Last night, we climbed out of the car, unfolding legs and stretching arms that had been cramping up on our 11-hour drive back to Libreville. It was, as much travel by road here is, not without incident, but I get ahead of myself. We were just happy to wallow in Bob’s hospitality and cold beer. Merci
The last day in Sam was given over to wrapping up the small unfinished tasks and cleaning up the work sites. With both latrines painted, we spent the day moving all the materials over to the other school as a contribution to repairs there. Helping us were a small group of enthusiastic primary school boys who hoped for a small gift at the end of the work for their labors. They were not disappointed as each received a small flashlight, a Polaroid picture and a soda.
Meanwhile Drew was using his time to complete the unfinished windows on the teachers houses to make them inhabitable. Check.
In the midst of the work, we paid our courtesy farewell on the sous-prefet. We turned the keys of the latrines over to him. He thanked us for our help and in fairly blunt language urged the Sam residents to now do their part in keeping up and maintaining what he called the “jewel” of the school we had repaired. We assured him of the good hospitality we had received from our hosts.
One final beer at the crossroads and one final supper before we got organized and packed, ready for an early departure the next morning.
With two pick-ups loaded with personal suitcases and project tools, we bade our farewells, not without a few tears.
The ride back to Libreville started in luxury with extra spaces in each car. We stopped in Ndjole for a lunch of coupe-coupe, Gabon’s sliced barbecue meat that has become my meal of choice. All was proceeding well enough that Emil, one of the drivers, predicted we’d be back on Libreville by 5pm, but he did add the “if there are no problems” caveat. You can guess what happened next.
Less than an hour later, we were startled out of our post-lunch sleepy confidence when the rear wheel on one of our rides fell off the truck, bounced by us, and we were treated to the spectacle of steel axle on pavement, with sparks and maybe even small flames shooting out from under the truck.
A sad sight. We located the tire in the yard of one of the village residents, we found the tire drum in a second spot and then located a couple of the bolts that had been severed off. After panic and hopeless depression, we moved, along with a roadside mechanic who just happened on the scene and jumped in to work, into problem-solving mode. We came up with a plan, moved all the luggage and passengers into the one remaining good truck and hustled off to the next village where we hoped to find spare parts. We hit the jackpot and the driver Florian headed back to the broken down car to make repairs while the rest of us crammed into the back seat and continued on. End of story, Florian limped into Libreville about six hours later with a repaired car.
Our program for our final full day here included heading over to the US Embassy where we congregated at actresses that had been planted three years earlier to commemorate Peace Corps volunteers who had died in service, Diana Fillmore and Karen Phillips. There the Gabonese wife of one of the Embassy employees who helped us on the Sam project gave a moving first-hand testimonial on the impact of Peace Corps on Gabon and the Gabonese who we came into contact with.
Finally, we joined our Sam D’Abord collaborators for a luncheon farewell with the obligatory slide show of our time here, featuring most of Henk’s 500 or more photos.
We closed out the day with pizza supper on the beach.
Tomorrow night the remaining five of us catch flights leaving behind our third year of projects.
Before I left to come here, a friend asked my why we come back. He understood one year, by why keep going back? Without hesitating, my response focused on the richly rewarding experience. This year was no different.