Friday, August 24, 2012

my baskets are coming home

i had dinner with a friend last night who kept asking me why i don't live in africa, because of how funny i find everything all the time. and i asked him, doesn't it get boring?
so i need a vessel to transport my baskets. i was imaging the big nylon bags the locals are alyways piling up at the airport, full of "imports." basically a big rice bag.
so at my lunch break i wandered up the street to the little row of lebanese convenience stores. they're each the same, with plastic baskets, brooms and free-standing fans all crowding the doors. the first had a faux-hawked metrosexual youngster behind the elevated counter (at the level of my neck), in his hot pink "I'm hot" t-shirt, thumbing with his three blackberries and grooving to the deafening Jay-Z.
i found some soap, a request from home (did you know 3/4 of the soaps here are "whitening"? scary), though it says "savon de marseille" on it, and it's a big block my mom probably pays 20 times as much for in France. when i handed it to him, he did a little cocktail move and tossed it over his head and caught it behind his back, after doing a spin. nice. he was super friendly until some poor old gabonese lady came limping in to which he pointed and screamed, check your bag, you're not coming in here with that! very rude. i noticed this only pertained to people of the, uh, darker skin variety. everyone else was more than welcome to saunter in with their vegetables.
anyway, as i explained what i wanted he waved me off yeah yeah i know - barouuuuuuuu! and called his slow-walking zombie employee who took me in the back aisle where we climbed over piles of shower curtains and doormats and then s l o   o     ww    l  y   went through like, 15 different gift bags, like what you give someone a CD in and showed them to me. too small, i need big! big like i want to carry a pig!
"this one has a pig on it."
no, not piglet from winne the pooh, a big bag, like a RICE BAG.
so he takes me to the 20 kilos of rice section.
i just want the empty bag.
"vous voulez durisdedans?"
no, just the bag.
the guy looks around all nervous...can't compute!
i finally found what i wanted across the street (for free! unbelievable) and it's actually a cool rice bag with chinese writing and shrimp on it, so i was in a real good mood. i hopped along through a little kid's street soccer game and tried to show off my mad dribbling skills, but i accidentally kicked the ball in to the sewer. the nasty, open, rotten, sewer with dead cats in it. errrr i had to back away as they glared at me, (i'm wearing white, there's no WAY i'm going down there) so i went the other way and passed my peanuts-in-a-bottle lady who was all, "hey where's your baskets?" like, she thinks i carry them around every day? i bought some peanuts, and then remembered i had this 5,000 unit cell phone credit thingie i won't use, and i handed it to her, maybe you can use this? it's 10 bucks worth or something, so she threw her hands up in the air and cheered "5 mille unitééééééés!" and gyrated her hips in a sexy way i thought was only possible on tv, and then "i'm closed for today!" well, me too lady, i'm outta here, we're off to the beach!

basket buyers anonymous

hi my name is aurelgrooves, and i'm here today because i'm addicted to baskets. i just keep buying, and buying, and buying, today i spent my perdiem on baskets, not on food and i have no idea how i'm going to bring these back on a plane.
also in this photo, dead cockroach #362

Thursday, August 23, 2012

top top louis

so the good thing about where i'm staying is the Top Louis grocery store that's open all the time.
outside, the ladies sell fruit at half the price and twice the quality as inside - including, and these are my absolute favorite i will totally bring them home - tiny roasted, shelled and hand peeled peanuts inside old whiskey bottles. with a J&B cap and everything, just pour out your peanuts. it must take weeks to shell these all, yet they sell a 1 liter bottle for the equivelent of 3€. and not only that, in some of the bottles they'll even make a gradient of colored peanuts or designs, some lighter lines of peanuts amid the darker ones, like those bottles of colored sand you buy at beach boardwalks
one stop shoppin'
inside, it's another world, the supermarket is run by a family of really grumpy unhelpful chinese who mumble and don't open their mouth and you can't understand a word and all they do is shuffle around and mumble-yell at their gabonese employees who sort of ooze around like zombies. 
the deli section is nothing less than terrifying, week-old terrines covered in fly excrement and animal parts that even africans wouldn't stoop so low as to eat. nevertheless there's a semi-cheery deli zombie guy, with some 60s women's supermarket outfit and paper hat who struggles with the slicer. 
the lumberjacks, some colleagues and i were invited to a friend's house for dinner, so we wanted to pick up some wine. i have to say the selection at Top Louis is rather impressive, though the contents are what you'd expect at a gas station. the bottles are all dusty and dirty, but not in a good way. rosés are more brown than pink, sparkling wine with yellowed labels that students might drink and overpriced merlots from spain with ferocious animals on them and such. the colleagues were french wine snobs who were taking foreeeeever to pick something out "do we like languedoc?" the smell of the meat section was making me dizzy. come on guys, seriously? let's get outta here! 
there was an employee guy nearby, shuffling around in his lime green uniform, rearranging some of the bottles and so i say ironically, in a sort of british accent "perhaps we should ask the sommelier for a recommendation?" and the employee guy, who is wearing 2 left flip flops and has 1 rotten teeth left springs to attention "how may i help you?" 
uhhhh, do you have any cotes du rhone?
"why of course, this one is my favorite" and it's a bit like a monty python skit but we go along. we kinda can't believe it, but the guy seems to have tasted everything. even the concha del toro (too sweet). we throw him a couple curveballs ask for things that don't exist but he's totally on the ball. so what's his favorite? "Chateauneuf-du-pape, of course."  it's only 35€. far out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

a little visit from the NYT

there was a bit of commotion today with all the phones ringing around the office, and all the logistics guys running around frantically. 2 journalists had showed up for a field trip without visas and were stuck at the libreville airport. amateurs. there was a bit of wrangling and bribing but our driver finally brought them in. 
so this guy barges in to my office and says "hey, i need internet, gotta send a story, ethiopian prime minister is dead" and i sorta rolled my eyes and was all, "yeah, i know, i saw it on France24 at breakfast" and i made sure to say france24 so that it hurt a bit. well, turns out he's the Pulitzer prize winning east africa bureau chief for the new york times. oops. he had a cute pulitzer prize winning photographer with him who has a crazy story i didn't find out until after. explains all the khaki outfit. They are doing a story on the poaching crisis.
they were arguing over the payment to their translator and at one point the photographer says "our translators in syria, they sometimes get shot at." no kidding. 
makes me feel kinda silly talking to them about sandwiches and how people pee in the street here, but anyway.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


last night i had dinner with some foresters. foresters are basically your grungy lumberjacks who come from france or belgium and operate sawmills in the middle of nowhere in gabon and develop rather vulgar vocabularies and unruly facial hair.
so we met alain who discovered this rather nice little vietnamese place with little outdoor palm huts and menu full of mostly non-vietnamese fare. alain says he has a discerning palate for asian food because he meets so many chinese mutherfuckers in the bush. so while the foresters cursed away and talked about the various parasites that come out of ungodly parts of their bodies, i searched for one authentic offering, the buon bo, which i recall from normal vietnamese restaurants are tasty rice noodles with salad, tangy sauce and grilled meat. so, in gabon where i guess they have quite limited ingredients the rice noodles are actually spaghetti and the meat and sauce are basically bolognaise covered, but it's the vietnamese version so it's covered in fish sauce. meh. i slurped my spaghetti anyway, riiiiight at the moment that alain described in full detail the 20 cm long worm that exited him ah-hem. i'm eating spaghetti, here alain, please. "but you should have seen it, it's little black head and loooong body!" 
i also learned about vertical sawing and horizontal sawing and one is better but i forgot which. i think i'd rather forget the whole affair, in fact.

Monday, August 20, 2012

welcome back to gabon

it was a hectic arrival in librevile, multplied by the fact that i really really had to pee (any flight with destination african country always looks like a tornado hit the restrooms after 20 minutes). i stood on this random line at arrivals only to realise it was the yellow fever vaccination verification which crap! i totally forgot it. in kinshasa they would lead you into a room and inject you with a dirty needle with "serum" they probably cultivated from a toilet, but in gabon it's a simple fine payment (aka bribe) procedure. the man who explained the formalities had a cheschire cat ear to ear grin when he said "we accept cash payment." so large was his grin, i became jealous of his healthy perfect gums, bright white teeth, good floss technique. he and his colleagues all shouted simoultaneous amounts that sounded like a mumbled average between 30, 35 and 50€ and being a reasonable person i opted for the median value, which ended up being 40€ because they have no change, naturally. i asked for receipt which complicated things - they distracted me and asked about my heritage and marital status, gave me a receipt for 20€ and sent me on my way. i then realized i had forgotten my tube of maps on the plane, and then had to pinky swear marriage to a second gentleman to escort me back to the aircraft to get it.
i tell you, the moment i come to africa and i don't get 3 marriage proposals within 20 minutes i will finally have to admit that i am just too damn old.
but it seems people have been watching the olympics because instead of the usual "so you are from france, do you live in paris" barrage of questions it's now, "are you from uruguay or macedonia?" and the new one "are you jewish?" which is fun to hear during Ramadan but anyway.
they always seems to think being jewish automatically means you are from jewlandia and when i told them that doesn't exist they seemed incredulous.

anyway, as expected during a 5 day holiday weekend, the driver meant to greet me was nowhere to be found - my colleagues had warned me of this earlier "the last day we could remind him was tuesday evening. we hope it sticks until saturday."
so i had to exchange some money for a cab. i went to the western union thingie outside the airport and as i waited on an orderly line this securty guard guy, 3 meters away who couldn't find the effort to leave his lounged pose in a plastic chair demanded that i needed to give him my money and get a number from him on a pink piece of paper and wait for him to call it. the transaction being, of course more complicated than it should be - couldn't i just wait on this line, and then give my money to the lady in the cage? no, i had to give him the amount i wanted to exchange first. now, given that we are basically amidst a mob of deviants, that doesn't seem like such a great idea (too late to explain that to the american tourists who were counting out their hundred dollar bills, and dropping them while fingerless children sifted through their luggage pockets). tell me again, why can't i just give it to the lady at the window when i talk to her and do a money "exchange" as the sign suggests? this argument goes on way too long, him explaining that it went faster this way, that it's the only way i could get a number, and that he had the power. 24! 63! 89! he belts out, and 3 people get up to go to the windows. see? i have the power. he couldn't tell me how many people were waiting, how long it would take and it all seemed like a losing bet so he shooed me away to some guy in the parking lot, who is THE non discreet man holding up a black briefcase stuffed with bills, coming out of every zipper, all thumbs up.
he had a calculator and kept calculating, taking money away, adding money, classic confuse and diffuse tactics like the guys on the street with three cups and one has the ball. i ended up getting swindled out of 70€ for half what i wanted in exchange but at this point i didn't care. i was already sweating through my jeans. and then in typical unrelenting african fashion i then had to then argue with they guys who want to carry my bags and then the taxi driver over the price which was actually on a sign on his car. "but lady, we need to pay for parking." sigh. i thought we had finally agreed on a slightly less gouging price but he pulled the very clever give the change in a crumpled wet lump of small bills that i had no desire to count before he sped away.
sigh. so there i was in front of the house i am meant to stay in and it is...obviously, locked, no one home. so now begins the typical african logistical clusterfuck. white girl on the dusty sidewalk with luggage looking lost attracting 3 more marriage proposals and questions about my preumsed belorussian heritage. i finally waited for some girls to walk by to use their phone (african lesson #4: don't ever give an african man any way to contact you, or anyone you know) as mine wasn't dialing. i rang a colleage, didn't answer...20 minutes later, as i was sweating even more profusely and thinking about finding a hotel, the girl comes running back to bring me a return call. how nice. important communication! the night guard at one office has the key, and he should have given it to the day guard who should have given it to the driver. as i sleuth my way through this long phone chain i find out that the driver is still at the carwash and never got the key, the day guard doesn't have it and never heard of this plan, and the night guard, the tall one not the short one, called in sick, and said his replacement was coming, but we didn't know to which office he was out of phone credit so you have to call and call and call until he answers. do you see what i have to deal with here? in the meantime i am attracting an increasing number of curious onlookers who offer their advice "have you tried going to the bar where the guard hangs out? I can send my son little thierry there to see [for a price]" "oh, i can offer you my phone, it has credit [for 3 times the price]" or "how about calling the german guy who was staying here last week" something i actually did [very exensive].
night falls, i take refuge at a bar. i get a little tipsy on a very large beer, eat some tasty tasty garlic gambas and fries, over which i smother with mayonnaise via a faulty squirt container and then head out towards the office. the day guard greets me with a plastic chair to sit with him in the courtyard. the night guard didn't show. "sit down my friend and we will figure this out." which really means him playing around with his ring tones and asking me what Euros look like. i bought some more beer, got hit on by a guy at the construction site across the street, and well, 2 hours later i was about to give up when a man came in to the office courtyard to pee and i asked if he knew anything about a key, and then he made some calls which all started with "there is a white lady here who wants the keys" and someone found the night guard at the disco club across the street and hurrah! i'm home sweet home!

Friday, August 17, 2012

i have a chandelier

i have a turn of the (last) century chandelier in my home. it's the best!
mother lugged it over from france and i've been looking for a place in berlin that would fix it up. 
i recall biking by this place in kreuzberg, across from the u-bahn tracks. it is just unbelievable. haven't seen so many chandeliers since Versailles.
we've got crystal
they all had price tags on them, like, 5,000€ and stuff. the young friendly turkish guy hung mine in the doorway. the crystals rattled everytime the U5 came along. he estimated the age and then pointed to a very similar one, Frankreich, ja?

he said he would replace the missing crystals, clean it, put a new wire inside and give me a chain and a cup for the ceiling so it would look nice. it felt so fancy. less so when he said he would do it for 50€.

when i came back to pick it up he nodded his head "bicycle, no way. you need a car." so i went to find my new obsession, a drivenow car share and pulled up with a mini cooper. "mini cooper! much better!" he buckled her in the front seat and i was on my way. didn't even get a receipt. who cares, because now, i have a beautiful, entirely functional, turn of the century french chandelier in my hallway. right above the litterbox :) 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


there's a new marlboro ad campaign here around the word: maybe, like, don't be a maybe. though the ad i saw in the movie seemed ripped from a just do it nike ad but anyway, oddly enough, on the same s-bahn station platform you see this beauty:

an 8€ pregnancy test called "maybe baby" being sold from a vending machine that also had red bull, haribo gummies, rittersport and XL bi-fi rolls.

when i buy a pregnangy test, the last thing i want it to tell me is "maybe, baby." i'd want a clear yes or no?

or, maybe you shouldn't be buying your pregnancy test from a vending machine on a subway platform in the first place.

or maybe you just want another bi-fi roll.