Flashback: Gabon to The City of Oaks

Exactly a year ago, B & I were sipping celebratory Regabs at the Libreville airport on our way back to the U.S.  At the time, we didn’t know what (or where) our next assignment would be, but we were excited for what lie ahead… a stopover vacation in Istanbul, getting back home… it was hard not to smile thinking about what may be around the corner.

Today, we find ourselves in a similar position.  Funny how that happens.  Historically, January is a transitional month for us.  A few months after getting engaged, I moved to Texas to join B in January of 2009.  We moved from Los Angeles to Orlando and adopted Diego in January of 2011.  We were in the final days of preparation for our Gabon move in January of 2014, and now in January 2016, we find ourselves at the brink of parenthood.

I don’t know how a year has passed since writing on this blog that I love so much, but I’m hoping you’ll accept 107 picutures in lieu of at least 1,000 words on what has transpired since leaving Gabon.

 

Au Revoir Gabon!

Manic post ahead:

After a series of moves, I know the deal.  Start prepping a few weeks ahead, make lists of things to be done, lose said lists, and start from scratch. Navigate around the many piles that start appearing all over the house.  Start saying goodbye without actually saying it by spending as much time as possible with friends and family.  Invite people over to raid your pantry and fridge.  Start taking things too personally a few days before the pack out, then commence melt down (or two) within 24 hours of movers arrival.  I know it ain’t flattering people, but that’s how I do!  haha. For the most part, this demob has ticked all the boxes, and even added a few.  i.e. Partaking in a community yard sale and making under the table deals all over town to get the best exchange rate for what’s left of our Gabonese currency (Thanks B).

I’m sitting in our now very naked living room as the night time security guards and Abdoulay take their picks of what we’re leaving behind.  A bizarre assortment if I do say so myself, bath products, food, adapters, sunglasses, you name it, it’s in there! Trust me they’re having a good time!  Who doesn’t love free stuff?

Yes friends, we’ve reached our final day in Gabon. The movers have come and gone and tonight we say ‘Au Revoir’ to this crazy, unforgettable place.  I didn’t realize just how sad I was to leave until I found myself crying as our stuff was being packed up yesterday morning.  Granted, the tears may have been kickstarted by the lack of care being taken with our stuff, but it was more than the thought of all our breakables arriving in shards back in the US.  This is a unique place, and for me – it’s been a very special year that I’m sad to see come to a close.

It feels like just yesterday I was the new guy…. clueless, nervous, and faking a smile that I can now spot a mile a way. Then somehow, 12 months later, we’re closing down good bye parties then running off to brunch the next morning then making freezer meals for one the new single guys.  A lot changed this year.

The last 2 weeks have been jam packed and full of festivity!  ‘Last’ Brunches’, ‘Last’ Pool Days, ‘Last’ Dinners out… and in the same way you feel nostalgic and forget about the all nighters when you graduate high school, or college – it’s been great fun to soak in Libreville. When it’s coming to end, it’s easy to look past the funk and go ‘man, I’m gonna miss this.’  And I will miss it.

I’ll miss the gnarly thunderstorms that start and stop on a dime – so loud you can feel it in your chest.  The fleeting taxi rides with the wind in my face. I will miss Abdoulay, our gate guard and Senegalese Papa, who always asks where I’m going and when I’m coming back.  The maniacal flapping of bats in the evening, and when the good mozzerella is on sale at the store! Score!  I’ll miss the time I had here.  The time to spend with friends exploring the city or trying a new recipe, or planning a party. I may even miss the proposals you get while buying eggs (sold individually) at the corner Épicerie.  It goes without saying that I won’t miss les cafards (roaches) or les piqûres de moustiques (mosquite bites).  But that’s all ancient history now.  Thankfully though, we’re leaving with friendships that aren’t ancient history.

It was a humbling thing to be thrown into a whole new world literally be “caught” by strangers. Strangers that fed us, invited us places, shared with us, and even spoke for us when we couldn’t find the French.  It’s been a sweeter thing realizing that somewhere along the way, those strangers became great friends. Two of which just pulled out of the driveway, after a leisurely evening talking, laughing and eating a sad, but oddly satisfying array of apps and leftovers.  We said brave, quick goodbyes – the kind we’ve gotten good at after so many people have come and gone from this project, only to go in and find a card that said all the stuff we couldn’t actually say out loud without losing it.  Good people I tell you.

Sitting here, thinking about this experience… I am overwhelmed by all the kindness I was shown here.  I feel absurdly lucky to have met a great group of women (and men), from all around that world that hosted me, opened my eyes, and kept me fed and laughing for a year!  I intend to pay the love forward because people are where it’s at, no matter where you’re at and I’m so grateful for relationships Gabon made possible.  {Sappy tangent over}

We’re down to the nitty gritty now… all the bags are zipped up and we head to the airport in a a half hour.  I’ve double and triple checked all the rooms in the house to make sure it’s emptied, and I’m having a good chuckle about the RANDOM odds and ends that I’ve collected.  Contents of grocery bag: Umbrella, Two of Diego’s kong toys, a metal bowl, a rogue earring, and a box of Rice Pilaf.  There you have it folks, the anatomy of a move out.

Hope to see you soon in the good ‘ol U.S. of A. where I plan to continue conquering all sorts of things.

Linz

 

Dabbler Extraordinaire!

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My daily life (as of late) is more or less summed up by the above photo.  Take care of Diego, study some French, sew some stuff, make some food – Voilà!  Obviously this is punctuated with seeing friends and a weekend excursion here and there, but I’m talking about my typical ‘9-5’ when I don’t go anywhere.

Diego is doing well – he’s excited to come home for Christmas and to go to a dog park or two!   He’s really into lizards these days – caught his first one a few weeks back- G.R.O.S.S. !!!! Quite the little hunter I must say, those lizards are FAST!  He’s also being a sport about eating my homemade dog treats lately.  Yes, I just said – homemade dog treats.  Baking for my dog can officially be added to the list of Stuff I Never Thought I’d Do‘ after: moving to Gabon, blogging, and basically all the other activities in this post.  But you know what they say – “When in _____ (any place where you have alot of time on your hands), one dabbles in all kinds of stuff?” haha!

Also on the aforementioned ‘list’ – studying! My french is coming along.  I recently started classes at L’Insitut Francais du Gabon.  Its a big cultural center that does language lessons, puts on shows, etc!  I go three times a week for 2 hrs a day, and THINK I’m learning something.  (j’espére bien!/I hope so!) My class is small- there are only 6 of us, and it’s an interesting group.  There is a girl from Eritrea – double points if you know where that is! I had to look it up.  A guy from India, he’s very charismatic. Then there’s the guy from Angola who just moved to Gabon with his American wife and their baby – they have lived in Namibia, Angola, South Africa and will soon be moving to the south of Gabon in the jungle jungle to open a practice with the Red Cross.  Really nice couple!  We have a lady from Canada, (my neighbor) she lives in my complex, and lastly – a Spanish woman.  Imagine French in a Catalan accent!  Awesome sauce!  She is constantly speaking in Spanish, it’s like I’m taking two languages at once.  Haha.  Anywho, we are still in the beginning stages – covering material that I had a jump start on – numbers, regular verbs, and a handful of other things.  I am enjoying the class so far, but ask me again when all the material in new and I’m totally overwhelmed! Haha.

Dude.  I’ve been sewing lately!!!  (I know.)  Say whaaaaat? Studying AND sewing? Hell hath frozen over. Well, the opportunity presented itself and I’m really enjoying it, I may even be slightly addicted!  I had made a few small things with a friend’s guidance about 6 months ago, but recently I was able to borrow a machine from my neighbor and I got to experiment!  Much different game when you can sew whenever you want. I’ve been on a rampage!!! Never really took into consideration how technical sewing is.  It’s very math based and takes a good amount of pre-planning, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  But with the bounty of fabrics here… it’s a relatively easy hobby to maintain and a handy skill to have, too!  I recently operated on a pair of Brandon’s swim trunks.  Not too shab!

Then there’s the cooking.  Nothing too surprising there – we gotta eat! There are restaurants here, but the longer we’re here – the less we go out, because eating a meal out is a minimum 2.5 hour time commitment.  Not to mention, mega expensive, food usually comes out cold, and there’s a slew of other nappy details I won’t disgust you with.  So yeah, lots of cooking.  When you eliminate eating out (including take away) which doesnt really exist here, thats a lot of food prep! I went through a burn out period a little while back but have found some inspiration lately! I have dialed in my Dutch Babies and they are perfection – thank you Foodwishes!  I borrowed some bravery from a friend at the frozen meat store and discovered the pork shoulder! It doesnt look the way it does in the states, but it does taste good!  Did that up in a braise of burgundy wine and coriander – tastycakes! I also re-created the Smokey Blue, our favorite pizza from FireWorks Pizza in Leesburg, delish!!   My friend and I did pumpkin custard filled beignets last week – UMM! LEGIT!!!  I kind of want to open a beignet food truck now.  Most recently I was stoked on some homemade flour tortillas!  I will definitely be buying some Masa Harina when I’m in the states next so that I can make a decent corn tortilla.

So yeah, more or less – that’s been my jam lately!!

In other news, I will be in SD by the evening of December 6th (with Diego!)  Brandon will be out shortly afterward!  Looking forward to: eating everything, going to a grocery store, going to the dog park, binge listening to christmas music, and hangin out!

L

Six Month Retrospective

Some days it feels like we’ve been here a year. Other days- it feels like just yesterday we were all bundled up in the bitter cold of the DC winter, heading to Dulles to make the move to Gabon. Despite my wavering sentiments, I can attest that in the last six months we’ve done some adapting.

When we arrived in Gabon, I spent a lot of time missing Target, Costco, my car, a dryer and speaking English. I definitely still dream about the luxury of Amazon Prime, but have accepted that the only things to buy here are food and fabric. We have scored a dryer, so there’s one biggie off my list. I definitely still miss being able to communicate. Language brings independence, and I took that for granted in the states. I suppose the frustration is good fuel to continue learning though. On that note, I also took dishwashers for granted. Mmmm, dishwashers. But you certainly learn to live without some things, and where you can’t deal – you get creative. Like, bathtubs for example. I don’t have one anymore, so I have subbed in hot water bottles – you know those old school rubber things? I hadn’t used one until we travelled recently, and those things are underrated! Anyway, it also goes without saying that I miss you, too!

Gone are the days of being housebound and stood up by the provided company “transport.” I took my first solo cab ride on my 30th birthday and haven’t looked back. Getting where I want to go on my schedule has really changed things for me.

Getting in a taxi seems like simple business. With limited French, and no addresses to rely on however, it was a daunting jump – but one worth taking. Navigating is done via landmark. These days if I am heading home, I tell a taxi driver I’m going to Okala, that’s the area, and then, “Á l’entree Ciciba” which means, the dirt road that leads to the old defunct museum. haha. When I’m headed other places, I do my best… “downtown, near the big bakery,”etc. Somehow I get where I need to go, but every once in awhile, things do go haywire, like last Friday for example. I asked to go to the market in Haut De Gue Gue and the driver completely bypassed the area, like – big time, and started picking up other passengers that were going even further in the wrong direction. My momma didn’t raise no fool! I knew he was taking advantage, so I demanded he stop and I got out without paying the fare! Take that jerk! Definitely wouldn’t have had the nerve to do that, even back in March. Taxi trips are usually uneventful though. In between marriage proposals I get to practice my French with chatty drivers. I am paying less and less money for fares these days, which feels legit! Fares are negotiated, no meters. I took a cab for 200 CFA the other day (about 40 cents), a personal best.

Though still modest, our language skills have grown since day one! Six months ago I couldn’t even ask, “Who’s there?” when I’d heard a knock at the door. Now, many words come out naturally. Admittedly, I am still outspoken by most 3 to 4 year olds, but I do ok in a taxi, can order in a restaurant and have a handful of helpful phrases under my belt. Most used… “Yes, I am married/Oui, je suis mariée,” and “No, I don’t have kids/Non, je n’ai pas d’enfants,” which always results in a raised eyebrow by the asking party. B and I started with a private French tutor a few months back, and I am hoping to join the beginner class at the French Institute this fall, fingers crossed there is a course open at my level this time! Current favorite French word is donc, pronounced, dough’nk. Makes me chuckle every time I hear it. It translates to “So,” as in “the internet has been out, so this post has been sitting in my drafts for a week.”

We’ve seen a fair bit since travel since our arrival in Libreville! Business brought B to Istanbul, Turkey. He spent a week there and really enjoyed it. We hope there will be a return trip in the near future. We also took our first rotation to South Africa in June. AMAZING. In seven short days we had a fantastic safari experience at Kapama Private Game Reserve, took in more natural beauty and fantastic food in Cape Town, then ended our vacay in the Stellenbosch and Franschoek (the winelands outside Cape Town). In a nutshell it went: wildlife, food (repeat x3), sightseeing, food, wine, food, even better wine, head home. Photos to come. We’re still talking about it almost two months later! I was also fortunate enough to go to Switzerland and Italy last month, basking in first world amenities, historical attractions and FAMILY TIME! Travelled with my sissy Lara and visited cousin Nicole! Awesome.

Last week, we moved into a new house. That makes four moves for those of you keeping track! We started at Royal Apartments, in Haut de Gue Gue then moved to Orchidia Apartments in Centreville (downtown), which was a major upgrade. After being evicted from there (lamesauce), we moved into the company guesthouse. Brandon can now add Exterminator Extraordinaire to his resume. We’re happy to be out of there and in our current home. We’ve landed in a lovely house and are enjoying the peace and quiet of the ‘burbs after being in the city. Our weekends are spent by the pool and we are now rocking legit tans. So much so, that all of my foundations are too light, blast! I am hesitant to hang any art based on our mobility to date, but until we move again, B has a great commute and Diego is enjoying all the grass and two dog neighbors.

We’ve also said our fair share of goodbyes since February! Waahhh! Eight of our friends have moved on to new projects. While I was/am happy for them- I’m still missing the gang, many of which were Libreville veterans who had been here for years. Thankfully though, there are great people here, and more are arriving so that keeps things fun. Man, meeting the new people really puts things in perspective and highlights how far we’ve come in six months. So much comes at you on arrival. I think I spent the first month in complete shock. You can see ‘the look’ in new people’s faces, and I think- thank god I’m through that stage. Haha.

All in all, I’d say Libreville forces you to chill out. Roaches in cabs, rodents in the grocery store, garbage piles taller than I am, empty ATM machines, ho hum. There is no sense of urgency here, so you best take a deep breath and mellow out. The snail pace still tests my resolve though, especially when things break. Like, when the internet stops working for over a week, or your cable gets cancelled the same day you run out of propane for the stove. What to do now? I’ll walk to the grocery store. Oh, I forgot it closes for 3 hours in the middle of the day on Fridays. That’s when Diego and I go to the pool, or play cards with a neighbor. Haha. There has been A LOT of card playing lately. Haha. A change of plan is our way of life these days. It’s like Gabon is constantly reminding you to expect the unexpected. I like to think it’s made me a little more patient but who knows, I still lose my cool – like yesterday when the power went out while I had a Dutch Baby baking in the oven. BLAST! (It still turned out). The good part of all this is, we really appreciate when things work.

Tanner, bolder, and more self-reliant these days,

Shlinz

Spotlight – Currency!

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Among the many differences we’ve encountered since moving to Gabon is the currency!  Cash money in these parts is the Central African Franc, or ‘CFA’ (I know, why isn’t is CAF?) I’m sure someone has a perfectly good answer for that, but I don’t!

Gabon is a cash culture. Although the big chain grocers accept a card – we don’t use them anymore, and how I miss that luxury! Everything is done cash no matter the amount. While not the end of the world – it does require a different mindset. Do I have enough cash on me to buy that chicken? Do I have small bills?  No? Probably not going anywhere in a taxi today – or I’ll have to go buy something to make some change. One thing I will say about doing all your business in cash is that it certainly makes you accountable for what you spend! Shelling out 70000 CFA ($140) for some groceries makes you think twice about your purchases!

Just as in the States, ATMs here dispense in (approximate) denomintions of $20.  The equivalent of  which is a 10,000 note, hi-yo! Today’s exchange rate is .481 CFA to 1 dollar, or roughly, 2 dollars to every 1,000 francs.  So, to estimate a price, I double the amount I see, then remove 3 zeros and that gives me the rough figure in dollars. A box of spaghetti, for example, is 2500 CFA. Double that price (2500 x 2) = 5000. Remove 3 zeros – voila, $5.

So what’s the value of a dollar? Or 500 francs in this case.  500f  would get me a taxi to the big grocery store, about a 25/30 min walk away.  I could buy one bundle of locally grown herbs from a street stand.   It would also buy a can of soda, from a grocery store – not a street shack.  Prices of drinks on the street are almost double what they are in the grocery store. Gabon is pretty expensive, but luckily cabs are reasonable and so are locally grown veggies!

Most everything you see in a grocery store (and everywhere else for that matter) is imported.  As in the US, much of Gabon is brought to you by China, but food is brought in primarily from France and other parts of Europe.  I’m still astounded by prices, but it shocks me the most when I go to buy fresh produce!!!  Imported veggies are scary expensive.  Celery for example, is $13 a pound at a grocery store.  Bellpeppers?  $15 a pound.  WHAT??!?!?  I know.  I actually had a bell pepper in my cart at the big grocery store yesterday, and 1 yellow bell pepper was going going to be over $7.  I had buyers remorse and put it back before I checked out!  haha.

I do my best to buy produce from local street stands, as you save quite a bit of money, but the selection and variety (in my neighborhood) is much smaller.  And dirtier. Buuuuuut, it’s nice to support a small business, and save some coin while doing so.  My local veggie lady is Zelia.  She is from Togo, and runs her stand with 3 employees, ranging in age from 14-17. They all do their best to speak slowly to me, and show me the calculator when I can’t understand the price they are telling me.  They also throw in a word or two of english when they can.  Like, “finished?” and “bye.”  They also provide the value added service of choosing produce for you! So when I say, “un ananas, s’il vous plait” (1 pineapple please) they ask me, ‘Pour aujourd’hui? Ou demain? ”  For today, or tomorrow?  They know their stock and when it needs to be eaten!  Kinda fun! I’ve graduated to picking my own mangos and avocados, but I still defer to their expertise when it comes to pineapples.

Anywho, although CFA doesn’t have quite the same ring as dollar or ‘buck’, they definitely make up points in the style department. The currency varies in size, and is super colorful!  Bills come in five different colors, and the coins are a mix of gold and silver tones.  Check ’em out!

(Sadly, I didn’t have one of the notoriously dirty bills to photograph today, but when I get one I’ll add to this album.  Sure, money gets dirty, but I’ve seen some JANKY bills here.  Like – holes it in, disintegrating… looked like someone wiped their you know what with it, haha! 500 notes ($1) seem to be the grossest variety.  I once tipped a cab driver with a particularly nasty 500 note (it’s all I had in smalls), and he asked me if I had coins instead!  I didn’t… so he begrudgingly took the nasty 500. hahahha.)

 

Amazing Grace in a Surprising Place

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Whenever I find myself at a show or concert, I always end up asking myself the same question. “Why don’t I do this more often?”

We recently attended a concert at the French Institute and for nearly two hours, acapella ensembles ranging from 5 to 50 people belted out American Gospel of all genres!  Say whaaaaaat? Yeah dude.  These days, its mega awesome to hear spoken English… but sung- in harmony?  It’s a recipe for goosebumps I tell you!

Despite not being able to decipher many of the lyrics (the people were singing in a foreign language, after all) the familiar melodies were perfection in themselves. Two renditions of Amazing Grace were performed, confirming that sometimes less is actually not more.   My favorite performance of the night however, was a song I’m calling “Sing Your Name”.  I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I heard it!!  It featured a female lead accompanied by a 40 or so person choir behind her… wow.  I have a clip below, and although it doesn’t do the performance justice, I must share!

The concert ended with a massive collaboration of all the groups (ages 4 – sixties) totaling well over 100 people singing traditional African songs.   Dude, night and day is all I can say.  Singing songs they knew by heart, in their native language completely changed the vibe in the room. The level of energy radiating off stage made their previous performances look lifeless.

They ditched the traditional choreography we’d been seeing all night and instead broke out into their own moves, each person grooving however they pleased.  One mass of people, completely in the moment… it was effortless and organic. Crazy harmonies with the bass-y vocal beats you associate with African song, people jamming out and clapping to the beat.  I would have been happy paying the ticket price for just this final encore, a perfect end to an already memorable evening.

Clip of Sing Your Name over some footage I took driving around Libreville on a public holiday.  Streets were desolate – a rare site!  Sorry in advance – shot this vertically, oops!

Kraft, Post & Heinz, OH MY!

‘The American Store’ as it’s called by expats (the actual storefront has no name), is a little shop nearby that could almost pass for a HomeGoods. They sell housewares mostly… towels, curtain panels, random lamps ‘n whatnot. There’s a selection of cosmetics that look to be older than I am, tempting!  They also carry Halloween costumes (all year long) and even have a few pet products, all labeled in the vernacular of Amurrrica! It’s the little things…

The crown jewel of the store, however, is the one aisle of American groceries! Hallelujah! After weeks of sad, barren shelves that were getting progressively dustier by the visit (customs workers have been on strike)– they finally got a shipment! Drumroll please!

Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese, A1 Sauce, jarred jalepenos, REFRIED BEANS (regular AND black), Duncan Hines brownie mix, Aunt Jemima Syrup, Domino Brown Sugar, off brand Lucky Charm-esque cereals, Gatorade, Jiffy Corn Bread Mix, candy, and more!!  Ooh the joy of familiarity. I think you can guess what I had to have first…

At $5 a box, the Kraft Mac was a splurge, but mega worth it. I’ll take 5! You never know when they’ll get another shipment, man! Don’t judge! In our two months here, I’ve learned that if you see something you want, buy it – ideally, in multiples. In fact, feel no shame in clearing the shelf of that item! Just because a store has something once, doesn’t mean it’ll be there next time you go to find it. I had been hoarding the final box of Kraft that we brought from the states in case of an emotional emergency, but now it’s game on! Weee! Red and Yellow number 5 never tasted so good.

With those blue boxes in my shopping basket, I was happy as a, as a…. homesick American in a foreign land about to eat some effing MAC ‘N CHEESE!!! But you can’t let the giddy get to your head. One must not be hasty! There are rules at the American Store. It’s time to inspect your potential purchase.

  1. Is it free of bugs? Hopefully so, but not a deal breaker.
  2. Has it been opened? If so, put it back!
    1. Subquestion: Was it the last one? Yes? How bad do you want it!? Haha.
  3. Check the expiration date.

There’s always a catch! Inflated prices aside, (refried beans are almost $7 a can) many of the items for sale are at the tail end of their shelf life. Despite my deep aversion to expired or near-expired food, I bought 2 cans of refried beans that need to be eaten in the next two months. You do what you can with what you’ve got, yes?

Despite some questionable looking items from time to time, there is really no bad trip to the American Store. Even when the selection is bottom of the barrel, you can usually still get a Shasta soda or some Spaghettios, but I haven’t sunk that low. Here’s hoping that never happens!

A tip! Although the American candy looks tempting, remember the Tommy Boy rule: stick to items with a candy shell. Transport time from US to Africa + sitting around waiting for customs inspections = really weird looking/tasting Twix Bars. Rookie mistake!

Sticking to Skittles, M&M’s, and Blow Pops from now on,

Linz

 

Post-a-thon: Pointe Denis

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Last weekend we visited Pointe Denis for the first time… a gorgeous beach located across the estuary from the city of Libreville.  This spot is known for it’s squeaky white sand and calm clean waters. Although the peninsula itself is technically part of Pongara National Park, Pt. Denis is a residential area where Gabon’s rich & famous- including the President, have seconds homes.  Ooh la la!

To get to the Assala Lodge, we departed from Port Mole, a marina just a few minutes from our place downtown.  Despite the drizzly weather that morning, the place was bustling! A steady stream of taxis and people on foot headed for the docks – I definitely under estimated the number of people that travel by boat I guess!  On the way, we passed a bunch of market stands -mostly selling fish, but I did spy a little orange tabby kitten in a basket of onions at one place.  Wonder how much she was?

Anywho, we met up with our group and boarded what I prayed would be a seaworthy vessel!  I’m not exactly the biggest fan of boats you see, but I was assured the ride would be short, and that pristine beaches awaited me!  With a pit in my stomach, I stepped aboard and threw on the provided life jacket.  Naturally, mine had been labelled ‘KNKY’.

Surely sensing my nerves, a girl in our group assured me there was nothing to worry about.  “The boat has multiple motors, so even when one cuts out, we’ll get there just fine,” she said, as she cracked open a beer.  Through gritting teeth, I smiled and prayed the seabands my neighbor lent me would do the trick – you know those pressure point ones that are supposed to help with seasickness?  Before long we were off and thankfully, the ride over was easy peasy!  The motors did cut out as promised, but we got there in one piece, and I didn’t hurl! Hazaah!

The sandy shores of Pt. Denis were a welcome sight, bright white and totally desolate.  But how do we get there I thought to myself?  I didn’t see a dock… Turns out, there aren’t any!  Our boat got as close to shore as it could, dropped anchor and flung a wooden plank off the back of the boat.  One by one, our group toddled down the rickety piece of wood straight into the water.  Keepin’ it real!

We arrived shortly before 11Am and got down to business!  Lounge chair, check!  Cold beer, check!  Amazing.  The beach was quiet, the water was warm… in the distance you could see the skyline of Libreville, and behind the beach was dense green forest.  I felt million miles away!  All that luxuriating though, you really work up an appetite.  Who’s hungry for lunch?

The restaurant at Assala was awesome. Imagine a big hut type thing, no walls… a thatched roof, planked wood floors and lazy rotating fans.  The woodwork inside was beautiful.  Gabon has a big timber industry, so there is no shortage of exotic woods here.  Even “remote” establishments like this one had awesome slab tables, hand carved chairs and beams, pretty impressive.  We dined on locally caught capitan and fried plantains with the wind in our hair.  Pretty, pretty nice.  To top off a nice meal, for dessert – I played with a bunch of PUPPIES!  Yes!  There was a box of puppies in the back of the restaurant… Five little guys, eyes not even open yet… adorable.  Although the owner graciously offered them to us, we declined.  Tempting though!!!

Without a doubt, this was one of my favorite weekends to date.  I learned how to play Pétanque, a French game similar to Bocce, drank champagne in the ocean, played with puppies, faced my boat fears and came back with a bronzey tan.  Not too shabby.

 

 

Post-a-thon: A Familiar Face

To our great pleasure, B’s Dad recently travelled to Libreville on business!  Man, comforting doesn’t begin to explain the feeling of seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. One of those chicken soup for the soul type things.

We met him at the airport, and luckily for all involved, he flew through immigration!  There he was, fresh off the long journey to Gabon, smiling and seemingly unaffected by neither the day’s travel nor Gabon’s staggering humidity.  I wish I had a side by side photo of me at arrival, and Jeff upon arrival.  Haha, the left would read “Hot Mess.” The right, “PRO” Haha.

We made our way to his hotel, and Jeff’s reserve of energy did not wane.  Politely, he refused assistance with his luggage (even, up a flight of stairs), joked with the hotel staff…”these are my kids” he would tell everyone in French, and in a few short minutes, he was changed and ready for dinner.  Gotta admire his momentum!

We had a really nice meal outside, feet from the shore break, complete with bats (at a distance) and the most attentive service we’ve had by FAR in Libreville.  A fair amount of the staff even spoke a bit of English – a real treat these days.  Our entrees were delightful and punctuated perfectly by a scrumptious tart tatin – but that wasn’t all.  After dinner, Jeff handed over the care package. Christmas in March, people!

Diane went above and beyond with the most amazing care package for us.  Jeff hauled an entire suitcase packed to the brim with curated goodies, and even more appeared from his second bag.  Baking supplies for our new oven, hair clippers for B, toys for Diego, art and fabric supplies for me, easter candy, a Brita filter, skincare and more!!!!  Lots, lots more!  All of which was lovingly packed and labeled with notes… so grateful. We busted into it as soon as we got home that night.

Luckily, we were able to get together a few times while Jeff was in town. Sunday, he came over and we had breakfast at the bakery across the street! He and B got to work fixing odds and ends around the apartment – best of which was unclogging a drain outside our kitchen that had resulted in standing water and some serious green muck.  Holla!!

We showed him to the Artisan Market, and had lunch at a brand new hotel just down the street from us.  It’s called Le Cristal, and is part of a South African chain of hotels.  Me thinks it should be renamed to Diamond in the Rough!  haha.  It stands out quite a bit in Libreville – in a good way.  Modern, clean… looks and feels like any cool boutique hotel in the US.  Our meals were great, and to our surprise again – the staff spoke English!  We’ll be returning to this place for sure!

Before we knew it, Jeff trip had come to an end.  He came by the house for a quick dinner before his flight, and though we were bummed to see him go, (I waited to cry til after he left) we were so grateful for his visit.  Seeing him brought a renewed sense of strength and can do-edness.  I can’t imagine a more perfectly timed meet up.  He arrived just as we were finding our feet – and seeing him was just the boost we needed to keep on keepin’ on!

Grateful for the rejuvenation only family can bring.

Who’s coming next?  HAHA.

 

 

Saying Yes

It’s easy to get stuck in the apartment.  After all, my “chores” list is a lot longer these days with no car, dishwasher or dryer, so there’s usually something to get caught up on here at home.  And hey – I’ve got a beautiful view, the A/C is blasting, food, drinks… and two clean toilets for god’s sake!  It’s a haven in many ways, but Gabon isn’t going to come knock on my door.  (That’s actually not accurate, we’ve had a few knocks at our door from people mistakenly thinking we are a business – hence my new hand written sign – Résidence Privée)  That being said, I feel the need to get out more, so a recent goal of mine has been to say, yes. Say yes to any invitation, even say yes to myself…get out there… see, do, and experience.  Although much has been outside my comfort zone, the YES campaign has led me to a number of new experiences in just a few days.  In the words of Larry David, it’s been “preeeeeeeeeeetty, pretty” worth it.

Moving Meditation  

My neighbor, and all around wonder woman-seems to do it all.   She’s smart, gracious, works multiple jobs here in Gabon, and has a million and one hobbies.  She is always on the go and somehow finds time to cook too.  (Impressed).  So, it didn’t surprise me at all when she asked me if I’d like to do a moving meditation after we went fabric shopping the other day.  I had no idea what I said yes to, but I’m glad I did.

I’ve been in the salad spinner lately – unable to focus, letting a lot of fear/worries take over my brain space…. ping-ponging from thing to thing and never feeling like I accomplish much.   So I was game for whatever may bring some calm.  After some instruction on the moves, we turned her living room into a meditation space.  The concept was simple: focus.  Clear your mind, and do one thing with purpose and intention.  On beat with the music, we synchronized our breath with a series of movements.  Picture a plus sign (+), that was our map.  Themovements took us forward – back to center – right, back to center, left -back to center and finally backward, and then to center.  You continue repeating the pattern, and the music controls how fast to complete a single revolution.  Later my neighbor told me, the plus sign/clover pattern is physical metaphor for life – always know your center, and return to it no matter the distraction.

After fumbling around a bit, and finding myself spinning/turning the wrong way, I got in a groove.  Iwent from, “oh god how long are we going to do this, I’m getting dizzy!” to “I’m getting the hang of this.” I was amazed how much this simple task grounded me and forced me focus.  Even when I thought I was doing it right, I kept finding room for improvement… for more grace, more fluidity, more purpose.

Stationary mediation I’ve tried in the past was much more difficult for me, my brain was all over the place.  And although it was nice to slow my body down, I never felt like my mind slowed.  Moving meditation was the opposite, move your body, still your mind.   You can’t think about much else when you have to move your body and breathe to a beat – or at least I can’t!   It’s definitely something I plan to do again.

A Real Walk

Many of you know what a challenge it’s been tending to Diego’s needs from our new place.  The area we live is very busy, and in addition to lots of cars, I’ve encountered more than a few people that feel the need to “interact” with Diego and I.  This can be anything from barking at us, yelling “chihuahua,” or other anti dog behaviors that really pissed me off.  That being said, something had to give… I was reaching the end up of patience with the “dog lovers”, and our miniscule potty breaks outside left Diego under exercised and bored… and that bums me out.  I don’t feel good leaving him alone when I haven’t fulfilled any of his dog needs🙂

So to get ahead of the mania outside, I – Lindsey have now woken up THREE days in a row at 6:15 AM to walk the dog.  (I know!)  I realize that doesn’t sound very impressive, but it feels major.  A) I’m not a morning person.  B) I’m still getting my bearings on where to go, and feeling secure getting around by myself.   Leaving the house alongside Brandon gives me the momentum I need, and then Diego and I soldier on.   It’s been A LOT easier to navigate the challenges of the city when there are less cars on the road.   You still need eyes in the back of your head, those taxis aren’t slowing down for their own mamas!  But, it’s been a good thing, for Diego and I both.

We get down to the Bord De Mer, which is the road/”freeway” that parallels the ocean and once we’re there and across the road, we can cruise for a good while.  We even see a critter or two!  Today lots of crabs… yesterday, I came back a new way and Diego met a little kitten.  This week, he also met a rooster on our street, and a few new downtown street dogs.  No, none of them are as cool as Tres.  If Diego could contribute to this post, I think he’d want to you to know about an amazing log hr found on the beach today.  Something about this piece a drift wood was irresistible!  He rolled all over over and around it.  He even chewed on the log then went back to rolling all around it.  It was actually kind of weird.  He never got over – whatever it was- so I just had to drag him away.  Crazy dog.

He got a bath as soon as we got home.

Contemporary African Dance

Say what?  Yeah buddy, I accompanied my neighbor to her private dance class.  A short walk from our place is a modest studio, tucked behind a business park of sorts.  You go up an outdoor staircase, and then enter the building, to go up another winding tiled staircase.  At the top? Dance Unlimited!  Once I was inside, I was pleasantly surprised.  The walls are cheerful and bright, the walls are mirrored just like in a traditional dance studio.  There were even ballet barres for adults and kids.  I am hoping I won’t have to use them… they look a bit – splintery?  But hey!  Barres man!   The hour long session started with warm up, and then we broke down steps in preparation for a big combination at the end of class.

What is Contemporary African dance?  I’m not exactly sure, but I do know we weren’t doing it any justice, haha.  I like to dance, but I’m not what you’d call a natural.  Though awkward and few steps behind, I had fun.  Imagine a mixture of modern dance, with some hip hop-esque influence, some popping…jumping.  All in all, I’d call it a workout.  Buckets-o-sweat, people!  The instructor was a great sport… she asked us for moves to incorporate into the final dance, and when she came to me – like a deer in the headlights, my contribution was the running man?  Haha.  I committed to another 5 classes, so I will update you with our progress!

Body Pump!

THIS was far and away- the most un-Lindseylike activity I’ve tried yet.  I would compare this to CrossFit perhaps?  Weights, bars and other contraptions…who knew there were so many appliances available to inflict pain.And people PAY for this? Haha.  Walking in the gym costs $11 whether you choose to work out or not.  A lot of things are like that here.  I recently when to a proviate pool/restaurant.  I was about to sit on a lounge chair as we waited for the rest of the group, and she goes feel free- but that will cost you $10.  haha, I passed on the seat.

Anyway – the workout!  I’m actually glad I didn’t know the details of the class going in, or I may not have gone through with it.  I kid I kid… my displeasure was mostly at my level of weakness.  Although I could keep up in most areas with modified weights, ab work and lunges were a total bust.  WOW!  I have some work to do.  Icould have thought my multiple trips up 7 flights of stairs per day would have strengthened me, but it appears I have a ways to go.  :)

The gym, Saoti- is located back where I used to live in Haut de GueGue.  The complex itself is unassuming from the outside.  You roll up and there are a few chickens pecking around, then you enter and it’s legit gym!  Tons of machines, smells relatively normal – AC!  Whaaaaaaat!?!    The separate area for classes was impressive as well.  Inside there was a ton of equipment, mats, all kinds of weights, etc. Tunes were blasting from big speakers, when I spotted this huge dude… looked like he was carved out of wood and dripping in sweat.  The instructor I presume?  Yes indeedy.

The class of 8 women were mostly native Gabaonise.  There were a few French expats, then my Greek neighbor who speaks french, and me.  Thankfully I could look around for cues for other people because I didn’t understand much aside from petit (for small) and some numbers the instructor was calling out.  Although intimidating looking, the instructor had great energy.  He smiles alot, and laughs (maybe at us?) a lot.  I think I was getting the biggest kick out of his attempts at English.  There I would be, thighs quivering mid-squat… the instructor is counting us down…. “huit, sept, six, cinq”…. then he’d bust out and sing along with whatever tune was on – Rihanna, Britney.  It was hilarious.   I was laughing out loud at points.  It was an out of body experience…. hot as hell and sweating buckets, I thought – wow, things change quicly!  Last month I couldn’t be dragged to work out, and now I am taking some gnarley Body Pump class in French…in Africa?  Bahaha.  Weird man.

Today, I can barely move – but thankfully I have no workout commitments for the rest of the day.

I feel like I turned an some sort of imaginary corner this week –  feeling a bit more like myself, and as Martha says, “It’s a good thing.” bahaha.  I pronounce Campaign Yes a success.  Brandon and I have said yes to a game of squash tomorrow with some of his coworkers… should be interesting!  Then, best of all… Jeff (B’s dad) arrives in Libreville tomorrow night!  We are anxiously awaiting his arrival!

Bon Weekend,

Linz

**************

I just got back from another outing with my neighbor!  She helped me enroll for for a cell phone plan that allows me to buy minutes/data at a 2 for 1 price.  Holler!   I’ll definitely be putting the savings toward groceries.  People keep telling me not to look at prices, but it’s hard not to gasp when you shop!  The other day I bought a pound of ground beef for $14.  Hi yo!??!  A girl I met recently spotted US grown sweet potatoes at her grocer – she jumped at the chance and bought four taters for $20.  I may have done the same, but wow – I still have sticker shock!

We also stopped by her tailor this morning!  (No mice this time).  In preparation, I bought some really cool fabric this week.  The background is a gradient that fades from a cerulean/turquoisey color to black, then has a gold floral print running throughout.  I love it!   With my neighbor’s help translating, I have a tank/peplum dress and a pair of shorts in the works! They order is supposed to be ready a week from today, fingers crossed!  Some pics below.

LinzConquers...

...the world!

Love and a Six-Foot Leash

One family's adventures with America's forgotten dogs.

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