Dos Semanas Mas

Two more weeks here.

I’m ready to leave. This country is taking it’s toll on me. Especially after such an emotional event and being so far from home.

I’m ready for showers. Hot showers, water pressure, not having to dump water from a basin on my head.

I’m ready to not be covered in mosquito bites and smell like bug spray and African sweat.

I’m sick of walking out of the house with a headlamp on because either the electricity is off or I’m cooking in a kitchen without light.

I’m sick of living with two crazy Americans that don’t clean their dirty dishes to the point that maggots start growing out of the dish water and I have to wear flip flops around the house to avoid getting cat shit or termite droppings on my toes.

I’m sick of having to spend extra money to eat healthy and have it go bad because the electricity is out. Or to be motivated to go for a run and come home to a hot box and not be able to shower.

I’m ready for REAL food that is clean and safe to eat and not dirty or needed to be bleached.

I’m ready for my girlfriends and family and the comforts of home like my dog.

I’m ready to have a washing machine and clean clothes. And not having to hang dry my laundry and it be stiff and still not clean.

I’m ready to not have a layer of dust glued to my skin that even a scrub in the cold showers can’t remove.

I’m ready to not be dehydrated and drink refreshing water again.

I’m ready to be able to talk to people in English and not be stared at on the street just for being white.

This country takes its toll on people. I’ve been handling it well, and I’m confident that I can usually take any situation and find the positive in it. But after an emotional breakdown from finding out unwanted news from halfway across the world, nothing seems as appetizing as it once did here. I’m allowed to complain a little, especially now, right? I’ve pushed myself back out of my shell that I retreated into for a few days, but it isn’t all as glorious as it once was. Where I once preferred socializing and meeting friends out for tapas and drinks or drum circles, I now prefer walks along the sea, yoga in my room, or reading my books in a hammock alone.

I’ve been taking a break from blogging for awhile because I had been so immersed in the culture (and partly had SO much to say I didn’t even know where to begin)… and now after these series of events, I’ve been focusing on myself. I’ve taken journal entries on my phone and plan on uploading them at a later date when I am ready to share. There have been beautiful stories and crazy adventures, so don’t worry, they’ll be coming. I want to share everything about the amazing people I have met here and everything I have learned and grown from. This experience is life changing. I want to share it with the world, and inspire other people to travel or even just see things through my altered perspective after living here for a short while. It changes you. Well, it changed me, and I think it could change you.

Right now, I’m depleted. But this quote seems to make sense of it all:

“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

Yes, I see.

Growth. Extreme growth is coming out of the situation in many aspects.

How appropriate that I find myself alone in a third world country, heartbroken and at the bottom of the bottom, with nothing to do but look inwards and grow, in this place, of all places. Being in this location has changed my perspective on my pain and my suffering and allowed me to find gratitude on a greater scale. And the circumstances of these recent situations has allowed me to find myself in a way I never would have before. Now as I experience these hardships and emotional battles, I’m attempting to disconnect a bit more, and instead share them with myself to fully resonate and embrace my experience. A bittersweet discovery is the moment you truly find that all you ever really have is yourself. In one moment or another, you will only have yourself. You come into this world alone, and you leave it alone… So why do we rely on anybody but ourselves? I’ve found that I should be my own biggest source of love and appreciation, first and foremost. And to discover that while here is the most appropriate of all. I’m becoming my own best friend and my own rock, while embracing solitude and silence… and I’ve turned to new daily practices igniting self-love and gratitude. I’ve had many changes in my life these past six months that I consider blessings, from my change in friends to my photography business and my intellectual endeavors, even my future plans, and I attribute them to a perspective of gratitude… but a strong self love is not something that I ever truly invested in. It’s not that I didn’t love myself, but I never before made it a priority and a practice to put myself first daily. The universe conspires in the strangest of ways, and I know in the strangest of ways this hurt and depletion is some kind of miracle working to grow me stronger and more grounded, rooted in myself and in love. When you love yourself, you see things in love and in changes your perspective, your gratitude to be greater and your understanding to be more vast. It’s groundwork for real strength and inspiration, love and growth. This is a vital lesson that I want to learn from and remember it’s teachings for the rest of my life. Finding myself here beat to the ground from the physical conditions, and now emotionally beat down from the circumstantial conditions, I’ve grown in ways that I may never, ever have before. So for these hardships, I am thankful.

These next two weeks are going to be hard, but vital… depleting, but strengthening. Love is everything, for fear is an illusion, and only love is real. A loving perspective is a choice… it’s a choice of gratitude and inner-strength. And so I’m focusing on honoring my body and soul, because it deserves the same love as anybody else. “This kind of love is not something we offer to some people and deny others– this is one love that embodies everything and everyone.” That means me, too.
Loving yourself is the greatest revolution.

 

 

 

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Strength

The world will confuse you. Silence will speak more to you in a day than a world of voices can teach you in a lifetime. Find silence. Find solitude– and having having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.

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Diving Into the Third World Experience (With Precaution)

I’ve definitely maintained a sense of cultural conservatism within my first month here, but now that I’m settling in with my daily routines and becoming familiar with the country, the honeymoon stage has worn off and I’m ready to get my feet a little more wet. Despite the precautions of colleagues and friends due to the country’s tense state against photography, I intend to take photos here. It’s what I do, it’s my passion, and I think that there are a lot of opportunities out there following the collection of this rarely photographed location. And I think thus far I have been able to handle the situations that arise by playing the “white American tourist” card or using my femininity to bop around and giggle for the sake of a photo, so I’ve felt pretty confident with my camera in hand. All in the name of good photographs. (Sorry Feminist friends).

After work, I’ve been adventuring around the city on foot, traveling to different locations by day. I was beginning to settle into a surreal life surrounded by expats and weeks of fun-filled dinners and drinks and beaches, but I don’t want to forget the fact that I’m in a third-world country, and all around me is a place full of people that I will never again get to explore or connect with. The locals here are just as important as some of the expats that I meet from European countries, if not more interesting and more rare in experiencing their unique connections and experiences. Both types of people here (the expats and the locals) have a weighted value in their encounters, and so I’ve decided to focus more time on the less glorious, more rugged, more difficult, and perhaps a bit more dangerous and adventurous engagements.When I leave for these adventures, I usually follow one of the roads from my house straight for awhile, as to not get lost, but until I am engulfed in an entirely new setting that I have not yet explored. I pass through the smelly streets and the barefoot kids in their underwear selling tomatoes and dive headfirst into the ghettos off the beaten path of the city, alone but wearing an innocent, playful smile. Once you turn off the streets, the houses are community-style, filled with hundreds of rooms all sharing the same tin roofs (or thousands of pieces of tin overlapping) for a size of about two blocks. The alleyways are small and dirty, and you’re constantly ducking and diving through little paths and sometimes through actual homes with hanging sheets as doors. Earlier in the week, I ran into a swarm of children playing soccer when they intercepted me and my camera. I couldn’t stop laughing at how they posed for the camera and jumped all over me, eventually stealing my camera for a few shots.

Yesterday I decided to adventure a little further. I took some photos of a man with his vegetables on the streets, and then proceeded to the left down some stairs off the side of the road into one of the little village communities. I met an older woman in her tiny 6×6 foot home, cooking on an electric stove. She allowed me to take some photos of her, innocently smiling in the awe of technology. She appreciated every photo I showed of her, as it had been one of the few times she had even seen a photograph of herself. I advanced the path through the winding village, asking to residents bathing by pouring teapots on their head, “Puedo pasar?” (Can I pass through here?). Their mildly perplexed faces always turned to pure joyful amusement upon seeing their faces framed in my camera playback.

I was invited into someone’s home. It reeked of alcohol. There was a baby being fed from a bottle on a woman’s lap. The woman’s red, dyed hair bobbed up and down as she bounced the baby and chatted drunkenly with her friends. The others lay around the room on couches inside the tiny, make-shift house with the scent of vodka, rum, and beer swirling around my face. A larger, young woman with sweat beading down her face gripped my thigh as I walked past, alcohol oozing from her breath, marveling over my white skin. Yes…. yes, I’m white. I shook it off. They loved having their photos taken. I spent some time in their house chatting with them. They’re from Cameroon and they want to teach me how to dance…. I can’t wait for that.

As I was about to leave, I noticed a man outside staring at me, waving a sign with his hands that I was unfamiliar with. I knew something wasn’t right, and I innocently waved at him playfully as to break any tension… But there was no changing his mentality and glare. He approached me as I was exiting the house, asking what I’m doing, and why I’m taking photos. I responded that I’m simply walking around and I enjoy using my camera… I explained that I work for the United Nations Development Programme, I’m from America, and the photos aren’t being used to harm them. (This is what they fear.) It’s difficult to negotiate with an angry, older man in Spanish. Sometimes the words you know just don’t cut it, especially when you can’t mutter them with as much force in a foreign language. As much as I tried to reason with him through my broken Spanish, he didn’t want to hear it. He wanted me to delete my photos– the ones of this mother, and then all of them. As he stood over my shoulder, my heart broke inside as I deleted photo after photo. The ones of his mother were beautiful– an older women with a broken smile, hands that worked hard her whole life, in that tiny, tiny wooden shack of a house. It had so much story behind it, and with each “delete” I was breaking inside.

Then I heard my name being called from behind me. “Magi?!!?” I turned around. It was my friend Encarna. Apparently, this is her village! I know her from David, the guy who runs the Drexel program here. I’ve met her a few times and she’s always been incredibly sweet. Yet again, I felt a stroke of luck that she had happened to walk by and notice me, right when I was sensing the anger intensifying and the problems not dissolving. She explained why I am taking photos in their local tongue, but the man wasn’t having it. He took out his phone to call the police. I felt so horrible for dragging Encarna into this situation, and I wasn’t about to sit there and let this man tell me what to do. I mean, technically I can take photographs and I had permission from everyone I had taken a photo of. This guy was the only one who was upset, and it had to be from his old-school mentality from the government. I decided to just get out of there, rather than allow the situation to brew. I apologized to Encarna and told her I was just going to leave.

As I turned to walk away, the man stopped me and said I have to stay, as he took out his phone to call the police, but no way in hell was I staying there… When he tried to touch me, I said no, you can’t touch me, and you can’t make me stay, in Spanish of course. I walked away as fast and calmly as I could, but I was freaking out inside. The main street was only a few yards away, and once I turned down the street I knew I was safe… the walk to my house was only 10-15 minutes away. With a determined walk, I passed street upon street on the way to my house, digesting the entire scenario in my head and calming my nerves with each step. I was feeling like someone had squeezed my lungs together.

It’s such a strange concept and situation to experience running into problems for taking a photograph or even the mere fact of feeling uncomfortable in a third-world dictatorship. I never thought I’d find myself in a place like this, and although I generally feel safe and accommodated, every once in awhile, you’re bound to hit a roadblock. You’re bound to. And you can’t forget where you are. It’s a vital lesson to not feel invincible and have reality brought back into check, especially for me, especially here. The locals are curious and friendly, but amidst them, you never know who is watching. This experience is a never-ending roller-coaster of lessons and encounters with people that I could have never, ever, ever predicted, and also never been more thankful for. Mind-opening is an understatement, and I’m not sure if I could find the correct word to sum it all up.

Despite these things, I really like it here. I really like my life here. I enjoy my days. I enjoy the people– locals and expats. I enjoy walking around the city, despite the hot, stuffy weather. I enjoy my job and responsibilities. I enjoy being independent, grocery shopping or scouring the city for the best, cheapest pineapples from the street vendors, and walking through Martinez for peach juice and finding a few friends because it’s such a small community. I enjoy being able to pick a mango off the tree outside and eat it or have a fresh coconut cracked for me when I’m thirsty. I enjoy the simple life. I enjoy having time to read and study Spanish, and I enjoy being able to practice speaking my Spanish openly, free of judgement. I really don’t like my living situation, but I enjoy the fact that I have so many opportunities with new friends or simply in the city to over-compensate for not wanting to ever, ever be in the house. I enjoy the fresh fruits from the street vendors and discovering new things daily. I enjoy the African fabrics adorned in the streets and the countless “Buenas Dias” that I hear as I walk down the street every morning to work. I wake up at 7:45 every morning, go to work at the UNDP office, head home for a break around 12:30 to make lunch and take siesta, and then I head back to work for the afternoon. Work is intense, but interestingly intense, and it thrills me. Then I sometimes go for ice cream with Coline, or walk around to take photos, or make Spanish omelets with Dianis, or I meet up with Chavi for Spanish lessons, or shenanigans with my British friends, or I go for a run with Rosa or meet up with Gaafar for a movie, or I have dinner with all the Spanish embassy interns at the Tapas bar, or sometimes we stay out for “la ultima cerveza” again and again on a Tuesday night. I’ve made myself right at home.

I enjoy it. I’m happy here.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

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Ever since 1975, International Women’s Day — a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world — has come with an accompanying theme. On Saturday, March 8, the world will look to commemorate this year’s theme of “inspiring change” and challenge the status quo for the betterment of female equality.

In the world of travel, change is underway, with the global travel market made up by 64 per cent of women, according to 2013 data from Intrepid Travel. Women are also a driving force when it comes to business travel, with half of female business travellers holding 85 per cent of the purchasing power, according to CNN. It’s also estimated that 80 per cent of all business travel decisions are made by women. Solo female travel has also changed. In a poll of travel agents, an estimated 59 per cent saw an increase in female travel clients travelling by themselves now compared to 10 years ago. [via Huffington Post]

And yet, despite the evolution of the female traveler, there are still barriers. Instances of blatant of sexism directed not only to women who travel, but work in the travel, tourism and aviation industry is still very much alive. The threat of sexual violence and abuse is still prevalent in certain countries that even governments continue to encourage women to ware fake wedding rings to discourage unwanted attention.It’s clear there’s still work to be done, but the signs are positive. Inspiration and change in the realm of travel won’t come by staying home.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” -Miriam Beard

Although I’ve never witnessed a celebration for this day in the states, most other cultures and countries dedicate this international holiday to festivities, dancing, and celebrations in honor of women. Here in Equatorial Guinea, women adorned dresses made of a typical African fabric and took the day off of work. Stores were closed and the streets were open for many festivities, filled with most of the city’s population. As an equal rights’ believer, feminist, and human rights’ advocate, I fully appreciate this day’s celebration, but at the same time, the existence of this day doesn’t mean that inequality problems are solved. At the very least, it’s celebrations are a step in the right direction and a chance to further gender equality. Below is a quote from one of my favorite sheroes: Malala Yousafzai. Her courage and strength, dedication to education and equality, and wisdom beyond her years is inspiring and noble. If you haven’t yet read the book “I Am Malala,” I highly highly highly recommend it. It feels appropriate to recommend this bright one’s gift to the world today. Happy International Women’s Day!

Wise Words From Inspirational Women:

“The idea of being a feminist—so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex—but what feminism is about is equality and human rights. For me that is just an essential part of my identity. I hope [Girls] contributes to a continuance of feminist dialogue.” -Lena Dunham
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” – Jane Austen
“Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” – Janis Joplin
“Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots cause it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading cause you think being a girl is degrading.” – Madonna
“All great achievements require time.” –Maya Angelou
Thanks to my good friend, Dianis for the above graphic!
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Obiang’s Always Watching

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–The view from my bathroom toilet.

“Corruption, poverty, and repression continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in power since 1979. Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while most of the population lives in poverty, their basic economic and social rights unmet. Those who question this disparity are branded “enemies.” Despite some areas of relative progress, human rights conditions remain very poor. Arbitrary detention and unfair trials continue to take place, and mistreatment of detainees remains commonplace, sometimes rising to the level of torture.”

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No Expectations of Celebrations

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I wasn’t expecting much for my birthday. I actually was planning on pretending like it was just another day… but it didn’t turn out as such!

When I woke up in the morning, Autumn and Scott had woken up early and put on “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart… So I literally woke up to “Wake up Magi, I think I got something to saaaay to you…” When I went to the fridge to grab my daily serving of yogurt and an orange, I found a pretty little cupcake, a wrapped present, and some “Breezers” (the closest comparison I can think of are raspberry Mike’s Hard Lemonades). I was astonished!!! I really wasn’t expecting anything at all, let alone something so thoughtful and sweet. I opened up the present and it was a typical African dress from the market shaded in beautiful oranges with black swirls. I quickly downed the cupcake, because it’s my birthday– why not?!, and ran out the door to work. At the office, Leticia (from Equatorial Guinea) and Coline (from France) both knew it was my birthday and wished me a good one! And when Nuno arrived, he had seen on my facebook and commented as well. The people in the office are SUPER kind and down to earth– it hardly feels like I’m working in such an important place.

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At mid-day, I had my first UNCT meeting to attend. It was four hours long… no break… and exhausting… but, it was SO interesting, and exactly the type of thing that I am geared towards and interested in pursuing long-term. The UNCT is the “United Nations Country Team” comprised of all the heads of representatives for the in-country organizations, such as FAO, UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA, with the Resident Representative presiding over the meeting. I still can’t believe that lil, ‘ol me gets to sit in a room with the heads of all UN organizations, really important people, taking notes and creating reports on really important things. If I told you what they were, I would have to kill you…… Just kidding, I think. We talked about briefing the President for an AID’s program that would be organized into a presentation for the public, the new UN building, and the progress on certain goals and some internal affairs. Witnessing the diplomacy and the action behind such a powerful and positive organization changes my perspective. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies in development work, especially in a third world country. Although all the organizations are UN agencies, each branch has their different agenda, and likewise pushes it and weighs value in it more so than the others, and everybody needs money to function… There’s definitely an interesting dynamic in the group, especially because they are all working under the same main goals and intentions, or at least you would think, but severely disagree on decisions such as money allocation and priorities. I’m learning a lot about professionalism, coordination, management, diplomatic relations, and hands on development work. Since it’s such a small office, I’ve had a ton of work thrown at me that is actually some pretty heavy stuff. I still don’t think that I’ve processed that I’m dealing directly with a third-world government through the United Nations, under the Resident Representative… Only here would I get such an opportunity and experience! The words I type on official documents are actually transmitted to the President for approval and the Government Ministries, and the Code of Conduct I developed guides the actions of the head representatives of all the main organizations here. Seemingly minor, yet impactful in it’s weight. I feel good having responsibilities and I tend to want to stay at work past the time that I’m obliged too, just because I like helping and getting things done, and the work is satisfying. Sitting in a long meeting conducted mostly in French allowed me to zone out for awhile, and re-connect with my own thoughts, and I started to feel truly blessed to be here in Africa with all the experiences and people I have already encountered. I always have the greatest epiphanies when sitting in a room surrounded by faces, probably with the look on my face that I’m listening, but in actuality, quietly thinking to myself. I felt really, really lucky.

After the meeting, I was starved and decided to go get a sandwich to go with my GIANT orange from the market. As I was walking out of the office, a small boy dressed in someone’s old clothes covered in dirt looked at me with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen and said “tengo hambre” (I’m hungry). After some conversation, I discovered that his name is Yogi, he’s only 6 years old, and he looooves orange Fanta. I invited to come along with me down the street to the bocadilla shop and he cautiously followed, making small talk in Spanish along the way about his hermanos in his casa with his mama and how they have no comida. [Spanglish, man, spanglish…] We shared a sandwich together (with no picante for him) and then went our separate ways… This was the first birthday that I had the chance to give, rather than receive, and it was such a gift in and of itself, occuring simply by chance. After feeling so grateful for the things I have and the hospitality, experiences, and opportunites that have been given to me while in Africa, and I think that the universe conspired a little, aligning and allowing me to give something in return today. It surely was a small deed, and some may argue that it wasn’t the right thing to do (since it was teaching him to keep begging) but at least he wasn’t hungry anymore, and his little gap-toothed smile made my heart sing.

When I left work that day, my neighbor who has an Western African shop stopped me to talk, as usual. “Que tal?!” I excitedly responded that it was my birthday! I immediately regretted saying so. Although I insisted no and no and no, he gave me an African carved necklace from Cameroon. I feel really bad taking, not giving… especially here. But there was no way around this one. I really do love it and can’t wait to wear it at home. It’s one of those few material things that I will always treasure.

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Hisham decided last week to throw a dinner party for me, although I told him it wasn’t necessary to do so. He too insisted, and what he prepared was way more than I expected!! I think he’s lonely here, and I know he enjoys cooking, so the night brought us both joy and satisfaction, which made me feel a lot less guilty. He’s an extremely hospitable host! He spent the afternoon cooking chicken and pasta, preparing a salad, vegetables, and all sorts of delicious food. He even bought two cakes for me from the Hilton, the only high-end place hear in Africa where the super-rich businessmen stay when arriving for business prospects, most likely in oil. I was floored, especially because of the friends that were in attendance. I’ve only been here a few short weeks, and the room was filled with good vibes… even if they were verbally transmitted in French and Spanish, the tone was an overall positive, enjoyable hum. [Arturo, Danila, Adriano, Maria from Madrid and Maria from Andalucia, Dianis, Rosa, Manu, Jean-Michelle, and of course Autumn and Scott.] Everyone mingled well, as conversations drifted from Spanish into French and then back into English for me. It was a beautiful thing to see. Dianis even made Spanish omelets for an appetizer! I’m really really lucky to have met such awesome people. I already love them all. (The only person missing was Gaafar… unfortunately, he couldn’t come because he has been sick with malaria for the last week–the second person I know with Malaria! It’s becoming more normal/ less shocking, and thus I have less fear of it… but of course I’m still taking my anti-maliaral pills every day.)

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Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m in Africa– I’ve been introduced to lifestyles and accommodations more extravagant than some I’ve experienced in the States, and they treated me abundantly in their lavish ways, whether it’s cooking or picking me up, or taking me under their wing in the simplest of ways… even the people who don’t have much to give do so in some way. I came to Africa expecting nothing, but what means the most to me are the human connections I’ve formed. Today, the importance of these human connections and the radiating, loving vibes was such a gift and a blessing.

Thank you friends of Malabo.

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“I think I’ve seen a bagel, once.”

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Last night, I was trying to explain what bagels are… and I felt SO AMERICAN.

“You know… hard bread with the hole in the center. It’s not a donut… but it’s like the shape of a donut… It’s a … (searching for the words) a…a… a bagel.”

“OH! I think maybe I have seen! One time!”

“No, never seen…”

“Yes, yes I have seen one time… I think!”

So, one person at this table thinks they have seen a bagel, one time… I was trying REALLY hard to not laugh but I couldn’t help it. It struck me as funny and I was giggling out loud. We come from such different worlds, quite obviously, but a bagel was really what was separating us at that point.

“You take eggs in the morning?!” (I think it’s really cute when they use the word “take” instead of the proper verb.)
“Yes eggs… with bacon or sausage or ham… and some toast.”
“QUE?!?! That is crazy! … We don’t eat breakfast in Spain… Only some coffee, maybe take some milk, maybe a little snack. Then around noon we take a break from work, have wine in the square with some tapas, and then… we go to lunch.”

I was sitting at dinner last night with my friends who work for the Spanish embassy, Adriano and Dianis, and we were on the subject of breakfast, clearly. We were waiting for quite some time for our pollo y pescado at a local African-style restaurant in the center of the city. Sitting outside with a make-shift roof over our heads and wooden carvings adorned on the walls, we talked freely, and in English. I’m usually struggling to keep up with their Spanish, especially when they talk very fast in their Southern dialects. But last night, they played nice and tried hard to speak in English. I appreciated it.

They couldn’t believe that Americans eat such a large breakfast, at least in comparison to their customary first meal. I described French toast with fruit and whipped cream on top, omelets with vegetable fillings, breakfast meats, juices, smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, and everything that you can imagine on a breakfast menu. Their minds were BLOWN!!!! They could not comprehend it. I on the other hand had experienced this polar vortex in the breakfast world, as I was deprived from bacon and eggs for quite a few months while living in Italy. I told them that one morning when we are hung-over again I will make them an American-style breakfast. They were really happy to hear that!

Finally, our food arrived accompanied by french fries and grilled plantains, and there wasn’t much talking after that… at least until it was all gone. I was given a half of a giant chicken that we joked was probably beheaded in the kitchen right then and there, and they were given a full, giant cooked fish. For such large meals, sides, and drinks, we only paid about $8 each! And it was delicious!

I haven’t written in about a week and I’ve been neglecting catching up on here… I keep putting it off because I know I have SO much to say and writing is tedious, especially when you’re busy. Yes, busy! Since I have friends now, I am always out doing things. I’ve been very independent in my endeavors and my days are always filled with something new… even if it’s just walking around the city and popping in and out of the African shops or checking the fruit stands.

Last week, I played tennis with Jean-Michelle from France and Hisham from Morocco a few times. The last time we played, Hisham and I beat Jean-Michelle and the other trainer in a game of 7 matches! We just barely won, but I was prided in the fact that I came to another country able to play a sport enough to hang with three grown men, two of which are trainers, let alone beat them! Let’s hear it for the girls!! After tennis, Hisham always cooks for us and he made me try ponga, a type of Asian catfish from Thailand. I don’t usually eat fish, but I wasn’t going to turn down his gracious cooking. I actually really liked it… but even more so, I loved the rich salad of avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, carrots, and more that he tossed together. He is an extremely talented cook!

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On Tuesday, I went to a drum circle led by my friend Gaafar, the drummer from Egypt. He picked me up and I helped him collect various sets of bongo drums from his friends’ houses and the pub where he plays on Friday nights, and then we set them up at Pepe’s house. (Pepe is a famous basketball player in Spain.) In the circle, I sat next to a girl named Rosa, who could barely speak English… but we made an attempt to communicate through her English and my broken Spanish, and despite our lack of ability to communicate we both ended of giggling together as we repeatedly beat our drums out of tune together. There were about 15 of us—half Spanish-speaking ranging from Spain, South-America, and Africa, and the other half Americans. There were a variety of cultures and backgrounds in the circle, but no matter all of our differences, we came together for a common beat. I sat in the corner with the bongo wedged between my knees, beating the center and then the corners and then the edges, keeping up with Gaafar’s lead. It was difficult to follow the complex patterns that he taught us with the pauses and remembering the different areas of the drum, alternating hands in a certain way, while my hands were blistering red from the repetitive beating. Eventually, we all had different instruments and parts in coming together on a song. I held a hollowed gord with shells strung around the outside, which I rotated to make a “chh- chh- chh” sound, while another girl hit a “gong- gong- gong” every opposite beat. Everybody had all different types of instruments that were out of the ordinary, and very African in nature. We all sang together—“Ma-ma-ja-nu-ayna, ma-ma-ja-nu-ay-ay-ayna, o ma-ma, ma-ja-nu-ayna- oo ma!” …or something like that.

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Valentine’s day was just another day, a Friday to be exact, but of course didn’t feel like anything special… People don’t really celebrate San Valentin here. I went to get a local sandwich from down the street for lunch with Autumn’s husband Scott. These bocadillas are DELICIOUS– made of shaved, juicy kebab meat, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, french fries IN the sandwich, picante (which is VERY spicy) and something like mayonnaise. While we were getting kebabs, we started talking to a friend of Autumn and Scott who has a fruit stand in the center of town, next to the stand. I introduced myself, and she welcomed me to Equatorial Guinea. To my surprise, she gave me one of her fresh cacaos, explaining, “Crack it open and lick it!” The taste is much more bitter than chocolate, but with a little milk and sugar I would have my own chocolate bar. This was a far better Valentine’s Day gift than I could have hoped for… Here I was in Africa, given a cacao, the derivative of chocolate, by a woman who doesn’t have much to give.

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For dinner, I went to Hisham’s apartment where he had a dinner party for us along with four French girls and a girl from Madrid who were his colleagues. He made ponga again, this time covered in giant shrimps, onions, and mushrooms. They had decorated the table in party hats and favors, candles, and little goofy presents for me and all the other girls! After dinner, we toasted champagne and drank wine while lighting sparklers off the balcony. It definitely didn’t feel like I was in Africa!

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Afterwards, we went to the Irish pub and met up with some of my other friends. Later in the night, we broke off to Bahia, a discoteca where many expats go because it is similar in it’s feel to a European club. Hisham and Jean-Michelle eventually went home, but I stayed as I was having way too much fun my Spanish friends dancing salsas and chatting on the balcony overlooking the sea. Around 5am, I grabbed Autumn from the dance floor and said goodbye to our friends. Dianis said he would walk us home, and it’s a blessing that we did. As we were walking home, three large men started to follow us, cat-calling all along the way. This is a pretty typical scenario, especially at night, but they were becoming aggressive and getting closer. Autumn was very drunk and after living here for 9 months, she was sick of the disrespect… So she turned around and screamed at them in Spanish, waving her arms all around and yelling to the point where no one even knew what she was saying. I think when you’re drinking and you’ve been here for awhile, maybe you forget that you’re not in America… and you just can’t do that. We should have just walked away, but now these men were angry and also unpredictable—they were clearly Fong. Africans from the Fong tribe are very aggressive and violent, and they are known as the dominant tribe as they have taken over West Africa through brutality and force. For some reason, she wanted to stay there and fight with them, asking us to leave her alone, but clearly we couldn’t do such a thing. Dianis kept an eye on the situation while I ran and got her sleeping husband from our apartment to try to calm her down and rationalize the situation with her, while a few other men on the street (who were clearly of the Boobi tribe) calmed down the very aggressive men who had a gun and were not going to be put up with being talked to like that by a white woman. A local guy even called the police, which would have only made the situation worse as they would have just asked for bribes or fined everyone. The entire scenario was largely unnecessary, but it goes to show you can’t forget where you are, and you can’t forget that a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g can happen here. There are no rules… and sometimes no rationality.

The next day, I was exhausted from not just drinking but the entire ordeal that had lasted until about 6:30am. Dianis texted me and asked if I wanted to go the pool around 2pm, and so I groggily got myself together and met him, Adriano, and Maria near my house. As we were walking towards the Presidential pool, we noticed there was a massive brigade of police with machine guns on cars and officers in shields patrolling the street. As we got closer to the palace, we realized it was only for a wedding! We knew it must have been for someone extremely important, as the President was definitely in attendance. (We later found out it was for the President’s son.) All along the red carpet leading to the church next to the palace, Guineans in white robes sang while police guarded and patrolled the surroundings. We quickly scurried through, making our way to the pool. We swam for a little, and then afterwards went to a café for some cappuccinos and ice cream. By then, it was time for a rest. I do love siesta.

That night we went to a BBQ that a friend, José, had invited us too. He is from Spain but has lived here for 5 years and owns a company here. The BBQ was at a compound and hosted by the company—in the employers’ contracts, they are promised a BBQ twice a month… of course along with the other amenities on the compound, such as complimentary apartments and cars. The compound itself was beautiful, granite walls and a large pool, and a dozen shiny cars lining the border of the gated community on the outskirts of the town. It’s like somebody planted a mini-resort in the middle of Africa, because once you walk back outside the gates, you’re reminded of the filth and poverty of the country. We had some beers and some Spanish sausages, and I sat with Rosa, whom I had met from the drum circle. Rosa is quiet, and I am now too– at least more than I am with my friends at home… especially this night because I couldn’t understand much as the conversations were incomprehensible at the speed of their tongues. Rosa and I sat together for the most of the night practicing my Spanish and her English. It really forced me to use my Spanish knowledge and try to speak, since we couldn’t communicate much else. I felt comforted in knowing I’ve made a girl friend– she even texted me later and called me her American best friend! So charming. We then went to Bahia to dance at the club on the edge of the coast. My boss was there with his Portuguese friends and we all hung out for the rest of the night. When we got in the car to go home, Adriano and Jose actually tried to kidnap me to go swimming! They are too much fun.

On Sunday, Jean-Michelle and Hisham brought me to Sipopo beach in the afternoon. It was breath-taking and so necessary to get out of the city for awhile. As we drove alongside the coast, I was entranced by the nature we were surrounded by– so much greenery, birds circling tree tops against the backdrop of a foggy mountain, turquoise waters, piglets and wild cows, and cliffs upon cliffs. We went exploring along the coast, stopping in various places to take pictures and check out the area. The beach was enjoyable, and Hisham had brought tons of fresh fruit for the day. The water is warm, the air is cool, and the beach is crowded with tons of local Africans who are playfully enjoying their Sunday afternoons.

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This week hasn’t been too exciting, yet… at least besides for my work. I played tennis with Hisham and Jean-Michelle on Monday, and yesterday Dianis and I got coffee, and then ice cream while walking around the city to practice my Spanish. He’s a real down to earth guy from the Canary Islands who loves The Beatles and the Simpsons, and he’s helped my Spanish improve drastically by simply forcing me to try. He’s totally my type of friend– well-traveled and intellectual and super mellow yet kind, although I wish I had met him in his Spanish hippie glory days when he had rastas (dreadlocks). I really appreciate his friendship!

I started my job at the UNDP (United Nations Development Project) last week! My dream job has always been to work for the UN. Since it’s such a small office, I actually get to handle important things, whereas if I were to intern somewhere else, I would probably be making copies and delivering coffee. Here I’m working directly with the UN Representative, Leo Heileman, and other members of the office as a Coordinator. I’ve already created a Code of Conduct for the Country Team (the head representatives of all organizations such as UNICEF, UNDEP, FAO, etc. I’m in the middle of working on UNDAF results reports and organizing them into documents for the government organizations to complete, translating them into Spanish and such, to check on the progress of programs working towards the MDGs (Millenium Development Goals). I also attend UNCT Meetings with all the head representatives from the organizations. I’ve also created charts of statistics for working conditions in the surrounding countries such as Gabon, Cameroon, and Congo to compare them to EG’s status. They were then used in a presentation by the Chief Economist in front of the government officials!!! The most exciting part??? I have an official email: magdalena.kernan@undp.org 🙂

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I haven’t been able to take pictures much, and it kills me a little bit inside every time I see a perfect set up for a photo and can’t take one. I’m really trying to figure out the boundaries of taking photos here, but the risks don’t seem worth the rewards. The government is SO strict about photos, and I really don’t feel like being fined or having my camera taken or thrown in a jail for a shot, or even just being approach by the intense, hard-faced, machine-gun carrying police. It’s pretty serious and intimidating… And even more so the people in general are very apprehensive of photos because they live in fear and are unaccustomed to modern technology. There aren’t even newspapers or magazines of any sort here, and if there face were to be associated with the wrong thing…… I understand their dilemma completely so I haven’t pushed it. But it’s definitely strange not being able to do what comes natural to me as freely as I have before. It’s another liberty I’ve taken for granted. But it’s also giving me more time to focus on other things, like my job at the UNDP, making friends, and speaking Spanish!


Quiero hablar en español perfectos despues de dos meses aquí… Espero que si practico todos los días pienso que puedo hablarlo perfectamente y con fluidez!

[I want to speak Spanish perfectly after two months here… I hope that if I practice every day, I think that I will be ably to speak perfectly and fluidly!]

I’m really trying to practice my spanish. Every night I read a little of a Spanish text book, my entire phone is switched to spanish, I text every day in Spanish, in the office I have to speak in Spanish, and I try to think in Spanish in my head. He tratando mucho!!! (I’m trying a lot!!!)

Tomorrow’s my birthday and I’m excited to have made friends to spend it with. Hisham is cooking a big dinner at his house for all my friends and even ordered a chocolate cake! I’m telling you, these guys are above and beyond sweet to me!! I’m really excited… It will be a good birthday, especially because I had absolutely no expectations for even acknowledging it.

I’ll leave you with this before I fall asleep. — Dianis sent me this video after learning about my love for Radiohead and my project with the homeless… So relevant and beautiful. And again, I was brought together in connection with others through sharing this project. Despite our cultures and backgrounds and differences, there’s always something beautiful and mutual to connect upon, for everyone, which is the most basic lesson of that project and most important thing I’ve learned in life. We all have something in common… Even if it’s not a bagel.

Besos!

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Fun Experience of the Day: There’s a tarantula in the shower!

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