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.

We buy vegetables from a stand where the owner doesn’t wear shoes;not sure if he owns a pair.  The carrots and potatoes have dirt on them because they come out of the ground.  Although the tomatoes aren’t scientifically designed to be perfectly red and round, they taste fantastic.  If a crop isn’t in, then it’s just not available.  You can’t go to gourmet garage, you have to do without.

My TV was always on when I was home in NY.  Now, despite the fact that we have many channels, only three are in English…and two of those have Arabic subtitles.  Most of the programming is in French and every neighboring country has its own local, non-commercial channel on our system (Togo, Cameroon, Congo, Chad, etc.).  Even the 2 English movie channels have limited commercials and these are in Arabic.

We have found it very easy to make friends here.  The English-speaking expat community just seems to naturally congregate.  You meet someone at a party and the next thing you know their son is calling you uncle. Thanksgiving at our house was a potpourri of Dutch, French, New Zealand, Portuguese and Malaysian friends.  Everyone is wonderful.

The internet is not always available and you can forget about broadband.  I can watch a 2 minute video on you tube if I’m willing to wait 20 minutes for it to download.  We are fortunate to live on an American compound with a generator, because the electricity in the city is constantly going out.  No electricity, no internet.  I know some of my friends get annoyed that I don’t respond to their emails for days; sorry, call the President and get him to upgrade the system.

The water is Gabon is safe to drink from the faucet, albeit a little chlorinated.  It’s actually much better than the water in South Africa (or Miami for that matter).  On our compound, every house has a water distiller and access to a reservoir just in case.  The challenge with water in the city is that since the power grid sucks, they are constantly shutting off pumps in different neighborhoods at different times in an effort to manage electricity.  It seems that someone is always without water.  Our friends with a baby have to come by sometimes to do a laundry, they can wash and eat with rain water, but it's hard to estimate how many buckets to put in the washing machine.

It’s hot here, always.  The temperature hovers around 90 all year, but the heat index can be 110 in the rainy season due to the humidity. Now (March/April) is the hottest time of the year.  Dry season is in summer (June thru Sept) and rainy season is basically the rest of the year. We get around 100 inches of rain/year; Seattle only gets 46.  Even though that may sounds scary, rainy season is actually the best time to visit…that’s when the sun is out.  While we may get a few rainy days, it mostly rains at night (every night) and the sky is sunny and blue during the day.  During the dry season it is usually cooler because it can be grey and cloudy for weeks.

It’s all part of the adventure.  Nothing is in English and no one speaks English.  This is not like going to Cancun, or Costa Rica where English is a 2nd language…even Paris you can easily get by.  There is simply no exposure to English here.  Some of my family wants to come visit, but they are allergic to cats; we have a cat and 2 dogs; there are two small hotels close by on the beach, but I’m afraid no matter how loud they may speak to the front desk at the hotel, they simply won’t be understood:)

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