I have been living in Malabo for over three weeks now and yet this is my first real entry. This is because 1)I have been extremely busy, 2)I spent two of those weeks living in a remote rainforest, 3)Internet connection is extremely unreliable, and 4) We have power outages in Malabo on a daily basis (this is not an exaggeration). This, compounded with the fact that I only have use of nine fingers (more on this later) makes updating an extremely involved process. I am writing this is microsoft word and saving it for publication for whenever I get internet access, just fyi.
I will be the first to admit that I have been slacking on the pictures. For the most part, the other students are taking care of that so it’s easy for me to not bring my camera along. Plus, I don’t like carrying my conspicuous DSLR around Malabo for security reasons. I am going to start bringing the point and shoot along on day trips and whatnot though. That way it’s not so big of a deal if it gets confiscated or I get mugged. Nonetheless here is one of the more descriptive pictures that I have of the city.
The city is basically a hellhole. Currently it’s hot and very dusty since it is the dry season. Few, if any, streets are actually labeled. I don’t even know what the address of our house is, let alone the name of the street we live on. I do know that I live in the area of town called Las Angeles. Almost all of the roads are paved but there is a lot of construction and few if any traffic laws. I swear on my life that as I was typing that there was an accident outside. There are about a hundred people gathered around checking it out right now.
Welcome to Malabo.
As I was saying, the roads are pretty hazardous. Everyone beeps their horn every 15 seconds practically to announce their presence to other drivers, pedestrians, etc. There are a few traffic lights, but those are relatively useless since nobody pays attention to them and the electricity is out half the time. To get around, I basically walk, but sometimes we take “taxis.” Although there are a lot of real taxis around, anybody with a car will pick you up to make a few extra bucks. I can’t even guess how many difference sketchy cars I have ridden in since I have been here. I say sketchy because half of them are in disrepair and are packed tight with people. Still, for the most part I can get anywhere in the city for less that $4 before splitting it with other students. Oh and at night some people don’t use their headlights because they think that it drains the battery- which may be a correct assumption for those who have non working alternators.
Also, for whatever reason, all of the businesses are closed from 11-4 during the day. I find this to be particularly inconvenient.
As for food, I find it to be excellent. There are bars and places to eat everywhere, although you do take a risk of getting food poisoning. One of our favorite places it not even labeled since it is somebody’s house. All one needs to do is know the right door and show up at lunchtime. Places like these are dirt cheap- fish and fried plaintains with rice for $3. Of course, there are a few upper scale places but I try to avoid those because they are expensive (equivalent to normal restaurants back home).
There are plenty of people out and about, regardless of the time of day or night. I swear these people party 7 days a week. And of course there are plenty of rabid dogs, roosters, goats, etc. running around. I haven’t seen a cat yet. I did see something particularly funny as I was walking around yesterday – a tarantula the size of my fist crossing the street.
Now for the people- they certainly are interesting, and yes, there are certainly pygmies running around. Typical of a central African nation, it is rare to see old people. Everybody is multilingual it seems. Everybody speaks Spanish since its the formal language, but a lot of them speak Bubi, an ethnic language, and some speak Pidgy, which is a Pidgin language of English/French/Spanish/who knows what else. A lot of people speak some French too, which is nice since it gives me a back up language to attempt to get my point across. African French is definitely more difficult to understand, but not as difficult as Quebec French.
It’s definitely a new experience for me playing the role of a minority. People walking around definitely stare (its not considered rude), and many of them make their opinions about us clear. I get called a bitch on an almost daily basis when in town and the girls get eye-raped constantly. Prostitutes solicit the guys quite often. I have had my crotch grabbed a few times and I had one woman almost run me off the road with her behind.
There are people from all over the world here- Black, Arabic, Indian, Chinese, European... There is a significant white population, all of them oil company or oil company support service employees. The white people definitely form a close-knit community. Being young white students we get invited to all kinds of parties, gatherings, etc. We are practically celebrities. The day we got back from the caldera expedition the second in command ambassador from the US Embassy gave us the keys to his house so we could take showers and swim in his pool. We also hang out with helicopter pilots and Scottish maintenance workers quite often. Last night we got sponsored ($40 each) to attend a formal dinner party at Marathon Oil. Champagne, hors d’ouevres, filet mignon, live band, etc, included. It was like an exclusive VIP party you see depicted in the movies, but thrown to raise money for a local village. It was a good time for sure.
As for me, I have had my life turned upside down several times in the past few weeks. Whilst in the jungle I was bitten by some sort of insect that gave me a nasty infection in my finger. I think that it may have been a spider, but I didn’t see it and it could be any variety of jungle insect. Since the only way to get to that particular section of the island is by boat, I had to delay medical treatment for 6 days as my finger blew up to three times its normal size. I went to a clinic when I got back and had my finger cut open and the dead tissue removed. I go back every day to get it cleaned and to get an antibiotic injection. The pain I went through was unlike anything I can describe, and I have to admit that I am still a little bit scared. I am a little bit discouraged at the moment but the other students have been very supportive and helpful. All of them are good people and good friends. Still, I understand that when traveling these things happen and that by coming here I accept the inherent risks and dangers of living here. As I like to say, everything will work out.
I will have pictures from the expedition up soon. I already have the pictures re-sized so I shouldn’t have too many excuses.
Feel free to drop me a line by email. If you are crazy enough to call me, I do have a cell phone and all incoming calls are free. I can send text messages for the equivalent of 20-40 cents, I can’t remember exactly. I would however recommend getting a calling card. Probably not a good idea to put a number up online, so just send me an email if you’re interested.