Out of West Africa

Monday 30 April 2012

Of course, we always get excited to travel but it means something a little bit more to us these days.

It means getting out of West Africa.

Our every day regular life is spent in the third world without a lot of modern conveniences so the thought of visiting a place that has luxuries like McDonalds (which we never eat at when living in Canada but somehow seems a luxury now,) shopping malls, good food, etc. gets us really, really excited.  We write a list of all of the little things we want to stock up on and things we need to shop for because it could be several months before we get out again.

Here are some photos via Instragram of those little things we enjoyed on our first few days in Spain.


Nice restaurants


Different beer (for me, a Newcastle - for Joe, Sierra Nevada IPA)

Salads and fresh vegetables & fruit

Au revoir Gabon, Hola Spain

Friday 20 April 2012


Joe & I caught a late night flight to Paris and this morning we'll be making our way to Barcelona where we'll start our 2 week tour around Spain.

Don't worry if this blog is a little quiet over the next couple of weeks - I'll be eating paella, drinking sangria and soaking up all Spain has to offer.

Our Little Kingfisher Friend

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Every afternoon, usually between 4 and 5, our little kingfisher friend stops by for a dip in the pool.

He sits up on the ledge of the eavestrough and every once in awhile, he hurls himself into our pool before returning to the ledge to shake off.

Sometimes he brings some friends but mostly he's on his own.  He's quite amusing and we look forward to his visits when we're poolside. (Impressive for me as I normally detest birds.)

(By the way, it's extremely difficult to get a good picture of the little guy with our point and shoot.  I think it's time to upgrade!)

Around Town

Monday 16 April 2012

I've been making a bit more of an effort as of late to take photos around town - just the regular things that don't seem special anymore because we see them so often.  I thought I'd share some with you today.

City Hall - where Joe and I were married.

An occupied apartment building downtown

Walking the logs

The entrance to a small park on the waterfront downtown

Stalls in the market

Laundry day

People gathering to board the boat out of Port Gentil

The old lighthouse at Cap Lopez

Women heading back to the small fishing village at Cap Lopez.

A Trip to Mandji Clinic

Friday 13 April 2012

Commonly referred to as "Manky Clinic" in the expat community.

This is literally, my worst nightmare.  I am completely and utterly terrified by this clinic and I avoid going there at all costs.  I'm not one for doctors or clinics to begin with but you combine that with West Africa and it results in a legitimate phobia.

The Mandji Clinic is our company's preferred clinic and International SOS lists it as the place to go in case of emergency.  There are 2 foreign doctors who have been in Gabon for decades in addition to African doctors .  It serves as a walk in clinic, laboratory, and hospital for expats and locals alike.  We're advised to use this clinic for all minor ailments but if anything serious happens, we are medically evacuated to the closest hospital of international standard.  (For us, that is Johannesburg which is a little troublesome as it's a 4.5 hour flight running 4 times a week from Libreville and you've heard me talk about how difficult it is to get out of Port Gentil.)

I'm sure there are far worse clinics in Gabon and Africa as this one is relatively clean but the standards are just so different from what we're used to.  I'm sure if a Canadian inspector came to evaluate Mandji, it would fail before they even left the waiting room.

The waiting room and reception desk

The Mandji Clinic has a history of admitting expats and holding them hostage.  (Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating a tad here but they do admit people, hook them up to IVs and advise they stay 'just in case' for seemingly mild-moderate maladies in which the patient would be much more comfortable at home.)  We've visited a few of Joe's colleagues over the last couple of years and let me tell you, every time we walk out that door I say to Joe, "Whatever you do, never let them check me in to that place.  You get me on the first flight to South Africa!"

  Padded doors - I assume for those who try to escape.

Typical complaints are terribly unfriendly nursing staff, a high misdiagnosis rate, overmedication, and lack of compassion.  Personally, we haven't had any really bad experiences yet but I do avoid going unless it's absolutely necessary.  This week, with Spain just around the corner and some stomach issues, I decided to suck it up and go for the first time since last October.  Luckily, they didn't try to admit me (yet) and hopefully the results will show nothing serious.

Expatriate vs Tourist

Wednesday 11 April 2012

I've always found great value in traveling -- exploring, learning, experiencing different cultures.  There's nothing quite like stepping outside your box.  Traveling lets you glimpse into a different world.  You get a short stint (be it a day, a week or a month) in a foreign place and you can admire it for what you see.  Typically, you see the best of a country and if you do encounter the worst, it sucks, but you move on. After all, you want to appreciate it, the good and the bad, because before long, you'll be back in your regular life.

Herein lies the major difference between an expat and a tourist; a tourist leaves and an expat stays.  Things that seem cool and different as a tourist become a fear or a frustration for the expat.  It's not something they'll take a picture of and move on, it's something they'll face day to day whether they want to or not.  Tourists will choke down less than desirable food knowing that in a few weeks they'll be back to 'real' food whereas the expat has to find a way to make the less desirable, desirable.  Those weird smells - yup, you smell them every time you step out your door.  The particularly funny stories where you are trying to ask something in a foreign language and no one understands you, that is now your normal morning routine.  It can be incredibly tiresome.

However, there are upsides.  You may have to grumble through the difficulties but you also get to reap the positives; that beautiful beach is now part of your home and you can visit it every, single day if you want.  You also get to delve into a culture much deeper than a tourist sees on their short stay in the country.  You begin understand the inner workings of the place and you learn just how complicated a society can be.  You see the good and the bad and create a much fuller and deeper understanding of the culture you're living in.

It really is quite rewarding.  Every once in awhile I look out my window and think, "I live in Africa.  Oh my god, that is so cool."  Of course, there are occasions where I think, "Where the hell am I and how did I get here?" too, but I feel like I've grown so much in the last couple of years and I've learned more than I ever would have imagined.  Joe & I have talked about what a tourist's impression of Gabon might be - beautiful beaches, jungles, exotic, tropical, poor, dirty, culturally interesting, all of which, it is - but I'm glad we got to delve a little deeper, even if it wasn't so pleasant all of the time.

Looking Back - April 2011

Monday 9 April 2012

Exactly one year ago, Joe and I were in South Africa experiencing the best trip of our lives.  Perhaps it was influenced by the 3 months of hell we experienced prior (robbery after robbery followed by months of homelessness and frustration) but this trip made our move to Gabon seem worthwhile as I'm not sure we would have ever done it had we not moved to Africa.

I've been thinking a lot about our time in Africa as we know it will inevitably come to an end and while it has been filled with many highs and lows, I only wish we had more time to travel.  Our safari one year ago has left me yearning for more and once we leave Africa, I'm not sure we'll be back.  I often think back on it and realise how lucky we are to have experienced something so amazing.


Friday 6 April 2012

Most people are often shocked and surprised at how expensive it is to live in Port Gentil.  I guess when one hears 'Africa' they assume it's poor and it must be cheap.  Currently, Luanda, Angola (to the South of us on the West Coast)  is ranked the most expensive city  in the world.  In 2011, Libreville was ranked 19th, the second most expensive city to live in in Africa, ahead of Paris, France and Brisbane, Australia.  Many would also argue that Port Gentil is even more expensive than Libreville because it's the petroleum capital of the country and we're sort of an island which makes shipping more difficult.

We don't do a lot of shopping here - in part because there is almost nothing to shop for - but we do have to buy food and that is typically where we notice the extreme expense.  This week I found asparagus in the grocery store and it was in good condition, ie, not soggy and rotten.  I decided to splurge and go for it as it had been months since we've had it.

And splurge I did - those 15 asparagus spears set me back $14.  At least they were good!  This week I also purchased a tiny head of iceberg lettuce (the size of my 2 fists) and when I cut in to it to wash it, it was completely rotten in the centre - $11 straight in to the garbage.

At some point down the road you learn to ignore the prices every once in awhile.  On the positive side, when we travel, it makes everything seem ridiculously cheap.

Baby Boy Daniel

Wednesday 4 April 2012

My menagère stopped by today with her brand new baby boy, Daniel, and my goodness - he is the tiniest, cutest little boy I've seen.

Daniel has quite an extraordinary story.

"C" had her last baby 15 years ago and she was certain her childbearing days were long gone.  It came as a complete shock when her doctor told her she was pregnant - and 4 months pregnant at that - when she went for an examination to see why she hadn't been feeling well.

Due in April, she took March off work to prepare for the baby  but Daniel wasn't done surprising her yet.  She'd had a few complications during her pregnancy but as she entered the last month, she felt good.  Last weekend, she started feeling a little off and decided to visit the doctor Monday morning.  Early Monday morning rolled around and "C" was in pain.  Within 2 hours, Daniel was born right there in her home, close to 4 weeks early.  She was all alone except for her 18 year old daughter and the 17 year old daughter of her best friend.  Immediately after he was born, they caught a taxi to the hospital to finish the rest of the delivery and get baby Daniel checked out.

I am amazed and in awe of her for the entire process.  While I know many women have given birth at home and continue to do so in many parts of the world,  I don't know anyone personally who has done it recently, especially without the help of a doula or a medical professional.  Thankfully, everything turned out fine and both Mom and baby are doing well.

Daniel is tiny and adorable - he currently weighs 2.2 kilos (4.85 lbs) at 9 days old.  His little wrist is about the size of my thumb.  It's fairly common for babies to be born small(er) than North American standards but even Daniel is considered tiny here!  He's eating well and has gained 11 grams since he was born.  I'm certain with his entrance to the world, he'll grow to be a strong boy and man.

For the times, they are a changin'...

Monday 2 April 2012

And so is this blog!

Back in 2010 when I started this blog, I really only expected my mom to read it; perhaps a few other friends and family too.  As time went on, other people started stopping by and reading and I began reading their blogs as well.  (Who knew the blogging community could be so cool?!)  Into West Africa was growing and I decided I really liked writing it and chronicling our experiences.

That has led me to today where I tell you that we have some BIG HUGE changes happening around here.


I started thinking about this way back in November when we were working on the move to Indonesia.  Obviously, when/if we move we won't be 'into West Africa' anymore.  I needed something that would travel with us no matter where we ended up and so I've come up with something new.

No, I'm not going to tell you right now!  


I've really enjoyed my time here at Wordpress and it's generally been pretty good to me so I'm not leaving due to hard feelings however, it has restricted my creativeness a little bit.  I'm ok with computers but I'm not that good and in order to flex my creative muscles over here, I need to know a lot more than I do.  Blogger will allow me to do that so I'll be heading over there with my new name and address.  

No, I'm not giving that to you right now either.

  (I am really going to miss that map on WordPress though!  Blogger, if you are reading, get on it!)


This one is kind of a given being that I'm changing the name AND moving to Blogger but I want my blog to be a reflection of me through how it looks, not just the words I put on it.  The templates that Wordpress and Blogger give just seem a bit too impersonal so I've got a graphic designer working on a brand new look for my brand new blog.

All of these changes are coming in the near future.  How near?  I really can't be sure.  These things take time.  I've been working on moving all my posts from Into West Africa over to the new blog and the designer has started working on the new look.  Hopefully soon I'll be able to reveal it all to you!

Until then, I'll let the suspense fester away.

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