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windy backs and sunny faces

Expat living as we see it

Bennachie Hills

So by now we’ve realized the perfectly sunny and beautiful weather we experienced for the first two weeks we were here were pure dumb luck.  Now we’re settling into the cool, rainy, “normal” weather that everyone was warning us about.  Don’t get me wrong, the cooler temperatures are VERY welcome in book!  We’ve learned that when we get some nice weather we have to get out and take advantage of it, because it probably won’t be there for too long.  We’ve also learned those sunny days are very rare, so sometimes you’ve gotta get out when the weather is less than ideal.

This past Sunday was one of those overcast dreary days, but we figured “no rain? lets go!”.   We headed out to climb one of the peaks in Bennachie Hills, which is a quick and BEAUTIFUL 30 minute drive from the house.  Jers loved the drive out.

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We arrived just after noon, and checked out the visitor’s center to pick out the right route for us.  Seth ran in to grab a map and some treats to enjoy at the top, we picked out our  trail and were on our way.  For the past 2 months, I have spent a lot of time trying to convince myself I enjoy running, so I figured this would be easy… boy was I wrong!  The trail follows a  constant incline which is quite rocky at some points.  Jersey, on the other hand, took every climbing foot in stride and barked every time we stopped to take a break.

It was crazy how much the landscape changed as we climbed.  It seems like every 20 feet we had a new view to indulge in… like something straight out of a Bob Ross painting with “happy little trees” and all.  We were surrounded by tons of these purple beauties as we started the hike.DSC_0875We hiked and hiked, and I huffed and puffed.  Keep in mind there were plenty of families with small children on this path… clearly I have some work to do in the “get in shape” column.  We finally made it above the treeline and enjoyed the view for as long as Jersey would let us.DSC_0818

1600 feet and 1.5 hours later, we made it!  The hike was absolutely worth it, we had a 360* view of Aberdeen!

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We enjoyed the view from the top and had some munchies (my first mars bar.. holy moly!).  As we made our way down we looked back at the hill we just climbed.DSC_0873

The good part of farewell… the parties!!

We originally found out about a possible transfer in February of this year… and chose to keep the news a little quiet until we had some definite plans pinned down.  Just like when we waited for an official offer to move TO Port Gentil, it seemed like our offer to relocate OUT of Port Gentil was never going to come.  We waited during the height of a stressful round of layoffs at my husbands company which added to the tension.  Finally by the end of April we received some good news and the word was out…. we were officially moving to Scotland!

As soon as I broke the news to my girlfriends, it seemed like every week was another reason to celebrate- last coffee, last lunch, last cocktail at lido.  My last day at Mission Nissi was full of dancing, snapping pictures, and shooting videos- even a few secret video messages from the kids that I later found.  To tie it all together, Seth’s company graciously put together an incredible celebration at the beach with his team and our friends.  Yall know how terrible Seth’s work schedule was in PoG, but this beach was our little smidge of respite on Sundays.  Before lunch started, Seth’s managers and a couple of his team members shared some very special words about their time working together.  I know Seth is pretty rad, but its nice to hear coming from other people too!  We left that afternoon with so many special goodies and memories from Gabon.  That night, the party continued for one last get together with our friends.  We feasted on the famous “H-Burgers” and tequila shots and eventually made our way to a local nightclub for some dancing.  Our final farewell was with our good friend Habiba at the airport… it is so fitting that hers was the last smiling face we saw as we departed Gabon!  We got to leave our home for the past 2 years with so many happy memories shared with some awesome people!

 

 

Little glimpse of our new home

SO much has happened since our departure from Pog and arrival in Aberdeen… which I promise I will get to!  For the time being, here is a little glimpse of our new home.  We live on the edge of a neighborhood outside of the city, which is great because we have all the amenities we need plus we’re a quick 10 minute walk away from incredible countryside.  This Saturday we were finally graced with some sunshine and decided to take full advantage of it.  We set out on an intended short walk, but seven miles later with a very tired pup, we realized just how beautiful this place is! Turn up your volume and enjoy!

I’m baaaaaaack

Wow, 7 months later and here we are!  Blame it on terrible internet, forgetfulness and maybe a smidge of laziness I have completely neglected this blog.  Through a lot of encouragement from some very sweet family members and friends, I am back to continue sharing our adventures as an expat family.  There have been a few big life changes since my last post… which I will get to! As I sat down to reacquaint myself with windybacks I came across a post I had written but never published.  When I originally wrote this, I felt that being left behind by friends moving to a new assignment was one of the hardest parts of this lifestyle.  It seemed so much easier for the family leaving who was heading to a new and exciting adventure!

Whenever people ask us what its like to live in Central Africa, our responses completely depend on what the current situation is.  Be it water shortages, customs strikes, or torrential downpours, there is no doubt that Port-Gentil can create some trying times and difficult situations.  And if you’ve asked this question during the height of any of these situations,  you’ve probably gotten an earful (sorry!).  Something that always reels us back in though is talking about the relationships we’ve created throughout this adventure.  I’ve mentioned before how quickly and tightly friendships are formed here and its something that we are SO blessed to get to experience!  We have made friends from all over the world and have learned so much from each of them.  The only problem with this scenario is that the expat lifestyle is transient.  You form wonderful relationships with people and before you know it, their contract is up and they are on to the next location.  My very logical husband views this as an opportunity to go visit people in their NEW home, but I can’t help but be a little selfishly heartbroken when our friends leave PoG.  I’ve experienced this heartache a couple times in the short 15 months that we’ve lived here, and I get a little choked up when I think about our friends who have moved on.  Someday it will be our turn to move on and begin a new adventure… but until then I am going to cherish my time surrounded by these special people

Reading through this old post tugged at my heartstrings and I could feel that little lump forming in the back of my throat as I relived the goodbyes.  I still remember the sting of saying farewell to one family at a time, but it does not compare to saying goodbye to a whole community of friends at once.  A very smart Winnie the Pooh once said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.  We have moved on to a new location and are very very very (did I say VERY) thankful for that… I just wish we could have brought everyone with us! I don’t think we will ever live in another situation quite like Port Gentil, but I can’t wait to see whats to come in our new home… bring it on Aberdeen, Scotland!

Katie and Natey!

Certain times in my life I have wanted to crawl up in the fetal position and cry, “I want my mommy”.  My trip back to the states this August was definitely one of those times.  Between incomplete bookings, cancelled tickets, lost luggage, and an awful stomach virus, this was definitely the trip from hell.  After finally arriving in Colorado, I saw my mom’s smiling face which was totally the turning point of this trip… from there I knew everything was going to be A-okay.  Sometimes all you need is to be with your Mom and Dad, ya know?  My mom and I spent the next day replenishing the goodies from my lost luggage…Not going to lie, shopping was on the schedule anyways but lost luggage made it seem much more necessary 🙂

That weekend I made my way to Steamboat to meet my best friend (of 22 years wowza!) to help prep for her wedding.  Katie is probably one of the coolest people in my life and in fact, a common expression in my family has become, “That is SO Katie R”.  She married a guy named Nate who is equally as cool as Katie is.  We ran some errands then made our way out (waaaaaaaaay out) to the venue.

That night we had dinner with some of Nate’s family and got to take in some more unbelievable Colorado views… (we need to move here!)

Katie and Nate turned their celebration into a weekend long experience because… why not??  From beginning to end the weekend was so unique and such a blast.  Okay, cheesey as it may sound, but one my favorite moments were the vows Katie and Nate shared… holy moly they were incredible!  Gourmet pizza accompanied by mini Tabasco escort cards + a dreamy canoe stroll for the newlyweds amongst floating wish lanterns (swoon!) + a delish s’mores bar to end the night= one incredible wedding!

Party in the USA!

Lucky for us, we only had 1 week back in PoG before we continued summer vacation and were on our way back to the states.  This trip was short but was chock full of food, family, and friends!

We started with my husband’s family reunion in Okaboji, Iowa.   We only got to spend 2 days in Okaboji this year but they were an AWESOME 2 days.  This reunion is the one time every year we get to spend with this part of the family so its a very special time.

After Okaboji we made our way down to Table Rock Lake to visit my husband’s Dad and Stepmom.  While Seth and his Dad worked on a few projects around the property I made up for the lack of shopping in PoG and hit up the outlet malls with Joyce.  It was a wonderful few days but passed by way too quickly.  We can’t wait until we get to head back to Table Rock!

We rounded out our midwest tour in my husband’s home-town, St. Louis.  We kicked it off with a trip to the Cardinal’s game and soaked in some more family time.  We got to share this special night with Seth’s mom, sister and her family… such a fun time!

The end of the week was spent celebrating the love and witnessing the vows between two of our favorite people, Brad and Kaitlin!  St. Louis is the city where Seth grew up, so anytime we are there we get to catch up with his friends from way back.  We had a blast reuniting, getting our drank on and dancing the night away.

Italia!

Our First Guests!

Normally, when we offer an invitation for people to come visit us in PoG, we receive 1 of two different responses: “I really want to buuuuuut…” or “Maybe I will wait until your next location”. These responses are to be expected because, lets face it, Port-Gentil is not exactly a vacation hot spot. However, in June we were fortunate enough to have two wonderful visitors for a whole week… my parents!

I’m pretty sure my parents began planning their visit to PoG before Seth and I had even left the US last July. My mom has wanted to take an African safari for quite some time and us living in West Africa gave them the perfect reason to make it over here. Their trip developed into an incredible tour beginning in Capetown, South Africa, then leading them up to Port-Gentil, and finally ending with a couple of weeks in Tuscany.

During the week in Capetown, my parents kept us updated on their travels by sharing little gems like these…
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Seeing their pictures and hearing about their incredible trip has fully convinced Seth and me (not that it took much work) that Capetown is an absolutely must see while we are here.

After an amazing week in South Africa, my parents made their way to PoG.  Prior to their arrival I was pretty sure we could find enough things to do to fill our days and had mapped out a general plan.  I couldn’t wait to show them around!  As excited as we were, the time of their arrival was a bit concerning as we were having a LOT of water supply issues.  My mom kept saying that she wanted to live a day in our life, and I was afraid they might get exactly that… bottle baths and all.

We woke up Saturday and checked out an end-of-the-year school performance that our friends’ daughter was in.  Getting to see this was a new experience even for myself as I had never really spent time at a local school. This school is comprised of both expats and Gabonese and is held to the French school system. DSC00406 DSC00408We grabbed lunch at one of our favorite spots and headed home to get ready for a BBQ at the compound.  I have said many times before that the best part of being in Port-Gentil is getting to know people from all over the world, and I couldn’t wait to introduce my parents to so many of the amazing people we have met here!  We had a great time and ate some yummy food but unfortunately we forgot to take pictures!

Sunday morning we took my parents to our “Sunday spot”, Cap Lopez.

Lunch with a view!
Lunch with a view!
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Dad and the fish he picked out for lunch.

After lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC00426Monday morning came and we headed to Grande Village, one of the local markets.  My parents were considering getting some kind of clothing made from local fabric, so our first stop was to see Uzman, the tailor.  We searched for the perfect fabric for my Dad’s new shirt and Mom’s skirt/jacket combo and left the rest to Uzman (They turned out wonderful!).  We spent the rest of the day meandering through the market, and eventually made our way down to the port to see the fish market as well.

our wonderful and very talented hostess, Nisha!
Our wonderful and very talented hostess, Nisha!

 

My friend Nisha graciously offered to teach my parents a little about Indian cuisine, so Tuesday morning we made our way to her house.  She treated us to a few Indian appetizers and then taught us how to cook a chicken curry, that was absolutely to die for!

 

Anyone who knows my parents, knows that any party is not complete without a pizza party! So, Tuesday night my mom broke out some doughs and taught our friends the secret to making a perfect pie.

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We spent Wednesday morning at the zoo getting up close and personal with all of the animals.

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After a great lunch with friends at Sogora, I brought my mom to Mission Nissi.  The kids were so excited to meet my mom and quickly dubbed her “Tanti Bev”.  We had fun doing an exercise video, but the REAL fun started when my mom brought out her camera.  The kids LOVED taking pictures and seeing themselves, and a mini photo-shoot ensued.  You can see from the picture below how loving these kids are.  Mission Nissi is such a special place for me and I am so happy my mom was able to experience it.

DSC00549Our friends Magdi and Antionette invited us for a delicious Egyptian dinner that night.  Those who know my mom ALSO know that every party needs a little karaoke; Magdi and Seth were very happy to provide some background music.

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Since we have moved to Port-Gentil, I have bragged about how delicious Rosette’s cooking is and Thursday morning my parents got to try it themselves.  Rosette gave us some tips for true Gabonese cuisine and created a fantastic lunch of fried plantain, rice, and chicken with veggies.  DSC00555 DSC00557

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday night came very quickly and before we knew it my parents’ stay in Port-Gentil had come to an end.  And the best part? We had running water the WHOLE time!  My parents were on to their next stop… Italy!  Luckily for us, we were not too far behind!

Happy Anniversary to us!

Life over here is great.  We have 2 beautiful beaches we can choose from to visit, plenty of fun activities and opportunities to volunteer, and we’ve formed some amazing friendships.  All this being said, life here can also get a little complicated and frustrating.  Just recently we have had a lot of issues with the water supply to our compound….  The issues being that there isn’t any.  It is not the end of the world as we’ve learned to keep a stock pile of 2 liter bottles filled with tap water, but after your 3rd “bottle bath”, not being able to flush toilets (TMI?), and trying to wash dishes, you start to get a little irritated.  My husband (being the fantastic guy he is!) picked up on my frustrations, and planned a surprise get away weekend for our 3rd anniversary! So where do you go for a weekend get-away in Gabon? A little place called Omboue!

Right now, the only way to get to Omboue is by boat.  So Friday morning we headed down to the port- which is also the fish market- to wait for our ride.  By the time we got there, most of the action was over, but we still had lots of sites to see!

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portable haberdashery! He was a good salesmen too… he made several sales while we were waiting.

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Our boat arrived and did not have enough space to dock, so they docked to a boat.
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Loading our luggage
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Seth earning his keep, loading the beer!

Finally it was time for us to board, taking the same path as our luggage, and we set sail.  The ride was very nice and we were very fortunate to not have too much rain.  The ride was about 2.5 hours and we got to take in some pretty scenery on the way.

 

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We found our shipment on the way!!
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Ready for some R&R

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DSC_0451DSC_0109We were greeted by Loic, who took care of us for the whole weekend.  He was so attentive and made us feel right at home.  After settling in and a nice lunch, we decided to take some bikes offered by the lodge around the village.  This turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the trip (unfortunately I did not bring my camera!).  School was getting out while we were touring, so we quickly had a group of adorable little guys waving and chasing after us.  We made our way back to the hotel in time for dinner and then an early lights out, as the proprietor, Ghislaine, had planned an early morning safari for us the next day.

Saturday morning we were taken to another lodge, Luango, which is situated right on the edge of the safari park.  Unfortunately, we did not reach the park until about 10 AM and animals typically come out at 6-7AM or 4-6PM.  We spent the next 2.5 hours driving around the park viewing gorgeous scenery (I’m all for pretty landscape… but I wanted some animals man!).  We were all getting pretty bummed, including the guide, and at one point he jumped out of the truck and started walking towards the forest in hopes that something would appear.  THEN we saw one lonely buffalo.  We all “ooed and ahhhed”, he gave us enough time to snap a couple of pictures and then he vanished in to the forest.  We continued on with our drive.

DSC_0160 DSC_0163DSC_0174 DSC_0168We were taken to a small camp deep within the park for lunch.  More beautiful landscapes… but no animals.

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No elephants to be found… but we knew they had to be close by…

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After lunch we hopped back in the truck and headed back to Luango.  By now, we had given up any hopes of seeing animals and had accepted the fact that we payed a lot of money to see pretty African land.  All of the sudden the guide pointed out of the truck and told the driver to slow down.  We looked towards the woods and saw what he was so excited about… 2 elephants!! The guide led us out of the truck and we walked towards the elephants.  These guys were amazing.DSC_0223 DSC_0227 DSC_0235  We got back in the truck and headed off.  Eventually we came across another elephant duo (momma and baby this time!).

DSC_0265 DSC_0243 DSC_0268 DSC_0232DSC_0248One last time, we all climbed back in to the truck and took off for the lodge.  On our way back we were surprised by this guy running through the field.  Its very hard to see, but hes some kind of monkey… a really fast one!DSC_0253We made our way back to Luango lodge and several hours later, finally made it back to Hotel Olako.  We had another great dinner on the doc and the staff even surprised us with an anniversary cake for the group to share for dessert.  We were so taken back by how well the staff at Olako took care of us, they made this anniversary trip a very memorable one for us.

The next morning, we were scheduled for a crocodile tour and visit to St. Anne’s Mission.  Living in Louisiana previously and taking a lot of alligator tours, we were not too excited about the crocodiles… but we got on the boat and headed out.  Our first stop was the Mission; a Catholic church constructed in the late 1800’s with the same materials and by the same company that constructed the Eiffel Tower.  It was absolutely beautiful!! Masses are still held every Sunday, however this week the priest was at the Vatican.  After walking through St. Anne, our guide took us on a short hike behind the church to the bamboo forest. THIS was unreal.   DSC_0335

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DSC_0315We finished exploring the mission and got back in the boat.  After an hour boat ride and some beautiful scenery (reminded me of ferngully!) the driver slowed down and we started to see the crocs.  They were so little!

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The water was pretty incredible. So flat and dark, and the reflection was insane!

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DSC_0362 DSC_0360 DSC_0403 DSC_0425  Eventually we came across a larger crocodile and some other slimey guys too.

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DSC_0421The only downside to this tour was getting bitten by a couple of Tsetse flies.  We spent the entire morning out on the water surrounded by gorgeous scenery, and slowly made our way back to the hotel.  By the time we arrived, we had enough time for a quick lunch, pack up, and grab a picture with Loic before we had to head back to Port-Gentil.  Our trip to Omboue was an amazing experience and the perfect way to celebrate our anniversary and recharge our batteries.

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