Me and my moto on an international
highway of dirt. There were paved roads but very
few. The town of Oyem had some but once you left town it was either
a dust or a mud bowl you would experience depending on the time of
the year. The mud was the worst because several things could
happen. Your tires would get caked up with the stuff and you would
stop moving, you would slide in the stuff and get covered with it, and
cars and trucks would make big ruts and these are dangerous to drive into.
So if it was a rainy day or had been raining a lot, I pretty much canceled
any travel plans to villages and tried to do something useful with my
time at home. The Gabonese government needs to pour more money into
paving the roads. Good roads are an economic and development stimulus.
June 5th, 1980
A rewarding day, makes me
feel great to be alive. My work is gaining momentum. Visited villages on
the road toward Mitzic (south of Oyem) and the villagers have been working.
I also met several new villagers with great pond sites
that they are in the process of fixing up. By chance, I met a villager
with a wonderful derivation pond that was abandon. This guy yelled at me
to come relax in the "corps de garde" as I was passing on my moto on my way
to another village. I stopped because I thought he knew me and I had met
him somewhere else. I have this terrible problems of not remembering villagers'
names and their villages. After realizing that I didn't know this guy,
I explained that I wasn't a tourist and what I was doing. The villager
responded that he was in the process of repairing a pond site.
- I have eaten foul all my life
but this was the smallest whole bird to cross my lips. This next meal was
killed by the farmer's young son and a handmade sling shot. It is amazing
this young hunter could hit such a small target with a sling shot. Anyway
back to the menu, I ate one small bird, though 2 were offered. This
bird's whole body fit in the palm of my hand minus its feathers. It looked
like a miniature turkey with those little eyes staring up at me. I was a
good dinner guest, I ate the whole bird. That's right, bones, head, lungs,
heart, and liver. The Africans tell me that I am truly African because
of my appreciation of their cuisine. Later, another villager
wanted a vote of confidence on the deliciousness of African cuisine, in
this case manioc. He kept repeating that it was good and I knew he
was searching for a compliment, which was unnecessary because it was excellent
and I told him so. This was manioc in the baton form and mixed with peanut
butter (home grown and hand ground) and piment. It was quite tasty.
I wish all the manioc tasted like this preparation.
June 15th, 1980
Rose early this morning, after having
little sleep, in order to catch a brousse (bush) taxi to Libreville.
What luck, there was a taxi going to Libreville, but the driver canceled
the trip after 2 hours of waiting because he didn't have enough customers.
The purpose of this trip is to visit two other fisheries volunteers (Don
Appe and Paul Olsen) in Lébamba, in the south of Gabon.
I will go via Libreville with the assistant Peace Corps director, Howard
Anderson. I would much rather fly out of Oyem but the money would be
coming out of my pocket. I don't understand why Peace Corps can't
pay for this trip since it is work related. We will be discussing problems
I am having with my work. The taxi driver told me he will be leaving
tomorrow at 6:30 AM. Good, I 'll be there.
June 16th, 1980
The African Experience: You
asked for it, 24 hours later. Well, it all started on a Monday
misty morning. There I was up bright and early at 6:15 AM, waiting, waiting,
waiting......until noon . Why the delay? The driver is going all
over town picking up riders going to Libreville and wanting to maximize
profits, he is now waiting for more riders. We can't leave until the van
is full. Oh well, a late start but I am grateful that we are finally
moving. To my left and to my right, green, green everywhere occasionally
interrupted by a small village. The route is hilly and wildlife exposes
itself, many beautiful birds I can not possibly identify and a fleeting
monkey. There is a cry of disappointment in the van as the monkey crosses
the road because nobody has a gun to stop the potential meal. Further
on down the road and many times more are hanging monkey parts along the
route waiting to be sold, bought, and eaten. This trip is turning me red.
The movement of passing cars in the other direction are creating dust
storms that we are driving through. As we eat and inhale the dust our skin
is changing colors. The hair and eyelashes of the Africans are orange and
I look like I have a nice tan. I was pleasantly surprised by a stretch
of paved road, a reprieve from the clouds of dust. This paved road
was built by the logging companies to facilitate the removal of trees. Along
the sides of the road are HUGE logs waiting to be trucked to the coast for
a trip to France. They are so big I wonder how they got them out of
the jungle to the road side. Will the jungle recover from this violation?
Passed part of the Gabonaise railroad that is being built. They are
cutting through mountain sides to lay track. It is getting dark now
and the driver refuses to turn on his lights, hoping to prolong the life
of his headlights and shorten our lives in the process. There are more
delays lasting more than 2 hours, from getting gas, engine problems, a flat,
the driver has to eat, and so forth. Finally moving again and the driver
notices that everyone in the car is napping a little. Our driver pulls over
and stops. What is wrong now? He informs us, that if no one is
going to stay awake while he drives, then why should he? We are all
furious and inform him that we had paid him to drive to Libreville and that
is what he better start doing. It is now 2:30 AM and we are still
in route to Libreville when we have our second flat of the evening. Stranded
~15 km outside of the city and no cars are passing by at this unholy hour.
At about 5 AM a truck loaded with bananas approaches and I flag
it down. I have to get to Libreville because Howard might be leaving early
and there is no way I am waiting for our psycho driver to go into town and
return with a new tire. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I
am really pissed at the driver's contribution to the many delays and I tell
him I am not going to give him the 8,000 CFA he wanted for the trip. So,
I ask the banana truck driver how much he wants for the trip to the capital,
300 CFA. I decided to pay the driver minus what I had to pay to the
banana truck to finish my trip. The driver didn't have change for my
1000 CFA, so I told him, he wasn't going to get the reminder of his money.
Finally someone offers change. I was yelling and swearing at this
guy in English. He was shook up. The ambassador wouldn't have been proud of
his Peace Corps Volunteer. Grateful to be moving, even if I am
sitting on a pile of banana regimes, we passed through 2 police checkpoints
to get into the city. The first checkpoint had a light overhead so that
I could see that I was sitting right next to a dead porcupine with its guts
coming out of the abdomen. I moved. Twenty-four hours later, I am
in Libreville. I find the hidden key to the Peace Corps office, wash
off all the red soil and lay down for about an hour. What a journey.