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!

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