Monday, November 28, 2011

berlin burger battles

mcdonald's, burger king, they are actually few and far between in berlin. mostly at train stations - and for good reason. homeless people and the punks with their dogs eat big macs all day long. so while new york is all cupcakes and bahn mi (ok, those are good), and washington dc is the new tossed salad capital, berlin is back to burgers, bro! 
in a block radius from my house there is the burgeramt, kreuzburger, burgermeister, and others which i can't name, and they all have the same recipe: a tiny 12 square meter space, organic beef, toppings, and weird choices that mimic pizza styles, like the hawaii burger (canadian bacon and pineapple)? and to my dear brother who seems to never worry about the bottom line: these places are always packed. these guys might be on their feet all day, but they are maxing relaxing when they come from the bank (imagine what you could do with sausages?). anyway, the burgeramt stays open until 4am, accompanied by requisite berlin techno music and it's a wonder the neighbors don't complain. maybe cuz the fries are so tasty. they even opened a sister sit-down place.
what's nice about berlin though, is the fries come with mayo and you can order different size patties, like normal, mini and super huge, and, if you're feeling veggie, you can go with haloumi. big old chunk of greek cheese. or, like the offer at my current favorite, berlin burger international in Neukoelln, you go all the way for the triple cheese double decker high ball: haloumi, cream cheese and tyroler, 2 patties, 3 buns. absolute ridiculousness, but when my friends ordered one the other night, and i only had potato wedges, i was slightly jealous. they are open sundays now, btw.

this little piggie gives a thumbs up
the thing about bbi though that tops the list of burger joints, is that you can get a stamp card (10th burger free) and all come with feld salat, what you call mache, (nice touch), fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, ketchup and mayo and a big toothpick to keep it all in place. i want another one. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

sorry to be so scatalogical...

...but never has a country been so unkind to my bowels. and is it normal that the only bathroom at the office... is in someone's office? that someone is also the chatty young guy. so you have to walk in there, like, hi....i'm just...going to...don't mind me! and they are meters away, on a conference call or something, on speakerphone. and you can't go in there too often, right, so, i'm pretty good at coming up with an excuse to go back to the guesthouse, which is right down the street. oh, forgot my phone charger...wiping the cold sweat off my brow...but i can only forget so many things a day, right? it's just not right...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

if i had room in my luggage...

...i would bring back some killer ratan furniture (better quality than the crap we had in our living room 20 years ago...)

Monday, November 7, 2011


so after working 12 hours days all week, it was friday and the other colleagues summoned nay, ordered us to leave our computers. ok. so we go to a little courtyard cafe that is just lovely. under the mango trees, a little courtyard partly covered by zinc roofs on comfy cushioned couches. this is very nice. we are just sitting around, having a great time when GADONGDONGDGONG! mangos. falling. sometimes hitting the zinc roof and blubblublblub rolling off, but more often than not, falling within centimeters of my head or my beer. hey this isn't cool guys, these are really big mangoes!
oh, don't worry about them. it's the bats that eat them, and then they fall.
ok, bats. don't bats carry ebola?
yes they do.
so these are ebola infected mangoes falling on my head?? finally, one manages to smash my glass and the cafe owner comes to clean up, and offer a plastic bag to take the mangoes home. souvenir!

we then decide it's too perilous to eat dinner there and head to some distant part of town, full of loud music, mangy dogs and zinc roof huts. we sit down and order "cotisse" which are some sort of mini porc ribs. being pseudo-vegetarian, i wander to the bbq stand across the way that has different sorts of fish and french fries. but quickly realize it was a mistake to order there, because the cotisse are delicious. absolutely devine, finger lickin' good. the ladies at the grill just chop chop chop and serve. with zesty mayo and mustard. eat, suck bones, eat some more. yum.

so i'm licking my fingers and tossing the bones to this street dog, which looks like it's like a large rat skeleton covered in scruff. it might be a puppy but it's suuuuuper skinny. kinda sad. i toss it some more bones, and of course it starts choking on them, and then gets nearly run over by a landcruiser and i feel especially bad. that's what you get for helping street dogs.
we then figure out that we are in the one spot of town where everyone makes a 3 point u turn and blares their headlights in your face. this is really annoying. why is everyone turning around right here? and running over my street dog? let's go.

so we head down the street to a place appropriately called "le terminus." a road that ends in some stinky muddy mangroves. yet, le terminus is this wonderful cafe sitting just inside an 8 meter tall stand of mangroves. they are mysterious, complex, and tey put neon lights in them, it's quite breathtaking. the bar is desolately empty, but there is a working bathroom and a friendly bartender who seems to have recorded every date and every score of every soccer match between gabon and equitorial guinee since the beginning of time. at this point i've realized our tunisian colleague in fact eats pork, and drinks, and is really funny. richard the camerounian is arguing that his country has a better offense. here i am, in the middle of a mangrove, the first natural thing i've seen since coming here. i order another beer, a regab, which the bartender says "french people love it." ok. because it's what you drink when you want to "regarder les gabonais ne pas le boire. regab." nice.

Friday, November 4, 2011

hello mr. grumpy

so my colleagues and i are sitting in a little terrace in libreville, calmly drinking our giant beers, occasionally trying to name each hip hop artist on the extremely why-does-it-have-to-be-turned-up-so-dang-loud tv next to the bar. no, that's not beyonce, that's rihannah. duh.

this old belgian guy comes up to hans to say hi and sits down, and instructs the waitress to bring him a beer as soon as this one is empty - and don't stop with the beers until he says so. he starts rambling ON and ON and ON about how much Gabon sucks, the government sucks, the gabonese people suck (uhh, ya mind buddy? stephane is from gabon and he's sitting right in front of you). and i deduce that he's some sort of old timey botanist or something. the pocketed khaki vest kinda gives it away.

i watch some more jay z and then i hear the guy start bitching about those americans, and their stupid satellite imagery and so then i perk up and lend my ear a bit. blah blah, then he starts talking about congo, and all the stupid satellite imagery those stupid americans collect over there, and how they use computers, to, you know, design parks and corridors and zones and stuff, like robots, you know, these stupid americans, with their little hexagons, and their little digital maps and their silly workshops ---woah woah hey buddy--- led by little girls with cutesy french names like...

---like, my name? hi. nice to meetcha.

so i caught him, a few nanoseconds before he called me a "petasse." wow. so my fame is international i guess.

but it continued. his beer glass never emptied, hours after we paid the bill. every loooooong paragraph started with: . BUT! the problem is....and on and on. hans escaped by faking a phone call, but me and stephane had to listen to him trash our respective countries, our organization, and, of course, the book he was commissioned to write on the whole process, before he quit and dumped it all on me. just last week i started editing his grumpy toned chapters to make it publishable. we left him in the bartalking to a plastic chair. small world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

the dinner party

so today was the wishy washy meeting day. i was warned about it, a meeting with ms. wishy washy, whom i had met over a phone call years ago, and was indeed the most wishy washy person i had ever talked to then, and still today.
ms. wishy washy has a way of talking slowly, elegantly, what with her drapey scarf around her neck, flowing hair, underbite, she and promises the world! endless amounts of data, sortof...maybe...because as soon as you mention concrete details, like, oh, today? or can you put that on this usb stick? it then dissipates into total vagueness. if someone could speak like a grey fog cloud, it's ms. wishy washy. it sortof became tiring, and then i got antsy because i was hungry and it was time for lunch, so goodbye ms. wishy washy see ya around, whatever, maybe sometime. and that was it.
at the end of the day, our little dutch colleague hans comes into the office and declares he's invited to a dinner party at one of the other ngos. and is allowed only one guest. he scans the room -the gabonese guy sinks behind his screen and quickly mutters, no way man, not interested in being drawn into that trap again!...the camerounian waves his arms, champions league! sorry! so then the dutch guy looks between me and mahmoud, the tunisian whom i say is not white enough to be an expat. mahmoud is also on some sort of anti-ramadan diet where he only eats [an excessive amount] during the day and diets at night. and so i'm selected.
oooooh! dinner party!
we drive off through town, getting lost here and there. i'm getting all excited about a home cooked meal. what should we bring to our hosts, a pineapple? giant bottle of beer? hans says, we bring nothing but ourselves, we will be the most interesting people there. oh, it's a trap indeed.
we show up and it's this massive house with lots of random boats parked in the yard....and who is there? well if it isn't little miss wishy washy. yargh. i quickly say hi, and ask if i can use the bathroom (why do we do this? has anyone ever said, no you can't?) but i have to pee like crazy, because when night falls i learned on day 1, never, ever, ever use the office toilet. you turn the light on and every surface is covered with huge flying cockroaches who are much less scared of me than i am of them. and they seem to like toes. the first time i screamed hans screamed back from his desk oh, nicer than the toilets in germany eh?!
so i run to the bathroom and i'm about to do my bidness and woah, there is a gargantuan turd floating there. huge. hmm. seeing as i'm have a sortof complex about toilets, and am a self proclaimed pro at fixing them, i get striaght to work, take the lid off of the top, check the water hose, test the lever action thingie, try a little flush etc.. etc...i find the source of the problem (has anyone touched this thing in days??) and so i flush some more, things are going great, things are working, but let's face it-while the mechanism functions this thing is just clogged. really clogged. i don't get it - in libreville there are handmade call-a-plumber signs on every light post. but the water level's rising, i realize i've been in here way too long, it smells, i flushed many times. crap, i'm like the guy in the fukushima reactor core, time to get out! now!
i stroll back to the kitchen like nothing's wrong, la dee da have myself a little gin and tonic and engage in some mundane conversation about golden cats. cool, golden cats.
anyway, the lady who studies turtles gets up and minute later and we hear her screams "oy my god! clooooggggged!" and she starts freaking out and everyone suddenly looks at me. me! what did i do? i didn't even go! i'm turning bright red, even though i'm telling myself, don't blush, don't blush! it's a sign of guilt! but my cheeks are naturally red. crap! can't we talk about cats some more? but it's so fucking hot don't they have air conditioning. dang! hans is disapprovingly laughing. the botanist, panther expert, cat lady, turle woman and tree dude all think that i destroyed ms. wishy washy's toilet.
i'll have you know i actually fixed it and you should be thanking me!
and that's when we left the dinner party. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

surfing hippos?

the only thing i knew about gabon before coming here was surfing hippos. they have hippos that come out onto the beach and play in the ocean. they actually still have hippos. in Congo they have all been decimated by trigger happy militias.

i also found out that the population of kinshasa is about 10times all of gabon. (so how did the 7 billionth baby get born in gabon?? should have been DRC. where the baby probably has a 10% chance of getting AIDS, and a 90% chance of having a miserable life...) and that's really where the difference is. oh, and all the oil money.

which is why the maps I'm making are pretty boring. and lots of mining and forest concessions though, almost the entire country. so that's the main issue, but still, the forests are full of animals, not so much of people. they have fresh croissants, cafe au lait! france24 on every tv (al jazeera shows nothing but football), you can walk on the streets day or night, traffic jam? what's that? and there is a fresh breeze from the beach, which is right there, where you can also swim, and find sea turtles nesting at night. this is a capital city. in africa. though the house where i'm staying has no hot water, the sink is clogged and there is no internet...but hey, you can't have it all.