Saturday, 3 May 2008

Punishment in EG

My reward for the misfortunes of Brazil: banishment to a tiny African island, ruled by a despotic military dictator. Yes, it's back to Equatorial Guinea, and it's election time.

I arrived yesterday evening, after a genuinely pleasant flight. After so many cramped, noisy and horribly uncomfortable Air France voyages to and from Brazil in the last six months, the Air France plane to Malabo was an altogether different proposition. EG doesn't appear to attract vast hordes of tourists, and so I was able to have a row to myself in a spacious and pretty empty flight. This additional privacy meant I could shove my bottle of red wine between my legs to heat it up - Air France, please stop chilling your red wine.

I travelled with four other colleagues and for the next couple of weeks at least will be with them. This means I will avoid the ennui of isolation suffered on my last job. It also means I don't have to get drunk alone, as three of the others were equally keen to get stuck into the Heinekens last night. The first of these were at a pizza place, but the bulk back at our staffhouse as it was curfew time. Because of a fat old tosser called Mallett and his frequent drunken problems with prostitutes last year, a curfew was imposed upon service companies such as ours, and when two employees of our company then unfortunately missed this curfew due to drunkenness, it was brought back from 11pm to 10pm. Last night it was 9pm, ostensibly because of the imminent election, but likely because the contracting oil company here ("NE") were anxious about what might happen when five of us were together.

So Heinekens at our heavily fortified staffhouse it was. Our grand modern-colonial style staffhouse, with marble floors and massive beds that virtually need a footstool to climb onto. Around us are high walls with barbed wire, an observation turret, and a number of very bored guards wearing fetching safari hats with nothing to do. This is because Malabo isn't Port Harcourt: Equatorial Guinea isn't Nigeria. There have been no serious issues with foreigners here, and there are no rebel groups that want to kidnap us. But NE, a company founded and filled by vast deep-south Americans, have decided to go down the road of paranoia and security theatre, and so all foreigners working under them live and work in pointless prisons. However, for the locals that's probably somewhat of a blessing, as it means just a little less oil trash littering their city.

It's election time as well. This is the third African country I've now been to during elections in just over a year, after Mauritania's relaxed affair and weeks of edginess in Nigeria. All kinds of scaremongering are being chucked about by NE, especially a truly collosal entity called Leonard, with a deathly ill pallour, a limp, and an obnoxious habit of calling us "children". Leonard looks like he's risen from the dead and been inflated with bile. He claims the natives will be going wild tonight and tomorrow, drunk with hatred for the white man and political rallies, and if we were caught out after dark then things could get nasty. He exaggerates, as you might guess, but there may be a degree of truth in what he says, and the risk of trouble - which is minimal - could be elevated. This isn't just from NE's viewpoint, but from the government too, as all vehicle travel is banned tomorrow, unless with a special permit. The military dictator is taking this election seriously, even though his position isn't up for debate. Rather, it's some mayors and politicians. I'm ignorant of the specific details, but if I was an E. Guinean, I think I'd vote for his party.

Another measure of the seriousness of this election, and of the potential trouble, is that alcohol is unavailable! Facing a possible shutdown tomorrow, we went to the packed little supermarket (surely the biggest in this tiny nation) today to stock up. And to our horror, all alcohol was prohibited, a theme apparently running throughout all bars, restaurants and shops today. We only have four Heinekens left and doubt we can last an evening and a day with this, though a saviour in some special expat club may just come to the rescue.

Tomorrow then is the election, and day of shutdown for expats. I imagine the fuss will die down quickly this week and things will continue in a more normal way. It doesn't look like the workload will be heavy for the next couple of weeks. One of two upcoming jobs here has already been cancelled, and so we've only got to sort out some kit on base and wait for a new visa to be processed. Heineken and other beers will become freely available again, and time will pass. Delays are inevitable and two weeks away for going offshore will likely be moved back and back. I'm not sure if this will help me or not. I volunteered to go away on this job, so soon after eight weeks in Brazil and on the back of a hell of a lot of time away on jobs (since July I've only had two months off) not out of enthusiasm but in the hope of making a friend's wedding on June 7th. I have 45 days on my current visa, which would take me to about June 15th. Therefore, I'm either hoping to go offshore as soon as possible and get it all over and done with, or for things to be delayed massively and get to go home at the end of May after a month kicking dust and drinking beers. Unfortunately, the current itinery doesn't favour either. But we'll see.

My week and life prior to being cut short by this equatorial adventure was spent satisfyingly and productively. A Glasgow visit saw me catch up with loads of old faces and didn't see me too drunk, though there were some very late nights, and a fight. My days in Aberdeen afterwards saw me gain a flatmate/PA, almost break a giant mirror, fall in love with a bureau and feel the effects of the "credit crunch". I thought all this talk about global financial crisis was just hype, but getting a mortgage for the flat I've just bought is proving rather awkward. Hopefully by Monday I'll know if it's possible. I recall last year in this same country, my mortgage on a flat falling through, so let's hope for history not repeating.

Anyway, I believe it's dinner time. To be spent with a bunch of yelling, brash, vast, deep South Yankees. And this truly is the punishment deserved for being a bad boy in Brazil. But surely no crime can fit such a dire fate?

1 comment:

Simon Varwell said...

The lengths you'll go to avoid meeting up with me in Aberdeen on Monday night.