Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taxis - The Gabon Edition

It’s that time again - time to describe how taxis work in our newest home.  If you hadn't noticed yet, I’m pretty sure I’ve posted about taxis in each of the countries we’ve lived in so far.  The reason - they are different everywhere!  Different colours & styles, different routes of operation and different ways to hail them, various ways to pay, when to pay, how to pay…I always make a point of asking a local how to hail and take a taxi before doing it (if possible) because if you assume you know how things are done and just do it whatever way you’re accustomed to, you could be very wrong.  
Here in Gabon as far as I can tell, there are taxi cars and taxi buses.  I’ll describe the cars since they are what I have experience with.  Stopping one works the way you probably expect - stick out your hand/arm, but here’s where things get a bit different than our previous homes.  When the taxi stops (or slows down and rolls slowly by) this is your time to negotiate price.  Apparently there’s no set taxi fare here in Libreville, so when the taxi stops you tell him what you want to pay and where you want to go.  

Example:  Taxi stops.  You say, “Trois cent, Mbolo” (price: 300 francs, destination: “Mbolo” - the big supermarket across from the French Institute where we have classes)

VERY IMPORTANT:  it’s price first, then destination.  I made the mistake of saying the destination first thinking that if a driver knew where I wanted to go and was going that direction, then I could tell him my price.  But this just resulted in 5 taxis driving away before I had the chance to tell my price, and me getting very very wet in the rain before finally just deciding to walk home, since I was already drenched.  Price first!  

If the driver agrees to your price, he will, in my experience, do one of the following things:
  1. beep the horn
  2. say ok or give some other verbal or non-verbal signal to you
  3. not say or do anything really, but also not drive away
if one of these things happens, you know that the driver has accepted your price and will take you where you want to go for that price.  
If the driver does not agree to your price, he’ll just drive away, unless you quickly up your price and offer more, in which case he may reconsider.  

If you successfully snag a cab, enjoy your ride to your destination and pay upon arrival.  You should get out the door on the curb-side only and if you are on the wrong side of the car and other passengers are in the backseat with you, they will get out to let you out the curb-side.  What I learned today is that if the taxi driver gets pulled over by the police while you are en route, it won’t take too long.  Though this particular driver after a few minutes with the policeman did come back to the taxi, grab some cash, disappear back to the cop, and return with license in hand and we were off.  So this may have expedited things a bit…..or maybe I just lived in Angola and Russia too long....

Friday, October 03, 2014

First impressions

        * It’s HUMID.  We’re thankful to have arrived at the end of the “cool”, “dry” season, though really, there's not going to be much change here on the Equator!  The quote of the first weekend we were here, in my opinion, was our first saturday while we sat by the side of the road along the coast, drinking coconut water…out of the blue and in all seriousness someone exclaimed, “It’s quite chilly today”.  I’m pretty sure both Sam and I laughed out loud.  

  • Gabon is quite expensive, like Angola.  So nothing new there.  We dropped $210 on a mediocre high chair for Isabella - the kind one could find at Walmart for less than $40.  

  • My high school French is coming back to me.  I must note for my Warwick High School French classmates that I found it extremely amusing when, on our first night in Gabon, we were invited for dinner with the managers of the guesthouse where we are staying and I drank “un Orangina”.  Yes, really.  

  • The bread.  We’ve moved from the land of Portuguese rolls to the land of French baguettes.  It is quite nice to have fresh baked baguettes every morning with just a few steps out the gate and across the street.  

  • We’ve already met several people from Bongolo Hospital, as they’ve passed through on their way to various places.  One of the 4th year residents and his family are staying here for a holiday in Libreville, so it’s been nice to spend a little time with some people we’ll be getting to know a lot better in the next year.  They have a little girl who is just about 2 weeks older than Isabella, so she already has a friend.  It’s really cute to see them together for all their similarity at this stage, and also their differences in personality.  

  • We’ve taken several walks already to explore our new neighbourhood.  We discovered that the Angolan Embassy is actually quite near where we’re staying.  And as we wandered further, we ended up at the coast, which is also not very far at all.    

  • Our new friends here at the guesthouse have taken us around a bit - introducing us to Mbolo - the big supermarket nearby.  It’s bigger and more diverse than Shoprite in Lubango.  It reminds me a lot of OKEY in Saint Petersburg.  One just has to be careful when choosing products.  Some things are reasonably priced, while others are CRAZY.  For example I was in an isle of kitchen items looking at salad spinners.  Since we’re new here and haven’t quite gotten the exchange rate pricing in our heads yet, I was using my calculator to get an idea of what things cost.  Something as inconsequential as salad spinners ranged anywhere from 12,000 to 38,000 CFA anywhere from $24 to $78! 

  • TIA as far as things beginning “on time”.  We’ve been here two weeks now and French lessons still haven't begun.  We were supposed to received an email confirmation about starting today, which we never got, so we decided to go there anyway.  There were 4 other students who had also come, having not received confirmation, thinking that class might begin today.  But as it turns out, we were supposed to come today, but it was just for us to meet and decide what the real schedule for class would be and when we would begin.  All things point to us actually having a class on Monday at 11:30.  Alors!  Nous allons voir!  Entao!  Vamos ver!  Well, we’ll see….

  • Libreville is a lot smaller than I imagined.  I thought, as the capitol city, size-wise it would be something like Luanda or Saint Peterburg, but as it turns out it’s probably similar in size to Lubango.  It’s really not that difficult to find your way around.  We’ve taken a few walks around and have already figured out our area pretty well.  I asked about the city population and was told it’s around 600,000.  And yes, the majority of the country’s people do live in this city.  Gabon is apparently pretty tiny. 
  • Sometimes Sam and I have a conversation about something and afterwards I realise what a different world I live in compared to 10 years ago when I still lived in the US.   For example, how many of you stateside have agreed with your spouse that neither of you knows what lizard poop looks like so neither of you is certain whether it is in fact the mouse or the lizard in your house that is pooping on your dishes in the drying rack?  

more later….