**Note: This is my understanding and may or may not be fully accurate.**
Gabon was originally inhabited by Pygmy people and then Bantu tribes as they moved into the area. The first Europeans arrived in the 15th century although it wasn't until the late 1800's that France officially began to occupy the area. In 1910, Gabon became part of French Equatorial Africa and it remained under French rule until 1960 when it finally gained it's independence. Just this year, Gabon celebrated it's 50th year of independence.
Leon M'ba became Gabon's first president with Omar Bongo Ondimba as vice president. It is widely known that the French government funneled a lot of money into his campaign in order to continue their logging exploits in the country. When M'ba took power, it was not long until he abolished all other political parties and took a dictator role. There were widespread riots and an attempt to overthrow the government but the French government intervened and sent the army restore M'ba to power. M'ba remained president until his death in 1967 when vice president Omar Bongo succeeded him.
Omar Bongo dissolved the current political party and created his own one-party state. He continued this until public perception forced him to bring multi-party politics to Gabon in 1990. He was 'elected' as president several times and ruled Gabon from 1967 until he died in 2009. Throughout his rule, there were several claims of fraudulent election results but he remained president for a whopping 42 years. Omar Bongo was widely criticized for doing more for France than Gabon and many people questioned why the wealth from the massive oil revenue was not seen throughout the country when apparently, Bongo had hundreds of millions of dollars in his own bank account. (Something not uncommon in many African countries.)
Upon his death, elections were held again with 18 candidates running. Omar Bongo's son, Ali won the election with 42% of the vote. Things brings us to the recent past. After the elections, the opposition rejected the results and riots began in Port Gentil (the home of the party.) You can still see some remnants of what most people refer to as 'the problems' in the Total area of town. Total is the French oil company that has the largest stakes in Gabon. Apparently, the opposition felt that Total had helped to rig the election in order to preserve their current oil contracts. I don't think any expats were harmed and many of the companies brought their foreign employees to safe areas of town (barricaded by the army.) The riots were soon under control and everything returned to the normal, peaceful existance here.
This week, another opposition leader declared himself president in Libreville and introduced the cabinet he had formed (apparently inspired by the events in Tunisia, Ivory Coast, and now Egypt.) He claimed that it was time that Gabon had a president they actually wanted. He has now sought refuge in the UN offices as a government official warned that he has committed treason and could be charged. His supporters have taken to the streets in Libreville and have had some clashes with police.
We have seen nothing here in Port Gentil and we are keeping our fingers crossed that everything ends quickly and peacefully. Joe's boss has reassured us that everything is fine and there is no need to panic however, should things arise, safety precautions will be taken. (Last time, they moved all expats to the Ranch, our old hotel, where it was protected by the French army.) However, we are preparing ourselves by stocking up on food in case something flares up and stores close. Luckily, we live no where close to the Total compound which has previously been the target.
As it stands now, we have nothing to worry about and the situation is much, much milder than those in the other African countries right now. We'll keep you posted if anything unfolds!
We have a lot of people asking about our home and what it's like on the inside so... voila!
The Living Room (Someday we'll buy a proper couch and we'll move the patio furniture to the patio!
The house is far too big for us but when we were looking there were no houses of appropriate size. The main house has 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms and there are 2 or 3 (I don't even know) outdoor bedrooms with bathrooms. The guards also have their own little house at the front of the property with a couple of small rooms and a bathroom.
The electricity still is not fixed. We have been contacting the electricity company since the beginning of October and someone finally came yesterday to look at the problem. We've been told they will send someone to fix it but we aren't holding our breath. Luckily, it's generally fine during the day and while it fluctuates a lot throughout the night, it's livable.
We definitely prefer living in the house over the hotel even though we are constantly trying to fix problems here (things are shoddily made.) It does feel like home for us and we'd love for you to come and visit! (I promise, we'll even buy furniture for the guest bedroom!)
The French kiss a lot... like you see in the movies, 2 kisses, one on each cheek. They take this very seriously. It doesn't matter if there are 20 people at a table, a new person enters and circles the table doing the cheek kiss to every single person at the table. Women to women, women to men, men to women, kids and adults and occasionally men to men (although I'm told that is reserved for close friends and not acquaintances.) It all seems a little ridiculous and time consuming, but it's what they do.
I have become accustomed to this as each time I get together with the ladies, one must kiss everyone. So I've had some practise. Joe on the other hand still struggles. He finds it uncomfortable and awkward and it rarely goes smoothly. I wish I could describe the look on his face when someone makes 'the approach' as it almost makes me laugh aloud every time. The other day we ran into Joe's boss and his family at the beach and of course, kisses all around. The boss' wife came to greet us and when she approached Joe he hesitated and never actually cheek-touched. This resulted in in confusion and a small awkward moment following the act. As we continued our walk down the beach, Joe asked if we could maybe practice at home sometime so that he could at least get a grasp on the act.
From what I gather out of my own personal experiences here is that one must follow a certain etiquette when doing the French kisses. First of all, it does not matter if you have never previously met the person. If you are being introduced on a social level, you will be required to kiss; There is no 3rd date rule here. It seems customary that the men greet the women first and then acknowledge each other. It technically isn't actually a kiss as your lips don't really touch the persons cheek. It is more of a cheek touch while making a kiss noise. And, the most important thing to always remember, go to the left first or at the very least, follow the other person's lead and NEVER change your mind part way through as this can result in a very awkward moment!
Heading home for Christmas provided a unique perspective for us and we looked at Canada in a whole different way. I suppose that is one of the benefits of travel, you really learn to appreciate what you have or in our case, had.
-Us Canadians are nice. Actually, not only nice, but polite. People wait in proper lines, hold the door for you, say excuse me, even smile at you if you make eye contact. As I stood aside at security in Vancouver airport while Joe's bag got searched, I noticed how many people said 'Thank you' after having their own bags searched or being patted down. Who else would say thank you for that, other than Canadians?
-Ahhh Walmart. I'm not even a Walmart fan and I used to avoid going there at all costs when living in Canada but when Joe and I made our first trip to stock up on supplies we both stood in awe at the variety, prices and selection of all goods. (Given, this was the Walmart in Kindersley and on average there are 20 people in there at a time. Had we stopped in Edmonton, I'm sure our experience would have been different.)
-The internet is fast! In Gabon, we tried to download a season of Mad Men for a month and we only got 60% done. We started it up when we arrived home and the entire thing was completed in under an hour!
-Canada is COLD! We were greeted by -23 degree weather and we left with-23 degree weather. Neither of us enjoyed feeling like giant sausages every time we went outside, even if it was just to jump in the car. I listen to the Europeans complain about winter in their home countries where the temperature plunges to -10 degrees... I'd love to watch them get off the airplane in Saskatchewan mid-January.
-All public washrooms look luxurious compared to those I see in Africa. Even the airplane washrooms are more appealing than those in the actual airports here. In Gabon, I make sure to use the washroom anytime we are leaving the house. I prepare like I'm heading on a road trip with no rest stop for hours because you never know if there will actually be a washroom or what state it will be in.
So of course, we enjoyed our time at home and we didn't even dread returning to Port Gentil, even after having a little taste of Canada. We hopped on our flight dreaming of the beach and Joe, anxious to try out his new snorkel gear. The second we landed it was like Africa slapped us in the face and made us pay for leaving.
We arrived in Libreville late and our bags were no where to be seen. We missed the connecting flight to Port Gentil and had to deal with a rather stubborn woman who was sure our bags must have magically landed in Port Gentil. (They didn't, and it took 4 days to get them.) We sat around the airport for 4 hours and finally got on a flight to PG. Exhausted, we got in the house and everything looked pretty normal. Tons of mosquitoes had taken over but that was expected. And then, Joe noticed our stash of money was taken. (I know some of you are wondering why we keep a stash of money kept in the house... well, this is a cash based ecomony so when trying to make a big purchase, you must have cash and you can only withdraw so much from your visa at one time. We did apply for a bank account here for petty cash but it has taken 3 months to get the card!) So, all in all, we 'lost' about $2000. Nothing else is missing and we can't find any point of entry. We've reported it to Halliburton, the locks are being changed, and the guard company will be called to investigate.
Welcome back to Africa!
It's funny... neither of us mind living here at all. It's not the most luxurious place and things certainly aren't easy but we generally like it until we have to deal with crap like that!
On the upside, we did take a stroll down the beach yesterday in the pleasant 30 degree heat.