Gabon Expat Life: Jay St John, Port Gentil West Africa
The Expat: Jay St John
What is your blog url?
Where are you currently living?
We are currently living in Port Gentil, Gabon in West Africa and we’ve been here for close to 2 years.
(Update July 2012: They are now living in Stavanger, Norway)
What’s Your Story?
I grew up in small town Saskatchewan and my husband in British Columbia. We met while at the University of Alberta: I was studying to be a teacher and he, an engineer. We spent about 9 years in Alberta before moving abroad.
When and where did you get the idea of living in Gabon?
My husband and I were both living and working in Northern Alberta when he was approached about going international with his current company. We weren’t given any specific locations and we had no guarantee as to where in the world we could end up but we both were really intrigued by the idea of living overseas. We took a leap of faith and said yes and several months later, Gabon was proposed. We did what research we could and we decided it seemed fairly safe and would be a really unique experience so we said yes!
We are currently considered residents of Gabon thus we have what is called a “Carte de Sejour” and my husband also has a work permit. This was not an easy process at all and it continues to be a challenge for many expats.
We’ve been in Port Gentil close to 2 years now and on July 1 we’ll be packing up and moving to Norway.
How’s your French?
Gabon is a former French colony thus French is the main language. In fact, it’s quite difficult to find anyone fluent in English here. Being Canadian, we know a little French. I continued my studies in University however, it had been years since I’d used it by the time we moved. It was quite difficult for the first few months but as my confidence grew, so did my language skills. By the end of the first year, I was fairly confident conversing in French. It’s certainly not always grammatically correct but I can do everything I need to do. My husband on the other hand, relies heavily on me to converse in French.
He often understands a lot but struggles to communicate. He works for an English speaking company thus he mainly speaks English at work.
What do you do?
Before I came to Gabon, I was a teacher but I gave up my job to move here. My husband is an engineer and he works in the oil and gas industry.
How do you find the cost of living in Gabon?
Gabon is surprisingly, a very expensive country for expatriates. In fact, Libreville, the capital city, is currently ranked as the 12th most expensive city in the world. Our 3 bedroom apartment rents for close to $5000 CAD per month but our company takes care of that for us. We see the expense when buying food. I have paid $24 for a head of mediocre broccoli, $10 for moldy iceberg lettuce and most recently, $16 for 15 spears of asparagus.
What do you love about life in Gabon?
I’m not sure I could come up with any major commonalities between our home in Canada and our home in Gabon. In the beginning, it was very difficult adjusting to life in the third world especially coming from a place where rules are established and generally followed and most everything is fairly trustworthy. We had to adjust our way of thinking and living on almost every level.
Our biggest concern was probably safety. Everyone here employs full time guards for their homes. Sometimes I debate whether it’s really needed as even so, we’ve had several robberies. While it’s definitely a lot safer than some of it’s West African counterparts, there is always a level of uncertainty here. It’s something we’ve learned to cope with but it did take some adjusting.
Getting things done in Gabon can be fairly complicated, namely, securing residency. We were lucky to have our company take care of that for us as it’s really a full time job to keep up with changing rules and policies. A lot of that is difficult to prepare for as the communication between government officials is scarce so what one person tells you can be completely different from the next. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is be patient and don’t try to understand it – it just is the way it is!
Aside from the complexities of living in Gabon, we LOVE the weather. Living on the equator means temperatures are fairly consistent at around 30 degrees every single day. The humidity varies depending on the season but it’s almost always a good beach day. We also love the undeveloped and unspoiled beaches. The expat community here is also really great and helpful. There isn’t a lot to do aside from the beach so we’re often planning parties and events amongst our friends. In fact, I’m not sure I would have lasted the 2 years here without them!