9 Days In
We’ve officially been “residents” for 9 days, can I get an A-MEN-nah?!?! Brandon is almost through his first full week of work, and Diego and I have been learning the ropes. Where to begin…
Not sure if ‘Panty Roses’ were available in the states for Valentines day this year, but here they can be got quite easily on the main boulevard. Just roll down your window, negotiate a price and it’s yours! Your very own fake rose complete with faux water droplets, and one-size-fits-all thong that is wrapped around the stem. We weren’t in the market for any undies, but we did celebrate our first African V-Day with a group of couples from work. 11 of us dined at La Sud (The South), a nice fish restaurant that is run by a Frenchman. No menu… each days cuisine depends on what he caught or bought that day. You could say – everything is ‘Market’ fresh? The food did not disappoint. Brandon and I both ordered Capitan Provencal – a nice white fish with an herbed tomato sauce/salsa, served with rice and a small salad. YUM! Even despite all the cigarette smoke. : )
After dinner it was pool time! As in billiards. We walked up a few blocks to an unassuming exterior and entered what looked to be a totally legit club/bar/billiards place. That seems to be the way of things here… You never know quite what you’re gonna get. Exteriors don’t necessarily denote the quality of the interior, and vice versa. You know what is consistent around here, though? Gas stations. They are oddly comforting, almost just like what you’d see at home. Although when you walk into the ‘Mart’ portion… people are standing around drinking? Anywho! Pool was fun… typical nightclub atmosphere, complete with music, overpriced drinks, and those dudes that stand around the perimeter staring at all the ladies.
The ladies I’ve met have been very gracious, inviting me to accompany them places… offering to show me around. Their hospitality is GOLD I tell you. Not speaking the language or knowing where you are – you depend heavily on the kindness of others, and I feel very fortunate to be included. On Tuesday, I accompanied them to the tailor, CK2 (which I will call Gabonaise IKEA), the Artisan Market, ATM, lunch, fruit stands and grocery store. My biggest day to date! Almost 7 hours seeing new sights, going down new streets, attempting a few French phrases… I was exhausted by the time I got back home.
His business is located in a long narrow cinderblock stall, a few minutes drive from our place. (Note: One of the girls has a car and drives, only having lived here 8 months. My hero.) The 3 girls had items in varies stages of completion… some were dropping off things to be made, others were making alterations to garments in progress, and some were picking up finished pieces. What an experience. The tailor seemed very nice. He smiles quite a bit, which stands out to me lately. He and his 2 employees work amidst PILES of fabric, all with hand written notes attached… measurements and the like. They seem to be plenty busy. Apparently it was the place to be… while we were there, we ran into one of the directors from the French Institute and other friend from our building. All these people in a very tiny space, mind you!
The girls tried on their new duds in the dressing room (the area partitioned off by a shower curtain in the corner of the room), and it was a success! Cute dresses, cute skirts… some required a bit more tailoring for size, but I was impressed! You can either bring the tailor a photo, or drop off an existing garment you want him to copy, along with the fabric of your choice… Then you come back a few days later, and Voila! I have a photo below of a cute peplum dress he made for a friend, with exposed zipper in back, for $30. Holler! I am excited to get something made… but a trip to the ‘fabric lady’ has to happen first. So we left there, after encountering a small mouse – and headed to Gabonaise IKEA!
..or IKEA, as we’ll call it…great surprise.
- A) This place has a dedicated parking lot
- B) Well stocked, and you get a receipt
CK2 would be best described as a Target/IKEA/Best Buy hybrid… but without the food component. When you walk in, it feels like a combination of the aforementioned. A/C, florescent lighting… All the signage is done in blue and yellow, hammering home that IKEA vibe. But yeah, one of the girls needed a blender, so for about $80, you can buy the lowest end model available. AND they throw in an eye roll for free! Blender: check.
Then it was off to downtown to go to La Parisian, a lovely cafe/bakery from what I’m told. We didn’t succeed at our goal, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The area was really congested… cars inching along, no where to park (people pull up on the sidewalk to park here), so we changed course, and hit up the Artisan Market since we were in the area. There are two of these markets in town from what I understand… we went to the bigger one. Here I learned about the parking attendant. As we parked near the market… a guy helped us locate a “spot” (I use that term loosely), and guided us into it with with hand signals, etc. This is not a gesture of kindness, it’s a service. If you pull into the place he “showed you,” you pay. You also pay when you get back into your car to leave. Lots of entrepreneurs here.
Anyway, the market. Behind a concrete wall are stalls and stalls of vendors, covered by a mostly complete corrugated metal roof. HI-YO! I mean, it’s hot here all the time… but put a lot of bodies in a mostly enclosed space with no air flow, and baby – it’s steam shower in there. haha. This market is the place to go if you want anything carved out of wood…figurines, masks, tongs, bottle openers and the like. You can also buy quite a bit of clothing and fabric, alligator shoes (preowned), bracelets, and even random new pairs of sparkly hooker-esque shoes, haha.
We steamed in the market for an hour or so. Some of the men in there speak a few words of English – you hear, “Good price” a fair bit… haggling is part of the experience, and I learned, you have to be willing to walk away. Play the guys against each other, and work for the price you want. I don’t feel confident enough in my numbers to haggle just yet, but give me time. As I walked around, I was taught, “j’observe”, which is ‘I’m just looking’ – that was very helpful. If you look at anything, the dealers are ON you to buy buy buy, so I got comfortable with my, “just looking” and “no thanks” phrases. And I was just looking, until I spotted some potential lounge wear pants… I dont know if it was heat exhaustion or hunger, but I had to have them! Sopping wet, I asked-
“Combien?” (how much?)…
“cinq mille,” (Five thousand) I understood.
Just like that, I had made my first purchase! A sweet pair of purple paisley harem/Aladdin pants for about $10 bucks. Photo below. After a bit more browsing, we navigated our way through a series of road blocks (dealers who block the aisles to sit and eat lunch), and we made it back outside to the fresh-ish air with our treasures in tow, and starving!
This is a new restaurant that opened about a month ago in the center of town. Great surprise. Again – after coming from the Aristan Market neighborhood – Paolo’s is a TOTAL haven. Air conditioned, waiters in matching uniforms… A Menu! Bottled water! HOLLER. They specialize in sandwiches and pizzas that actually look very good, as well as desserts and gelato. The four of us sat for lunch and I ordered a croque monsieur, which was only $5 – very affordable for Libreville, and it was great! Lately, anything that I don’t have to make it amazing. I hope to return there soon…
We finished off the day swinging by a fruit/vegetable stand, the tailor one more time, and Géant Ckdo (the big grocer). So far, this fruit stand has been my favorite. The lady was very nice, she threw in some English where she could, and gave me a free lime with my purchase of a pineapple and some oranges. Dig it.
More later. Until then, a few photos I’ve managed to snap. Sorry for the bad quality! My phone is always foggy!
À plus tard,
p.s. For anyone on Instagram, check out the user, jaimelbv. A nice sampling of photos showing Libreville in a very flattering light. I’m anxious to find some of the locations in their feed… I must say, they don’t look too familiar : )