West African Adventure

yenzi-2.JPGnicolas-and-girls.JPGYesterday I flew to Gamba, the hub of Shell’s activities in Gabon. This is where the administrative centre is located, as well as the terminal where all the oil we extract is exported from. With many more expats living in Gamba than Rabi, and most with their families, it is much more like a regular community with a school, library, supermarket and houses with gardens (rather than the single room camp that we have in Rabi). The Yenzi Club, around which the largest of the housing encampments is situated, looks a bit like a Club Med resort. Situated on a lagoon, with sports facilities a swimming pool, poolside bar and restaurant, patisserie and marina. It is quite beautiful.

Gamba is a half an hour’s flight away from Rabi and I flew in yesterday for a couple of meetings and then to attend a shindig that Sodexho were having at another Shell camp, (Vembo, located about 10km from Yenzi) to celebrate their 30 year anniversary. A few of the Sodexho guys I work with in Rabi flew in that afternoon for it, including the Camp Boss who I work closely with.

So, staying in Yenzi, someone kindly leant me their car on the understanding that I would return it that night so he would not have to walk to work the next day. His house was located about 10 minutes walk from where I was staying at the Yenzi Club and I figured as long as I got back before the bar closed (at 10pm) I wouldn’t be too worried about walking back, even though it is mango season and the elephants like to come out at night at this time of year.

So off I went in the vague direction of Vembo (or in the direction I was told Vembo was in) at about 6.30pm. On the way I noticed that the car I had borrowed did not have a functioning fuel gauge. I tried not to think about how many miles the guy who leant it to me may have done since his last fill up. On arriving at ‘Plaine 1’ which is the first of a number of little villlages that make up ‘Gamba Proper’ (i.e. not Shell manufactured communities for expats), I knew I was going in the wrong direction. I asked a lady running a road side shop, and she pointed me back in the direction I came from, saying something about turning right at a cross roads (I was thinking ‘what cross roads?’ – there are no street lights on African roads and the other thing about this car that was not fully functioning, were the headlights).

So I found the right turn she was talking about but ended up at a dead end where an amused security guard who was looking after some kind of gas station, pointed me back the way I came and, again, said something about turning right. At this point I was wondering what it would be like to spend the night in a car in the middle of the African rain forest.

Finally I arrived at Vembo and was instantly glad I had not given up. Sodexho had put on an amazing show. It was like attending a high society wedding. There were women in traditional costume as greeters, huge tents with long tables, palm trees and night lighting everywhere and an enormous main stage where a 10 piece African band were kicking out a mix of salsa and African tunes. I stood for a couple of hours in the lovely warm night, swaying to the music and chatting to the people who had flown in from Sodexho HQ in Paris, including a very charismatic Dutch man, who it materializes, is Sodexho’s International CFO. The Gabonese Minister of Work was in attendance as well as all the rest of the top management at Sodexho. I hardly recognized the guys I worked with, they were all suited and booted many were there with their wives, everyone had made such an effort. There is something about African women. No matter what shape and size they are, they have a grace about them that is hard to describe, especially when they are all dolled up and looking extra poised.

Unfortunately like everything African, it started a little late – scheduled for a 7pm start, with speeches, followed by medal presentations and, then dinner, everyone was still turning up at 9pm. Remembering my promise about the car, I made my excuses and headed back to Yenzi, happy to have had the opportunity to have had a night when I felt like me, Juliette Prouse, watching a band and chatting to people and not just ‘OPN/6’ (the Shell name for role that I occupy in Rabi) listening to people complain about their bedding or the fact that their breakfast eggs weren’t cooked the right way.

I dropped the car off at (what I thought was) the house, and walked back to my room in Yenzi (rather briskly, but without incident). The next morning I had coffee and breakfast by the pool. It was a lovely start to the day. I can’t say that Mohan, the person kind enough to lend me has car, had quite the same relaxing start to his day. He came out of his house this morning only to find an empty driveway, and, rather flustered, had to walk down to Yenzi to ask me where the hell his car was (well, he wasn’t that rude, but I am sure he was thinking it). Apparently I had parked his car in the wrong driveway last night. HOW EMBARASSING!!! We went back and he found it OK. I don’t think there was anyone actually in the house where I parked it, otherwise I would imagine they would have got a bit of a surprise too. Oh dear. Just when I think I am getting less scatter brained, I pull a stunt like that. Oh well, it gives me something to write about I suppose.

I fly back to Rabi this morning and even though this was a working trip, I have really enjoyed the break in routine.

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