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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