Tuesday, March 23, 2010

English Terminology

Having lived outside of the US for a long time now, I often forget very pointed, specific expressions or terms that would sometimes come in handy in conversations. The fact that I speak mostly French here every day means that when I do have the occasion to speak to a native English speaker I find myself explaining a situation using a long-winded description rather than the more appropriate and exact word or expression.

One example of this occurred a few months back when speaking to some visiting US Navy officials. I was explaining that "we non-African women living here often get pulled over by the police who are waiting for us on the side of the road and hold us there in our over-heated cars for as long as it takes in the sun at noon with our kids crying in the back seat  until we pay them off and they let us go." One of the Americans looked at me with amazement in his eyes and said, "No Way!! They do shakedowns on the moms here in town?!" Until that moment I had really only related that specific term to episodes of the Sopranos and Al Pacino movies, but heck yes, we live in a town where soccer-mom shakedowns take place pretty regularly, and I kind of enjoy using the term whenever the subject comes up now!

So, in an effort to make full use this very pertinent English-language term, I'll post here two pictures I managed to take one day of my friend Pauline experiencing a real-life shakedown of her own with her two boys in the back seat.

If you look hard enough in the driver's side of the car, you can see here the stressed-out mom leaning over toward the open door trying to make sense of the oncoming shakedown.

And here's a close-up of the shakedown in progress. This was the best I could do, though, as the cop was not amused at my photo taking, which seems to be pretty standard practice during shakedowns.

 Aaaahhhhhh....it feels good to put the English language to good use!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hot Heat

Living through unbearably cold winters as a kid in Vermont and New Hampshire made me long desperately for heat. "Hot Heat" as my dad called it. Not just regular old heat. I longed for heat you couldn't find in a New England house at night in -30 degree temperatures. I didn't want to be warm while wearing a turtleneck and a sweater indoors, I wanted to be warm in a tee-shirt and shorts. My dad and I would have silent battles back and forth with the thermostat being "mysteriously" cranked up or down depending on who was closest to it while the other one wasn't looking. No matter what I did though my toes were always cold --even with my socks on in bed-- and I swore that when I grew up I'd leave that subzero climate far, far behind. While I'm not sure that at age nine I would have been able to pick Africa out on a map, I am quite certain it was not the destination I had in mind for my future.

Thirty years later, as I drive through town at noon picking my kids up in 99% humidity and 100 degree temps in a car with broken air conditioning, sweat dripping everywhere and my mood as cranky as equatorial Hot Heat can make a human being, I try to perk myself up by thinking of those years of cold toes in bed, frozen nose-hairs on my walk to the school bus in the morning, and warmed-up Pop Tarts tucked into my mittens serving as combination breakfast/hand warmers. While the heat here in Gabon gets even a bit too hot for me some days, it would actually seem that as far as childhood wishes go I pretty much won the lottery. And I don't need to fight anyone over the thermostat anymore either.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Noah's First Word

And it's all been about food ever since! This kid is an eater!!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Noah's First Steps!

Wow! After what seems like a lifetime, I think I have managed to upload this short film of Noah's first steps! Here he is at 14 months (so end of October 2008) "walking" from Cecilia to me across the living room...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


My father keeps asking me if the kids and I fell into a hole during our walk in June, preventing me from blogging ever since. The imagery works pretty well for me though, in that we left for a long summer vacation requiring eight flights in total, followed by some serious ineptitude on my part involving a new digital camera and a switch from PC to Mac. Needless to say, the learning curve has been impressive, and I'm still not out of the hole.

Meanwhile, as each day passes there are new and exciting African experiences occurring to us that I'm not writing about. Today, however, I had an experience that made me decide to get back to blogging. While it wasn't particularly noteworthy for anyone actually living here in Port-Gentil, it left a very African image in my head that I thought I ought to try to describe for friends and family who have yet to come visit us down here.

As I was driving through town this morning I swerved to avoid hitting a jaywalking woman balancing an enormous tray on her head piled mile-high with peanuts. And I don't mean little bags of peanuts or anything, I mean thousands of individual peanuts stacked carefully one on top of the other reaching an unbelievably delicate peak balancing up there all on its own. While I've never actually counted that many peanuts before, I would venture to guess there must have been a good 3,000 of them on her head. Not that I had time to count. As my car turned sharply and this woman's near-death flashed before me, I was left with a lasting image of thousands of peanuts strewn from one side of the busy street to the other. Good thing that part was only my imagination.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

School Walk

Before moving to Gabon it never seemed to me that going for a walk was much of a big event. You grab your keys, everyone gets their shoes on and you start walking. Here in Port-Gentil, however, a "stroll"-- however short it may be-- is always a pretty big event.

First you've got to consider the heat. For 10 months out of the year the relentless sun and heavy humidity prevent you from spontaneously going outdoors for exercise.

Secondly, it's important to keep in mind that for those same 10 months giant mutant mosquitoes try to eat you alive whenever you find yourself outdoors, even going after the space between your fingers!

And thirdly, there's the issue of infrastructure, or lack thereof, in Port-Gentil. Roads are riddled with potholes the size of small airplanes, causing cars to veer aaaallllllllllllll over the road in an effort to avoid falling in. Now whether it's the constant heat or the overall mentality in town, or just general confusion, I dare say I've noticed that many a Port-Gentil driver is only able to focus on one issue on the road at a time. This of course means that if you happen to be walking along the side of a road with many potholes (sidewalks being a rare luxury in town) you are pretty much taking your life into your own hands. Or putting it in the hands of some random driver, which I can guarantee you is a very scary thought.

This year though is the first time the kids and I have stayed in Port-Gentil for the winter months of June and July. Suddenly temperatures have "plummeted" to somewhere in the high 70s/low 80s F (25-27 C), and with mosquitoes less apt to survive "the cold", taking a walk has suddenly become a possibility and a fabulous change of pace!

So on the last day of school for the kids last week I decided to pack Noah up in the stroller (which is a rare thing to take out on the streets here) and go get Cecilia, Jourdain and their buddy Yann from school BY FOOT!! Here's a shot of Jourdain at school at the end of his last day as a first grader!
I discovered it's about a 30 min walk from our house to the school, which is nothing to brag about in many countries, but in Port-Gentil if you set out on a walk across town with three kids and a baby and manage to make it home with nothing but a knee scrape or two, you've managed a pretty big accomplishment as far as I'm concerned!

On the walk the kids took turns pushing the baby in his stroller,
which seems pretty routine, until you actually start walking and noticing things like the hole in front of Cecilia in this picture. Throughout our walk I ended up shouting a lot of things like, "LOOK OUT FOR THAT BIG HOLE COMING UP!"
Here's a close-up of Cecilia's close call above.

At one point Jourdain pointed out this haunted house. He's been watching a lot of Scooby Doo reruns lately and I have to say I think he's got the idea just right.
Then it was Jourdain's turn to push the baby. And Cecilia was right there to point out yet another possible disaster.
Jourdain made us all laugh as he got stuck on a pole in the middle of the sidewalk. What is it doing there anyway?
As we walked home I figured out the best route for us, which pretty much follows a straight line, and there's even a good part on very quiet streets with a bit of a sidewalk area. Our trip involved only one major fall involving tears and a bit of a bruise, but by the end we figured out what we need to be looking out for in terms of danger zones and large, gaping holes along the way. In the end the five of us made it home just fine, and the kids and I all agreed that we just may start doing this a bit more regularly once school starts back up in the warmer months.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I Pledge Allegiance

Last week Jourdain's school organized a fair that involved his being on stage dancing around with the flag of his choice on his back. I arrived at the show to discover he had chosen, drawn and colored in the flag of --- Panama. When I asked him curiously what made him pick that particular country, he said "Look at it Mama! Can't you see Panama is America! It's the American flag!!" Oh boy.

At home a few days later I decided to print out a copy of the American flag for Jourdain and Cecilia so they may one day recognize where part of them comes from. Cecilia was so excited when I handed it to her that she ran off shouting, "YAY!! JOURDAIN, LOOK! A GABONESE FLAG!!"Looks like I've got my work cut out for me.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sunday Doldrums in Port-Gentil

It is at this point that I should officially announce that our kids are (and please read this with a long, whiny, nasal tone) "sooooooooooooooo sick of going to the beach on the weekends". I have no words for how shocked I am every time I hear this. For someone whose entire childhood summer vacation highlight was jumping around in a freezing cold lake on a hot day in August, I just cannot imagine how anyone in their right mind could find it dull to spend a weekend on a deserted island in the tropics.

Ok, let's see. We bring a few dogs,
and our new puppy.

We bring our friends,and our parents' friends,
who we get to cover in sand as they try to rest.

We kayak,
and snorkel,
and enjoy the sun and sand with our parents and baby brother.
But couldn't we just do something else for once on the weekend? Hmm... I'm thinking of making them start mowing the lawn for a change.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cloth Shopping

In Port-Gentil there are very few places to buy ready-made clothes. Not one single clothing chain is in town (or in the whole country, for that matter), and most shops selling women's attire seem to sell a few pieces here and there of last summer's leftovers from Europe. If you happen to spot a nice skirt hanging randomly on a rack, you'd better hope it's your size, and if not, well, there'll be another shipment of odds and ends coming into town in another month or two. Needless to say, our family tends to shop for clothes once a year when back in France.

There are, however, loads of seamstresses in town and a seemingly endless number of Senegalese men selling gorgeous African cloth all over the place. Put the two together and you can get yourself pretty snazzed up, African style. Here's Dialo who I tend to buy fabric from pretty regularly. In his hand is some material I chose the other day for a few little African dresses I'm having made for Cecilia. I'll post her in her new outfits once they're ready.When you enter any of these fabric shops (or rather tin-roof shacks) you walk right into a wall of individual swaths of material, each marked with a family name and specific event to be attended. Some say "Baptism", others "Funeral", but clearly this is where you go to buy the material for the outfit you need to wear on a very specific occasion. See here:

Here's a closer look. The material in the middle with green and blue hearts is what you'd need to be wearing if you were invited to the Moussavou family wedding, for example.In Port-Gentil (is this the same throughout all of Africa?) everyone attending a family event is dressed in exactly the same material, but in whichever style of dress their seamstress made up for them. I'll try to get a shot of a crowd dressed like this one day. Meanwhile, a few "artistic" shots of some fabrics around town:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


One of the great things about living in the tropics when you're five years old is that 12 months out of the year you and your best friend can sneak off outdoors during a rain storm, get naked and play in the mud for as long as you want - or at least until your mom finds you.