Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Papa Sam

Yesterday, Pierre, Mohammad and I wanted to go up the coast – where we heard good beaches were – to Cap Santa Clara and Cap Esterias. (Pierre, from France, and Moe, from Lebanon, are recent additions to the table). We asked the receptionist about getting a taxi – Pierre has a great guide book on Gabon that says we should have been able to get there and back for about 4,000 CFA each (about $8). The taxi’s here are great for getting around the city, but many of them are little more than metal cages on wheels that would have a tough time on the bumpy dirt roads to the Cap, that is, if we could convince someone to take us, let alone find someone to get us back. Hilda, the receptionist, told us about cars and drivers the hotel rents for about 5,000 CFA an hour.

We went out front, talked to a greeter and in a couple of minutes this black Toyota Camry pulls up. We go to the driver and start talking about our options – he said Cap Santa Clara was maybe an hour away and Cap Esterias was about 2 hours away. He said his car couldn’t go on the road to Santa Clara and that the round trip to Cap Esterias would cost us 40,000 CFA. It was already noon and the time and money was much more than we had planned on. Then came the first piece of wisdom from the driver when he said, “Guys, this is Gabon. There is no time here. We can go, you can be there, and then we can come back.” As for the money, he was firm and looking back there’s no way a cab would have gotten us there and back for 12,000 CFA. We almost backed out, but decided what the hell. It was that or sit around the hotel and we do that enough. Plus, we each agreed that we have one life to live so we decided to live it yesterday.

Papa Sam told us about how he had worked as a driver and translator for Survivor Gabon for three months a few years ago when they filmed here. He made enough money to buy his Camry which has been his livelihood since. Like many drivers here, he’s not a native Gabonese. Papa Sam is an Igbo, originally born in the Biafra region of Nigeria. He came here for work and without knowing how to speak French. He said he learned to speak on the streets, out of survival. He said language is the first key to getting through life – if you can communicate, you can make friends and make money. He said, “If I’m in school, I’m too scared to make a mistake. But on the job I have to push and fight to speak. My job is my exam and it gives me reason to work hard at communicating. Because I speak English and French I am able to buy this car, not because I went to university and have some piece of paper.”

The drive ended up taking us about an hour and half and while it was another slow, bumpy ride, it was great to get out of the city again, into the trees and the fresh air. The beach was great and the trip was well worth the money. As we were getting back into the car to head home, Papa Sam asked we enjoyed ourselves and joked that we almost got in the way of ourselves and didn’t go. He’s right, so often, we keep ourselves from trying new things, but once we do, we can’t imagine a life not having that experience be a part of our story. Pierre then asked if he could throw his bag into the trunk, to which Papa Sam replied his thick Nigerian accent, “Sure, man, you’re as free as air.”

Thanks to you Papa Sam, I am a little bit more free.

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