Splurges

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.

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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!





I’ve Expanded My Phrase Book

9 03 2012

I’ve acquired some new phrases that regularly pop up in daily life.

Sometimes I hear myself saying them and wonder how I got here.

What a difference 20 months can make.

1.  I’m outside your house but I can’t find your guard.  Can you let me in?

2.  How deep is the water on that road?  Like, will I make it through?

3.  I asked my guard if the bananas in the yard were ready to cut down but he said no.  I’ll give you some when he thinks they’re good to go.

4.  The mosquito men are coming and the maid leaves at 10:30 so I have to stay home.

5.  Shit – Joe, there’s a cockroach in here.

6.  It is so HOT today.  (This is everyday right now.)

7.  Edgar, (our relief guard) you are not on vacation here.  Wake up, put your shirt on, turn the music down and let me sit beside my pool in peace.


Ok… I didn’t say that last one but I think about it every, single Sunday.

Have a great weekend everyone!





The Vacuum

22 02 2012

Or “l’aspirateur” as the French call it.

(Photo Credit via)

The vacuum is a fairly common appliance in the North American household but not in the typical African household (along with clean running water and electricity so I suppose it makes sense.)  I pulled it out when training my menagère as sweeping can be so arduous not to mention all the little bits that get left between the cracks of our wooden floors.  She looked at it with horror and terror in her eyes.

I quickly pulled out the cord, put everything together, turned it on and did a brief demonstration before abruptly handing it over to her to give it a whirl.  She abruptly handed it back to me and asked me to show her again, this time a bit slower.  After another orientation with the vacuum, she decided she was ready to give it a try although she did ask me to stay close and watch her for a bit just to make sure everything went alright.  I hadn’t even thought how foreign this might be to her.

I watched her that first morning slowly and timidly pushing the vacuum around wondering if she’d ever feel comfortable using it or if it would go back in the cupboard never to be touched again.  Each week she pulled it out and after some practise, she was quick and confident.

Last week she went on maternity leave but beforehand she gave her replacement a tour of the house and a brief rundown as to how she organised her week.  When she got to the vacuum, she pointed at it, giggled a bit and told me I’d have to give another demonstration.  Round 2 went a bit better but I’m sure they both think we’re crazy for lugging around this big, noisy thing when there’s a broom just around the corner.

 





Tuesdays with Mahjong

16 01 2012

I’ve taken up a new hobby, as one tends to do when they have nothing else to do, and that is the game ‘Mahjong.’  It’s a Chinese game that could be compared to rummy except it’s played with tiles instead of cards.  I’ve heard that it’s fairly addictive and many of people have gambled away their savings and worldly possessions but don’t worry, we don’t even play for points let alone money.

The dealing is the most complicated part of the game.  Without going into great detail, everyone begins with 13 tiles except the dice roller, who has 14 and discards first to get the game going.

We move through, drawing and discarding in the hopes of putting our tiles into groups of 3.  You aim for 3 of a kind (called a pong) or a run (chow) and one pair.

My winning hand

We have a regular group that gets together Tuesday morning (we’ve started Thursday mornings now too – I guess it really is addictive) and we begin with tea and snacks before we get serious.  We’ll often get 8-10 games in before we must go for lunch.  It is quite fun and I find myself looking forward to Tuesday.  We’ve even discussed a game night where we’ll stick the men in one room to play poker and we’ll do mahjong – I know, we’re pretty wild.






Funny Little Story

11 01 2012

It was a friend’s birthday yesterday and a group of us ladies decided to go out for a late afternoon drink to a little place downtown on the water.  One of the ladies ordered a gin & tonic but emphasized that she’d like just a little gin (they have a tendency to pour half and half here.)  We drank our drinks and when it came time to go we began to break down the bill.  We noticed the server had forgot to charge for the gin and being the good people we are, we let her know so she could fix it.

Well she explained to us that the gin was free because it was just a little .

I saw it and it was clearly a full shot in the cup.

Lessons learned –

Alcohol really is cheap here.
Next time I feel like a highball, order ‘just a little’ and the booze is on the house!

 





An Evening with the Ladies

9 01 2012

Expat housewives are always looking for something to do, particularly, another social event to organise.  We tend to do a ladies night every couple of months which switches up our normal morning cafés and it gives us something to look forward to.  This time, our Japanese friend proposed a dinner at her house and invited the women who walk in the morning.

Generally, we each bring a dish and wine or champagne to drink.  This time I decided to make a cheesecake.  Like, a real one.  I’ve made a few things that call themselves cheesecake but they’re really just dessert with cream cheese in them.  I knew it was a bit ambitious as I’d never made one before and I had heard they were a bit finicky but I felt I needed to make a proper showing.  Many of my housewife friends here are fantastic cooks and they always seem to have something delicious to bring.  I, on the other hand, am new to this housewife stuff and while I can certainly cook, I wouldn’t say I’m great at it.  I usually opt to bring an easy appetizer or if I can get away with bringing beer or wine I’m even happier because I’m never very confident about sharing what I make.

I kept my fingers crossed while rounding up the ingredients hoping everything I’d need would be in stock.  It was… but it certainly wasn’t cheap.

This cheesecake was going to cost almost $60 to make!

I joked with my friends that it had better work out or we were eating anyway and they would smile and tell me it was fantastic regardless!  Luckily, it was a success!  Aside from a few cracks when cooling (I’ll do a water bath next time) it turned out perfectly.

It tasted better than it looks here…

All in all, we had a lovely night and delicious food was brought by all.  I even boosted my baking confidence a bit!