“When you feel that you want to change the world, the world has then changed you.”

Gaafar said these words to me two nights ago and they really struck me.
We were sitting in his living room, decked in Arabic lanterns and African wooden carvings from all over the continent. His collective and eclectic interior decor offered a small glimpse into his world travels. His couch was locally made and covered in a tribal print and cushioned with many different size and shapes of tasseled cushions. All together, the global items morphed the room into an Arabic/African-accented breath-taking sanctuary. I wanted to know where every little thing was from, such as the giant wooden circle that was once used as a monetary token of high value in central Africa, and another wooden carving used by tribes as a symbol sort of like a passport, and the tapestry on the wall that was once a woman’s dress from another country where he had lived in Africa.

 

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It is easy to see that he is extremely intelligent and cultured, as well as genuinely gentle and kind. He works here as an accountant for Arab Contractors, a large company, but also plays drums in a band with a famous African drummer and others from Spain. In addition, he writes stories for a magazine back home in Egypt. I saw notes in Arabic laying on the wooden-carved table and attempted to read them, but of course could not even begin to decipher what to me resembled intricate doodles. On another page were phrases in Spanish, English and more in Arabic along with sketches outlining his next story. He began to explain to me that some things come to him in the different languages he speaks because they flow better that way. He explained the concept for his next story, one of attaining happiness– a tale of three sets of people from all over the world who are so different in their desires and yet wish to change their circumstances by moving to another place, interestingly entangling all of their lives. He had various meaningful messages to construe through each story before they interwove into the larger piece. With the central them of happiness, many of them conveyed to not settle, and to go out and chase your dreams. Written on the paper were words about changing the world, and that is when he spoke that phrase to me… “When you feel that you want to change the world, the world has then changed you.” He asked me for my input and I told him that what he had said reminded me of line from a Dave Matthews song– “making plans to change the world, while the world is changing us.” And before I knew it, Dave Matthews was scrawled in fine print next to Arabic ramblings. For some reason I felt oddly satisfied to contribute my thoughts on his story and to have played a role in someone’s life from so far away, whom I never expected to meet, which may have an impact on the stories that are read in Egypt. It makes the world feel small.

While we were waiting til it was time to go out, he showed me some videos about Sudan that he had found while researching the country and it’s culture in order to learn more about his background. (He is half Sudanese.) I realized that I knew nothing about Sudan, nor their culture, nor how skewed and corrupt their government was as well. We watched a video called Keep the Promise, calling on American and other Western leaders to keep their promise of holding Sudan to a standard of fair and peaceful elections, as they have failed to do so. Throughout the video there was a steady beat, a “beat for peace”, and people from all over the world joined in, bringing together music and a positive political message… It was a-maaaaz-ing and gave me the chills. Watch it here.

We then went to pick up his bandmates from Gaafar’s old house which he had given to them to stay it. It is an embassy house and enclosed in giant beautiful guarded gates with a vast courtyard shaded by large trees that they often use for drum circles and gatherings. Alex, the infamous drummer, decided to adorn his BEST gear, and for the rest of the night we referred to him as a Prince. (For those of you who saw the photo I had posted and thought he was actually royalty, he isn’t… But claims that he was a prince of sorts in the village he is from.) We finally arrived at the birthday party for Arturo, the boyfriend of Danila whom I had met the other night.

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Arturo, the Mexican, is a friendly, bubbly guy, but that night he looked exhausted and beads of sweat dripped from his forehead, more profusely than what is typical from the regular heat. We exchanged the kiss-kiss on both cheeks and I asked him “Que tal?” (How are you?). In Spanish, he casually responded that he has malaria.

Malaria is very common, and if it is treated right away, it is non-threatening. He had been treated right away so he was not worried the slightest, but it still struck me hard as a reality. Mosquitos, which carry Malaria, are single-handedly, historically ranked as “the most dangerous animal that ever lived.” Half the human beings who have ever died, perhaps as many as 45 billion people, have been killed by female mosquitoes (the males only bite plants). Mosquitoes carry more than a hundred potentially fatal diseases including malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, encephalitis, filariasis and elephantiasis. Even today, they kill one person every twelve seconds. Here in Equatorial Guinea, the rarest and worst form of the disease is carried– cerebral malaria– because it travels to your brain quickly, it is more severe, and you have a shorter amount of time to treat it. Autumn and Scott know some people who have had malaria three times and survived, but they also know an American expat who died in one day from it. …I am very faithful about taking my anti-malarial medicine every day, especially now.

The birthday party was fun! There was a pig that had been roasted all day for about 8 hours and tended to by Arturo’s good friend, who dutifully rotated it throughout the day. There also was a delicious desert and lots of beer! David and I were the only Americans, surrounded by Spanish speakers from Spain, South America, and of course locals. It was such a good crowd and everybody was fun and kind! We then went to another birthday party with Gaafar and his bandmates, along with a French girl who teaches English here and her local boyfriend. This party was crazy!!! There were gates enclosing the house and the courtyard was full of probably every Spanish person here in Malabo. There was free food and an open bar, a DJ, dancing and lots of people to meet. My other friend, Dianis and his roommates who are here from Spain with the embassy on scholarship, were also all there! Autumn and Scott ended up coming to meet us with their friend Taroc and a few other Americans that they had met at the bar.

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I practiced my Spanish all night with my friends and before I knew it, it was 4am. Gaafar found me and asked if I wanted to go to the discoteca so that Prince Alex could dance! This discoteca, Black Note, is right down the street from where I am living so I decided to just stop in for a little. It was wild of course and local girls were dancing in the mirror, but I’d had enough for the night and was exhausted…. It was 5am. Gaafar walked me home a few buildings down, and I thanked him for being such a good friend.

When I woke up yesterday, it was the afternoon and I was so out of it. My sleep schedule has been off anyway, and staying up til almost sunrise didn’t help… As soon as I awoke, I received a phone call from my friend and neighbor Prince. He asked me if I wanted to walk around and take pictures (since he knows I am here for photography) and then go out with him and his friends… and so I groggily got ready for the day and met him outside. I walked around with him and his two friends taking photos and then we went to a restaurant named “Candy” for beers and pizza. They are all here from Nigeria to work, so they speak pigeon-English as well as Spanish. At one point, one of the boys was trying to intimidate me. I was a little uncomfortable to begin with since they were being rowdy twenty-something’s and were so fixated on me and where I was from, continuously commenting on my color and how they all want a white wife to bring home. But then, the one became very intense in his questions and look, telling me they sacrifice people in his village in Nigeria and cut your arms when you’re alive and eat you.. And then he asked me if I wanted to go there, proceeding to ask me, “Are you scared? Do I scare you?” My stomach was flopping inside but I looked him dead in the eyes back and said “Nope. Not at all.” He finally cut it out. It must have been some very weird sense of humor, but I understand that they are unaccustomed to knowing a white person. It was kind-of sweet… They kept taking pictures of me to show their friends like I was some sort of circus monkey to show off. Very endearing.

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I’ve written more than I intended now. I have to get ready to walk to the Spanish cultural center where I will meet some new friends from France and Morocco to play tennis. I have to get to bed early tonight so that I am up and ready for my meeting with the boss at the UNDP! He said he was very impressed with my resume and they are trying to assign me to a particular UN project here. I secretly am hoping it is one of the human rights focused projects in which I get to visit the horrific jails. I am so excited to have an opportunity with them. Wish me luck!

Some advice: Inferring that I am guaranteed to not have AIDs is not a sufficient (or socially acceptable) pick-up line.
Not that a better pick-up line would have worked anyway.

 

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Amigos

Friends! I made friends!!
A few days ago, I made a friend named Gaafar, and I knew immediately we would be good friends.
He is from Egypt and Sudan, but could very well pass for African with his wild hair, loose printed pants and open chested shirts. He is here as an accountant, and he is also the bongo drummer in a band. Tonight we went to see his band play at the Irish pub. The pub is a commonplace for expats thus double the price of any local bar, since it is flooded with the white, rich oil workers who are here for a couple of months at a time.

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Autumn and Scott were exhausted since we went out the night before with the students from Drexel and so they decided to go home after about 45 minutes… I hesitantly decided to stay by myself, since the bar is only a few blocks from home. I quickly made friends with some French and Scottish men, and then my friend Jenny showed up in no time. Jenny is beautiful and loveable in her very charismatic ways. She loves to laugh and dance, and she dresses very, very high end, especially for a third world country. She reminds me of a girlfriend I would love going out to the bars with back home. She’s also probably one of the richest local women on the island. She is a gold-digger/ prostitute of sorts, and I mean that in the least judgmental way possible. The rich (and married) oil men from the states and the UK fall head over heals for her, and she has multiple men who wire her thousands of dollars a month just for the heck of it. These men have so much money they don’t know what to do with it, but Jenny finds a way to tap into the new oil wealth on the island. Tonight she pointed at a man who had offered her $20,000 to stay with him and be his girlfriend… She laughed hysterically as she told me she has responded, “Maybe for $150,000” to which he showed up with the next day and she still left him. She is a character.

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There’s not many white women on the island, so at some point every single man in the bar had introduced themselves and asked what I was doing here. “Getting a beer and listening to live music,” I would say swiftly. I just left them standing there confused, since they’re all old enough to be my grandfather and creepily stand way too close for comfort… no thanks. For some reason they think this place has the rules of Vegas, but I guess it is true in a way– whatever happens here probably does stay here, except for their money.

When Gaafar was done playing he came over and handed me a Heineken and a CD (I knew I liked him). “It’s a gift. Welcome to Malabo.” The CD is full of local African music with titles I can’t pronounce, and he said once I listen to it to tell him what I think, and he will give me another. I can’t wait to listen!

I met some of his friends, and for the rest of the time at the bar hung out with two girls, one from Sardegna, Italy and the other from Madrid, Spain. They’re in their mid-twenties and employed in Malabo as architectures. Danila (the Italian girl) and I really hit it off, and she introduced me to her boyfriend from Mexico who’s also here as an architecture. The three of them had met seven years ago when they studied abroad together in Chilé, and all eventually came to work for the same company here in EG. I felt right at home with them like I was back in Europe, sitting outside the bar and talking, surrounded by accents that sometimes carried off into conversations I couldn’t understand. I absolutely love it. I love their cultures, their languages, their perspectives, their different ways of life. Spanish/Italian culture is very similar, but so different from American. I’m not sure what it is, but I love to be surrounded by their culture and people from it. [I think I need to move back to Italy one day.]

We decided to go a club around 2am. We all piled in Gaafar’s car and drove down the street to the club, where we got in for for free because the one architecture we were with had actually designed the building. Clubs are really funny here because they have giant mirrors on the wall and the local girls literally line up in front of them to dance at themselves, staring into their own eyes through the mirror and sexing themselves up. Super hilarious. At one point a few of the Spanish guys were imitating them and sliding up and down the mirror… It was hysterical. They have NO shame and just dance and dance in their tight mini dresses while staring dead straight into their own eyes all while in a single file line. It’s quite a site. There was also a circle formed at one point where the Africans were getting in the center and showing off their SERIOUS dance moves that I am not sure how to even describe. Their “dress up” clothes for the club are all white pants and all white button downs. One of these white shirts was even bedazzled with jewels on the sleeves and with sequins writing “Live Up!” on the back. Ah, who doesn’t love a man in an all white get-up and sequins.

During this whole circle dance party, I became friends with Dianis, a guy from Spain. We doubled up as the two super awkward people who don’t really dance (I can’t keep up with Europeans and definitely not Africans). We were hysterically laughing as we made up awkward, very subtle dance moves, such as the one shoulder lift, while everybody else was shaking their entire bodies so hard they reminded me of small wet dogs after a bath.

I was having so much fun I didn’t even realize what time it was. Around 4am, Gaafar said he could take me back home whenever I wanted and we decided to go since he had to work in the morning. It was great to have a friend there that wasn’t being a creepy guy and had my back, even if just for a ride home. He’s like a super sweet older brother. He dropped me off at home and even invited me to a birthday party dinner with their group of friends in the evening. I’m so glad I’ve made some friends!

Here’s a fun bonus: the anti-malarial medication I take every morning also seems to clear up hangovers!

[The photos at the bottom are of my neighbors– mis pequeños amigos!– that I get to play with!!]

 

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“She’s always buzzing just like Neon, ne-o-o-oooon.”

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If I thought that people were curiously staring before, today put on a new meaning.

We went grocery shopping all over town today and I stocked up on lots of food. It was HOT and the three of us had about four bags each to carry. We took a taxi home, which is always an interesting experience. They’re only usually 500cfa ($1) anywhere in town and used frequently by the locals who are traveling more than a block or two, but they’re a very new thing here in EG over the past few years– not many people used to have cars. Now, the streets are bustling and horns are sounding every street corner, supplementing beeps instead of using the stop signs and to say “yes” in picking up new occupants. Despite the country being ridden with malaria, AIDs, and other diseases, car accidents are now the leading cause of death, especially when coupled with the country’s alcoholism problems.

Taxis will pick up multiple people until the car is filled, so sometimes you find yourself squished next to a stranger in a hot, sweaty car. When driving around, you feel like you’re in a video game… They don’t slow down for anything, even as cars stop or pull out ahead of them, swerving into on coming traffic and around the tightly packed narrow streets, just barely avoiding obstacles and dodging pedestrians. They do some pretty ballsy maneuvers, but we always make it back in one piece.

When we returned, we were all drenched in sweat. We unpacked our fruits and veggies, pita wraps, yogurt, cereal, etc…. and EGGS! The island is on an egg shortage and no stores have had them for about a month now, so when they are in stores they’re generally expensive, but today we got them for about $3 a dozen. We all cooled down and I decided I would take advantage of the running water while we had it. But at that point, I definitely was too cooled off for another freezing cold shower.
My solution? Go for a run!

Going for a run in an African third world country is an experience in and of itself and it was my first time… it was probably everyone else’s first time too in seeing such a thing. I had my neon green sneakers on, bright purple sports bra under my tank top, and headphones in blasting a playlist that reminds me of home. I kept thinking about the time my brother told me I run like a three-legged chicken that one time I decided to take up lacrosse junior year of high school- why, I’m not too sure- and hysterically laughing imagining what I looked like to them. White girl goes for a run…. a run? in this heat? why run?…. wearing neon shoes and some weird purple contraption on her torso…. why is she moving like that? what is she doing?…. Here she goes again. I just kept my head phones in and ran. Except to talk with a gap-tooth grinning little boy playing barefoot soccer in the dirt who waved me down asking me “porque estas correr?” (why are you running?) and sending me off with a winking “guapa.” That 8 year old is gonna be a lady-killer!

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I ran down to the coastline and through the gated security pass where the oil ships dock. It was 6pm and the sun was setting over the calm water and shining through the giant Lion King trees. As I rounded the corner and passed a small fishing boat docking with their catches from the day, I took it all in. The corrupt President’s palace was in view, lined with palm trees and sparkling in the setting sun, and the tropical lush greenery was overtaking the abandoned buildings to my left. It was absolutely beautiful and just what I needed. And I made it home in time while the water was still running!

 

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Today’s thought: Why is the U.S. the only country that doesn’t take a siesta? Every other country I go to closes down from about 2-4pm for a mid-afternoon, post-lunch nap and it’s a mark of a different way of life. It’s been a tradition for thousands of years, regarded as a physical necessity rather than a luxury. I think I will run for office one day on the platform of implementing siesta. We’d all be a lot more pleasant with a mid-day snooze! I can see it now… “Respect the nap.” I’m totally kidding but seriously, siesta is a great invention.

Ps. I hope everybody got the reference in the title to the wonderful and catchy John Mayer song. I hope it’s stuck in your head now, too. 🙂

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Clean!

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7am I checked the faucets… No running water.
7:30am… Still none.
8am… RUNNING WATER!!!!!!!!!

I showered and it was the coldest shower of my life but also the most glooooorious. I apologize if this is too much information but it’s been 5 days without running water and this place doesn’t smell like peaches and roses, especially in the sweltering heat. Body odors and sewers of a city without a trash system is a better way to describe it…

I’m becoming more brave in exploring the town on my own. I’ll give myself some credit– I can wander around a third world country alone and feel fine! That’s definitely empowering and I thought to myself today that I could take on traveling just about anywhere now. But the reality is, the locals here are genuinely highly moralistic and fairly reserved. Most of the country is Catholic, and despite the corrupt government, the country is strongly grounded. I also now have a working country phone with some weird 222 number, so I can officially go off on my own with a sense of security that I’m not completely stranded and can call someone locally if need be. Still, it’s liberating to be able to navigate and confidently walk around on your own in Africa.

Today I stopped in the UNDP office and met with a man named Nuno. One of my jobs as an intern is to become involved with the local community. The non-profit I’m here with (Bridge One World/ the Ladybug Project) is focused on health and education initiatives in the country through a variety of projects. My main internship roles are to blog for the organization, take photos, and take part in their current projects such as teaching English in schools and visiting the health clinic in Moka. Since the schedule is generally flexible, I’m trying to get involved with the UNDP here in Malabo, which would be amaaaaazing. They’re currently working on environmental projects and human rights projects, including visiting the prisons. I would be SO STOKED to have an opportunity with such a huge, international organization– so cross your fingers/say a prayer. I’ll find out tomorrow at three!!! I can also get involved with the Red Cross, UNICEF, the ministries, or the multicultural centers here. It’s exciting to get a dynamic experience through the community. More people to meet, more things to do, more opportunities, more experiences!

Another cool thing from today: Do Something (a large non-profit organization focused on youth rallying together for good causes) featured my Connecting Humanity project on homelessness on their Facebook! It’s amazing how far this project took off and spread. One person commented, “this project makes homelessness visible.” … Mission accomplished. Awareness is spreading, and perspectives are shifting, thanks to so many people who shared this project. Now on to the next one!

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“The journey that we undertake together is the exchange of dark for light, of ignorance for understanding.”

Today was a good day.
-I made a friend named Prince. He speaks English and is Equato-Guinean!
-We had running water for about 45 minutes! Although I still haven’t gotten to shower yet, since we were filling the basins we use to wash our hands/face. We at least got to flush the toilets for the first time in a few days!
-I had pizza!!!! Yes there’s pizza in Africa 🙂 There’s a small little shop run by the sole Italian inhabitant on the island and tonight it was occupied mostly by expats. They made us a deliiiicious four cheese pizza!

I’m in a better mood when walking around town now because I decided to take on a different approach with the discrimination here. I was starting to feel uncomfortable. When I tell you people stare, I mean, people stop dead in their tracks along the whole block and watch you walk down the street- everyone on the block- sometimes out of curiosity and other times giving a subtle stink eye or even yelling “Blanca!” So… That’s pretty uncomfortable. It’s better than getting the “white tax” though. Now whenever anybody stares, I wave really big and say “hola hola hola!” It seems to make the situation a little less awkward, and I keep finding myself giggling and prancing down the street saying hello to almost everyone as they say hello back and look on perplexed. They’ll get used to seeing me soon enough!
[Side note: Once, instead of being called “Blanca,” a small child yelled towards me “Cheeeeena cheeeeena!!!” until her parents corrected her “no, blanca” thinking that I was Asian presumably since she had never seen a Caucasian before.]

It was torrential downpouring this morning some pretty heavy tropical rain so we stayed inside until this afternoon. I finally am able to catch up on some books on my reading list and I already finished two– I Am Malala, which I HIGHLY recommend, and The Alchemist. Now I’m reading a book about social media and the law, or lack of, in governing our rights and protections on the internet.

I feel so privileged to have this experience, despite the fact that it’s nothing grand and luxurious. It definitely falls in the category of experience, rather than vacation or anything else, and I’m not sure many people would enjoy the aspects of life here or even want to give it a go. But it’s a necessary experience, for me at least. Being here and experiencing discrimination and the poverty of a third world country is humbling. Truly, truly humbling. It’s a part of the world we live in that we don’t often acknowledge, and the perspective it’s given me already is priceless. A good friend of mine read my previous blog post with her boyfriend, who commented that his parents and grandparents experienced similar things in the states growing up on the other side– “it’s very real.” For many of us, we have absolutely no idea what it feels like to be on the “other” side, and this is only a small glimpse of a very, very real phenomenon. I can only fathom the incredible strength that those who have been prejudiced against bear. It’s something I just can’t wrap my head around how we, as human beings, mistreat other human beings. We’re all the same. We all need food and shelter, love and comfort, and know what it’s like to laugh or cry, be cold or hungry, or even hurt. We’re actually all the same inside… But we judge people and historically have killed based on mere differences of our human traits or characteristics. Despite our overt differences, no one person is greater or less than another… Not for money, color, race, gender, sexuality, or whatever it may be that characterizes a person. It’s something that is problematic in even simply comparing ourselves to others and holding them as highers or less-thans in every day life, because that’s where it starts. It’s easy to forget that we all have the exact same worth. There’s so many problems in the world environmentally, such as global warming, and global health, such as the issues of poverty and clean water… But it seems all of these problems stem from a global systematic drive of self-interest and from a lack of universal compassion. I really think that if we cared more about each other and understood each other, we’d act more consciously as a whole.

I’ve been pretty fortunate in my blessings and experiences lately… from attending a UN briefing, to getting into my first law school, the exhibit of my photography which raised money for the homeless, and now living in a third world country in Africa after finishing college early. Life seems to be guiding me in a particular direction and many of these things occurred spontaneously or out of my control, often under the guidance of friends and family. I truly enjoy exploring peoples’ cultures and perspectives, learning about situations different than mine and even being able to outlet them through photography and writing. These abundant experiences continuously propel my drive and interest further in exploring other cultures and people, and in understanding the world.

It’s 5am again and the rooster is crowing so I’m going to bed now, but if you would like to read about the prison down the street from me, check out this link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-455635/True-hell-earth-Simon-Mann-faces-imprisonment-cruellest-jail-planet.html
It explains the corruption here and one of the reasons the country is known for it’s human rights abuses. Some people are thrown in jail for simply speaking their mind and voicing oppositional views to those of their “President” (dictator).

I’ll write more tomorrow.
Buenas noches.

Fun fact: There are rats from the forest that are about the size of a small dog (15 lbs). They eat them… Along with the street dogs that are apparently turned into the street kabobs.

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The Beginning

I was right in not having expectations.
It’s definitely weird here.

I was traveling for about 24 hours over 3 flights through 4 cities with no sleep.

When I got to Madrid, I had the travel bug jitters and those lovestruck eyes. I was so excited to be back in Europe, with the cappuccinos and accents, and I had 7 hours to kill. I checked my luggage and took the bus to the center of town. Checking my map, I wandered around the famous museum and took some time to sit on a church’s steps to get some sun. It was freeeeezing– warmer than the home I left but I only wore a light sweater while most had on heavy coats. I pretended I wasn’t cold and checked out the gardens, fountains, and parks surrounding the museums lining the main street. I decided to wander down some back alleys, checking out the small shops and cafés full of locals. I entered one and Spanish tongues filled my ears. I was a little rusty but the cafe I stopped in was run by a sweet man who aided my mixed Spanglish, serving me an egg and potato breakfast pie and cappuccino… And then a complimentary orange juice. I sat for awhile reading my book while I watched a light rain run through the alleys of Spain. Eventually it was time to go back to the airport and catch my flight to Morocco.

I almost missed my plane from Morocco to Malabo, but luckily the friend I had made in Madrid, a young Gambian man who had the same flight as me and took me under his wing, recognized my name on the loudspeaker in the airport in the language I couldn’t understand. I rushed to the desk and they whisked me onto the plane and I never got to say goodbye.

24 hours from my Philadelphia departure, I ended up in Malabo. It was 2:30am when I arrived and I was exhausted but my eyes were wide open and alert, cautiously observing the people around me as I had been warned about things being taken from my luggage or being asked for bribes. But I passed through customs just fine. The customs officer told me I was “guapa” and let me go without much trouble. This was the first of many times that my fair skin would get me privileges and easier passing in Africa but also the reason for stares and sometimes untrust or hate.

I picked up my luggage and everything was in its proper place as I had left it. I said goodbye to the lady whom I had sat next to on the plane, even though I didn’t really care for her. It’s not often that I don’t like people, but I was in a bad mood to begin with. The plane reeked of BO and everyone kept coughing, I hadn’t slept in almost two days, and she was taking up half of my seat. She kept pushing me into my arm rest suffocating me with her large bottom as the bar jammed into my rib cage… and I kept trying to inch away from her sweat and the stench that oozed out of her.

I easily passed through security as I was the only one to not have my luggage checked thanks to a wink, again unfairly due to my white skin. I walked out of the airport and into a gust of hot, and I meant hot, stench air. It was like walking into an oven. Autumn and Scott, the couple I am living with for two months who run the non-profit organization, were right there waiting for me. Such a relief!

Since they don’t have a car, we had to take a taxi back to their house. The first taxi driver tried to charge us 10,000xfa ($20) and Autumn said no, that is not a fair price. He insisted and she replied, you are only charging us that because we are white, to which he replied, “Yes, so you have money.. What’s it to you?” Oh the stigmas. We moved on to the next taxi driver, and he only charged us 7,000xfa. It really should have only been 3,000xfa ($6) but we took it since it was 3am and we all wanted to get home. The drive was short, and we passed palm trees, dirty peach colored buildings, and oil compounds. I couldn’t see much in the dark, but I knew it was like no where I had been before.

When we got back, we talked for a little while. They explained many things to me such as the African tribes and the difference between them such as the Fongs and the Boobis. The first cab driver was apparently a Fong since he was rude and didn’t want to work. The Fongs are the most dominant tribe in West Africa, known for their aggression and in other countries attacks/killings of other tribes. (Sidenote- Obama’s grandfather is apparently from the Fong tribe.) I also learned about some weird disease to be cautious of in which tiny, tiny eggs are transferred onto your skin by the wild street animals (here there are many dogs, cats, chickens and roosters roaming) or by the legs of a fly that lands upon your skin or planted on your hanging laundry. Apparently, giant maggots develop under your skin and pop their heads out, tunneling giant sores into your flesh about an inch wide and then retracting back into your body. They’re also about 4 times the size of a normal bug and just keep growing and multiplying. They killed Autumn and Scott’s kittens they adopted because there were about 20 on the three -week old poor things. So yes, this is a very real, scary thing.

I went to bed eventually around 4am, exhausted from no sleep and with a minor cough/ sore throat. I woke up the next afternoon around 3pm, confused by the time -zone changes.

In the afternoon, we went grocery shopping at a few places, and I of course received many stares as one of the few white girls on the whole island. We passed markets where some were selling shoes while others gave pedicures under an umbrella in the dirt field for a few thousand cfa.
We delivered everything back home after a few trips and I was still exhausted. As Autumn and Scott went to teach their English classes in the town, I read my internship orientation packets and fell into another sleep.

When I awoke, Autumn was decked in a red sparkly dress and it was 9:20pm, almost time to head out again. We were going to a bar called “Sisters” which is run by a few Asian relatives. It was outside with a shack overhead and lights decking the place. “Merry Christmas” was even graffitied on the walls. We met a few oil men from Venezuela, France, Great Britain, and two from the states (Texas and Alabama). We talked until the bar closed about the peculiarities of Africa as they blew on their breathalizer playfully and chain smoked. Apparently the oil companies aren’t as bad as they are made out to be in America– they fund many of the environmental groups here in Malabo and give locals jobs or get involved personally in the community. Stray dogs wandered in and out, and I continuously sprayed bug repellant as the Mosquitos attacked me. They picked up our tab and I thanked them, but they brushed it off. Money is nothing to them– they are extremely wealthy by any global standard and paid well, since they spend their months away from home as financial or mathematical engineers on the oil rigs, making hundreds of thousands while all other expenses are paid. They are kind though, knowing that money is not everything, but it’s still extremely interesting to see such a stark contrast in wealth, even here in Africa. The wealth gap seems to be a growing global epidemic, furthered through globalization. Especially here, alongside the dirt poor of a third world country where children run barefoot down the dirt roads and women sit in plastic chairs selling a chicken skewer for 40 cents, these men found a bar to get drunk in and played with their breathalizer, escaping from the world right outside.

I learned another interesting thing tonight which I may take on to photograph. My photography project is going to be difficult as they are resistant to cameras, but in this situation it may never work… There is an illegal meat market. Apparently, there are baby monkeys, baby armadillos, the local giant lizards, and many other endangered or protected species hanging for sale. Sometimes even bigger game such as orangutans that are killed in the rainforest in the south of the island… But the worst part? They torch them to death in the market. They break their legs and step on their tales so they can’t escape and actually torch them to death right in front of you for a “fresher” meat. The Venezuelan expat described the baby monkey hands and baby monkeys by explaining that they looked exactly like human hands– “the same, they are perfecto” as he shook his head in disgust.

I’m horrified and not sure how I will react when I see this myself. Autumn said the stench of burning flesh turned her vegetarian for awhile. I hope that I can suck it up enough to document this and even bribe them with a little money to let me take photos of their illegal trade. The monkeys go for about $80– a delicacy here in Africa for the rich, and a well-paying job for the poor to keep them hunting. There is no law enforcement although it is illegal. Maybe if more awareness was brought, the rich would feel shamed in being a part of this act and the demand for the illegal meat, and hence torture, would cease. Wishful thinking but I’ll begin an attempt soon in documenting.

Tomorrow I will be having a meeting with Autumn to discuses my plans for my stay, but basically my job is to become assimilated with the culture, blend in as best I can, live here in Africa and photograph. It won’t always be easy. I may try to work in the UN office or at a school, which would give more to this experience… But it’s nice to not have so much to do, apart from my busy life. Everything is so simple here. The wifi barely works so I will probably leave this loading over night for it to upload, if it even does. Water only comes during daylight hours and it is only cold water, so at night you have to scoop water from a basin and wash your face/ teeth with a cup of water. People shower maybe once a week at most. It’s kind of a grungy/roughin it/ camping lifestyle for the next couple months. Needless to say, laundry is hand washed and hung. Being barefoot is common 80% of the time. Socializing is not through media but rather talking to passerbys in the street or market. And you get your clean drinking water from a pump fastened on a gallon of water. It’s definitely different, but at least it’s one of the safer African countries. And I don’t mind the warm, tropical weather to say the least.

So far, I’ve learned that a smile is definitely universal and can get you a long way in any language or country. It’s going to be an interesting experience… But I’m so thankful to have this opportunity. This is how real people live, and they are a part of our world. We’re so blind and disconnected from other ways of life and perspective, and these two and a half months are only a glimpse at what Africa is like. As rough as it is, it’s exciting and living simply is refreshing. I look at every new face with a smile because they all have a story in their eyes, and telling their story is just as important as mine or yours.

More to come. Thanks for being a long for the ride.

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“Sorry if that sounds horrifying. It’s not so bad…”

Terrified might be a word to describe what I’m feeling. Yes, excited… nervous… but actually, terrified.

“Sorry if that sounds horrifying. It’s not so bad…”
These are the words that Autumn, the Executive Director of the non-profit I will be working for, said to me, days before my departure when describing the types of situations I might experience when arriving and going through security.

I appreciate her honesty. I’ve been warned about the corruption, the bribery, and the outright fraudulent conduct by the government of Equatorial Guinea… so at the very least I am prepared for what to expect, and what to avoid.

This small, third-world country I’ll be living in for three months is known for their oil industry, corrupt government, and human rights’ abuses. I will be living off the West coast of Africa, in the capital city of Malabo on Bioko Island– a volcanic island with a mountainous terrain, inhabited by a dialect of Spanish speaking natives. The island is mostly covered by tropical rainforest, but is heavily trafficked due to the natural gas delivered from offshore production wells.

Although I’ve traveled before and left home for about five months to study abroad in Italy, this time it feels different. I’m leaving behind my comfortable life for an experience I’m not even too sure of. My expectations are none. This isn’t going to be some fabulous trip galavanting through European cities and visiting cathedrals, nor posing with jungle monkeys in the rainforest. No… my days are likely to be filled with mud, poverished streets, and sometimes boredom. I’ve heard from other interns that it is almost impossible to accomplish anything in a third-world country due to the lack of proficiency in the government agencies. And I’ve heard that Equatorial Guinea is one of the weirdest places on earth, not just because they speak Spanish in Africa, but also partly because it is filled with wealthy men from the oil companies alongside the inhabitants who live on less than two dollars a day, and night clubs for the expats alongside the dirt roads, and sometimes not much to do.

So what do I hope to accomplish? Well for those who know me, you can expect me to make the best of the situation and that’s for damn sure. I’ll make friends anywhere, and living there will be nothing short of an experience. I’m planning on starting a women’s health awareness and empowerment group while there to stimulate growth in the direction of women’s rights. And of course, I’ll be doing photography. So my plan is to a) make the best of the situation and b) communicate my experiences to you through this blog… oh and c) to not get arrested for taking photographs– it recently just became legal but is still restricted, and if anybody tries to take my 5D mark III, I’m going down with it.
With that said, I hope we can both gain new perspectives together!

Here it goes.

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