Monday, March 29, 2010

Local Religious Ceremony in Gabon

Went to watch a local Bwiti ceremony a while ago.  Bwiti is a local religion that has been followed for hundreds of years by several different tribes throughout this region of Equatorial Africa.  It is practiced by the Fang, which is the largest ethnic group here in Gabon.  It is a very colorful ceremony with lots of fire, dancing and drums.  During ceremonies, it is usual for participants to chew the root bark of the iboga, which acts as an hallucinogenic.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Living on the U.S. Embassy Compound

I get asked by friends online, what’s it like?  Well here you go…

It is somewhat isolated for security reasons, but it’s actually quite nice.  Libreville, Gabon is a small post and luckily, all of the State department and Military personnel stationed here are warm and pleasant. I can see how you could get stuck at a post with some horrible people, which can happen at any job, but that would completely suck at such a small post. 

It is very much a community here.  We celebrate birthdays and holidays together, invite people over for dinner & drinks, share weekends on the beach together or tour the countryside, take each others money in poker games.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quick Weekend Safari

Went into the jungle again this weekend for a short elephant safari.  Despite its many challenges, Gabon is primed for eco/adventure-tourism.  The country is just so green and wild.  It is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world.

You drive into Libreville to one of the “ports”…more like a dirty, muddy lot surrounding a single cement slope into the water.  There is no dock, all of the boats sit on rollers and they are dragged into and out of the water with a rope tied to a truck and a lot of guys yelling in French “non celui-ci, celui la, on fonction…sortez de la voie! (not this one, that one, get out of the way”).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

you are not connected to the internet

Can you appreciate how difficult it can be to get along without a regular internet connection.

Our connection has always been slow (10kb/sec).   That’s fine, it’s the 3rd world, you get used to it…you just don’t communicate with the friends who insists on sending you youtube videos or facebook clips of themselves, since it can take an hour to download (if the connection maintains for the full hour).  But when service is as inadvertent as it has been for the past two weeks, it can drive you crazy.  It’s connected for 2-3 minutes every 20-60 minutes or so.

Imagine every time you log onto your bank, the connection shuts down during the time it takes to go from logging in with your password to see what’s available in checking.

I need to make a plane reservation home.  I can call using vonage, but by the time someone gets the full spelling of my name, the internet goes down again…ugh.

At least I can post on this blog by writing in word and then just cut and paste into….

Monday, March 22, 2010

Teaching English in Gabon

So now I am an English teacher.  Last week I started teaching English classes to the Gabonese military on one of the local bases here in Libreville, Gabon.  It’s part of a larger training program that is sponsored by the US military.

This is pretty standard when working with any small US Embassy; everybody pitches in to get done whatever is necessary.

The class is a combination of local military personnel and civil servants.  This first class was an introduction to me, so I spoke with them a little bit about my hometown, NYC.

It was interesting to get their perspective on my life at home.  They can’t grasp the concept of so many people living together, (why is NYC so big?), or what different seasons are like (there are no seasons on the equator), or trying to understand why we work so hard (isn’t that bad for your health?).

As is typical, everyone wanted to know about crime in NYC (how dangerous is it?).  I found it unusual that a large portion of the class associated crime in NY with the Spanish speaking population.  I think it must be a local misunderstanding that comes from news about South American and Mexican drug cartels.  There really is no exposure to other cultures and/or languages in Gabon.

There were a lot of questions about the site of the World Trade Center and what it was like being there during 9/11.  As well as the usual stuff like what is the American dream, how do I get a job, how do I get a green card, etc.? 

I have to come up with some more topics for conversation…they have language basics, now it’s just about practicing and getting comfortable with dialogue over the next few weeks.  I’ll have to get someone to mail me a collection of magazines for them to practice.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Money for Nothing? The Oil Culture in Gabon

Oil exports from Gabon have depleted over the years and this has lead to some cultural challenges here.

When oil export was at its height, certain unofficial ‘subsidies’ existed.  There were more jobs, especially in government.  Of course you had to know someone to get that job, but once you did, you were comfortably compensated and it doesn’t seem that much work was actually done.  Jobs were then passed down through family and friends, obviously not based on knowledge or experience, but by who you knew. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Boy Has My Life Changed

My life and my perspective have changed dramatically since leaving NYC only 7 months ago.  So many things that were important then, are just no longer important now. 

I used to be a clothes hound…I owned 20+ pairs of shoes and I always wore a matching belt.  I shopped exclusively at Barney’s and Saks.  I used the same salesperson at Saks (Claudio Sevilla) for the last 9 years; he would put Isaia and Brioni suits and jackets aside for me when they were on sale because he knew what I preferred.  I only wore Thomas Pink shirts (a former client) and one of several Tag Heuer watches (also a client).  I knew my dry cleaner by name (Alan) and he knew mine.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What's it Really Like? Food/Friends/TV/etc.

I’ve been in-country for more than 6 months and this posting is just a bit of perspective for you.  I have never lived abroad and it’s a very unique experience.  It was easier to get used to the differences than I thought…

You eat and drink what’s local and available; more beer and wine, less alcohol – a vodka martini doesn’t exist.  Olives are a luxury, martini glasses don’t exist and if you request martini you get a short pour in a rocks glass of the slightly sweet, Italian, martini and rossi (blanc ou rouge?).  By the way, rocks/ice is a luxury too…even if it weren’t so warm, the single cube you get will definitely melt before you finish your drink.

No processed foods exist here.  No fast food.  Bread doesn’t come in plastic, it’s fresh out of the oven and you have to go back to the boulangerie to pick up a new loaf.  I could buy out the entire “chip” section in the supermarket and carry it away in 2 bags.  It’s a few feet on one shelf, versus at home where it’s an entire friggin’ isle.  Soda is a luxury, people drink water.  Eggs obviously come from chickens here because they often have feathers or poop on them…and they’re delicious.