“My Summer in Gabon,” by Eric Brill

Feb 12th, 2020 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

I’m not a fan of the national anthem. Sure, it’s beautiful in the way that ancient things are beautiful. Like when you see an old picture of your grandma, and you say, “Wow, grandma, you sure were pretty. I guess, technically, you’re still pretty compared to other old people.” My beef with The Star Spangled Banner is that it just doesn’t do a good job capturing the spirit of America. It does a really good job describing the physical appearance of the flag with its broad stripes and bright stars all spangling like they do. But, even when you think the song is about to get good, when the bombs are bursting in air, and rockets are glaring up the sky, you find out that these bombs and rockets are just in the song because it’s dawn, and Francis Scott Key needs the extra light to make sure the flag is still there.

Now, the national anthem of Gabon, La Concorde, is a real national anthem! Lyrics to this hit include, “Let us forget our quarrels, let us build together the new structure of which we are all dreaming of,” and “banish the sorcerers, those perfidious deceivers who were sowing poison and were spreading fear.” This is a country that knows what it’s all about: building a better future and banishing sorcerers.

As a recent college graduate, it was the national anthem that drew me to Gabon. With the help of an advisor, I was able to find an opportunity to teach English in a village outside of the capital city, Libreville. It would be a great way to build my resume, and more importantly it would be a great way to alleviate the shame of being a white American.

I packed my bags with all of the African garments I’d never found a reason to wear, and I was off to the airport for my new adventure. I was traveling alone. My roommate was supposed to come along, but I knew the Gabonese government would never let him in. He was a sorcerer. He was a good dude, but a perfidious deceiver, nonetheless.

I’m not too proud to tell you that I was going into this experience with a mind full of stereotypes and assumptions about Africa. Some of these proved inaccurate (no mud huts or ladies carrying stuff around on their heads), but some of my assumptions were spot on (lots of black people, for example). In terms of wildlife, Gabon is the perfect African cliché: elephants, hippos, gorillas, baboons, leopards, and most of the other animals from the opening scene of The Lion King. No lions though. The last lion in Gabon was killed in 1993. Perhaps the most infamous critter in Gabon is the Golden Tailed Monkey. These guys are like the seagulls of Gabon, except they have fingers, so they’re much more effective with their mischief. They’d steal your food or rip out your earrings if they could get their hands on them. One of the first things I was told upon my arrival was to be careful about locking up the doors and windows of my little apartment unless I wanted my room ransacked.

The school I’d be working in was just like the schools in America: dilapidated and underfunded. Classrooms were a bit smaller, but they had desks and chalkboards and posters that said things like There’s no “I” in Team – it was a nice sentiment but a very inefficient way to teach spelling.

It was a tradition at this school to put on a play with students and teachers at the end of Summer quarter. From what I could glean, the play was the same year after year: a celebration of African independence. Like African Americans, African Africans had to put up with a lot of white people who didn’t want them to be free. For my part in the production, I was asked to play the role of honest Abe Lincoln. I’d auditioned for Nelson Mandela, but I didn’t get the part. I could take a hint; I was being type-casted. I didn’t even have a speaking role. Regardless, rehearsals went well. I was a natural Lincoln, and I never said a word, not even once. By the time opening night arrived, I had it down.

After finishing up the school day, I walked back to my apartment to get into costume before the big show. When I made it back to my room, I saw that I had left the widow unlatched, and when I opened the door, I could see that I’d been the victim of some monkey business. My garbage was toppled, furniture was overturned, and all my food and earrings were missing. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was still an inconvenience that I didn’t have time for. I quickly tidied up, locked my window, and changed into my two-dollar suit. The suit was Lincoln-esque in terms of its tailoring, and it fit like a large glove on a medium hand. I had my own undershirt and tie to pull the look together, and after dressing quickly, I hoofed it to the auditorium to get my beard and mole drawn on.


I was looking into a mirror, admiring my new beard and mole when I had an awful realization. In my haste, I’d forgotten my hat back at the apartment. A hatless Lincoln might have been good enough for the penny, the five-dollar bill, and the Lincoln memorial, but these Gabonese were perfectionists, and I knew that I was about to let everyone down. There was no way I could get to my apartment and back in time, so I started searching high and low for a replacement hat, but my search was useless.

At that point, the actor playing Haile Selassie walked past me, and he could see that I’d already sweated half a mole off my face, so he asked me what was going on. I told him that I ruined the play by losing my hat. He reminded me that I had zero lines before he pointed out that my hat was already on stage. Sure enough, there it was, sitting on table in the middle of the stage. It was too close to showtime to grab right then, but we would start the show with a brief cast introduction, and I could snag it once we were all lined up on stage.


The rich timbre of djembe filled the auditorium, and that was our cue to scurry out onto the stage. As I passed it, I scooped my hat up off the table, but immediately, I knew that something was not right. The hat was way heavier than it was supposed to be – exactly one monkey heavier. I looked down into the hat, and sure enough there was a Golden Tailed Monkey. I knew it was the very same monkey that had plundered my apartment earlier in the day because he has wearing my earrings.

In front of an eager Gabonese audience, with the spotlights burning down on myself and the rest of the cast, I reached down into my big hat and pulled the monkey out. When the audience saw that, they lost their minds. They must have thought I was some kind of sorcerer because I was promptly banished from Gabon.


Eric Brill is a middle school Language Arts teacher in Seattle, Washington. He is a frequent contributor to Parent In-boxes, best known for works such as “Meredith’s Behavior in Class Today,” and “Sure, I Can Change your Son’s Grade. Just Stop Emailing.” Eric lives with his wife Meghan, his cat Julio, and a crippling fear of rejection. He enjoys running and sharing sarcastic remarks with his fifty-two followers on Twitter (@EricTheBrill).

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