The rain here has been pretty much constant for four days now, and the lazy quiet vibe is conducive to some blogging. My first week in Equatorial Guinea has been filled with adventure, starting with the challenge of getting there.
My bags were packed and ready to go Friday morning, fully equipped with about half of the REI store and almost every over-the-counter medication available. Over breakfast on The Big Day I received a message from the airline that my flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt had been delayed an hour. Unfortunately, my connection time in the Frankfurt airport before my flight to Malabo was only an hour and ten minutes. After not so gracefully running through the airport with two backpacks and a glimmer of hope, needless to say, I missed my flight to EG. I spent the night in Frankfurt and was put on the standby list for the flight out the next day, which was overbooked by about fifty people. My name was the last one called before they closed the door, and I got upgraded to business class (!!!) which kind of made up for the stressful uncertainty of waiting in airports.
When I finally landed in Malabo, my temperature was taken the second I stepped off the plane by people in masks with some sort of magical point-and-shoot thermometer aimed at each incoming traveler’s head. This was slightly unsettling. I made it past the yellow fever card and passport checkpoint out to customs, but at this point I had still been unable to contact my group coordinator and all kinds of paranoid thoughts were running through my mind. What if no one came to pick me up at the airport? What if I unknowingly brought something illegal into the country? What if I wasn’t even really on Bioko Island and I had somehow gotten on the wrong plane??? Finally I saw the welcoming faces of my group leader and another student whose bags hadn’t come through the previous day. I felt every muscle in my body relax with relief, and made it to the baggage carousel. Of course, mine somehow didn’t make it onto my flight either and had to be retrieved the next day, but I had finally made it!
The trip so far has been full of exciting new experiences. The first day we explored Malabo with the students we are taking classes with from the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial (UNGE). The Spanish, French, and Equatorial Guinean cultural centers are spaces around the city for the public to enjoy. They offer libraries, restaurants, art on display, and sometimes classes or movie viewings. Today we went to the American Corner, which is a resource for people to learn English and also has a wide variety of books and documentaries. We met with directors to discuss volunteer opportunities and the possibilities of teaching English, organizing the library, and just conversing with people who stop by.
We have also visited other parts of the Bioko, including a popular beach, a tiny chocolate producer, and part of the lowland rainforest near the base of Pico Basile (one of the three main peaks on the island). We hiked along muddy, mist-filled trails through giant trees and vines that dwarfed the ruins of an old colonial house and cacao plantation. The Equatorial Guinean economy used to be based on cacao production, until oil was discovered in 1998 and became the country’s primary export. We got to taste chocolate made with some of the last cacao still being grown on the island in a small village outside Malabo. We huddled around a small, crowded table on a covered patio in the pouring rain, and got to try roasted cacao beans, hot chocolate made with cocoa powder, chocolate cream, a chocolate bar, and some weird rock-hard cookies. There was also human-made honey created from flowers and plants using the “el proceso de las abejas” (the process of the bees), as the woman explained. The chocolate was delicious, but bittersweet, and had more of a fudgey texture. I even bought some to bring home and possibly bake with (friends and family: expect some yummy Christmas presents)!
While my tropical adventures in Bioko have been lovely so far, there are – as expected – many things I miss about the states. Admittedly, some are less necessary than others, but here is a list just to simplify things:
- Peanut butter
- Maple syrup
- Hot water
- Somewhat reliable internet access (sorry for the lack of posts/unimpressive formatting)
- Internet that works well enough to decide which classes to take in the spring
- Not being constantly itchy from bug bites
- Friends and family
- The feeling of being kind of clean
- Washing vegetables with clean water
- Recycling and compost
- The ability to call 911/an emergency number other than the U.S. embassy
- Shower curtains
- The feeling of fall
Looking forward to more adventures and new experiences to come!