You couldn’t make it up – two days of Independence Celebrations, inverted emblems & a celebrity DJ….
We have been warned – the office really is closed for the next 2 days (along with shops, restaurants, banks and just about every other public service establishment). The day dawns with the usual drone of helicopters, but this time accompanied by rain. And it is big rain – really big rain that turns the car park into a lake and the potholes into red puddles. I have never been so glad to have packed my flip flops.
But first, a word on yesterday evening’s excitement. Picture the scene – several large boxes had been delivered earlier in the day. It was only when the first one was opened that the true extent of the problem became clear. Several hundred company t-shirts for staff to wear on the Independence Day March – with the Gabonese flag sewn onto the sleeve. Spot the deliberate mistake – the flag is upside down. Here we learn another valuable lesson… these guys deal in solutions not problems. A group of employees (of all ranks) place stickers over the flags (some with a printed ‘right way up’ flag, others just plain). The show must go on and shirts are distributed complete with sticker and matching baseball cap. I still have mine as a souvenir of this completely bizarre trip – and we are still only half way through week one. Oh, and there is a cake – a huge, sticky, iced, flag shaped cake.
True to their day rates, most of the non-local and ex-pat staff are in the office so we are able to get through a surprising amount of work. Process maps are prepared, training manuals are translated and data is generally tidied up in readiness for the main event next week. Your correspondent begins work on her presentation to deliver in the Jungle – quite a challenge when you’ve seen the cast.
The day draws to a close, we struggle to find a restaurant or any basic provisions. That is until someone suggests a trip to ‘Le Grand Village’. Borough Market it is not, but the array of provisions is impressive and I can truly say that the fruit was some of the nicest I have eaten anywhere in Africa.
Friday dawns in similar fashion, it is still raining although easing slightly. Drivers are summoned and once more we brave the potholes.
I guess we should have smelt a rat yesterday when some large metal structures appeared in the car park. But nothing really surprises us anymore, so we just get on with the job. Except this morning the metal structures have been turned into a sort of marquee village with lines of trestle tables and chairs. It’s looking suspiciously like a good old-fashioned street party is about to take place. There’s plenty of scurrying about with food, drink and more food. Around 11am we note the arrival of some large speakers – actually HUGE speakers – just outside our office window. Minutes later, a mixing deck, microphones & more speakers. The only thing missing is the DJ – suffice to say he is not missing for long.
So now we are trying to work with this guy strutting his stuff about 3 metres away through single pane glass. Off for lunch, oh wait all the restaurants are closed!
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. We get through a couple of hours with the aid of strong coffee & sheer determination – but there comes a point when that’s not enough. So we join ‘em! It’s a fantastic experience – the locals trying to get the less agile ex-pats to dance African style and being plied with all manner of local delicacies, and a slice of cake. Of course, in order to be admitted to the party we are given t-shirts and baseball caps too wear, I think by now they were past caring about the inverted flag!
Dinner tonight is being hosted by one of our good friends at his home. What a wonderful evening. Ocean view, Fresh local ‘capitaine’ fish with all the trimmings – what else! Oil rigs look quite pretty when they’re all lit up at night!
When I look back on this trip, I still have to look at photos to prove I really was there. It goes to prove one thing though – no two projects are alike, actually no two days are alike.
Next – Just when you think it can’t get any more crazy….. A Saturday ‘message’ and a trip to the jungle.
By Sarah Davis