A Trip to Mandji Clinic

13 04 2012

Commonly referred to as “Manky Clinic” in the expat community.

This is literally, my worst nightmare.  I am completely and utterly terrified by this clinic and I avoid going there at all costs.  I’m not one for doctors or clinics to begin with but you combine that with West Africa and it results in a legitimate phobia.

The Mandji Clinic is our company’s preferred clinic and International SOS lists it as the place to go in case of emergency.  There are 2 foreign doctors who have been in Gabon for decades in addition to African doctors .  It serves as a walk in clinic, laboratory, and hospital for expats and locals alike.  We’re advised to use this clinic for all minor ailments but if anything serious happens, we are medically evacuated to the closest hospital of international standard.  (For us, that is Johannesburg which is a little troublesome as it’s a 4.5 hour flight running 4 times a week from Libreville and you’ve heard me talk about how difficult it is to get out of Port Gentil.)

I’m sure there are far worse clinics in Gabon and Africa as this one is relatively clean but the standards are just so different from what we’re used to.  I’m sure if a Canadian inspector came to evaluate Mandji, it would fail before they even left the waiting room.

The waiting room and reception desk

The Mandji Clinic has a history of admitting expats and holding them hostage.  (Ok, perhaps I’m exaggerating a tad here but they do admit people, hook them up to IVs and advise they stay ‘just in case’ for seemingly mild-moderate maladies in which the patient would be much more comfortable at home.)  We’ve visited a few of Joe’s colleagues over the last couple of years and let me tell you, every time we walk out that door I say to Joe, “Whatever you do, never let them check me in to that place.  You get me on the first flight to South Africa!”

  Padded doors – I assume for those who try to escape.

Typical complaints are terribly unfriendly nursing staff, a high misdiagnosis rate, overmedication, and lack of compassion.  Personally, we haven’t had any really bad experiences yet but I do avoid going unless it’s absolutely necessary.  This week, with Spain just around the corner and some stomach issues, I decided to suck it up and go for the first time since last October.  Luckily, they didn’t try to admit me (yet) and hopefully the results will show nothing serious.



6 04 2012

Most people are often shocked and surprised at how expensive it is to live in Port Gentil.  I guess when one hears ‘Africa’ they assume it’s poor and it must be cheap.  Currently, Luanda, Angola (to the South of us on the West Coast)  is ranked the most expensive city  in the world.  In 2011, Libreville was ranked 19th, the second most expensive city to live in in Africa, ahead of Paris, France and Brisbane, Australia.  Many would also argue that Port Gentil is even more expensive than Libreville because it’s the petroleum capital of the country and we’re sort of an island which makes shipping more difficult.

We don’t do a lot of shopping here – in part because there is almost nothing to shop for – but we do have to buy food and that is typically where we notice the extreme expense.  This week I found asparagus in the grocery store and it was in good condition, ie, not soggy and rotten.  I decided to splurge and go for it as it had been months since we’ve had it.

And splurge I did – those 15 asparagus spears set me back $14.  At least they were good!  This week I also purchased a tiny head of iceberg lettuce (the size of my 2 fists) and when I cut in to it to wash it, it was completely rotten in the centre – $11 straight in to the garbage.

At some point down the road you learn to ignore the prices every once in awhile.  On the positive side, when we travel, it makes everything seem ridiculously cheap.

The Making of a Salad

13 03 2012

Making salads are so much work here and they’re super expensive.  That’s probably why I don’t do it very often.

Lettuce – 3990
2 tomatoes – 1767
Cucumber – 417

Total – 6174 cfa ($12)
**not including salad dressing or onion previously bought**

Soaking the veggies in a vinegar & bottled water bath.

Any produce you buy here that you plan on eating raw must be disinfected because there are all sorts of nasty bugs, parasites and bacteria that love to take over your stomach and make you violently ill for days on end.  (Sounds fun doesn’t it?)  So once you pay an arm and a leg for it and get it home you rinse all the dirt & sand off in the sink.  Then you fill a bowl full of vinegar and bottled water in which you must soak the produce in for 20 or so minutes.  Afterwards, you rinse the produce off with another bottle of water to get rid of any lingering yuckiness and the vinegar.  You dry it off and then can prepare the salad.  It takes forever and hardly ever seems worth it for a very basic salad with mediocre produce.

Said salad.

Occasionally I dream about a nice spinach salad with strawberries, red onion, craisins, seeds and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.  Actually, funny enough, salads are one of the first things we order when we leave Gabon – that and a good latte.  Oh, and a steak too!

A Fairly Normal Day in Africa

14 02 2012

Sometimes a day ends and as I reflect on it I wonder, “Where am I and when did this become normal?”

For example:

-I got up and went for my normal walk.  I returned to the house all sweaty and disgusting to find that our water tank was completely empty and the water was off.  So I hung out hoping it would return quickly; it didn’t.

-In the afternoon, the internet sporadically went off and on for hours and then it stayed off for the rest of the night.  (This has become so regular that it seems like the anomaly when we have it for a full day sans interruption.)

-A giant rainstorm approached around dinner time and with it’s hurricane like conditions, the TV went out.

-Luckily, our area of town didn’t lose power although others did.

-I got up the next morning and the water was back on so I could shower, do the dishes and flush the toilets and I was fairly excited about it.

-I tried to phone and text my friends and the cell network was down.

-The internet was also  still down.

-And then, miraculously it all came back and we’re living life normally again.  For how long, no one knows.

None of this surprises us anymore and while it will always be incredibly annoying it’s just become our ‘normal’ life.

A Tale of Heartbreaking Disappointment

8 02 2012

A few weeks back I was preparing to tell you some BIG news.  Something Joe & I had been working on for months and were so excited about.

You see, several months ago we’d been approached about a move that would take us out of Gabon and into our dream destination, Indonesia.  This new location would allow us to travel so much more easily and the job would be a promotion for Joe which he was so ready for.  We were invigorated at the thought of leaving Gabon and all of it’s troubles and continuing our adventure on another continent.  Anyone we spoke to loved their stay in Indonesia and raved that it was one of the best places to be an expat.  We were sold!

We had to battle for this move.  You see, this region didn’t want to let Joe go but we pushed and pushed as we knew this was the move for us.  This battle stretched over 3 painful months when, finally it was confirmed; we were being released and the move was approved.  Joe & I were elated but until everything was signed we didn’t want to say anything.

And then the phone call came…

The Indonesian government requires all expatriates to be 30 years old in order to obtain a work permit.  We’re 28.  Our company told us they’d apply for an exception and while it has been done before, they don’t make exceptions very often.  We prepared ourselves for the worst and patiently awaited the verdict.

The decision came today that we were rejected.

I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed we are.  We had begun dreaming of our life in Asia and we were so ready to take the next step.  Our hearts and minds began to leave Gabon as we prepared for our move.  Now, our patience has worn thin and the thought of staying in Gabon indefinitely is just so depressing.  (It’s not even that we hate it that much but we’d started to check out and feel relief at all of the issues we’d get to leave behind here.)

So now starts the process of working out our next steps.  What do we want to do?  Where do we want to go?  How much time are we willing to spend here?  What is our top priority, leaving Gabon or finding an ideal location?

I’m thinking we’ll discuss these over a bottle of red tonight…

Odd Early Morning Wake-up Calls

30 01 2012

Lately, Joe & I have been getting woken up at 5 am by the football team, the police and/or the army.

All 3 of these groups take morning group runs past my house several times a week.  The running itself is not that disruptive however each group, with up to 50 people, clap, sing & chant along to a whistle as they pass.  You should know that they run incredibly slow.  My normal walking pace is probably quicker than their ‘run.’  Actually, it’s more like running on the spot and occasionally taking a step forward.  Also in order to keep traffic at bay, whatever traffic there might be at 5 am, there is one whistler at the front of the group and one whistler at the back of the group blowing those whistles with fervor.  And let’s not forget the singing – I suppose it could be compared to a military chant although with an African twist.

All of this begins as early as 5 am and often times, one group passes and 10 minutes later comes another group, or the first group turned around and came back – I don’t get up to look.  I just wish they’d find a different route.  We’re one block from the road along the ocean… wouldn’t that be nicer?

I did capture it on video one day but WordPress is going to make me pay to upload it… sorry.


(PS. Our internet has been touch and go for a couple of weeks now.  Sorry if you’ve been left waiting for replies or skype chats!)

Airport Grievances

21 12 2011

Nothing like going on vacation to remind you what a nightmare travel in Gabon can be.  It doesn’t seem to matter when we travel, how prepared we are or how much we’ve paid for the tickets, we will have problems.

The Port Gentil airport has been working on a new runway in hopes that Air France will begin direct flights here instead of through Libreville.  This started months ago and they had hopes to be finished in January but of course, they are behind schedule.  Sunday night the government announced they were going to close the airport from 6 pm – 6 am commencing immediately.  Most international flights arrive in LBV 5:30 pm and after so this means everyone who is arriving must now find accommodation for the night.  Did I mention, this is going to continue for at least 2 months?  (Luckily, Joe’s company re-arranged everything for us while we were in the air so we didn’t have to do it when we arrived.)

Air travel in Africa is something very different from the orderly and routine travel we’re used to in North America.  It can be incredibly aggravating and I could probably write grievances from now until the new year arrives but I’ll pick the worst.

  • Regional travel in Gabon is a nightmare.  On average, I’d say 30% of flights are cancelled.  This is almost never done ahead of time.  Often, you are at the airport and checking in when someone comes to notify you that the flight is no longer going.  Sometimes, they don’t even refund your ticket.  There are weeks where things are pretty stable and then there are weeks where the majority of flights don’t go.  Of those that do fly, 95% are not on time.
  • We’re used to checking ourselves in to the flight and showing our passports to verify our identity.  Here, anyone can check you in.  Often, you have 1 man ahead of you in the line and he makes several trips unloading dozens of bags in front of you.  The 1 man in front is actually checking in 6 different people with multiple bags.  It’s ridiculous and it slows things down incredibly.  The attendants complain, we complain but no one ever puts a stop to it.
  • There aren’t many laws here that are enforced so many people just don’t understand how to follow the rules.  When traveling internationally either to Gabon or from Gabon, a lot of passengers completely disregard the carry-on baggage allowance.  People show up at the gate with 4 giant bags and get angry when they are told they have to check 3 of them.  It also means that you have to make a mad rush to board just to ensure you have room for your one allotted bag because often the overhead storage is full before 1/3 of the plane is boarded.
  • For some reason, someone decided that all large flights coming from South Africa, Germany and France should depart and arrive within 10 minutes of each other.  This is never compensated for in terms of immigration and customs.  Undoubtedly, there are hundreds of people lined up and only 2 immigration workers stamping passports.  Often times, one of those 2 immigration workers decide they need a coffee break just as you make your way to the front and no one replaces him/her leaving you to return to the back of a now, much longer line.
  • The regional airlines have conveniently made their baggage weight a few kilograms lower than all other airlines.  (A clever money making strategy for them, but annoying for us.)  We are almost always overweight on the inter-Gabon flights so after you’ve finally fought your way to the front of the check-in line, you are told that you now have to find the ticketing counter, pay your excess baggage costs and return to the line to present the receipt to get your boarding ticket.  Just when you couldn’t stand that line a second longer, you have to go back.

I’m not even mentioning that much of this occurs without air conditioning in 30 degree heat.

Flying from Canada, South Africa & Europe, even with their problems, is like a breath of fresh air after Gabon.

I know I’ve been a bit absent from the blog but that is because Joe & I were enjoying a fabulous vacation in Mauritius.  We’re now back in POG and as soon as I get the rest of the photos uploaded, I’ll post about the trip!