Wednesday, May 12, 2010


One evening, when we were out with our Italian friend, who was here for a short visit, we heard her make the following comment: I think it's so nice that people go out at night just to chat and enjoy the fresh air... At first, I didn't know what she meant but then it slowly dawned upon me: of course, in front of every building you see African people stretched out on their deckchairs, usually with a couple of pals, talking or reading newspapers. And yes, if you look at them from the European perspective, you might think they're just socialising in the open air. However, if you pass the same building three times on the same day, you will notice that they are always there. Moreover, it is their job to be there. They are the security guards and every house in the European part of Libreville employs them.

Obviously, our huge block of flats is also protected. There is a guard in the booth at the edge of our premises, who lets the cars in and out by means of a metal chain (see picture). He has a lovely smile and always waves at you. There are three or four more guards bravely securing the entrance. They work from six to six, seven days a week. They thus live either by day or by night, day off completely absent from their vocabulary. Personally, I find the day shift nicer for two reasons: 1) one of the guards has worked with some Poles and he greets me with a loud Siema! whenever he sees me (I've once also got a l'ascenseur niedobry, madame); 2) the night shift is usually asleep when I see them, their heads falling on their chests, which makes me feel extra-protected, clearly.

The jobs of our security guards are various. They are supposed to keep the terrain clean, find out when the energy will be back on and, most of all, get rid of any suspicious elements. I must say they seem to be doing their job most of the time. Whenever a new face appears downstairs, they come up with them to see if you are really expecting them (especially if the guests are Gabonese), for which I'm grateful when the air-conditioning technicians drop by and I'm home alone. For as little as three euros they will wash your car inside and out. They will push your car when it needs pushing. They will help you carry heavy stuff (like my suitcase the size of wardrobe... up eight floors when the lift was broken). Sometimes we tip them, sometimes we don't, and we still haven't worked out how to go about that tactfully. Ça va aller, I hope.

How terribly boring must their job me? Watching people go in and out, cars pulling over and starting...? Always the same, never a rest from the unbearable routine? You finish l'Union, the couple from the eighth floor is heading for the beach, you have a coke, the man from the third floor is walking his dog, you have your sandwich, the cleaning lady who works on the first floor has just arrived... that English couple's baby has just spilt her milk on the ground, you clean it and get back to your day of sitting. And yet they cling to this job because maybe it's a good one. Maybe it's the best they can count for. It scares me to think that this young man with a Clark Gable smile might end up doing this for twenty years. And I keep hoping that it's just my European nature which makes me rebel against such predestination. Hopefully, the Gabonese see it from a different perspective.

On a lighter note, a couple of days ago I was in the lift with one of the guards (they have a changing room on the first floor and almost religiously take the lift to get there), and I saw him use his Blackberry (Blueberry? Strawberry? I know it's a berry!). So maybe life's not so tough after all.

1 comment:

  1. ...I didn't see it before...what a silly italian friend you have!!! :-)