#FEBphotoaday - Photo Challenge

Wednesday 29 February 2012

About a month ago I stumbled upon a photo-a-day challenge set up by this blogger.

Basically, she created a list of photo prompts for you to follow and then post your photos on Instagram (an iPhone app,) Twitter, Facebook or even just to keep them for yourself.  It's nothing life changing but it's fun and a neat way of capturing some of the 'little' things in day to day life.  (And it gave me a chance to play with my newly downloaded Instagram.)

I thought I'd share a few with you...

1 - Your view today

7- Button (on my favorite jeans)

10- Self portrait (unhappy in traffic)

13- Blue

16- Something new (a gift for my menagère who is now on maternity leave)

17- Time (and reflections)

23- Your shoes (before my morning walk

28- Money
If you want to play along in March, check out the new challenge below and find full instructions here.

** If you want to follow me on Instagram, my username is cjstjohn.**

African Luxuries : Water Reservoir Tank & Pump

Tuesday 28 February 2012

I thought I’d start a new series of posts regarding African luxuries – things that aren’t essential to survival but certainly make life a whole lot easier if you have them.

The water pressure here is dreadful and that is why most houses have reservoir tanks and water pumps installed right away.

The regular town water fills up the tank and then when a tap is turned on in the house, the pump kicks in and forces the water from the tank through the pipes and into the house.  This ensures that the water pressure is sufficient for general purposes.

Without a pump and water tank, there is literally a dribble of water; not enough to even fill the kitchen sink to do dishes.  In actuality, without the pump, at our second floor apartment we probably wouldn't even get a drop through the taps.  When we first arrived we were in a hotel room that didn't have water assistance and I couldn't even wash my hair in the shower as there just wasn't enough water nor pressure.  It assured me that yes, a pump & tank make life in Gabon A LOT easier.

You can check out the first edition of African Luxuries here.

Weekend Recap

Sunday 26 February 2012

This weekend started with Joe offshore and me recovering from a very unpleasant bout of food poisoning.  Luckily, it could only go up from there.

Saturday was gorgeous so I stayed poolside with our next book club selection, The Hunger Games.

Joe got home Saturday just in time for dinner and we had a pretty relaxing evening.

Sunday was another beautiful day so after breakfast we went for a walk around town.

It was really, really hot so we only made it a couple of kilometres before heading home.

We had lunch and spent the rest of the day at the pool.

I finished The Hunger Games.

Joe finished book 2, Catching Fire.

And then we had pizza.

Say NO to UHT

Friday 24 February 2012

We don't get fresh milk in Gabon.  I didn't even think that was possible.  I figured everyone had fresh milk.  Apparently not.

Instead, we're stuck with this crap...

It's called UHT milk or Ultra High Temperature milk which means it's heated to 135 degrees C for a few seconds before it's bottled, sealed and stuck on a shelf.  Yes, that's right, a shelf... and not in the fridge.  It has a shelf life of 6-9 months.  Once open, it must be kept in the fridge and spoils after a few days.

Apparently, 95% of France consumes UHT milk which completely baffles me.  Yes, it's convenient that you don't need to worry about refrigeration and you can always keep a stash of milk in the pantry but it just doesn't taste good.  (This coming from someone who grew up allergic to milk and limits milk intake to lattes but I can confirm that a latte with UHT milk does not measure up to a latte with fresh milk.)  Joe, however, does drink milk (or used to.)  He now limits his milk consumption to cereal and even so, much of the milk is left in the bowl when he's finished.

Fresh milk is one of those things we really look forward to when going home and we certainly hope it's a staple in our next location.  (That along with fresh fruit, fresh vegetables & fresh meat.  Maybe we'll just go crazy and even luck out with stable electricity and water.)

The Vacuum

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Or "l'aspirateur" as the French call it.

(Photo Credit via)

The vacuum is a fairly common appliance in the North American household but not in the typical African household (along with clean running water and electricity so I suppose it makes sense.)  I pulled it out when training my menagère as sweeping can be so arduous not to mention all the little bits that get left between the cracks of our wooden floors.  She looked at it with horror and terror in her eyes.

I quickly pulled out the cord, put everything together, turned it on and did a brief demonstration before abruptly handing it over to her to give it a whirl.  She abruptly handed it back to me and asked me to show her again, this time a bit slower.  After another orientation with the vacuum, she decided she was ready to give it a try although she did ask me to stay close and watch her for a bit just to make sure everything went alright.  I hadn't even thought how foreign this might be to her.

I watched her that first morning slowly and timidly pushing the vacuum around wondering if she'd ever feel comfortable using it or if it would go back in the cupboard never to be touched again.  Each week she pulled it out and after some practise, she was quick and confident.

Last week she went on maternity leave but beforehand she gave her replacement a tour of the house and a brief rundown as to how she organised her week.  When she got to the vacuum, she pointed at it, giggled a bit and told me I'd have to give another demonstration.  Round 2 went a bit better but I'm sure they both think we're crazy for lugging around this big, noisy thing when there's a broom just around the corner.


African Luxuries: Generators

Monday 20 February 2012

I thought I'd start a new series of posts regarding African luxuries - things that aren't essential to survival but certainly make life a whole lot easier if you have them.

Just before our arrival in Gabon, Joe's company began installing generators at every expat household.  The generator is big; it holds 100 litres of diesel and can power most of the house.  If needed, it could keep us out of the dark for 2 days without a fill up.

The electricity goes out fairly regularly here.  At our last house, we needed the generator at least once a week but in our new location, the power seems to be much more stable.  Sometimes the cuts last for an hour or 2, other times it's several hours or days.  The generator starts automatically and it shuts off automatically when the electricity returns.  The only thing we need to worry about is keeping it topped up with diesel.

Unfortunately, our apartment seems to have 2 separate electricity lines and the generator is only tapped in to one of them.  We didn't realise how bad it was until the power went out one day and literally, half of our apartment was without power.  (Funny enough it's not just the right side or the left side; it's the AC in one room and lights in another or one outlet works but not the next.  Nothing an extension cord can't fix though.)

Spring Travel

Saturday 18 February 2012

When life gets us down, we plan a trip.  It's the easiest way to pull yourself out of a funk and it gives us something to look forward to.
So... we're heading to SPAIN!

We'll start off in Barcelona.

And then we'll head to Valencia.

We'll rent a car and head South to visit places like Granada and Seville.

And we'll end our stay in Spain with a few days in Madrid.

Before we return to Gabon, we'll spend a weekend in Paris.

 We depart 2 months from now and we'll spend 2.5 glorious weeks abroad.

Have you been to Spain?  Recommendations are welcome!

(Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

A Fairly Normal Day in Africa

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Sometimes a day ends and as I reflect on it I wonder, "Where am I and when did this become normal?"

For example:

-I got up and went for my normal walk.  I returned to the house all sweaty and disgusting to find that our water tank was completely empty and the water was off.  So I hung out hoping it would return quickly; it didn't.

-In the afternoon, the internet sporadically went off and on for hours and then it stayed off for the rest of the night.  (This has become so regular that it seems like the anomaly when we have it for a full day sans interruption.)

-A giant rainstorm approached around dinner time and with it's hurricane like conditions, the TV went out.

-Luckily, our area of town didn't lose power although others did.

-I got up the next morning and the water was back on so I could shower, do the dishes and flush the toilets and I was fairly excited about it.

-I tried to phone and text my friends and the cell network was down.

-The internet was also  still down.

-And then, miraculously it all came back and we're living life normally again.  For how long, no one knows.

None of this surprises us anymore and while it will always be incredibly annoying it's just become our 'normal' life.

Paperwork & Driver's Licenses

Friday 10 February 2012

First of all, thank you for your support and messages after my last post.  Life goes on and hopefully we secure another good location soon!

Back in the beginning, pre-carte de sejour, Joe and I were able to drive legally with an international driver's license, Canadian license, and passport with a valid visa.  Once you obtain a carte de sejour you must have a Gabonese license to legally drive.  Luckily for us, we don't actually have to do any driving courses or road tests; it's all in the paperwork.

The system here requires you to submit copies of your carte de sejour, home country license (translated if not in French,) 2 passport photos and 35 000 cfa (I think.)  A temporary license is drawn up and it is valid for 3 months.

I assume the point is to use the temporary license for the 3 months and in the meantime, the real license should be made.  Unfortunately, I've been reapplying every 3 months for the last 18 and am still without my 'real' license.

This week, Joe finally received the official one.  I'm not quite sure what took so long as it's just a thicker piece of paper and instead of the photo being glued on, it's secured with fasteners.

When the license is ready, they don't mail it to you as the postal system here is just too unreliable.  Instead, they pin the completed licenses to a wall in the office and you either go in and check to see if your photo is there or hope that one of your friends will notify you if they see it.

I'm sure they're not rushing with mine as they're guaranteed a fee with each re-application.

A Tale of Heartbreaking Disappointment

Wednesday 8 February 2012

A few weeks back I was preparing to tell you some BIG news.  Something Joe & I had been working on for months and were so excited about.

You see, several months ago we'd been approached about a move that would take us out of Gabon and into our dream destination, Indonesia.  This new location would allow us to travel so much more easily and the job would be a promotion for Joe which he was so ready for.  We were invigorated at the thought of leaving Gabon and all of it's troubles and continuing our adventure on another continent.  Anyone we spoke to loved their stay in Indonesia and raved that it was one of the best places to be an expat.  We were sold!

We had to battle for this move.  You see, this region didn't want to let Joe go but we pushed and pushed as we knew this was the move for us.  This battle stretched over 3 painful months when, finally it was confirmed; we were being released and the move was approved.  Joe & I were elated but until everything was signed we didn't want to say anything.

And then the phone call came...

The Indonesian government requires all expatriates to be 30 years old in order to obtain a work permit.  We're 28.  Our company told us they'd apply for an exception and while it has been done before, they don't make exceptions very often.  We prepared ourselves for the worst and patiently awaited the verdict.

The decision came today that we were rejected.

I can't begin to tell you how disappointed we are.  We had begun dreaming of our life in Asia and we were so ready to take the next step.  Our hearts and minds began to leave Gabon as we prepared for our move.  Now, our patience has worn thin and the thought of staying in Gabon indefinitely is just so depressing.  (It's not even that we hate it that much but we'd started to check out and feel relief at all of the issues we'd get to leave behind here.)

So now starts the process of working out our next steps.  What do we want to do?  Where do we want to go?  How much time are we willing to spend here?  What is our top priority, leaving Gabon or finding an ideal location?

I'm thinking we'll discuss these over a bottle of red tonight...


Tuesday 7 February 2012

I don't think I've heard of a single person that doesn't hate mosquitoes.  They bite you, they steal your blood and then leave an itchy red bump behind.  Here in Gabon we take mosquitoes seriously.  Once a month an extermination company comes to our house to spray the yard and the interior of the house.

This stuff is bad - I stay in the house with the windows closed and the air conditioners off and it still manages to seep in through the tiny little cracks and before long, the room is looking smoky.  It penetrates your lungs and forces you to cough and you can tell, this stuff is not good for you.  However, malaria is also not good and Gabon is considered a high risk zone.  People here don't worry about the environment nor the health risks of the chemicals used in spraying because if you get malaria and it goes untreated, you won't be around to worry about those things.

Sorry for the terrible photo quality - I didn't want to stick around outside to get the shot.

Joe and I no longer take Malarone.  Actually, we really only took it for the first month or 2 that we lived here.  It's really hard on your body and I felt sick every single morning after taking it.  It's also meant to be for short term use and the long term effects have yet to be tested so because we live here year round, we decided to forgo it.  Instead, we wear mosquito spray whenever we go out at sunrise or sunset and we continue to spray our yard with harmful chemicals.  Either way it's a win-lose situation.

Weekend Recap

Sunday 5 February 2012

This started out as one of those weekends where we had a lot going on.  We had a dinner out on Friday with a group of friends, games night at our house on Saturday with another group of friends and then Joe's commuting colleagues coming over on Sunday for a homecooked meal and the Gabon vs Mali quarterfinal game.  With the exception of the Friday night dinner, everything else ended up cancelling at the last minute which left us with a nice relaxing weekend at home.

We started our own game night with Joe figuring out how to play Backgammon and then teaching me.

Sunday was spent reading and having a beer poolside before heading in to watch the Gabon vs Mali quarterfinal game.  We've let the guard off an hour and a half early to go and watch the game, barred the gate and are enjoying a halftime snack in the still scoreless game.

Controversy in the Cup of Nations

Thursday 2 February 2012

It wouldn't be a football tournament in Africa without a little controversy and this time it comes from Gabon's co-host Equatorial Guinea.

Before the tournament began it was announced that Equatorial Guinea's President's son offered their national football team $1 million US for a win and an additional $20 000 US to anyone that scored a point.  This raised a couple of flags for many people but mostly are wondering how does the president's son have so much money to throw around when 70% of the population of EG live below the poverty line and tens of thousands of those don't have access to clean drinking water or electricity?

Actually, $1 million US is really just pennies in the bucket for for this man.  He is currently under investigation by the US government whom are hoping to recover over $71 million of embezzled money which they claim has been taken from the people of Equatorial Guinea.  He is rumoured to own a $35 million dollar mansion in Malibu, over $6 million of real estate in South Africa, a collection of 24 luxury sports cars valued at $10 million including 2 Bugatti Veyrons, $3.2 million in Michael Jackson memorabilia and many millions of dollars of assets in France and other countries around the world.  Who knew being the Minister of Agriculture could be so profitable?  He is also presumed to take over EG from his father who has been the president since 1979 when he overthrew the previous government in a military coup.

Despite the controversy, he paid out his promises after EG walked away with a victory last week.  There's talk that he's offered more compensation if they continue to perform well.

If you're curious about this character you can read a bit more here and here.
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