Thursday, January 21, 2010


There has been a lot of talk on this blog about how rewarding my Gabon experience is: I get to travel and meet people from a completely different world, living their culture and learning from them at all times. Of course, all of this is pure theory most of the time. I usually meet and spend time with Europeans and even from them it's difficult to learn because they just happen to speak the most difficult language in the world.

However, things have started to look up lately, even if I didn't notice it at first. It was Jandro who's been recently pointing out that my French is getting better and better, and that I can already hold a simple conversation without greater difficulty. Initially I thought that he was just trying to make me feel better but yesterday I got the ultimate proof that his remarks might have been based on reality. But let me walk you through it.

In some inexplicable way (the security men at least were not able to explain it) we got a puncture while the car was parked outside our building. We thus changed the wheel (this story is linked to another exciting anectode - the air filter one - but I don't know if I'm authorized to tell!) and drove to a garage to get the tyre fixed. The garage is right next to a fruit stand (not the one in the picture, mind you, but you get the idea) and while Jandro was dealing with the tyre guys, I went over to buy some fruit. We'd already bought there a few times and the young shop keeper showed some signs of recognition. I bought the fruit, remarked that it was expensive, got the usual "that's Gabon" in reply, said "but still", got the price reduced by 500 CFA, paid and trotted away to Jandro. It's funny, by the way, how you always have to go through the ceremony of haggling, even when both parties know that the initial price is ridiculous.

The fruit girl watched us for a moment and then cleared some things off a stool and offered it to me (You can also put your fruit here. It might get smashed by a car over there). I accepted and sat down, while she herself took her usual spot on the ground. Il fait chaud, I stated, because nothing else came to my mind and weather is always a valid topic. Oh yes, it is hot, she picked up, rather happy that I started the conversation. We talked about some exotic fruit she was selling, about how my skin was not made for this weather, and how I wasn't French, how she was from Benin, a beautiful but poor country, and how Libreville was cooler where I lived because the sea was near. Soon enough, Jandro was done and came up to us. I got up (at that time I was already sitting on the ground as well) and waved goodbye to the girl and she asked me if we had any kids (because if you did I'd ask about their health). I asked her the same question and she said no, looking extremely young at that very moment (it is very difficult to tell the age of African people. I normally distinguish between children, elderly people and the large group in between).

Most French-speaking people in Gabon have these chats every day, hardly even noticing that they are experiencing a different culture. For me it was the first time I actually had an independent and improvised conversation with somebody from here. It feels good to know that my French is improving. But it feels even better to realise that I too can have a go at putting the whole "cultural experience" idea into practice.

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