Gabon - c'est bon, c'est bon, c'est bon...
It's been more than 2 years now...more than 2 years I tell you.
Who do I write these weekly entries for? On average and over time many of them seem to be read thousands of times. Do I write them for the sake of my own memory? Or do I write them to invite you into my world...our world? Maybe both...
There is much I like about Gabon and some things that I love. I certainly like that when you get into a shared taxi here, then the taxi never accepts more passengers than there are seats available. That is a luxury among the countries I have been visiting lately! If you are in the front seat then you must also wear a seatbelt. The driver will politely remind you.
The rain season has reached Gabon...
All the main roads are in good condition. Sometimes great condition. And while the amount of checkpoints is nearly endless I find that police and military have always treated me and my fellow passengers with kindness and respect. Always very professionally. In some countries you instantly feel like police, immigration, military etc are bossing you around and you sense that they act like they are above you. And almost no matter what you are subject to bribes.
But not in Gabon. At least not around me. And certainly not if you follow the rules. If you have valid ID on you at all times and stay polite then they let you pass. Almost every checkpoint I have encountered in Gabon has started out with a friendly greeting followed by a: "Can I please see your ID?" And when the inspection is over the last thing we hear before the door shuts is: "Have a nice onward journey". Depending on where you are from that might sound normal to you? But I assure you that in some countries arrogance and a not so friendly: "IDENTIFICATION NOW!!" is much more common. And while you do get use to a harsh tone some places it is just refreshing to be in a country where people are generally treated with polite dignity. I think it rubs off. If you are treated with kindness then you might be kind to someone else later on.
I love that Gabon is mainly forest, rivers, wildlife and protected reserves. Elephants, buffaloes and gorillas are among the animals that thrive in Gabonese forests. However with the small population of the country I have heard rumors that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep poachers at a distance in some regions.
Some countries are full of trees. The Central African Republic is among such countries and it is big business to cut them down and export the timber. But how many trees can we cut before it has an impact on nature? That isn't really an issue for Gabon. Because while many trees are cut down and exported, it is done with a consciousness. Because new trees are being planted. Someone is thinking about the future. I find that quite refreshing too. Thinking about the future hasn't really caught on yet in most of the world. At least not in the half I have seen.
Caves!! Plenty of unexplored caves are to be found in Gabon! I've seen none of them, but they exist and what an adventure it would be to track them down!
The wind broke Nav's gate...
I have on the other hand seen plenty of offices, many ports, I have shaken many hands and I have made many new connections. And I have been wrecking my brain trying to find a legal and safe way to visit Equatorial Guinea. It is the only regional country where I haven't received an invitation letter from the Red Cross. These days I find myself thinking a lot about the Red Cross. Since I left Denmark I have been traveling as goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross. But what does that mean? Am I Red Cross or am I not Red Cross myself? I certainly feel that I am Red Cross. And during the last 2 years I have been promoting the movement throughout 98 countries. So I feel like I have earned my right as well. Apart from that I am also a logistics delegate within the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) which is a specialized group of delegates within the Red Cross whom respond to major disasters. And to top it off I have been tasked with writing a Red Cross related story for each country in the world with a Red Cross or Red Crescent in it. That currently amounts to 189 countries in the world - or 189 stories. So far I have written 94. Could you write 94 stories about the Red Cross?
I had the gate fixed...
So why isn't the Red Cross helping me enter Equatorial Guinea? Well they are and they aren't. The regional office in Cameroon which has "good relations" to the Red Cross in Equatorial Guinea told me that I was on my own. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which was founded in 1863, politely told me that they want nothing to do with me. Which is a shame as they are in a position to help me. I'm not restricted by any Red Cross rules or regulations unless I'm staying within a Red Cross building or traveling with a Red Cross vehicle. I can go anywhere or say anything I want...whenever I want. There is no leash on me. And that might be what puts distance between me and some individuals within the movement. However if I do complete this journey with success then I feel certain that everyone will be using it and that there will be no distance. So how does that make me feel?
My father believes that it is a strategy within risk management. And he may be right. Actually he is probably right. But I find that strategy to be short sighted. Because if I enter a country, misbehave and end up in prison and/or on front pages all around the world, then there is no denying a direct link between me and the Red Cross. If you do a google search of me or the project then you'll find that the list of me, this project and the Red Cross has become very long. And that is also why I want to visit Equatorial Guinea in a proper and legal manor. But what happens when I run out of legal options? This is where I think some people are underestimating my determinism.
An intersection in Libreville.
I recently met David who shares some of my concerns. David contacted Nav through couch surfing and that's how we met. I'm currently taking care of Nav's apartment while I wait for the boat to Saõ Tomé (which is still delayed due to engine problems). Nav is still in India and thought I might want some company. So David showed up for a few days and that is something of a statistical anomaly! Because David happens to be traveling to every country in the world!! What are the odds that we would end up under the same roof?
Throughout history the list of people who have reached every country in the world counts less that 100 people (as far as I can work out). And so far the amount of people who have done it completely without the use of flight is still nil. So how is David traveling and how far has he come? David reached his country number 153 when his airplane landed in Libreville, Gabon. So that answers that ;)
Check out David here, it's worth it! http://www.world-adventurer.com
And though people like Johnny whom I met in Chad and David whom I've just met this week are flying around the world I can ensure you that it isn't always luxury for them either. And to comprehend what people like us are trying to achieve I'm starting to think you need to be one of us. Because how can anyone else really relate to it? Some of my friends are following the Saga closely and understand much. But to comprehend it all would be impossible. Even my girlfriend who I share all my frustrations and joy with is only looking at it all though a window. So it was great to meet David and share a few days with him! We got to talk about things that no one else understands. And that was truly refreshing.
I'm unsure about how many talks I may have given throughout the past 2 years. But somewhere between 15-20. I have given talks at many schools to students at different ages. I've been at a public library and I have even been invited by Rotary Club on one occasion. So when I saw the American International School of Libreville I decided to go inside and say hello. That is where I met Mrs Nissrine who is the business director. She is a very nice Lebanese woman who invited me to come back again a few days later. And that I did. It's a relatively small school with students from all over the world. I had a great time showing these children a few items which I carry with me around the world and tell them about the journey. Afterwards they had a chance to ask questions and I even got a few questions I have never had before. Children are good at that. They think without limitation. Most questions I get I have already had many times before. But I don't mind - I enjoy entertaining with the Saga.
THANK YOU to EVERYONE in this picture!! THAT was great!! :)
Afterwards a boy named Hugo walked up to me. I'm not great at guessing age but let's say he was around 12 years old. He asked for my email and telephone number because his mother works within certain circles and is good friends with the ambassador of Equatorial Guinea. I do not know what is more surprising? That I suddenly and out of nowhere have a new possibility to reach this goal or that a schoolboy would think of making that connection?
It's logical when you think about it; naturally these international students would have parents that work at embassies, international organizations, powerful cooperations etc. but I wasn't speaking to the parents. I was there for the students. So it was a good surprise. And to tell you the truth...I don't really get surprised about much these days.
I do have a few more options when it comes to entering Equatorial Guinea. Frode Kirk, who is Head of Region for West and Central Africa within the Red Cross, is attending a meeting on Tuesday in Senegal. Among the attendees is the Equatorial Guinea Red Cross. So Frode may be able to speak to them on my behalf?
I responded to Célia's invitation and ended up around a table of great people! :)
Besides, as I mentioned earlier I have been shaking a lot of hands. And at the end of those hands I have found people who may be open up for other possibilities. Célia who works as a journalist at AFP invited me to join her and some friends a few nights ago. I thought we would meet for a drink or two and that I would then head back to Nav's apartment and find myself some food and enjoy a movie. But after drinking a rather large beer we ended up at a Chinese restaurant where I had some duck along with a few classes of red wine (Célia treated me and everyone knows that the way to a mans heart is though the stomach). We all finished off with 2 shots of sake before we headed over to a nearby club. I then had 2 Coronas which I found surprisingly well with lollipops? We left that club and found another one where I had one more beer while I watched women on the dance floor dance, not with each other, but with their own image in the mirror? I heard about people on the dance floor lining up in front of a large mirror in other countries - but now I've seen it for myself? I just don't understand why...
This is how many nights ended up in my early youth. They went from clear to blurry. Now I'm older - apparently no difference?
Needless to say I wasn't feeling great the next day. But I did meet a lot of great people the night before :) I think that was the second time I had gone out in 2015. I'm not much of a party boy...
Nobody knows which way the wind will blow. And the week we are about to enter could change everything for the Saga. Or nothing at all. Let's see what happens next.
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - always with a new day ahead.
Once Upon A Saga