Swing sets and soldiers

A month ago, I wrote a post and asked you to donate funds to install another swing set at a public school here in Gabon. Friends responded, and everything was arranged. School was out for vacation, but the swing set was installed on Sunday, and we were all set to present it to the students on Monday morning at 9:00am on their first day back from break.

On Monday morning, Jeff and I awoke to busy phones. It is fairly common for us to have a lot of messages when we wake up, because while we sleep our family members are still conversing in our group chats. This morning, however, many of the messages were local, and they contained news that filled my heart with dread.

Screenshot of the video put out by the rebelling soldiers

First, there were rumors of a military coup. Then, there was a video being passed along where a few members of the Gabonese military called upon the youth of Gabon to rise up against our current government officials. Then there was talk of emergency procedures, road blockades, gunshots being heard in various parts of town, and military walking the streets. There was a lot of misinformation spread, and uncertainty abounded. And then—nothing.

Our internet was cut. Our data was blocked. With persistence, calls could go through, and my local land line still worked. I called friends and heard of being woken up by gunfire and bullets piercing walls and entering homes. I heard helicopters fly over head, and I wondered. Is this going to be a big deal? Is it already a big deal? How many members of the military support this? Are people taking to the streets and joining in? What is going on outside of my safe home surrounded by sturdy walls and guarded by valiant men?

(Not to make light of matters, but a military coup is great motivation for washing laundry. If I was going to be evacuated, I wanted to do so with clean underwear in my bag. Grateful to have water and electricity even if I didn't have internet or data, I began load after load.)

With communication limited, the worry set in. I worried about us, and I worried about my family back home who knew something was going on, but whom I couldn't contact to reassure that we were fine.

I had had plans for that morning. After dedicating the swing set, we were going to stop by the store for eggs, because Daniel turned eight years old that day, and I needed eggs to make his birthday cake. Going to the store was no longer going to happen (nor would bowling that evening!), but across the ocean, Grandma Collett's kindness saved the day. During our time here, she has mailed us care packages containing, among other items, different flavors of instant cake mixes. You just add water or milk, mix it in a mug, and microwave it for a minute, and presto!—you have a small cake.

An unusual birthday for Danny

Daniel opened his presents, and the children began to play. Meanwhile my thoughts kept swirling: Are people dying? Will we be leaving? Are the people I love all right? And the strangers I don't know—how are they faring? Everything is probably fine. The population of this country is so small. Gabonese are not a violent people. I'm sure this is already under control, right? So many immigrants in this country have fled from foreign civil wars; I'm sure no one here wants that. I wish I could communicate!!

We're looking at pictures I had just taken of the birthday boy. 
Don't mind my pajamas. Who gets dressed on a coup laundry day??

Jeff ventured into the Embassy after a few hours. There was no internet there either as the whole city had been cut off, but he was still able to do work. There seemed to be a sort of cruel twist of fate about working at the Embassy of a government that is technically shut down right now whilst in a country that is experiencing a coup attempt.

We received information from the Embassy throughout the day with updates and warnings about staying home if possible, where to not go in town if one did leave, etc. School for my children was supposed to start on Tuesday, but we were notified that school was cancelled. We were told that the coup was over, that the loyal members of the military had stifled the short lived coup attempt by a few rebel members of the military.

We went to bed with no internet or data, and we woke up to no internet or data with the added inconvenience of having the land line no longer function. I was out of cell phone minutes, so I couldn't call anyone either and could only receive phone calls. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. Luckily my dad's US phone with an international setup was able to send messages out to reassure family we were fine. The Embassy provided transportation to Jeff to the Embassy in the morning, and the kids enjoyed having their extra day at home. My mom unpacked her bags (she was prepared for that possible evacuation!), and my dad commented that in Michigan children have snow days to stay home from school and in Africa apparently kids have coup days.

By the afternoon, internet and data were restored, and I had over 100 messages waiting for me. It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to say that we were fine. We stayed home all day as did many people. I spoke with my friend who coordinates with the school for the swing set placement, and we decided to try again on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, the three big kids were picked up to go to school; Jeff went to work; and my parents, Gordon, and I went out into the city. Everything was mostly the same except that the people I spoke to were still a little shaken by what had happened on Monday.

We arrived at the school, and children were already playing on the swing set. So many children for such a small swing set, but before there was nothing but dirt and grass, and I suppose it will be a good lesson for learning to take turns! The smiles on their faces were so big, and I couldn't help but compare how for the past two days many children in this capital city were huddled in their homes listening to the sounds of tanks rolling down the street and wondering if the soldiers passing by would search their homes. Then that passed and these children returned to school to discover a swing set, which is a structure that some of them may have never seen before, because they truly are not common in this country.

There are many hurts I cannot heal and many problems I cannot solve. But for as long as that swing set stands, I know that my friends, family, and I have put smiles on the faces of many. And while it's not much—it's something.

The public school: I think those purple flowers are beautiful.

The happy recipients of the swing set

Students hugging my father in gratitude

You almost can't find my mom in this picture!

In the center right, you'll see my friend Rita who coordinates these efforts for me.
Her NGO makes this possible.

If you're curious, here is a typical Gabonese classroom. I've been inside a few public schools now, and this is a good representation of a well kept school. The first lady had remodeled it only six months prior.

The director of this school said there are typically about forty students per teacher. At other schools, some ratios are higher and some are lower.

And now it's Thursday. Kids are back in school. People are back at work. Life is settling back down. My government is still shut down while we all wonder when our president and Congress will find a compromise. This government is still basically functioning while we all wonder when the president will return from abroad. (He's been gone since October; he suffered a stroke and has been in foreign hospitals.) Meanwhile, because this is 2019, the soldiers who instigated this fear have already been turned into memes.

Thank you, my friends, for helping me place another swing set.

If you're interested in more information regarding the very short coup attempt, here are two articles.


  1. I was glad I was able to unpack my suitcase and stay longer. I have many good memories from my visit here in Gabon. —GranB

  2. This is so scary! I'm glad to know everyone is fine. I love to see the pictures of the school. Those kiddos look like you've just made their week with those joy-filled faces. Love it and love you!

  3. Shoot, I still want to give you money for the swing sets- I’m just notoriously bad at doing anything when I have to set up a new account, I’ll get there eventually! —Liz

  4. I’m so glad you are all alright!! —Chelle Belle

  5. This was the day I kept chanting “everything is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is fine.” I am grateful from every little last bit of me that this situation didn’t get worst than it did. And the poetic part of me loves the juxtaposition of the birthday boy and the new swingset. Life is joy and pain, isn’t it? —A Rose


  6. Wow...this was really interesting!!!

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this post! It is the little changes which will make the greatest changes. Thanks for sharing. For more details: https://www.swingsetpros.com/


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