We took off from Douala at around six o’clock to Libreville. During the flight, my mind was preoccupied by the several experiences that I had gone through for the past few days. I had been arrested and kept in detention for three days at Ebibiyin in Equatorial Guinea, I had run out of cash due some unplanned expenses and inability to withdraw money from ATM machines, even the day before, I was asked to pay huge bribes to police before I could be allowed to travel the route to Libreville by road. All these were interesting experiences for m and was the very first time I would experience most of those in my travels. These thoughts preoccupied my being during the one-hour flight to Libreville.
On landing I went straight to the immigration for my entry formality which was relatively simple compared to a few complicated experience of a traveler I read online earlier before my arrival. A young immigration officer who attended to me only looked at me and asked me where I will be staying, of which I responded by showing him a reservation I had earlier made in Nigeria for the trip.
In my traveling experience and interaction with immigration officers, I have found young immigration officers to be very friendly and kind at entry points. Each time I find myself on the immigration queue, I always pray to meet and look out for the very young or the much older immigration officers. They make the experience very easy.
When it was obvious that I have been given an entrance to the country, I felt exactly the same awe I felt around same time two years ago when I first landed in Libreville on my way from Kigali. This feeling was caused by flash back of my mind to the dark days of the Biafra Nigeria war when the Biafran soldiers and orphans were airlifted to Libreville for military training and for safety of the children. I imagined what my great forefathers went through and their thoughts when they arrived here. It was surreal and guess what, I was live in Libreville that evening. I have also had this same experience at Treichville in Abidjan when I arrived at a place called Biafra Quartier. It was told of how the gallant Biafran soldiers also arrived there for training and even how some of them stayed back in Ivory Coast after the civil war.
Magoula is a Gabonese friend was going to be my host in Libreville. He could have helped me with a letter of invitation for a visa on arrival but I had to visit the Gabonese Embassy in Abuja due to the fact I was not sure how long the process of getting the invite from him would take, and also, time was running out on other visas I had for the trip, they would expire if I did not travel quickly. Obtaining a Gabonese visa from Nigeria is very simple but it remains one of the most expensive visas I had ever applied for.
Travelers traveling to Gabon for different purposes like business or tourism have the option of getting an electronic visa on arrival but this is restricted to the Léon-Mba International Airport in Libreville. This works well for several nationalities with a hotel reservation but not for Nigerians, especially if you do not have someone invite you. I tried twice to obtain visas from the online platform but the request was denied – probably because of the bad reputation some of us Nigerian Passport holders have abroad. A Nigerian or any other national who has a valid invite that is approved from the immigration can receive a Gabonese visa on arrival. It was in an attempt to get this invite from a Gabonese national that I met Magoula on Facebook. One however should be very careful when meeting strangers on the internet. I have personally met a few on Facebook and MyLanguageExchange.com and most of them have turned out to be good people. I have also met a lot more though referrals from other friends. In any case, when visa is not a challenge, I personally prefer to make friends in a new destination when I arrive. Interestingly, I have met and stayed with lots of strangers in Africa even some whom I met in transit traveling in their country.
Leaving the airport with him, we took a taxi a drove for almost twenty minutes to his residence. The only thing I could do that evening was to sleep. One could justify this because I had spent the previous night traveling in Cameroon and also could not find anywhere to rest during the day. I could not even recall if I was able to eat anything before sleeping. I was grateful I had a place to lay my head for the night.
Around eight o’clock the next morning, I was up to see breakfast was already served. Magoula’s sister, Amélie had prepared bread and tea with fried egg. I had the privilege of meeting the entire family afterwards. One other thing I observed was that his family and many other Gabonese families I visited their homes in the cause of the trip loved to watch Nollywood – the Nigerian version of Hollywood that is makes Nigerian movies. sister could also speak English fluently. She suggested several places I could visit in Libreville of which I could not be able to visit due to the fact I will be flying to Pointe Noire in The Republic of Congo that very evening.
Our tour of the city commenced by a visit to the beach. Right there besides the road was the presidential residence, the presidential brother’s residence and that of several others. I was not satisfied with the quality of infrastructure I saw on the road and around there which one should assume is the most expensive part of the city. Compared to Equatorial Guinea which is smaller and has almost the same amount of resources and people, they were way ahead of them in terms of good infrastructure. Even at all those, they people of the country are a happy people.
Taking a walk on the long beach of the country, I wondered first why the presidential palace had to be located very close to the ocean. Several persons on vacation were either swimming or having their bath as we walked through. According to Magoula, name of the country Gabon was coined from the Portuguese word Gabão which is translated to clock, this is because of the shape the Komo River in Libreville which looks like a clock. Libreville on the other hand is another way of saying ‘Freetown’ in English. The name was given to this city as a result of the freedom some Congo slaves on a Brazilian ship by the French Navy. The present day Libreville took its name from this incident. The lingua franca of the country is French and several Bantu languages. Fang which is the major languages here is also spoken in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea and even some parts of Congo Brazzaville. Myene and Punu which are also Bantu type languages are widely spoken.
The next stop was to the Cathédrale Sainte Marie or Saint Mary’s Cathedral which happens to be one of the oldest churches built by the missionaries in the eighteenth century in Gabon. The Gabonese people just like Equatorial Guineans are either Catholics or traditionalist. Interestingly, my host practiced both religions. Uneducated me back in the days would never come close to him if I had known he practices traditional religion. I have however learnt to accept people the way they are, knowing we all see life differently.
A few blocks away from the church was the Orphelinat Sainte Marie or the Saint Mary’s Orphanage. This orphanage is very remarkable because it was where Biafran children were airlifted to during the Biafra-Nigeria civil war. Lots of children were airlifted to Libreville during the thirty-month civil war. Even rumors have it that the sitting president of Gabon is one of the Biafran children adopted by the president who later became his son. Magoula also informed me of some prominent people who were airlifted during the war and are presently living in the country and doing very well.
At around one o’clock that afternoon I was hungry so we decided to go visit the town and get something. We stopped by at Maougula’s church and also visited the traditional religious center where he was born and initiated since he was born. I followed him in to the first entrance but could not go further with him because he had to remove his shoes before walking in to some very elderly ladies on white cloths. He spoke with them and she made some gesticulations which he later explained to me is a blessing.
We eventually arrived a local cafeteria where we bought stuffs to eat. They made very nice jollof rice with beef and plantain. We also bought fruits and several things to go with it before going home to eat the food – knowing fully well I will not be able to visit other places as it was getting to two o’clock by which time I was supposed to be getting ready to leave to the airport for my onward flight to Pointe Noire.
Magoula accompanied me to the airport and waited until I was checked in to fly and completed immigration formalities to leave the country. I am very grateful to him for all his kindness and assistance and I will hopefully travel back to the country to visit several places especially Pointe Gentil.