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 (Jack Bauer voice) The following takes place on the 7th of January 2019.

The Huang family newsletter


february 2019
It started out as a completely normal Monday.

Nolan got up around 7 am and, as usual, immediately asked for something to eat. anDrew took out a home-made bagel that Kim had made a few days prior. It was her first attempt at making bagels from scratch, and they were a resounding success in the Huang household.

It was anDrew’s dedicated day as the station bus driver to take several children to the local preschool 5 km away in Lébamba. As he was preparing the car, the father of another preschooler drove up.

“Have you heard the news?” Elisée said in his crisp French. “I just got a call. There’s been a military coup in Libreville.”

“URGENT URGENT COUP D’ETAT MILITAIRE AU GABON” someone wrote on a WhatsApp group chat at that moment. Then the internet went down.

Fortunately, cell phone and text messages still worked, but without internet, all our WhatsApp chats were nonoperational (which was annoying at best and hazardous at worst, since the vast majority of hospital communication is done through WhatsApp). The children, out of an abundance of caution, did not end up going to school.

The "school bus" (aka, hospital-owned 4x4) lay dormant that day.

News of the supposed military coup spread quickly throughout the station and hospital. However, without access to internet or email, it was difficult to get any reliable news about what was actually going on. Later that morning, Paul (our station maintenance supervisor and designated contact person for the US embassy) got word that gunshots had been fired in Libreville. More rumours came through of tanks patrolling the streets of the Gabonese capital.

The news of a coup made for interesting water-cooler fodder amongst all hospital employees and physicians, Gabonese and expatriate alike. (Not that we have, so to speak, an actual water cooler.) However, at Bongolo Hospital, hundreds of kilometres away from Libreville, we might as well have had been talking about polar bear sightings in the Artic for all that it mattered to us. The outpatients had all arrived at the hospital before news of the coup had spread to our remote corner of the country, and the clinics hummed with their typical Monday busyness.

The waiting area outside of the surgery clinic.

Frankly, the most annoying part of it all was the fact that our bilingual French-English dictionary apps on our phone didn’t work well without an internet connection. This made seeing patients in the clinic all that more difficult when we needed to use a medical term that we hadn’t yet learned. (What's the word for “spleen” in French? Oh yeah…la rate.)

After lunch, one of the surgical residents mentioned he had downloaded a video before the internet went down, but he had thought it was a joke. In fact, it wasn’t: it was the video manifesto of the young Gabonese military officers calling for a revolution and overthrow of the government. (anDrew attempted to watch it, but the French was too hard to understand.)

The militants call for revolution in Gabon.

Near the end of the workday, we received word that the attempted coup was already over, and that, in fact, it had lasted only a few short hours. Internet access, however, had not yet been restored.

“Who cares about the coup? I just want to know when the internet will come back! I need to look up recipes for dinner,” said Kim, only half-joking.

It would take until the next day for the internet to come back. (In all, the government had shut down internet access for about 30 hours.) We were instantly inundated with hundreds of WhatsApp messages and dozens of emails.

Access to reliable news sources gave us a clearer picture of the causes and timeline of the coup (which ended up being more of a localized riot than a true coup d’état). While the coup failed spectacularly, the national and political tensions that provoked it are still present, leading us to wonder what might happen next — all while giving thanks that we live in such an inconveniently remote place with no strategic military value whatsoever.

A snapshot of the very isolated, very boring, but generally safe road to the hospital.

For a rundown in English of the attempted coup, the BBC has a short summary.
En français, RFI a publié un fil des évènements.
An English synopsis of the tensions and current political crises in Gabon are well noted here.
Il y a un court article en français qui décrit les crises gabonaises actuelles.

And now...for some family pictures!

Watch out world! Solène walks! 
Nolan has enjoyed going to a local preschool with other kids from the station. (...to be topic of a future newsletter...)
Kim's ability to cook from scratch has risen exponentially since moving to Gabon. Above, she makes a batch of Taiwanese pineapple buns (菠蘿麵包). anDrew enjoys a homemade hamburger: the bun, patty, and even the Worcestershire sauce were all from scratch.
Recent newsletters:
Figuring (or failing at) food
Arriving sight unseen
Transitions and tantrums
How French is like dying of dysentery
When butchering a language...
     
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anDrew: docdrew@gmail.com

Kimberley: kimboley@gmail.com
Copyright © 2019 The Huang Dynasty, All rights reserved.

This newsletter is about Andrew, Kimberley, Nolan and Solène Huang: their journey from the US to Canada to France and, ultimately, to Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, West Africa, with the Post-Residency Program of Samaritan's Purse (World Medical Mission).

The views and opinions expressed here are solely ours, and they do not necessarily represent those of Samaritan's Purse or World Medical Mission.

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