some of the nicest beaches we’ve ever seen.  Gabon isn’t developed for a tourism industry and I like that the beach is relatively untouched.  You can literally sit on the beach and feel like you have the entire place to yourselves, your very own little paradise, and it’s really the only place where one can forget about ‘The Bad” and “The Ugly” (coming later.)

  • Friends – Port Gentil is small, there isn’t a lot to do, life can be hard and all of that results in becoming quite close with people quite quickly.  I’ve mentioned before that your friends become your family here and that is completely true.  Plus, especially with the housewives, we don’t have anything better to do so we don’t have lists of excuses as to why we can’t get together or why we can’t help each other out.

  • Our Apartment – Seriously, we would never have this place in Canada and while it does have it’s issues, we have a pool and we are one block from the ocean and we don’t have to pay a dime for it!

  • The Weather – Aside from some torrential downpours here and there, we have great weather.  It’s always hot and it’s usually always sunny.  You don’t get seasonal affective disorder here because we don’t really have bad seasons.  It’s always summer and going to the beach on a January afternoon will never get old.

And there it is, ‘The Good.’


Stay tuned for "The Bad" and later on, "The Ugly."

Time Flies

Sunday 30 October 2011

One year ago today Joe & I were at the Port Gentil city hall getting married!  (You can read all about it here!)

It seems funny thinking back on it as we were certain it wasn't a 'real' wedding when in actuality, it turned out to be legal!  It was quite different from our Canadian wedding, certainly not as beautiful, but memorable nonetheless!

So today I'm wishing my husband a very happy first anniversary!  (Unfortunately, he had to go offshore early this morning so the champagne will have to wait!)  We've had a year full of changes, some good and others, not so good, but thankfully we are doing it all together!

Hello World!

Thursday 27 October 2011

Joe & I are FINALLY back online!

We had internet at our last house provided by a new company called WiFly as the main internet company, Gabon Telecom, didn't service our area.  We left that house months ago and when we did we recommended they take the satellite and hold it for our new house.  Of course, no one at Joe's office followed up on this.

We moved into our new home and immediately asked to get our internet reconnected.  The people in Joe's office gave us the "maybe next week" response a few times before it came to light that they had NEVER paid WiFly for the service at our last house and now WiFly was refusing to transfer our service until they were paid (of course!)  Joe went to see the finance department and they told him they'd pay the bill tomorrow.  We heard that story for 2 months.

Tempers flared, frustrations bubbled over and in the end, they decided to use Gabon Telecom instead.  (I didn't think it was that hard to pay a darn bill but apparently it is!)  Gabon Telecom gave us the "maybe next week" answer several times until yesterday when Joe & the internet guy from the office followed the technician around from job to job ensuring that they stopped at our house along the way.  The connection was finished in a matter of seconds but it didn't work.  Apparently when they told us they couldn't provide internet at the last house, Halliburton paid to secure a telephone number and continued paying on a monthly basis to hold it.  Even though we were paying to reserve the number, Gabon Telecom decided to give it away because we weren't using it &%&^$%^!!!!!  Things got a little ugly and a threat to take them to court was made but by the end of the day, we were online!

Internet is a necessity when you live thousands of miles and several time zones away from your family and friends and I'm baffled at the thought of what people did before it was invented.  I felt so disconnected from the rest of the world and unfortunately the world goes on even when I can't follow it!  I'm so excited for the skype dates to commence to see what everyone has been up to the last 3 months!

I am back!

New Friends?

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Since we returned to Gabon, I’ve been walking with a group of ladies.  I know it doesn’t sound like much but in Port Gentil it is.  We walk a long the ocean as it’s really the only place in town where there is a semi-sidewalk and the road is fully paved so we aren’t dodging cars.  In 30+ degree heat, at the end of our 45 minutes, we’re drenched.

We often walk first thing in the morning in hopes to avoid the more intense heat later on in the day.  A few weeks in, 3 stray dogs joined us on our walks.  They were quite nice and didn’t bother us at all.  They’d tag a long and when we reached the beach area they’d take off running and swimming and catch up to us again later.  Then they disappeared.  We walked for a week with no sign of them so we figured they’d moved to a different area of town.

One morning we walked our normal route and half way down the beach there pops up one of the dogs that used to walk with us.  He ran over to join us and we laughed as we realized that that particular morning, he was in a pack of 9.  All 9 came followed him.

So there we are, walking down the street with 9 dogs taking up half the road trying to walk alongside us.  We passed a police checkstop and they started by congratulating us on our exercise (not normal to see a group of white women walking) and then laughed as they commented on our ‘friends.’  Taxis honked and other expat friends who happened to drive by killed themselves laughing at the site of us.

I sure hope that if they join us again in the future it’s back to the group of 3 as 9 is just way too many dogs!

What do you do?

Thursday 20 October 2011

When you meet someone new one of the first things you ask is, “What do you do?”  It’s an easy conversation starter and in our culture, our career is so much of our life.  I defined myself as a teacher before anything else, especially in the first couple of years of teaching, because my profession consumed the majority of my life.

In the expat community, the wives are defined by their husband, their home country, their language and the company they are with.  When you meet a newcomer the first questions you ask are, “What company are you with,” or “Where are you from,” and even, “What does your husband do?”  Here, we’re all housewives.  If we asked one another “What do you do,” I think the response would be “Nothing really.”

Today, after our morning walk, we stopped for a coffee.  A girl I’ve known for quite some time now asked me, “What did you do at home?”  I explained that I was a teacher and she told me that she was a petroleum engineer.  I found it so odd that we’ve been acquaintances for so long now and neither of us knew what each other did, or I suppose, used to do.  Then I started thinking, I don’t know what the majority of my friends used to do.  Even the ones I’m quite close with.  Do all of us have these past lives that we hardly ever talk about?

Style Me Pretty Canada - Featuring Joe & I

Thursday 13 October 2011

Not long after our wedding, our wedding planner and photographer asked if they could submit our wedding to Style Me Pretty.  For those who don't follow wedding blogs, this is THE blog of all wedding blogs.  They get thousands upon thousands of submissions each week but only pick the top.  I, of course, loved every minute of our wedding and it was by far the best day of my life but it was so nice to hear that others found it beautiful as well!

Our wedding went up on the blog today - check it out here!



Monday 3 October 2011

On a much happier note, we are no longer homeless!  Before I left for Canada this past summer, we finally secured a new place to live.  After all of our troubles last year we were very particular and we are so happy with our choice.

This time we are right in the centre of things, the complete opposite of our more isolated house we had last year.  We are now downtown occupying half of the second floor of a building, a store below us and an office beside us.  We are one block from the ocean and just about everything one might need; grocery stores, banks, hardware stores, restaurants, etc.

Our apartment has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and an open dining, living, office area.  The ‘piece de resistance’ is the garden.  We have a pool and an outdoor kitchen, not an easy thing to find in Gabon, and a bit of grassy space with papaya and banana trees.

The living room and Joe's office in the background.

Eventually we'll have a dining table and it will go here.

The Kitchen

Our room

Main bathroom

Our pool

The apartment, yard and my pool boy.

We'll get a guest room ready as soon as you tell us you are coming to visit ;)

The Ironies of this Immigration Crackdown

Friday 30 September 2011

I don’t often blog about the serious stuff here mostly because a society is just so complicated that it’s really difficult to sum something up in a 500-word blog post.  It’s hard to write something that doesn’t come across as judgmental and stereotypical and most of all, I don’t want to offend anyone however, these are my experiences, good and bad, and my take on what I see and experience.

As I wrote my last post, things were frantic here.  No one knew what was happening or why it was happening.  Rumours were flying, people were panicking, it just wasn’t good all around and I can’t say that things are a whole lot better.  Everything is so ill communicated here and even when they are communicated, they rarely make sense.  When you do find out information, you wonder if you can believe it and worry that things could change quickly and turn volatile.  The biggest fear is that we really have no defense here.  Corruption is rampant; they change & make rules to suit their own benefit and it’s near impossible to defend yourself if they charge you with something.  It can be quite scary and you want to do everything to make sure you don’t come under fire for anything.

The checkstops continue and the police continue to ‘visit’ the bases of international companies to conduct their investigation.  Some days they are looking for one thing, others it’s another.  Originally, they were only looking at the men and the few women who work here but yesterday, the police went in to the supermarket and began questioning women.  I’ve heard of a few people being asked to leave within 72 hours and others have been allowed to stay while their name remains on a list.  Some have been advised not to leave as they may not be allowed to re-enter.

In all of this, there are things that just don’t make sense:

  • We were all let in to this country.  We didn’t illegally cross the border or pull up in a fishing boat seeking refuge in Gabon.  All of us have visas or residence cards and we’ve all passed through immigration numerous times in and out of the country.  We go through the lengthy process of acquiring a residence card and then go through the lengthy process of getting exit and entry visas just to travel.  Each time the Gabonese government approves us.  If they don’t want us here, they shouldn’t approve our entry.

  • The majority of international companies try very hard to tow the line of immigration as that is something they really don’t want to have issues with down the road.  It can really hamper their business and relationship with the country.  When the government decides that all foreigners need new documents, the companies try to get those papers as soon as possible to avoid future problems.  In this case, most companies have submitted applications for the newly required work permit but the government currently isn’t issuing them – even though they are required.  I've heard that those without the permit will be fined 1.2 million cfa ($2400) even if they've previously applied for it.

  • There is a trail of paperwork a mile long about every expat here.  I can’t count how many applications I’ve submitted for visas alone not to mention the numerous passport photos I’ve had to get for those applications.  Where does it all go?  Why is it necessary that they pull every expat into the immigration office and copy it all out by hand from our passports?

  • Just a few weeks ago, the Gabonese government and a large international company hosted a large gala in Libreville spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to showcase a new special economic zone in Gabon.  Propaganda is all over the place and the government continues to stress that they welcome new industry and new companies to Gabon.  They continue to tout Gabon as an internationally friendly place to invest when those that are here aren’t feeling very welcome.

We are well aware that we are guests in another country.  We follow their laws and customs and even though we may complain here and there, many of us are happy to have the opportunity to learn about life outside of our own bubbles.  We accept that things are different and we respect that hoping that we are respected in return.  This week we have not felt respected.

Corruption at its Finest

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Gabon doesn’t exist without corruption; it’s on every street corner, in every office, in the markets and on the road.  Some days you hardly notice it whereas others, it hits you right in the face.  This week has been one where it hits us in the face.

It’s not unusual to have police checkstops here.  There are locations where they are more common and they’re sporadically throughout the month and on weekends.  Often times, they’ll ask for your car papers and let you go.  Other times they’ll find problems with your papers and try to give you a fine on the spot.  (We are advised not to pay on the spot as the officers will take the money for themselves.  Instead, we are to ask to go to the police station where they can actually write you a receipt.  Sometimes they’ll advise you to go there, other times they’ll just let you go.)  It can get difficult because they often change the rules and even if you have everything in order, it might not be enough for that particular officer.

Monday morning we noticed an unusually large number of police officers and checkstops and as I met my friends for our morning walk, I heard of troubles they had over the weekend, mainly, police confiscating their passport or residence cards.  Rumour has it that the petroleum workers’ union is unhappy again.  In short, they want us gone and they want the jobs for themselves.  (They don’t seem to realize that we are here for a reason.  Expats are brought into countries when the locals aren’t qualified to do the job and if they force the expats to leave, the foreign companies will also have to leave and they will be without jobs.)  Apparently, the union asked the police for help to find foreigners to deport.

Monday afternoon the police began going to foreign offices, Halliburton being one of them.  They went for a meeting with the base manager and locked the gates not allowing any expats to leave.  They began by rounding up a group of employees, Joe included, and eventually decided to take everyone to the immigration office.  At the immigration office they took a record of everyone’s documents.  Joe was there for about 4 hours and he said it was not hostile in the least but very inefficient.

When we first arrived in Gabon, all we needed was a valid visa or the carte de sejour.  They’ve now changed their mind and have said that all foreign workers need a work permit separate from the residence card.  People began applying for the permit but the government won’t issue them at this time leaving the majority of expats here without the document.  It seems like this crackdown has to do with the permit and the union is hoping to have everyone deported that doesn’t have it.

We are currently dealing with police checkstops on every corner, one officer in the driver’s side window asking for papers, another in the passenger window asking for money.  Yesterday it was just papers, today they are apparently trying to fine people for not having a fire extinguisher in the car (not previously required.)  The police are still making their rounds to all companies and will continue to do so all week.  As far as Halliburton is concerned, nothing has been hostile and no one has been deported.  Other companies haven’t been as lucky.  I heard of 2 men being deported from one company and my friend’s husband must leave the country temporarily tonight leaving her and their 3 kids behind.  Joe has all of his papers, work permit included, but many of our friends do not.

There is an uneasy feeling among the expats here.  We don’t particularly want to go out as we don’t want to be hassled by the police yet it’s hard to not go about your daily life.  While I’m pretty confident Joe & I won’t be deported, which might not be a good thing, the uncertainty of everything else isn’t fun.  We are not happy with how we are being treated and we certainly feel the irony of the president touting Gabon as a great place to invest and that foreigners (and their money) are welcome.

We’ll keep you posted…

Please note, like any post I do, it’s from my own experiences or experiences of friends of mine and there could be inaccuracies.

Friends, Shopping, Eating & New Heights in Singapore

Sunday 25 September 2011

As you all know, I was especially excited to see my friend Jeanie on our trip to Singapore.  Jeanie & I jive on just about everything and we certainly picked up just as we’d left off.  Jeanie was the perfect host; she always had a list of recommended things to do and she took us to things we wouldn’t necessarily have done.  It was so great to see that she is doing so well even though I did envy her a tad when I saw all of the luxuries she has become accustomed to. (I may, or may not be directly responsible for her ‘newish’ love of luxury items.)

It was a huge surprise when I received a message from an old friend of Joe & I’s who happened to be boarding a flight to Singapore.  Joe & I met Nao the same time we met each other, our first day of university on 1Mac.  Nao is Japanese and he completed his business degree in Canada and returned to Tokyo to begin what has become a very successful career at Goldman Sachs.  We, nor anyone else from 1Mac, heard very much from Nao since then – we knew that he was working like crazy but always wondered about him.

Joe, Nao & I on the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

Nao was coming to Singapore for a conference and we arranged to meet each other for dinner & drinks.  I won’t lie, Joe and I were a bit nervous about our evening.  It had been 7 years since we saw Nao and we weren’t sure if he was going to be the same person we remembered.  He was – and our reunion was fantastic.  We talked about all our old friends, our new lives in Africa/Japan and plans for the future.  It was so great to catch up with Nao and to meet his girlfriend and as Joe and I returned to the hotel late that evening, we decided a trip to Tokyo must be put in the works.  (I’m sure Joe has been dreaming of driving Nao’s Ferrari ever since!)

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Singapore’s national past time is shopping.  I have never seen so many malls in my life and these aren’t just mini strip malls with a bunch of dollar stores – these are high end, luxurious malls.  Any designer store you could dream of was there, and multiple times:  Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Miu Miu, Christian Louboutin, Cartier, Gucci, and many, many more.  Just when I thought I found the largest LV store I’d ever seen, I crossed the street and found another.  I have never seen anything like it, not even in Los Angeles.

Orchard Road - ION Shopping Centre from the outside

When Joe was in his course, I spent my time window-shopping and daydreaming.  I tried very hard to reason myself into going on a luxury shopping spree but reality hit – I live in Africa, what do I need from Prada???  My fingers are crossed so tightly for our next location – please let it be somewhere I can bring my Jimmy Choos!

When Singaporeans aren’t shopping, they’re eating.  Because of their diverse ethnic communities, you can eat just about anything you want.  Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and any Western food you could want from hawkers on the street to (extremely) expensive restaurants.  One night we ate satay and noodles at a street market, the next night was sausage and sauerkraut at a German pub and the next, one of the most expensive steaks I’ve ever had (and some delicious NY cheesecake flown in from the Bronx.)  My life was complete when I found Clamato at a specialty supermarket.  (This was possibly where I was cursing Jeanie a little under my breath!)

Joe pondering menus at a street market.

The only downside to all of this was how expensive it was.  Sure, the street hawkers were reasonable but alcohol sure wasn’t!  To buy a can of beer (local beer at that) in 7-11 was $10.  In a restaurant, the cheapest we saw was $13.  My pomegranate martini at dinner one night cost $26 (it was so good it was worth it.)  I suppose you get used to it – just as we’ve become accustomed to $25 broccoli!

New Heights
Singapore has got some tall buildings and numerous of rooftop bars & restaurants.  We started our exploration of heights with the Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel.  We then ventured much higher to One Raffles Place where we took an elevator to the 62nd floor, a whopping 282 m high for a drink (or 2) at a bar fittingly called, Altitude.  There was a glass railing around the perimeter no taller than me, no wire or mesh above that so I could peer over the railing to the ground below – freaky, but beautiful views of the city!

Jeanie & I on the Singapore Flyer.

Going up? Heading to Altitude, all the way up there!

The Singapore Flyer on the left and Marina Bay Sands in the centre - both quite a bit smaller than where we were!

Later on in the week, Joe & I went to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel with Nao to Ku De Ta bar.  The hotel is relatively new to Singapore and it consists of 3 towers with a long boat perched on top.  It is really quite impressive to see.  Even more impressive that on the boat there’s not only the bar but also an infinity pool overlooking the city.  Unfortunately, you can’t use the pool without staying at the hotel and the hotel goes for $400 and up a night.  I wanted to stay there so badly even just for one night but my conscience (Joe) got the better of me.  Maybe next time….

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

View from the top of the hotel - the tallest building with the bright white lights at the top was where we were a couple of nights before.

The Other Side - "My Friend Jay"

Wednesday 31 August 2011

My friend Jeanie wrote her own version.  You can check it out here.

My Friend Jeanie

Tuesday 30 August 2011

(Jeanie, I meant to consult you before posting this blog but I didn’t get around to it – hope you don’t mind!)

I met Jeanie when I moved to Grande Prairie in 2008 although it feels like I’ve known her much longer (in a good way.)  We both accepted jobs at Forbes; my 4th year of teaching and Jeanie’s first.  Somewhere in that year, we bonded over teaching, books, movies, drinks, food, and pretty much anything and everything else.

Three quarters of the way through that year at Forbes, I came to Jeanie after Joe and I were presented with the idea of moving overseas and she, of course, was a huge support.  Jeanie has travelled extensively – all over Europe, Thailand, Cuba, USA, etc – and she didn’t hesitate to pack up her life every once in awhile for a new experience.  So, at the end of the year, I took off to Houston, she took off to Thailand for the summer and then returned for her second year of teaching.

As you know, our road to the expat life wasn’t short and after spending several months in Houston, I returned to Grande Prairie and picked up a temporary teaching position while we awaited our destination.  In the meantime, Jeanie had come across an opportunity to teach at a Canadian international school in Singapore.  She asked what I thought and I responded with the same enthusiasm she gave me the year before.  I like to think that I helped her secure the position with a bit of assistance in her resume but really it was her passion and dedication to teaching that is obvious when you meet her.

We laughed as Joe and I had several locations fall through and here was Jeanie, starting a year later than us and she already new where and when she was going.  In the end, Joe and I left Grande Prairie about 2 weeks before Jeanie did off to different continents and surely, different experiences.

Jeanie took off to the ultra modern, ultra clean Singapore and Joe and I landed in third world Africa.  We kept up with each others’ blogs and skyped a few times and reveled at the differences in our experience moving overseas.  Here Jeanie was battling the Singapore transit system and I was faced with Africa and all of its frustrations.  Jeanie had to overcome a bit more homesickness than I did but she also got to do a lot more traveling – Hong Kong, Cambodia, Thailand, Australia, China and Japan just in the past year.

A few weeks ago, Joe let me know that he put in a request to complete a course in Singapore.  I didn’t even budge as he’s done this numerous times throughout the year (albeit, not in Singapore but other locations throughout the world) and nothing was ever approved.  His boss was holding out hoping he could arrange the course in West Africa.  Imagine my surprise and excitement when it was APPROVED!

Immediately, I began daydreaming of catching up with Jeanie.  Shopping, eating, drinking coffees and being able to see first-hand what a move to Asia looks like!

In a little under 2 weeks, Joe and I should be jetting off to Singapore.  Jeanie, I can’t wait to be reunited!  See you soon!

(PS.  Everyone, keep your fingers crossed that airlines don’t close, jobs don’t come up, and nothing else happens forcing us to cancel this trip!)


No Water Again?!?! UGH!

Monday 29 August 2011

Water is just one of those things you take for granted when living in a fully developed country.  You turn on the taps and it’s always there and sometimes, you even grumble when the town puts restrictions on water use and you can’t water your lawn every night.  It’s certainly not the same here.

On the absolute best day, the water pressure is so low that it’s hard to take a shower.  For that reason, the majority of expats have a large reservoir tank (ours is 1000 litres) and a pump.  The tank fills up with the regular town water and then the pump takes over to force more water with more pressure into the house.  The water gets shut off regularly here but sometimes you hardly notice as you use the water from the tank and then it gets turned back on again and the tank fills.  Unfortunately this week, we've noticed it!

The water has been shut off EVERY day for several hours at a time.  The first time, all of our tank water was used as our guard graciously washed our cars (ahhh!!!  I would have preferred flushing toilets than a clean car but whatever.)  After that, it was impossible to catch up.  The water would be turned on again for a couple of hours but the pressure was so low that it couldn’t make it up the pipes to our tank.

It is never pretty when the water is out.  Toilets aren’t flushed ALL day, dishes are stacked up, not even rinsed from the previous nights dinner, you can’t easily wash your hands and showers are almost impossible.  The whole place starts to smell.  Obviously, we always have a stock of drinking water so we don’t suffer there and we use that to wash up when needed but these water outages are never fun.  We’ve been steadily without regular water for close to a week and there’s no telling how much longer this streak will go on.  (Last year was similar at this time – the end of the dry season - and it was at least a couple of weeks without regular water.)

When the water does return, we use it sparingly and wonder when it will stop again until it seems to come back for good.  Life in the third world - always interesting!

The Many Fabrics of Gabon

Tuesday 23 August 2011

There really aren’t a lot of clothing stores here in Gabon.  The few that we have are expensive and usually last years (or even 5,10,15 years before) style.  In the markets, the majority of the clothes sold are second hand but around every corner is a fabric store and behind those corners are tailors, often Senegalese men.

Walls, stacks and more walls of bright, heavily patterned fabric.

Fabric colour and patterns are a big thing in Africa and they’re used on many different occasions.  When a wedding is going to take place, both the bride and the groom choose a fabric and all of their guests are required to get an outfit made out of that fabric.  On special events, such as last week’s Independence Day, companies will choose a fabric and make shirts for each of their employees.  Last year, there were fabrics specifically designed for the 50th anniversary of Gabon with emblems, president’s faces, and anything else ‘Gabonese.’

The tailors make a wide variety of African fashions and it’s generally quite cheap.  You can get your custom dress made anywhere from around 10 000 cfa ($20) up depending on how elaborate it is.  You can also take in something you already own and they’ll try to make a replica.

A terrible, unartistic photo of the tailor many of the women use. The dressing room is behind the pink curtain. Not exactly Saks but it gets the job done.

I’m still thinking that sometime this year we should throw an “African Party” and we’ll all get elaborate African dresses made and our husbands can get matching shirts.  Oh the life of an expat housewife...

Independence Day, slash that, Week

Friday 19 August 2011

Gabon’s Independence Day is August 17 and this year, they celebrated 51 years of independence from France.  Obviously, the 17th is a nation-wide holiday each year just like Canada Day for us but there is one key difference; each year the government decides how many days everyone will have off in addition to the 17th.  This year it was announced we would have the 15, 16, 17 & 18 for celebrations.

The government only announces this immediately before the holiday is to commence so this year we heard rumblings Friday evening and it was confirmed Saturday morning at the police station when they told us they were closed until the following Friday.  (Yes, even the police station closes!)  This makes it virtually impossible to organize any sort of travel plans, which is sort of annoying.  Joe could have taken today off and we’d have 9 days of travel time.  Instead, we stayed in Port Gentil.

It is also a little annoying not knowing in advance that all of the stores are going to be closed for the week.  This made doing all of those little jobs around the new apartment difficult, as we weren’t able to get any supplies.  Luckily, the supermarket opened for limited hours throughout the week so we weren’t forced to starve!

The President of Gabon arrived in Port Gentil Saturday afternoon and as far as I know, this was his first trip to our city since we’ve lived here.  He has a giant palace downtown only a couple of blocks from our new place that sits vacant all year long.  Many of the roads were closed and guarded by the army and police for the afternoon so that he’d have a clear route.  I’m not sure how long he stayed but not long enough for the festivities on the 17th.

At midnight on the 16th they had a fabulous fireworks show.  It was fabulous even to Western standards and Joe and I had the luxury of watching from our home as they were set off 1 block from us on the ocean.  The next morning the main event was a parade although Joe and I never went.  (He went to work in the morning.)  Afterwards, most foreign companies organize a party for all of their employees complete with food but as I’ve mentioned before, Halliburton Gabon sucks and no such thing was done for us.  (They did have shirts and dresses made for all of the local employees but expats were not included.  Perhaps they also had a party but we certainly weren’t on the invite list!)

(I tried to upload a firework picture here but Wordpress is giving me an error  - sorry!)

All in all, we enjoyed our relaxing week and Joe trudged off to work again this morning for one more day before the weekend!

Sneak Peek at the New Apartment

Sunday 14 August 2011

We've finally settled in to a new apartment and are already feeling more at home there than we ever did at the last house.  Once we get all of our curtains up and everything put away I'll post a few more pictures of the new 'home.'

Our new bedroom: nice, light and airy!

The Conclusion – To Menagere or Not?

Friday 12 August 2011

Awhile back I posted about menageres (aka maids) and expressed my uncertainty about hiring one.  I went back and forth over the past year and then an opportunity presented itself – a friend of mine was going back to Australia after 3 years in Port Gentil and of course, she was letting her staff go.  (She was an extreme – she held a staff of 6: 2 menageres, 2 guards, a nanny of sorts & a tutor.  She started with the guards and 1 menagere and each year added on!)

Christiana came highly recommended.  She worked with my friends for the entirety of their stay in Gabon and was reliable and trustworthy and the timing was perfect – our friends left in July and we arrived in August ready for our new apartment.

Currently, she is set to work Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm for a salary of 150 000 per month ($300.)  Obviously, we don’t need someone that often so many days I’ll send her home at lunch but we wanted to make sure that we didn’t give her too slack a schedule because then it might be hard to change afterwards.

There have been a couple of perks aside from not having to clean that I didn’t foresee:

  • When we need something done at the house (a plumber, electrician, A/C maintenance, etc.) I don’t have to sit around waiting all day wondering when they are going to show up because Christiana is here.

  • If there is a problem (like our new oven not working) I can explain to Christiana and she will phone someone for me so that I don’t have to do the dreaded French phone calls.  (Christiana does not speak English but she worked with English people the last 3 years so she’s a bit more intuitive when it comes to figuring out what I’m saying if I’m not sure of the words in French.)

  • She is great at ironing so even my sheets get pressed.

  • I’ve been getting a ton of practice speaking in French and she corrects me and teaches me new words all of the time.


So far, so good and fingers crossed that it continues on this path!



A Small Rant

Friday 5 August 2011

I received a piece of mail yesterday and it sparked a frustration that has been burrowing inside me (and Joe) and I'd love to get it off my chest.

Africa is a continent and it is HUGE!  It is the second largest continent with the second largest population (behind Asia.)  It has 54 countries - 54, that's a lot - and it's home to over 1 BILLION people.

Simple lesson here: Africa ≠ South Africa

South Africa is 1 out of 54 countries on the continent of Africa.  So when I say I live in Africa, it does not mean I live in South Africa.  (You would be surprised how often we get that response!)  Should be fairly simple however, even some major organisations have had troubles with this concept.

1.  Royal Bank of Canada addressed a piece of mail to me as

Jay St John
BP ****
Port Gentil, Gabon, South Africa

RBC - you should be ashamed.

And even worse...

2.  The IRS (Yes, the Internal Revenue Service of the USA)

did the exact same thing on mail addressed to Joe.

Now that is embarassing.

Ahhh  - I feel much better.  Thank you for indulging me.

Stocking Up

Monday 1 August 2011

Joe & I just finished our final bits of shopping before we fly back to Gabon tomorrow.  Below is what we bought over the last couple of days because either we can't get it in Gabon or it's so expensive it's better to bring it over ourselves.

Keep in mind, this does not include all of the curtains we bought for our new apartment, new clothes, wedding gifts (hard drives full of movies & TV shows thanks to Kellen, Jessica & Mike B,) Joe's diabetic supplies & prescriptions for the year, kitchen utensils (bbq lighter, tongs, meat tenderizer,) and anything else we may have picked up earlier on in the trip.
I have a feeling we're going to be a touch overweight this time!


Saturday 30 July 2011

It's inevitable, we get asked a lot of questions about a random assortment of things regarding our life in Gabon.  Here are a few of the most popular:

1.  How long's the flight?

  • Well for starters, it's several flights:  Port Gentil - Libreville - Frankfurt - Toronto - Edmonton  (It is possible to go through Paris however it takes longer and CDG airport sucks so we always try to go through Frankfurt.)

  • It generally ends up being about 32 hours from start to finish.  Yes - 32 hours.

2.  Do you like it?

  • This one's a a bit trickier.  Both Joe and I always answer with an "It's okay," and generally, it is ok.  It's different, it can be hard and frustrating but it's ok.

3.  How long are you going to be there?

  • Joe signed a contract for 'up to 3 years.'  This means it could be more or less.  We've been there a year now and we'll probably start looking for another placement next year.  Maybe in Africa, maybe not.  (It's not really up to us!)

4.  Is it hot there?

  • Well, yes - it is Africa afterall!  We live on the equator.  While the temperatures are relatively stable (25 in the dry season and up to 34 in the rainy season) the humidity is often 80 - 100%.  In the rainy season most days 'feel like' 42 degrees Celsius.  (Kind of like windchill but the opposite for those Canadian readers!)  It never, and I mean never, dips below 20.

5.  What do you eat?

  • Hmmm - not a whole lot of anything good!  The local cuisine isn't very desirable.  Good produce and meat are hard to come by (if not impossible) and we lack most of the shelved goods we'd find at home.  We do eat a lot of pasta, frozen veggies and rice, pizza every Sunday from a local middle eastern restaurant, green beans, potatoes and the local white fish - capitaine.  There are restaurants and yes we do go to them regularly but most serve the same things.  It's a challenge - probably one of the biggest we deal with regularly there.

6.  What do you do for fun?

  • We go to the beach, we hang out with friends, we watch movies from hard drives, attend parties and gatherings, go out for dinner and that's about it.  There isn't a lot to do but we seem to fill the time just fine

7.  Do you feel safe?

  • Yes.  I can drive myself around town and go shopping alone.  I feel fine when Joe is out of town and generally never worry for my own safety.  (Obviously, there are certain areas of town I wouldn't go alone and I try not to drive by myself at night solely for the fact that if the car broke down I might be vulnerable.  But that is like anywhere.)  We don't have to live in a compound and we do have 24 hour guards at our house (every expat does) but they don't really do a lot.  Some people find this hard to believe after all of our robberies but usually, people want our stuff, not us.

That's it for now - if you think of anything else, post a comment!

Sorry I haven't posted in the last month...

Tuesday 26 July 2011

But I've been busy getting married!

(For the second time!)

It's been a busy few weeks and soon we'll be heading back to Port Gentil so I hope to resume posting then (as long as I have internet!)  Hang in there, I have not forgotten about this little blog!

(I'll do another post on the wedding when I get more pictures!)

Did I ever tell you about the time something died in our roof?

Wednesday 29 June 2011

I found myself saying those very words to a friend on a trip to Vancouver and figured that if anything deserved a blog post, it was this story and I'm a little surprised that I have yet to do it!

At the beginning of December we'd been living in our house for about a month, had only been robbed once, and generally felt pretty comfortable there.  As we often do in the evenings, Joe and I were watching TV when I heard some thumping coming from somewhere in the house.  I wasn't sure if it was inside or out and it seemed to subside quickly.  When I heard it again, I asked Joe if he was hearing the same thing.  He wasn't - but a few minutes later it came back louder than ever so we decided we had better investigate.

Hesitantly, we moved towards our bedroom in search of this mysterious thumping.  We looked in the cupboards, opened closet doors only to find nothing and hear nothing.  After our search, we stood in the bedroom perplexed when the thumping along with vibrations resumed directly overhead.  Joe and I looked at each other speechless and unsure of what to do - so we ran outside to get our guard.

Sunday night we always have a replacement guard.  Guards work 6 days a week so on their night off someone else replaces him.  On this particular night it was another young guard who doesn't know us nor speak English so I'm sure he had no idea what to think when Joe and I come running outside and asking that he follow us inside in broken and hurried French.  Nonetheless, he did and stood with us as we stared at our roof waiting for the thumping to resume.  Just as I'm sure he settled on the fact that we were crazy, it came back and the stunned look on the guards face was priceless.

The guard went off to investigate and came back with nothing.  He couldn't find an entry point nor did he have any ideas what it might be.  I thought it was a bat trapped inside flinging itself around, Joe figured it was a mouse or a rat but neither of us had any idea of what to do.  The thumping quieted throughout the night and eventually, we had to go to bed.

After a sleepless night, we decided we needed reinforcements and that was even more evident mid-afternoon when the smell came.  Whatever had been trapped in our roof must have died and begun to decompose.  (All roofs are tin and in 40 degree heat it didn't take long to smell.)  The extermination company came the following day but in the construction of our house, no one thought to make any access points to the roof so there was no way for them to actually get in there.  This resulted in more waiting as we needed to hire a contractor to make the access and then wait for the exterminators to return but by the evening, it was clear that we could no longer sleep in our room.  The stench was overwhelming and it was near impossible to breath in the area.  We moved our mattress into the dining room and set up a makeshift bedroom.

Remember the post on 'Africa time?'  Well this applies here.  The stench continued to get worse as the days went on and when Friday arrived we started to worry.  Our flight to Canada was that evening and we worried if it wasn't done before we left we might return to an even more unbearable smell.  After a few frantic phone calls, the exterminators arrived again and with newly constructed access to the roof, in they went to get to the bottom of the problem.

Gagging and breathless, out they came with a small, kitchen garbage bag containing 'it.'  In a strong French accent he exclaimed, "It was a %^*%$ cat!"  While we certainly relieved to have the problem solved, I was sad to hear that it was a cat as a cat suffering in a sauna of a roof seems much worse than a bat.  We boarded our flight that evening hoping that upon our return 3 weeks later, the stench will have subsided and that nothing else will have tried to make our home it's home.

We're starting to believe that if something is going to happen, it's going to happen to us!  We never seem to be short of ridiculous stories but I suppose that's a good thing for this blog!


Sunday 19 June 2011

If you get a chance, watch the investigative news report on the president of Gabon that aired on Nightline this week.

Interesting to see how the president's family lives while most others in Gabon live in poverty.  Unfortunately, other political leaders refuse to take a stand on this kind of corruption because of lucrative natural resource deals.  I guess money talks.

Day 1 to Now

Friday 10 June 2011

Sogara Club - lunch on the beach May 2011

One gorgeous day, I joined some friends for lunch on the beach.  As we were sitting there enjoying the ocean, I reflected a bit on the time we've spent in Port Gentil and it reminded me of the first time I visited this restaurant.

It was Day #1 in Port Gentil, in Gabon and in Africa.  We arrived early in the morning and after stopping by Joe's office and getting checked in to our temporary home at Hotel du Parc (which is no walk in the park,) Joe left me behind to unpack, sleep and ultimately, realise that we just moved to Africa!  He came home for lunch and suggested we head out to Sogara to eat.

I'm sure he took me there as after having my first taste of Africa, he wanted to show me the best part of Port Gentil, the beach.  The setting is picturesque; the sand, the water, the ocean breeze, waves breaking, shall I go on?

Before I continue, I must explain.  I'm afraid of birds.  Not deathly afraid like I'm scared for my life but I just really don't like them.  I think they're dirty and I hate them fluttering around me.  I blame this on barn swallows that swoop at your head.  Should you happen to be around me and a bird flies into my vicinity I will duck, even if it's no where near my head.  I can't help it.

We get situated and order our hamburgers when a few guests decide to join us.

Here I am trying to enjoy my first lunch in Gabon yet ducking every 5 seconds when another bird decides to join its friends.  I'm sure I looked crazy to everyone else dining outside.

And then, the lizards came.  Remember, this was my first day in Africa and I certainly wasn't accustomed to lizards scurrying around.  There I sat, legs tucked up under me, dodging birds left and right and managing to get a bite or two of my hamburger in.

As I sat having lunch a few tables down from that first encounter 10 months earlier I couldn't help but think, "My gosh, I have come so far."


Wednesday 8 June 2011

Well... I'm home.  Home in Canada I mean.

It's always a little exciting getting on a plane coming home although this time, I was a bit hesitant as I was leaving Joe behind.  I had to come earlier to work on wedding stuff and Joe doesn't get enough holidays so here I am and there he is.  Poor guy - he's probably the one that needs the break!

A few things I've enjoyed over the last week:

  • caesars - oh how I've missed them

  • roads that don't crack your back while you are driving

  • shopping - both fun shopping and everyday life shopping (there's so much to choose from!)

  • steak that doesn't take you 10 minutes to chew one piece

  • catching up with family & friends

  • lightning fast internet, or at least that's what it feels like

  • TLC & HGTV

A few things I'm not enjoying:

  • the lack of humidity and my shrinking & shriveling skin

  • my mother's ridiculously cold house

  • no access to the beach

  • trying to catch my husband on skype calls and usually never succeeding

  • missing out on all of the coffees, parties, gatherings going on in POG without me!

All in all, it's nice to be back and I'm happy to have more time this time to see friends.  I'm sure I'll be sick of driving but it's all worth it to catch up with those I've missed.

And one more note:  I have the most amazing husband in the world.

Engagement ring #2 - Exactly the same as the first in every way. It's like nothing ever happened!


Wednesday 25 May 2011

An expatriate, commonly referred to as an expat, is defined as someone who has moved away from their native country to take up residence in a foreign country, voluntarily.

While you might not know many people who have chosen this lifestyle, there are quite a few people who live like this for various reasons.

The majority of expats in Port Gentil are here for work.  I can't even attempt an estimation as to how many expats call POG home but the community is quite large.  I would say the majority of those expats are French, this being a former French colony and the largest oil company here being Total.

Each company provides their expats with an expatriation package and some are definitely better than others.  The majority of packages include company provided housing (utilities included), a company vehicle, a shipment of goods into the country or a payment in lieu of shipment, return flights home every year, school tuition for children in private schools, amongst other things.  Many people are lured abroad because of good salary packages and the ability to save some money.  Most people's salaries are similar to what they would make at home but are doubled or if you are lucky, tripled because of cost of living upgrades, isolation fees and risk fees.  Obviously, the more difficult the country you are in, the more money you make.  Unfortunately, Joe and I haven't saved much between robberies, vacations, and wedding costs.

Port Gentil is small and there aren't many things to do so the expat community is really quite tight-knit.  You rely heavily on friends here because you are away from your family.  The other expats become your support network and they understand what you are going through because no one at home really does.  The most important thing to do as a newcomer is to get involved in any way possible even if you aren't particularly interested in the activity (like sewing) because it connects you with others and lets you know that you are all in it together!

A few of the ladies at the PWC Charity Gala this year.

As I prepare to head back to Canada in a few days, I'm also preparing to say good-bye to many good friends.  As with us, many people are only here for a few years before they move on to another location or back to their home country.  It's difficult as you do become quite close to people here and it's hard to see them go but you know, others will be coming and one day, it'll be Joe and I moving on.

1 Year Ago...

Thursday 12 May 2011

One year ago tomorrow, I began this blog after finally feeling confident that Gabon was going to happen.  It seems like ages ago now as we've come so far!

Some stats on the INTOWESTAFRICA:

55 Posts

84 Comments from you on those posts

24 people have subscribed to the blog

Our blog has had 2,820 views since May 13, 2010 with an average of 9 views per day.  The busiest day was April 19, 2011 with a whopping 60 hits!

I hope you are enjoying the blog as much as I enjoy writing it!  If there is anything you are curious about, don't hesitate to let me know.  I'm always happy to take suggestions as things are becoming pretty common for us here instead of new and exciting.

Thanks for your support and keeping up with us on our journey!

Life as an Expat Wife

Thursday 5 May 2011

Never in my life would I have expected to be a housewife, especially in West Africa.  I consider myself an academic who likes her job, loves to be challenged and continually learning and while the prospect of not stressing over report cards, or the kid who can't read, or feeling guilty about the pile of marking on my desk, or the countless hours of my personal time dedicated to my students seemed alluring to leave behind, I was a bit worried about life after pausing my career.

My first month here was pretty boring as most of my time was spent waiting around for Joe to come home.  We arrived mid-summer when many expats have left to their home countries while school is out and even so, all of the people we saw were French.  Luckily, another Canadian Halliburton wife had put me in contact with an English friend of hers who introduced me to the PWC (Port Gentil Women's Club.)  It was formed a few years ago by some of the wives here as a social club.  While it started off quite small, there are now 80 members.  Most are expats but there are a few Gabonese women on the list.

There are a few regular happenings that members are welcome to participate in if they so choose.

  • The first Wednesday of every month a coffee morning is organised at a local restaurant.  Quite a few women turn out for this so it's an easy way to meet other people.

  • The third Wednesday of every month is 'Aperatif night' where we meet for a cocktail at a local restaurant.

  • Every Wednesday morning there are 2 groups, 'Couture' & 'Bricolage' (Sewing & Crafts.)  I attend 'Couture' not because I like sewing but because it seems that all of the English speakers congregate there.  Both of these are set up in order to make things in which we sell at a couple of events throughout the year.  In the end, the money is put towards different things for charities and schools in town.

  • Every Friday morning is 'Conversation.'  French and English ladies meet at a specified location to discuss a specified topic (some are more serious than others.)  The object is to communicate in the language you are trying to learn.  Half of the time is usually spent speaking English while the other is spent in French.  It's kind of like a free language class.

  • There are walking groups, movie groups, book clubs and of course special events such as this Saturday's Annual Gala where we dress up, pay a lot of money for dinner, watch local entertainment and give money to charity.

So I keep quite busy with the PWC.  I've also made quite a few friends and we get together regularly for various coffees, shopping, beach trips, husbands out of town nights, and whatever other excuse we can think of to get together.

Aside from that, I'm teaching English to several expat children.  This year, I chose to work 2 afternoons each week where the kids come to me and we sing songs and play games.  Most of the kids are complete beginners who don't know a word of English so it can be a challenge especially combined with the fact that they are between 3-7 years old.  There are 2 English teachers leaving this summer so I've been bombarded with calls for September so I'll probably take on a few more kids.

I had high hopes of volunteering here but it's just not as easy as one would assume.  Because Gabon is a pretty rich country, foreign aid groups don't really come here.  (Unfortunately, the president spends a lot of money on expensive homes all over the world instead of on his own people.)  There are a few orphanages and other local run organisations and while I'm sure they need help, they aren't organised enough to take it and if they are, it can be risky in terms of liability.   I will continue to try as I feel it's important here.

While I'm sure my life probably seems easy and almost laughable to some of you, and trust me, I hear about it (Cassy & Corbin) but there is a downside.  I'M IN AFRICA!  General life is not easy here.  Sure, I'm not working a full time job but I am dealing with sometimes daily electricity and water cuts, shady police officers, unreliable and untrustworthy people, being homeless, robberies, guards that are constantly sleeping, roads that are barely drivable, stores that never contain what you need, $25 broccoli, and all in another language.

I've had people ask, "Are you ready to come home yet?" and the answer is a simple, "No."  There are positives and negatives but the experience we are having is invaluable.  I'm sure at some point we'll return home and I'll pick up my career again but right now Canada might seem a little too easy and potentially even boring after all of this!
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by mlekoshi