Lost in Translation

I am sure I could have come up with something more clever for the title, something not already starring Bill Murray in a foreign country, but this is where I landed. So far, most of my experiences revolve around the use of very poorly spoken French, so it only seemed fitting....hopefully, I can paint the pictures more accurately in English. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Medical Maladies

Cold and flu season is upon us. Only in equatorial Africa, it also would appear to be unknown stomach ailment, raging high fever with no explanation and malaria season. Judging from what I hear, these particular ailments only occur in the winter, spring, summer and fall, so that’s good.

So far we’ve been pretty lucky, but a few of Chris’s teammates have not been so fortunate. We were warned about the introductory stomach bug that is Gabon’s equivalent of the Hawaiian lei. Some insist that it, too, is handed out at the airport as soon as you arrive. Since we’ve been here, the week usually begins with one or two people out with something – from upset stomach to full-on food poisoning. You never really know, but it’s safe to assume it was something you ate.

The food here is phenomenal, but I don’t know that “Health Inspector” is on the “Top 10 Most Promising Careers in Gabon.” I often imagine restaurant kitchens to resemble a scene from Pixar’s Ratatouille. For those of you not familiar with this particular film, it features a cooking rat. Not a rat that is being cooked, but a rat that can cook. Although, I suppose either scenario would hold its own relevance in this case. All I know is that the food is delicious. And if an occasional weekend of violent stomach pain is the price I have to pay for not cooking, then so be it.

Next, there’s the mysterious fever. Saturday night, one of Chris’s colleagues was taken to the hospital with an insanely high fever. Three days and several blood tests later, they ruled out malaria, but I’m not sure anything else has been diagnosed. Fortunately, he came home today, but I think he’s pretty wiped out.

And last but not least, malaria. Another team member was diagnosed on Monday morning after starting with fevers on Sunday. She has a milder case, but still…malaria.

It’s easy enough to think of a stomach bug as a great way to lose 5 pounds; or to imagine that three days in the hospital with a fever is just another name for “vacation from the kids”; or even that “having had malaria” will make you an exciting and exotic guest at future dinner parties; but like a $300 pair of shoes, everything sounds glamorous until you actually get it.

The fact is, it’s kind of scary to get sick in a place where you’re not familiar with the local viruses, infections or doctors. Fortunately, aside from Emma feeling a little queasy one day, Nora has been the only one source of medical drama, but even that’s been minor.

Her first problem started with a fever that I had no way of measuring because my thermometer is currently somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. After she woke up feeling like a toaster oven and missed school 2 days in a row, I decided to go the pharmacy. Unlike a CVS or Rite-Aid, the pharmacies here are more like pharmaceutical dispensaries with everything behind the counter. No prescription needed. Just go in, explain your malady, the pharmacist will find the appropriate treatment and off you go. Should you also be in the market for cosmetics, face creams, baby lotions, sunscreen or a wide variety of prophylactics, not to worry, they’re all there…just behind the glass case.

So after picking the older girls up from school, we stopped off at the pharmacy just down the street. It was pretty crowded, so in order to make our presence known, we went with one of my favorite strategies – I call it the “make a scene then smile like a mental patient” technique.

Step 1: Dump an entire bottle of water on the floor, then attempt to mop it up with a non-absorbent nylon shopping bag.
Step 2: Stand quietly in the resulting puddle with a hopeful look on your face while holding a dripping shopping bag.

When it was finally my turn, I realized that while “bonjour” (hello), “ça va” (what’s up) and “je voudrais le poulet” (I would like the chicken) serve me just fine on a daily basis, describing a child’s illness was way out of my range. I started by gesturing to Nora, then proceeded to inform the pharmacists that, “Elle est mal.”, which roughly translates to “She is bad.” I then followed up with the clincher, “Elle est chaud” (She is hot). Judging from the look on the pharmacists face, I might as well have announced “We are sweaty Americans” because as I turned to look at Nora, I realized that we were all flushed red with sweat dripping down our face and hair clinging to our foreheads. She must have thought we were trying to order a Coke.

It was clear that I was going to get nowhere with my French, so I came up with Plan B and got serious. I sent the girls to sit on a bench, all but Nora as she was an important prop in my act. I then did a riveting mime interpretation of what I like to call “Fever, Runny Nose, Cough but No Vomit.”

Apparently it was outstanding as it resulted in a new thermometer that only reads Celsius and the equivalent of Children’s Tylenol. I felt like a huge success – my motherly instincts had kicked in and the need to take care of my young had triumphed mightily over a language barrier. I could practically hear Obiwan Kanobe whispering, “Yes, the force is strong with this one.” It was glorious, right up until I paid with 30,000 CFA (~ $60 US) instead of the 2,500 ($5 US) that she had asked for because I haven’t the faintest idea how to understand numbers in French and I am utterly confused by the money. She returned my money and I humbly left.

Our second trip went much better. Nora developed a ridiculous looking heat rash under her arm so I marched in, went for the obvious, announced that “Elle est tres blanc! Ha Ha Ha” (“She is very white!”) and went away with a lovely ointment that cleared it right up.

I might just become a Jedi yet…if the malaria doesn’t get me first.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Driving Miss Daisy

I’ve been hiding in my room for the last hour. Why, you ask? For the most obvious reason, of course. I just made a spectacle of myself in the lobby.

The lobby is very large – across from the main reception counters sit a collection of plush chairs, couches and chaise lounges, available for hotel guests and visitors to meet or wait for appointments. More often than not, these seats are occupied by groups of rather bored looking men, staring at their cell phones or like Chris at a dinner party gone past 8pm, asleep sitting up. Such was the case this morning.

I returned from dropping the girls off at school, feeling a bit springy from the walk. As I entered the lobby, I looked over at the collection of men on the far side and proudly shouted, “Bonjour, Declan!!” while waving happily. It only took a second of blank stares to realize my mistake. It was not, in fact, Declan who I was waving to.

The good news is that my response was spot on. I squinted, laughed loudly and for the benefit of everyone now looking me, pointed out that it was not Declan at all. “Ah! HAHAHA, non Declan!” I announced, then sprinted to the elevators as if it were all part of my morning exercise.

The bad news is that, somewhere in the city, there is a very confused man who thinks he is being stalked by a very enthusiastic American.

I suppose I should explain who Declan is. Declan is my driver. Well, not mine exclusively, but he is, essentially, available to take me wherever I need to go. He was introduced to me on the second day we got here and I was told that all I had to do was call him and he would be there.

To me, one of the greatest things about our current location is that I can walk. I can walk to the market. I can walk to restaurants. I can walk the girls to and from school. But Declan will have none of it.

One afternoon soon after we arrived, I walked the girls over to the Glass Center, our local market. As we walked back up the drive to the hotel, Declan stood on the corner. When he spotted us, he looked shocked, and yes, perhaps just a little hurt. “What are you doing?” he said. “Why don’t you call me? I am prepared for you! Where did you go? I will take you!” All in all, he was quite distraught. I felt horrible. I told him we had only gone to the market (disapproving stare) and that it was ok, we liked to walk.
At this point I had to question his viewpoint on the overall health of Americans. I don’t know if he is under the impression that we are weaker than most, because his response was, “You do not walk. It is not good for your legs. I will drive you.” Needless to say, this came as a surprise to me as I was under the impression that walking WAS good for my legs. And considering that the Glass Center is approximately 2 blocks away I figured that even in my apparent weakened state, it was not so bad.

At the same time, I must realize that this is his job and he takes it seriously. We could all learn a bit from Declan.

Declan is from Nigeria. He came here about 10 years ago with his wife because life was hard in Nigeria, he said. It was a struggle to find work. So, he came here speaking Ebu and English, but learned French on the street finding any work he could. He worked in markets doing anything – including something involving a wheelbarrow. I didn’t catch that portion of story as he tends to go back and forth between heavily accented English and French. But I did understand that he has an 11 year old daughter and a 9 year old son and that his wife is a pastor. I also know that he is a Christian and that his enthusiasm for his faith is both contagious and inspiring.

One day, he asked me if I was a Christian or Muslim and when I responded that I was a Christian, he thanked me with such excitement that it took me a minute to realize what he was thanking me for. It was as if I had done something incredibly remarkable, like win an Oscar. “Yes, I would just like to thank my parents, my third grade Sunday School teacher, my religious studies T.A., and most of all, my devoted husband and children who never gave up on me…” Needless to say, I was very pleased with myself, especially when he told me that I was his sister.

Here, in Gabon, he has worked hard. And now he appears every morning at the front of the hotel, impeccably dressed, ready for his role as primary driver for the “Bechtel Wives” as we spouses are called. But it's a steady job with a new, white 15-passenger van. And even if the van is full of privileged corporate wives, I suppose it is a good job. He refers to the wives by their husbands’ names: Madame Eric, Madame Frederic, Madame Christopher. I counteract this cultural mannerism by using my first name as frequently as possible in conversation. This means that I can often be found babbling on in the third person, while Declan just nods and smiles, chuckling to himself.

If he is, as I suspect, thinking, “Crazy American”, he does not show it. He is painfully polite and altogether lovely, and has finally progressed to calling me "Madame Ann." I don't dare correct him.

We're pals, me and Declan. We even have our own little ritual whenever we return to the hotel from a trip around town:

Me: Thank you, Declan!
Declan: Ok, ok, thank you, Madame! Ha ha ha…
Me: Oh! Yes! Thank you…ha ha ha
Declan: Oh! Ho ho ho. Thank you very much!
Me: Yes! Thank you very much!

And so it goes as I begin slowly backing away from the van, smiling and waving. “Ah! Ha ha ha..” It’s a complicated dance, but it seems to work for us.

The bottom line is that without Declan, I would be stuck. No car, no directions, no mobility. And I suppose, without this job, he would be stuck in a different way. It doesn’t seem fair or right, but then again, there is a richness to everything. After all, it is not the job that brings dignity to a man, but the man who brings dignity to the job.

I am supposed to go look at some apartments later today, and so I will call Declan to meet me out front and off we will go – Declan behind the wheel with African music playing on the radio and me with my face pressed up against the window of a nearly empty 15-passenger van.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Nora is intent on catching a lizard. Her current hunting strategy is to see the lizard, yell at the lizard, then chase the lizard at a half crouch with her hands open. I am guessing that she intends to frighten it into a state of paralysis.

I am not sure what she plans to do with her lizard once she catches it. Walk it on a leash once it comes out of its coma? I don’t suppose it matters much as I have a feeling this hunt will be going on a while. But in the meantime, I am enjoying the fascination.

As a side note, she has just assigned family status to the group of four lizards next to us on the pool patio. I am proud to report that the mother lizard has been named Anna.

My exposure to the local animal kingdom has been limited so far – well, fairly limited. Gabon promises an incredible variety of sights, not the least of which is the wildlife. This includes monkeys, gorillas, birds, elephants, hippos, deer and much more. But of course, I’ll have to wait until we make a bit farther out of the city to see most of these for myself.

So for now, I must content myself with what the city offers. Specifically: lizards, a hundred kinds of songbird (including pretty little yellow-winged birds that make clusters of nests in the trees), an alleged rat in the Chinese restaurant bathroom, an array of stray dogs, mosquitoes, flies, the winged monkeys from Wizard of Oz (the locals refer to them as “fruit bats”), snakes and …cockroaches.

I am not an overly squeamish person. I don’t catch spiders for fun, but I believe “live and let live” is a fair approach. Except for cockroaches. Cockroaches exist as the oldest and most tangible form of punishment for original sin. Their complete annihilation should be the topic of a UN Council. They are the living incarnation of evil. The snakes in Eden.

Of course I should not be surprised. Where tropical climates, palm trees and/or New York City apartment building are, cockroaches will follow. It is Murphy’s Law enacted. However, until recently, I had only suspected their existence in my little paradise. Last night it was confirmed. While at dinner on an outdoor patio, one of Chris’s colleagues gave a bit of yell and slapped at his arm, claiming that a cockroach had just been on him…at the dinner table….near my FOOD.

I didn’t actually see it myself, but it’s like the LochNess Monster or Newt Gingrich, you don’t need to see them for yourself to live in fear. The thought alone was enough to make me spend the remainder of the meal with my knees tucked under my chin, trying to negotiate a fork while swatting madly at the air.

And of course, once the subject was broached, everyone had a story. One guy had four of the Insects-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in his room the night he checked in. Things just just go downhill from here. As per the natural progression of things, these types of stories must lead to poisonous snake stories.

About a month before Christmas, a green mamba was spotted in the trees around the villa that Bechtel uses as one of its offices. (I know, right?! I said the same thing, “Holy *$(%&*…these things live in the trees?!”) Well, apparently, it was disheartened at the thought of spending the holidays alone, so it came inside. INSIDE. THE. HOUSE. Some of the drivers had to be called in to kill it with shovels. I assume they used shovels only because a hand grenade was not readily available.

Again, this should come as no surprise. When we first began talking about the move here, I naturally googled “Gabon.” The first 17 million entries were about the Gabon Viper, which is apparently one of the most deadly snakes in the world. Of course it is. I am guessing they also lurk about in trees. I am also guessing that this is why you see men selling umbrella hats (actual umbrellas with an attachment to fit on your head) up and down the Bord de Mer.

Once I had a closer-than-comfortable encounter with a cockroach, that is, close contact with someone who has had ACTUAL contact with one, it was only a matter of time before I stated seeing them everywhere. Sure enough, I went into the bathroom by one of the outdoor verandas this morning and there, on the floor, bathed in halo of light was a giant cockroach. Fortunately, it was dead. (Or just playing dead until I turned my back and he could attack?)

This one might have been harmless. But there are more out there. Lurking in the dark. Hiding in the trees, laughing it up with the green mambas and Gabon vipers. And like with every Madonna song I’ve ever heard, now that it’s in my head, it will never leave. I’ll start sleeping with the lights on and seeing fangs on the palm fronds.

I know this is a part of my life and I should get used to it eventually. But in the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be the girl in full-body mosquito netting with an umbrella hat and shovel.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Night Life

It’s 6:30pm and we’re sitting by the pool. Well. I’m sitting by the pool – the girls are in it. This would be fantastic except for the fact that, by staying at one of the nicest hotels in Libreville, we share most of our common space with a large number of business men and women and other people in important looking clothes.

These same people like to come home in the evening -- from work or wherever they’ve been -- and sit out by the pool for a drink or light dinner. And without fail, they choose chairs and tables positioned precariously close the pool. This would be fine if the only people who got in the pool this time of day were the ones who quietly put on their goggles, swim 30 methodical laps, then get out. That would not be my children.

At the moment the girls look more like a co-production of National Geographic and MTV – “Sharks Gone Wild: South Beach.”

They are splashing about madly and shouting something about a dog. I hope this is just part of their game and that they are drowning an actual dog.

In the meantime, I glance up periodically to catch a glimpse of terror on the faces of our evening-time pool companions. Is it fear of getting their expensive clothes wet? Fear that my children might actually be causing each other bodily harm? Or, and this is my guess, confirmation of their greatest fear that Americans are, in fact, the loudest people on the planet…

It’s hard to say, but as dusk falls by the pool, my kids paint a striking contrast in many ways. During the day, this place bustles and hums with people and waves and car horns. The colors are bright and vibrant -- blues, greens, pinks, reds and oranges. My girls with their bright blondes and golds seem to fit in like flowers in a garden.

But as the darkness settles, it settles like a blanket. The dark is not inky blackness but soft velvet that envelopes everything. Colors are not erased, simply muted. The sounds of people laughing, crickets singing and waves crashing mellow with the evening breeze. All the edges are rubbed soft. It is peaceful and lovely.

And then the record scratches. The Strock girls look like glowing negatives in the dark. No soft conversation or gentle movement for my shining, screaming, splashing, tornado-like children…only a feeding frenzy of happiness.

I suppose I should feel bad about disrupting dinners and sloshing water on Mr. Fancy Suit as he sips his martini. But somehow, the expressions on the faces of these blonde whirling dervishes that I call my own make it just a little bit hard.

Ava just came over to report that she’s done and would like to go back to the room. The dog must have finally given up.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Strock Time

There’s a common thought among those in the more highly developed countries that other, less developed countries operate on a different clock. Hence phrases like, “Oh, he’s operating on Hatian-time. It will be awhile.” Now granted, this idea of a different clock is not without warrant. A friend of mine tells the story of how her father’s village in Mozambique told time by the passing through of an evening train. Train came through…it was 7pm. That’s all they really needed to know. Fair enough. But what's more important to recognize is that there's no space to judge others for their concept of time. Who says we all have to be synchronized on a single, universal clock?

Anyway, let’s assume that Gabon falls into a category somewhere in between tight schedules and loose translations of time. I don’t really know yet how things work here. I’m sure there’s a large variance between the city and rural areas. But there is one thing I am certain of: no one was prepared for Strock Time.

Which bring me to the first day of school.

As a continuation of my verbal photo tour, today we’ll take a peek at the girl’s new school...so here goes.

Unlike good ol’ GLE with the bus stop on the corner, we have to get the girls to and from school every day. We wanted to make sure we allowed plenty of time to get there, especially on the first day, so before breakfast, we looked up the website to make sure we had all of our time right, and sure enough, school started at 7:30. Nora only goes for a half-day of pre-k, so I needed to pick her up at 11:45am while the older girls would stay until 2:45. And so off we went…

Fortunately, it’s less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel, just down the main street. Our walk takes us through crazy traffic, crowded sidewalks, detours around cars parked on the sidewalks, past restaurants, banks, a furniture store, a pharmacy, a few piles of trash, some larger puddles and roadside vendors selling fruit, cigarettes, sodas and phone cards.

The school compound is camouflaged into the cityscape with high concrete walls painted with flags of 20 or so countries and a large solid black metal gate, similar to the villas that line the next several city blocks. Within the gate, there’s a smaller door that we knock on to be let in by Henri, the security guard.

The school itself is an old Marine building; 2 stories with a large grassy yard in the back looking directly out on to the ocean. A metal fence surrounds the compound on the sides and across the back, inside of which there are some playground pieces on one side and a small basketball court on the other. The classrooms are small, but well-equipped.

Currently, about 50 students attend classes between pre-K and 8th grade, while an adult program serves more than 70 students every afternoon. Because of the small class sizes, pre-k and kindergarten share space, 1st and 2nd are together, 3rd and 4th, 5th and 6th, and so on.

This combined class model means, that entirely without my consent, Emma is in middle school. Was not ready for that. I was even less ready for the large, adolescent boys who came thundering up the stairs when the bell rang. They were all over 6 feet with tattoos and mustaches. One of them was carrying a gun, I am certain, but I was more scared by the mustaches.

Now to their credit, when I saw these same boys the next day, the had shrunk, shaved and had their tattoos removed, all of which I appreciated. I am assuming they did it out of respect for me as a mother. But still, middle school. It just seems too soon.

Middle school aside, the girls had a wonderful day. I am supposed to provide lunch and snack, which, of course, I did not have with me. So I ran back to the hotel after dropping them off, threw some things together and got back to Nora snaking Pringles from a classmate. She wasted no time in making herself at home.

All of the teachers seem wonderful. Nora has Mr. Gerard, who, I believe, is Gabonese. Ava’s teacher, Miss Lisa, is an American Army brat who graduated from JMU in 2005 (same year as JoJo and Steve) and had a sister at VT. Emma has a Math/Science/Homeroom Teacher, Ms. Mahdi (has lived all over, originally from North Africa, I think), and a Lang. Arts/Social Studies teacher named Ms. Camille, also American. In addition to Math, English, Science and Social Studies, both girls also have French, Art, Technology and P.E.

And if you’re impressed that they get all of this done between the hours of 7:45am and 2:45pm…you should be. You should be even more impressed that they ACTUALLY get it all done by 1:45pm. I certainly was when on the first day of school I arrived at 2:45 to find that the girls were the only students on the premises and had been hanging out with the principal for an hour. A driver had just pulled up a car to bring them to the hotel, assuming I was not going to show up…ever.

Strock Time. What are you gonna do?

Overall, it’s an impressive start for the school year and I’m thinking it will only get better from here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Excuse me, monsieur, but is that your mouse?

Since I have not provided pictures yet despite a lot of requests, I will try to give you a snapshot or two in words.

Let me start by saying that everything is relative. As a colleague of Chris’s said upon returning from Franceville (to the East), “All it takes is a little hitchhiking in Franceville to realize that this is truly a 5-Star hotel.”

It’s only fitting that I begin with the pool, as that is where the girls want to spend every waking moment. The pool is fairly big with a connected kiddie pool that leads into the shallow end of the main pool. (The shallow end is right at Nora’s shoulders, so she had officially graduated from kiddie pool status and is now under the impression that she is 16.) It sits within a huge patio area, complete with a bar, an outdoor dining area and plenty of deck chairs and umbrellas – and the best part: the entire thing overlooks the ocean. Palm trees, waves, tropical breezes, this place has it all.

Likewise, there are pretty people everywhere. The Gabonese nationals are simply stunning – men and women alike. Then there are the French military men on holiday, the South African airline crew on layover and the super-skinny, chain-smoking French expat wives all lying in the sun.

I could go on...but unfortunately, that’s not where this story is headed.

As with everything, it all comes down to second glances. With a closer look, you’ll see that the tiles around the pool are a bit chipped. The umbrellas have some rust. The towels are slightly worn and the beach is full of debris, including tires and whatever else washes ashore.

The same rule applies to the people. Along with all of the pretty people, I’ve seen some interesting characters. There have been several obviously older business men with very young, very thin, very beautiful African women…it just leads me to wonder. And there are lots of speedos…that’s all that needs to be said about that. Likewise, I have yet to see a woman in a one-piece bathing suit and there are plenty who should consider it.

But who cares. I find it all to be breathtaking. Second glances aren’t so important. In fact, at times, they can be downright damaging. Let me explain…

The other day, I am lying by the pool and in my direct line of sight was a French couple on holiday. They seemed like a lovely couple as they sat sideways on their deck chairs playing backgammon. So I innocently look over, and there, staring me in the face are…balls. The guy is sitting in his short little bathing suit, legs all splayed out and the mouse had definitely escaped the house. Unfortunately, they're directly in front of me, so every time I open my eyes...more balls. It was like a trainwreck. And let me say, it was the longest game of backgammon ever played...ever…at any point in history.

However, the silver lining to this experience is that when the leathery old topless lady made an appearance later, I was actually relieved by the diversion.

And so there you have it…a snapshot, as it were, of the pool. I’ll try to get some actual photos up soon…and don’t worry, they’ll be censored for content.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pardon my Gabonese

Ever been at the grocery store and wondered why the line was moving so slowly, only to look ahead and see someone frantically attempting to communicate in a foreign language? Yeah? Well, that girl is me.

Contrary to my current display of exceptionally horrible linguistics, I actually took 2 years of French in college. My dad insisted the Spanish was the way to go, but the only 101 classes were at 8am. I went with French at noon. For once my laziness paid off. And despite the fact that Sarah Hall does a frighteningly accurate impression of me in French 101, circa 1994, I did walk away with some basic vocabulary and a phrase or two. Enough to get me by, right? Well, as it turns out, my mastery of the words “goat” and “horse” will not be as useful as I thought.

So far I have attempted to order “salmon cheese” (nope, doesn’t exist in Gabon, either), royally annoyed a grocery store clerk by staring at her blankly for a solid 5 minutes while she repeatedly told me to move my water off the belt and today, the crowning glory, I cheerfully wished someone, “Lunch!” instead of “Have a good day!”

In my defense, “have a good day” is “bonjourneé”, which sounds remarkably like “déjeuner”, which, yes, means “lunch.” I have to say, though, everyone has been very patient. Clearly, these have all been laugh with me, not at me situations…I think.

Overall, I am surprised by how much I DO understand when people talk to me… largely based on recognizing a max of 2 words per 60 spoken. But I can get the gist at least. For example, as I was walking back from dropping the girls at school today, I am fairly certain my “Bonjour!” to a man passing by was met by an equally cheerful, “Hello white girl.” Likewise, I more than understood 3 local school girls asked if they could touch Nora’s hair. The laughing and pointing helped, but I got what they were saying.

But how do I sound to them? Chris made the wonderful comparison to Borat once when we were in Haiti. For example:

I think I’m saying:
Hello, good sir. Could you please recommend a cheese that would go nicely with this delicious smoked salmon?

What the deli man hears is:
Yiz, heelo meester. I vould be licking dah chiz uf simmon fire, pliz. Horse? Lunch.

But I’m trying. And that does seem to go a long way. Of course, it would have been nice if the deli counter man had mentioned that he spoke English before I asked for salmon cheese. And perhaps the grocery store clerk could have done a bit more sign language. But the lunch guy was great. He corrected me and we had a nice laugh…even if I did sounds like Borat.

So I will keep studying and in the meantime, a very good lunch to you…

Bienvenue á Gabon!

Remember that time I was all like “OMG, guess what?! I’m moving to Gabon, Africa.” And you were all like, “What?! That’s crazy.” And I was all like, “Whatever! It will be easy.” Just wanted you to know you were right. It has been crazy.

But I have to admit, in spite of trying to sort 12 years of life into 3 piles (to store, to ship and to pack) in 2 days, moving out of our house of 5 years in 4 days, sending our dog of almost 13 years to a new home, driving 6 hours across the state, shopping for 97% of Christmas on Christmas Eve, visiting 3 sets of family, re-sorting everything post-Christmas, getting on a plane with 10 carry-ons, 10 suitcases and 3 pillow pets, spending 19 hours traveling across 3 continents, almost missing a plane in Cameroon and finally arriving in Libreville sans aforementioned 10 suitcases, I could not be happier.

The trip was easy enough…considering. The only real adventure was in Douala, Cameroon. We got off the plane and felt like we had burst into flames thanks to our Virginia travel clothes. We had less than an hour to find our connecting flight and had no idea where to get boarding passes, so we decided that grinning, sweating and stopping people who looked as though they might know, would be the best approach. Fortunately, our collective French sucks, which really is just an easy way to keep things exciting. Hence, when we “said” we needed the South African Airlines counter, a nice gentleman whisked us away, past the long lines at the actual SAA counter, up some secret stairs, down a long hallway and into a small office. At which point a very confused woman told us we needed to go to the actual SAA counter. By then we had made enough of a scene that, as we came running down the stairs looking like really bad and unusually sweaty sherpas, a wonderful woman met us with boarding passes, got us through security and escorted us approximately 27 miles on foot to the departure gate. We raced onto the plane, got seats…and sat for another 40 minutes. A bit anticlimactic, but at least it was the last leg.

One more quick flight and we got to Libreville around 11pm local time on Tuesday night where we were met by 2 people from Chris’ team – Nicole, a fabulous French girl, and Giles, the ex-British Army veteran and former security-guard to billionaires. Now we find out that we don’t have any of our luggage, it’s just us, the carry-ons and Winter, Waddles and Gary George, the pillow pets. Fortunately, Nicole did a lot of translating and she and Chris got things sorted out.

We got to the hotel after midnight, but it is lovely. Nicole and Giles told us we had a suite, but what they meant was 2-bedroom apartment. It’s huge. I don’t think a bed has ever looked so wonderful. Nobody, and I mean nobody, woke up before 11am the next day. Thank God for black out curtains.

So the adventure begins….