Friday, August 20, 2010

Two Evenings in Djibouti (and One Day Outside)

Last Thursday evening - two Thursdays ago - our plans were almost rained out. Some people in the office made plans for a select few of us to go bowling, and I invited everyone under the sun to join us, including a friend from CARITAS (she just got back from Italy, with sister in tow).

Just before we were about to leave our office that evening, the skies opened up and the city began to flood. Fortunately, after 30 minutes or so, the rains let up and a taxi was able to come and get us.

To our chagrin, the bowling alley had also flooded. The employees of the alley kept telling us '10 more minutes'; '15 more minutes'; and after a little over an hour of that we were finally able to hit the lanes.

And then the ants came.

They were everywhere; they were huge; they were flying; and they bit! I got a nice bite on my left shin, but was otherwise alright (one of my colleagues got multiple bites on his neck).

We all had terrible bowling scores, but as no one among us was particularly adept at bowling, most people thought we did rather well (I'll note that none of us broke 100, and if you're not very familiar with bowling, the best possible score is considerably higher than that). There were pool tables in the entrance area of the bowling alley, and my Italian friends remarked that it was unfortunate we didn't try 'billiards', as they are much better at that.

After bowling, we went to 'The Melting Pot', where several other expats - all Italian - joined us on the patio. We were originally to be eight, so a table was reserved for us inside; but we arrived as eleven, and eventually became fourteen, so our only option was to be seated at a ridiculously long table on the patio.

I was seated next to the sister of my friend from CARITAS, and at one point in the evening, she leaned over and asked me, "why don't you learn to speak French while you are here?" It was a straightforward question, deserving of a straightforward reply, but I've always got to be 'the funny guy', so I remarked "because French is an ugly language and I refuse to learn it." Before I could say I was kidding, and that I have just been delinquent with my studies, to my surprise she was in complete agreement with me and wished that everyone at the table would stop trying to speak with her in French. Incroyable!

By the time our meals were served it was relatively dry on the patio, the wind was no longer as intrusive as it had been, and apart from the miserable weather early on - and the ants - it was a rather nice end to a rather interesting evening.

Last night - which also happened to be Thursday - I went out with my friend from CARITAS with her sister in tow. Our first stop was for some burgers at 'The Beverley'.

'The Beverley' is a place which is a very tiny elevator ride four floors above some kind of eatery, or convenience store, or pharmacy - I'm not sure which - that has very mysteriously, and misleadingly, borrowed it's name and logos from 'Planet Hollywood'. 'The Beverley' doesn't have a washroom inside the restaurant: one is required to pass through the entrance, follow a series of signs that say 'Toilet' - all with arrows pointing in surprising directions - until one walks through a construction zone and arrives in a tiny room with a toilet, a sink, and a bucket filled with water (because there is no running water, obviously).

Before our meal arrived, I journeyed to the washroom adjacent to 'The Beverley' and when I returned to the restaurant, our waiter - whom I'll describe as being 'super jazzed' - asked me if I wanted a serviette (he said the word 'serviettes' with an inflection at the end, so I could only assume it was a question concerning serviettes and my desire to have one). I answered in the affirmative. He put a small plate on the counter, placed some paper napkins on that plate, and smiled at me. I thanked him for the paper napkins and returned to my table; I told the girls I had no explanation as to why I was carrying a small plate of paper napkins, but that our waiter was super-jazzed.

The burgers were pretty good; the waiter was a riot. I'll recommend 'The Beverley' to anyone.

The evening's post-burger activities were advertised as 'billiards', and there were two places my Italian friend and her sister said we could go: to one place with 'red and yellow balls', or another place with 'numbers on the balls'. I opted for the numbered balls and showed them how we play 'billiards' in Canada (Final Score: Canada 3, Italy 0).

After billiards we went to 'Scotch', one of the local, seedy, discotheques, filled with Legionnaires and 'ladies of the night' (a typical Thursday night, really; we may substitute bowling for billiards, but we can always count on plenty of Legionnaires being around Djibouti-ville after dark, and on the red lights being turned on). We didn't stay there long, as we really just spent our 20 minutes sitting uncomfortably in one of the booths, gawking at everyone enjoying themselves on the dance floor in whatever way they might.

On leaving, my Italian friend and her sister wanted to go to another, equally desirable place, but as it was [enter some excuse for not wanting to go to another discotheque here], I said my good-nights and walked home.

Earlier that evening I'd agreed to join them on a beach adventure the following day - that day being today, which is Friday. They'd already formulated the plans, but offered to include me in them, which I willingly accepted.

Today - Friday we congregated around 'Planet Hollywood' in the city centre and at shortly after 10:00 we left for the beach. We spent close to six hours at the beach (the name of which starts with a 'K', has two words and three syllables), and I spent probably 2.5 hours snorkeling spread out over two visits to the water (there were other visits to the water but only two for snorkeling).

On my first snorkel, a solo snorkel, I went about 100 meters out, another 100 meters left, and discovered a coral shelf with an astonishing variety of fish (I wish I could tell you what each one was called, but I can only describe them as ranging from the size of my pinky to the size of my arm, and being assorted combinations of every colour imaginable).

On my second snorkel, this time accompanied by a new Italian friend (we were six Italians, one Swede, and one Canadian in a convoy of two Japanese SUVs today), I came upon a sea turtle grazing some sea weed. I came upon him first and motioned to my Italian friend to join me where I was. He was a good size, with a shell diameter of almost one meter, maybe more given the distance between he and I.

The turtle saw me.

I don't know if turtles are capable of thoughts beyond 'hungry' and 'afraid', but when I looked at this turtle, I could definitely sense alarm, and deduced this turtle's thoughts had migrated from the former to the latter.

The turtle slowly started moving, with me in hot pursuit and my Italian companion in tow. As I was using a borrowed snorkel and mask, my mask was not sealing correctly, and by this time had slowly filled with water. I breached and emptied my mask as quickly as I could, but when I returned under water the turtle had vanished.

I breached again, along with my Italian companion. She remarked how incredible it is to see the turtle take off as fast as it does. "Yes," I remarked, "that must have been incredible to see."

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