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Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Brief Look Forward

For me, having internet is a lucky day and having strong enough internet to post to the blog ....jackpot.

My counterpart and his kids, Richard and Antwaun
For the most part I'm doing good these days but I had a hell of a week and a half before this. It all started with leaving Dubreka for Mamou to attend our counterpart workshop. Essentially just a few days and a bunch of presentations while we meet someone from the school I will be working at. I will be at the College of Wonkifong. *DISCLAIMER* college in french terms refers to middle school. The best part about this little trip was the simple fact that I got to get out of Dubreka. I'd really been feeling a little stir crazy so any trip past the market was a breath of fresh air. The trip out to Mamou was beautiful! It's pretty amazing to see such lush green forests on top of mountains with a spackling of waterfalls every so often. Unfortunately the "Lion King" aura gets broken pretty quickly when the bus has to swerve huge pot holes or cows while another car is flying by. It's pretty easy to see why transportation is the most dangerous thing about Guinea. Lucky for me, my future site, Wonkifong, is a quick trip from the capital meaning I won't have to be out on the main highways too often. After a 4 day stay in what could be a tropical resort destination I headed off to see my house in Wonkifong.

Overall my trip to Wonkifong was......just plain awkward. The guy with the keys to my house wasn't in town so we broke into my house with a crowbar (already have new locks). Then I had to deal with the moving in feeling when you just want everyone else to go away but in broken French and Sussu (the local language in my region). I got "settled" to the point of having at least a bed to sleep on and we were off to meet some people in the village. The most important thing to do was to meet all the higher ups in the village. Lots of shaking hands, smiling as old men talk about me, and expressing how excited I was to be there.

Me and Monson. Cutest kid in my village.
The whole trip I really was just looking for a way to be a little independent. The "baby-ing  the foreigner" bit is getting really old. The first chance I saw to take a chance on my own was when I was going back to Wonkifong from Coyah the big city nearby. I looked at my counterpart with confidence said I could go it alone and sent him on his way with a nice wink and a fingergun. All I had to do was wait in the cab and it would take me to my village. Thing about cabs in Guinea is that they don't leave until they are full. Full means there are 4 adults in the backseat, 2 people sitting shotgun, the driver, and an optional person sitting on top of the gearshift or roof. In this cab I was sitting in the back middle seat next to a woman with two kids on her lap. One sitting on her knees and the other breast feeding. Just before the cab is about to take off the kid on her knees pukes. Just down the seat, all on his pants making a small puddle on the floor of the cab. Mom "cleans" up the mess with a towel and we're ready to roll. Luckily this cab had a flat so we moved cars and I was free of the puke smell. Now we're waiting longer for a new driver to get moving. I notice a guy who's kinda yelling a lot and I just hope he's not my driver. Same guy gets in a fist fight right outside the car I'm sitting in, I really hope that's not my driver. People break up the fight and push one of the fighters into the driver seat. He's my driver. Bleeding, pissed and still yelling at the other guy we finally depart for my village.

Visiting my site had lots of ups and downs but I've been able to decompress at the capital now and I'm feeling refreshed to finish training. I have to teach real students next week so I really should be on my A-game.

Personal update: after fasting for the month of Ramadan I feel a lot closer to my host family. I lost 25 pounds since I've been here and I give so much props to my Muslim friends back home for fasting every year. It's not fun. I'm alive and well........well for the most part.

I know I won't get to post again before next weekend so I'll leave with this. GO BLUE!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Adventure Time Needs Adventure Shorts

Although I am first and foremost in this country for work, I do get to play a lot. The second weekend we were in Dubreka, Peace Corps had an outing planned to go to “Les Cascades”, pretty vague but that was actually their name. It was as touristy a place as you can find in Guinea, which isn’t saying much. To add to the adventure and to get some much needed exercise we decided to bike the 25 km to the waterfalls. Lots of up and down but it was mostly road biking. We rode on what is the national highway of Guinea, which really wasn’t that busy but when you see a beaten down semi truck flying towards you, it adds a degree of difficulty to the trip. 

As the phrase goes, “the juice was worth the squeeze.” We made it to this beautiful natural waterfall complete with adjacent restaurant owned by a Lebanese man who knows how to make some hummus. So we got to enjoy some swimming, some pita and to top it all off a cold beer. The best part about going to see a waterfall in Guinea is the lack of supervision. There weren’t really any rules or regulations meaning we could swim right up to and climb the waterfall, which made for the best shower I’ve had in this country thus far.  This really was the best thing to have after our first week of adjusting to living in Dubreka, host families, and getting back into classes.

After a full afternoon of sitting in the water and drinking beers at the restaurant we weren’t dedicated enough to bike back so we threw the bikes on top of the Peace Corps bus and headed home in style. The ride home was cramped as usual but we lightened the mood with some tunes which inevitably ended up on Disney songs. Don’t worry, I held back…..for the most part.


This past weekend was highlighted by my second adventure: mountain hike. It had been a long week and I was mentally exhausted from the stress of finding out our sites and getting into some more intense French lessons. So a few of us decided it was the perfect weekend to climb the mountain that looms in the distance not far from Dubreka’s large market simply called “Kilometre Cinqe” (because it’s 5 km away).   We found out that it’s name is “Le Chien qui Fume” or The Smoking Dog.  Probably due to the fact it looks like a dog lying down and always has clouds rolling over it.  Lucky for me, another volunteer’s brothers (Abdoulaye, Boubacar, and Barbo) are the Guinean equivalent to Bear Grils. They were our guides on this adventure and they couldn’t have been more badass. 

To start the day we take a quick taxi over to K5 and convince the driver to take us just a bit farther towards the mountain. At what looked like some random point in the road our guides tell the driver to stop and we get out in the middle of a dirt road next to a river. Looking across the river we can see a definite trail but there’s no bridge. They tell us that usually it’s easy to cross but after so much rain the last few days the river was about 3 feet deep and moving really fast. We moved upstream a bit and found a thick vine to cut and use as a rope to assist us across the river. Like I said, these guys are badass. 

From there on out it was pretty smooth sailing to the top. We followed a well-made trail for about half way up the mountain, passing two small children headed towards the raging river and a random family living fairly high up. This is a picture of them. I wasn’t even paying attention to them and then one of the guides yells to me in French that they wanted me to take their photo. Look over and they are Kodak ready. So odd.  As I took the picture I could almost hear the voice of a certain photographer I know saying that it would have been better if it was an action shot….preferably from a crazy angle too. 

The rest of the way up was much more rugged with more foliage and a hardly defined trail. Lucky for us we had our trusty guides to help us along. After a while the magic thought of “they know the mountain like Pocahontas” went away because we discovered that what we thought was just trash on the trail was the markers. A common item to sell is small bags of purified Coyah water and people would stab them onto branches to mark the path. Although this wasn’t foolproof, resulting in us yelling “Ou est les Coyahs?!” many times. Our guides never doubted the trail and took us straight to the top even though they admittedly doubted we would make it that far. 

Although we had been lucky with the weather all day, cloudy and not hot at all, it backfired once we got to the top. Cloud cover is great for hiking but terrible for sightseeing. We had made good time so we took our time enjoying our success. We all had a good laugh when we noticed that the three Guineans who looked so comfortable the whole walk up, even in plastic soccer cleats and basketball shorts, were freezing in the cool wind of the summit.  Being a bit lazy turned out to be the best choice because every so often the clouds would break and we would get a beautiful view of Dubreka. 

Trip down is always less exciting but walking with good friends made it great. I’m so happy we did it. There might even be a return trip in the works. I know there is a lot of other more important stuff I could be writing about but it’s not all about work! Hope everyone is doing great back home. Been missing home and friends a lot lately. Especially, now that my sister has gotten engaged! Congrats to you both, I love you and I will cheers my nalgene full of filtered and slightly chlorinated water to you two crazy lovebirds. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

“Ce n’est pas grave” is Guinea’s “NBD”

It’s been a few weeks now since I last posted, but to put it lightly it feels like its been months. With so much that has been happening I can’t believe I’ve been in Guinea for what will be close to a month now, but I’ll save the emotional release essay for those of you I email, here’s the big stuff:

I’m in a new town. I have been living with my host family in Dubreka for just over three weeks. The first day I met them was one of the most awkward things I have ever been through. It was called an “Adoption Ceremony” and before I knew it I was hugging some random old lady, taking pictures and holding a baby.  Weirdest part is that of the first 4 people I met who I thought were my family, only one lives with me. I have seen the other 3 maybe once or twice since then. Ce n’est pas grave.

Moving past the initial shock of having a new white brother in the family all went back to normal fairly quick. I was given my host father’s name of Issiaga Diallo, which comes with a lot of pressure because he is deceased and was a great French teacher back in the day. The rest of the family is great. I have a 22 year old brother named Mohamed who is great to hang with and talk to. A 23 year old sister who likes to stare just a little bit too long when we talk but she is fun to talk with. Recently we have been debating dance styles because they dance really boring here and I tell her that they gotta spice it up a bit. Two sisters ages 3 and 7 both named Aissatou (seen in the photo), yeah confusing. To round out the family (at least the ones who are around most consistently) there’s Almamy and Yussif, the funniest little dudes ever. Almamy likes to pop-and-lock. Yussif is most comfortable after a shower when he throws his towel off like a pro wrestler entering the ring and follows it up with a few laps of the living room. Ce n’est pas grave.

Overall life with the Diallo’s has been really great. Been out at night with both my sister and my brother. They don’t mind too much when I stay out a little late. Nay-nay (mom in Pulaar) is a decent cook. I felt really close to them the night my brother got his results back from his college entrance exams (the Brevet). It’s an intense night because they publicly announce everyone’s scores to a mass of people. Also to put it in perspective just about 30% of the country passes, 10-15% of Dubreka candidates. Ce n’est pas grave. The air was thick and was only broken by an occasional yelp of successful or gut wrenching cries of failure. Needless to say I was quite nervous for my brother. Good thing is, he’s a genius. Totally nailed it. Going to college. Great night, and very emotional night, for my family given my host-father’s passion for education. I’m glad I was a part of it.

This past week or so I have been fasting for the month of Ramadan. Islam is the major religion in Guinea and my family is all fasting so I figured I would give it a shot and try to get closer to my new host family. It hasn’t been easy but it’s definitely been worth it thus far. Worst part is that you can’t drink either: hot sun = no beuno for Dante. They have this practice of waking up at 4AM to get in one more meal before the sun rises so I’m up for that too. This also means I get to try and fall back asleep while I can hear the prayer calls from 3 different Mosques. I’m beginning to adjust to the sounds but its essentially slow droning sounds of a half received AM radio station. Ce n’est pas grave.

Schools good. Learning lots. French…….mediocre. Getting there. Ce n’est pas grave.

PS: I shaved off the beard recently. Not a lot of mirrors in Guinea so when I catch my reflection I freak out. Plan is to just let it grow back again, shave it, repeat. Ce n’est pas grave.

PPS: We received our sites for the next two years and I will be living in Wonkifong. Yes, it’s a town in Guinea. More info on this to come post site-visit.