Here are a few more people, places and things I’ve observed and pondered about. They are still in no particular order:
- This seemingly reserved people absolutely light up when I wave at them from the truck or nod and greet them in French or Yinzebe, the local tribal language.
- Gabonese people out and about seem to walk very slowly.
- Native men stop and pee on the side of any road whenever the urge is upon them. It almost doesn’t matter where or who’s around. I’m not sure what the women do.
- Cooking over open wood fires is pretty normal. It’s also normal to see mostly women canvassing for wood to burn.
- At the mission, our gas stoves are converted to use large butane tanks, a cousin of propane.
- Small numbers of chickens, goats and sheep wander everywhere, except for the hospital compound.
- Sheep do not have fluffy wool here – they look just like the little goats. In fact, they’re pretty hard to tell apart.
- I’ve been told there are two ways to tell apart sheep and goats. One is that sheep ears are down and goat ears are up. The second is that goat tails are always down and goat tails are always up. I think the second is the correct one.
- The dirt everywhere is a rusty red. Most of my clothing is highlighted in this color, now.
- The Gabonese I’ve seen so far all look well fed. I’m not sure how good their nutrition is, however. The typical person eats a lot of bread, rice and manioc root to feel full. I haven’t been able to figure out if Paul’s men eat during lunch. They disperse and do their own thing.
- Gabonese skin has a brown-reddish tint to their near black coloring. It’s very different from anything I’ve seen and I like it.
- The Gabonese attitudes I sensed both in Labamba and at the hospital are very similar to some inner city attitudes I’ve been around.
- Other than the money the government gives most families, there is other welfare support system, so families take care of each other. For example, it is culturally expected that if a family member asks for money, it is to be given to them, even if they are taking advantage of somebody.
- The only acceptable way (I’ve heard so far) to NOT give money to a family member is to invest it into gradually, over years and years, building a retirement house which they will eventually move into. Partially finished homes are everywhere and nobody has cash on hand.
- It’s interesting that many of the houses are half finished instead of mostly in ruins!
- Gabonese are great singers. Everything I’ve heard about African singing is true!
- I’ve only seen a couple of bicycles.
- Very few people own cars, and the ones I’ve seen are typically older and beaten up. Considering the rutted dirt roads and limited mechanics, that’s no real surprise. What was a surprise was the gorgeous modern black Mercedes coupe I saw the other day!
- ‘Mass transit’ is made up of a loose system of individually owned cars, minivans and SUV’s called taxis. But, they’re more like buses because they follow specific routes and transport as many people as possible at one time. The ‘clown car’ analogy is pretty accurate.
- I haven’t been able to determine if there is a larger taxi route ownership system. There’s certainly nothing like ‘Yellow Cab’ – it seems more like Uber. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. Fortunately, I haven’t had to take one.
- Local construction laborers are very similar to similar labor in US. They are rougher and louder. They also work very hard! Extremely manual labor.
- The difference is that they all are very happy to wave and say, ‘Hi!’
- Nearly all of the shops and stores are owned and operated by foreigners. Typically, they are Muslims.
- Muslims are still a smaller percentage of the population in our region
- When shopping for small items, it is traditional to say how much you want to spend and they give that value to you. For example, if I want to purchase little fresh-fried donut bits, I tell the seller I want 500 CFA worth (a little less than a US dollar).
- Very few of the street vendors in Lebamba have change. I guess they don’t need it due to the system.
- I’ve been surprised that there is virtually no haggling as part of the shopping culture.
- The overall crime rate is very low. This city boy continues to be amazed that I can safely leave my key in the ignition, or leave tools and materials in the exposed back of the truck, even when in town.
- At first, I wasn’t certain that I wasn’t being taken advantage of. Prices sometimes rise if you’re white – especially if you don’t know any better AND don’t speak French.
- After my first street vendor shopping experience, I’ve made it a policy to only go shopping for fresh food items with a French speaker! The stores are OK because prices are clearly marked and they show me the calculator total.
Lessons so far:
- It’s really smart to hang out with people who know what the heck is going on. This is especially beneficial when you’re new to a place or situation.
- Rural small-town living has lots of benefits – sense of community, low crime rates, people watching out for you to a certain extent.
- Stereotypes don’t have to be true. The low crime rate and total lack of racial or tribal violence in this region is wonderful. I have felt very safe since settling in.
- People are people. The interesting thing is that as soon as I began to say ‘Hi!’, in French, of course, the response has been consistently warm and a little overwhelming. I love feeling welcomed instead of like an unwanted intruder.
How many of these echo of life in America?
I love to learn and observe over time so I can get a full picture!