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.
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.
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.
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.
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.