LIBREVILLE, Gabon — To showcase Central Accord’s host nation, Sunday was Cultural Day. Participants were allowed to wear civilian clothes, and several soldiers wore Gabonese clothing they had purchased at a market on a previous occasion.
The first place we were supposed to go was an artisanal market where locals sell crafts and souvenirs. However, the first buses of the day ended up in a neighborhood market that sells typical household wares and Western clothing.
The market is formed out of an alleyway off the bustling streets, and merchants have small shops where they sell items such as spoons, steel wool, fabric and electronics. Even though it was the wrong market, the group I was with was able to see what daily life is like in Libreville.
We eventually made it back to the buses and headed to the artisanal market. The wares that this tourist-centric market sells were similar at each booth, but it’s up to the customer to barter with a vendor for the best price. This was my first time bartering. The sellers had calculators to help negotiate a price, which they would then hand to me and see what I was willing to pay. I bought a handful of small carved items while others bought clothing and decorations for their families back home.
People were able to go to the market throughout the day, but I headed back to the camp to relax before the big concert later that night.
The concert for Central Accord participants took place after dark, which is around 6 p.m. here, in a Gabonese military hanger. Several dance and music groups performed traditional dances and songs for the audience, which included Cynthia Akuetteh, the U.S. ambassador to Gabon, and Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore Jr., U.S. Army Africa deputy commander.
The highlight of the night was a Michael Jackson impersonator with his own dance troupe. He rocked the house. From the Americans to the Cameroonians, the audience was smiling, dancing and taking videos of the performance.
To see 3rd Infantry Division soldiers mingling with soldiers from European and African partner nations during a time of peace is definitely a step away from the drumbeats of the past 14 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This “phase zero,” which Lt. Col. Brian Ducote, the commander of 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment talked to me about before the unit left for Gabon, is an attempt to build relationships and skills so that in times of crisis, the militaries can work together more smoothly.
My next dispatch will be focused on the unfortunate events surrounding the drowning of my phone on the coast of Gabon while covering an airborne jump.