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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reunited and it feels so good!

It’s been a long 5 months but finally we got the band back together! Just as it was true for the Partridge family, when a group shares a bus together so often, it creates a bond that you just want to sing about. Ok, the reunion of my stage wasn’t as musically magical as I would have had it but it was great nonetheless.

IST is something that Peace Corps throws in there to check up on you and give you some more information that would have just been confusing without any field experience. Ours was scheduled for the second week of February in Mamou, the same place I’d been in when I first met my counterpart.

To round out my visit to the Fouta region (middle region) of Guinea, I visited some other education volunteers before going to Mamou. I know that I’ve been describing that I live in the middle of nowhere but that was before I saw my friend’s site. If I live in the middle of nowhere, she’s at the edge. Seriously, I took a taxi an hour and a half through a mountain dirt road and then followed that up with a 2 hour bike ride to her village. It’s so far out there the taxi drivers don’t even go there. As one can imagine, when you are that “en brousse” (term we use meaning out in the brush) the views are pretty amazing. I loved stopping during my bike ride just to soak up the sites for a bit, and catch my breath. A nice day in the village of Bodie (boh-djay) and some good friends to catch up with was well worth the long travel.

Once at IST, we all got to spend a week catching up, exchanging stories, complaining about students, complaining about counterparts, complaining about co-workers …..seeing a theme? To get us through the rough spots we indulged in some American traditions like drinking games, Frisbee, and a home-made version of Family Feud (everyone does that right?).

Entering IST I wasn’t doing that great. Work was a struggle, community was a mystery and I couldn’t find a purpose. IST really helped to reignite my passion and light a fire under my ass. I’m only here for two years and as much as I have/will complain, that’s not that long. If I want to hold up my end of the contract I signed with Peace Corps, I better get my shit together and help my community.

Going to work like it’s Detroit,
Dante

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PS: My can-do attitude also translated into a bit of redecorating. I hung up a bunch of my photos and now see the ones I love back home every day! Send me photos of you so I can think of you too when I want to quit! My pride may falter and tell me to go home but the pride you all have given me when you send me notes, I can’t let that down.

Reflections of a Fote 2: Guinean Look-a-likes

So far in my time in Guinea I have met and seen a lot of people who remind me of someone back home or a celebrity so I'm going to start a doppelganger list. I know I briefly mentioned some look-a-likes in another blog post but I wanted to show off some highlights.
        -In my 8th grade class there is a student who looks just like Seal, the singer. He's got the mild look of scars on his face to complete the look. Scars are actually used as a piece of style in Guinea. From time to time you'll see people with intentional scarring on their face. Actually met a few volunteers who are considering the same for themselves. I don't think I'll ever be that integrated. They do look cool but I'll leave those as the trademark of the real Seal and now my student. Just gotta find a rose for him to take a photo with.
       - Another student of mine in 9th grade has a habit of wearing a wig would pass as a costume wig for Tina Turner. It's curly and frizzed out into an afro style. The creativity and variety of the weaves and wigs that my students wear is always entertaining.
       - The most adorable doppelganger so far has been a little girl around six years old I met at the water pump. She and a friend were working together to push the foot pedal to pump the water. It was the cutest form of teamwork I've ever seen. Two 6 or 7 year old girls, each with one foot on the pump step, jumping in sync and constantly giggling. Her serious tone of Sussu plus the aforementioned scenario was enough to make me smile and giggle along but it wasn't until I realized that she looked exactly like Wanda Sykes that I actually laughed out loud. She's now one of the little kids I see around all the time and we still have chats despite no French on her part and no Sussu past "good morning" from me. She's always so direct with her speaking that I assume she's saying something of high importance.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reflections of a Fote 1: Guinean Equivalents

I've been doing my best to fit things about the Guinean culture and how everything works, looks, or smells around here but really I can't fit in great descriptions in my minute stories about my day so I'm gonna start a little something I'm going to call "Reflections of a Fote". Fote being the word that is used most common in Guinea as it gets yelled and /or chanted at me all the time because it means foreignor or white person. So I'll just throw in some of my random thoughts and observations of the Guinean culture or lifestyle and how it compares to what I know back in the good ol' US of A.

First installment of "Reflections of a Fote": Guinean Equivalents

When it comes to living in Guinea, I've had to make some concessions. Obviously running water, reliable electrcity, and a steady diet have seen the biggest changes, but there are other things where I can find equivalents instead of just not having them:

1. Going out to Eat
Just like in the States there are times when I just don't feel like cooking. Now in Guinea, I can't go to a pizza place or order delivery but I can always find a rice lady or walk to someone's house for a meal. The standard meal anywhere in Guinea is rice and sauce. There are a variety of sauces but really there is about 4 or 5 main choices. It's pretty standard in most markets for there to be few ladies who sell prepped rice and sauce plates. They set up a few benches and BAM, a Guinean restaurant. The village form of this is to just walk to someone's house. I wait til its around meal time, sit down and before you know it they bring a plate of rice and sauce. I frequent a house in my village with a bunch of little kids, who now know my name and its nice being a "usual" there. Since none of the kids speak French past "Ca va?" I ust make faces with them. They've learned how I raise my eyebrows a lot at them and have started mimicking that. So now I have a bunch of 4-6 year olds looking and me and raising their eyebrows giving the effect that they know something I don't or that they trying to make an innuendo.

2. Lunch Ladies
I was a little concerned about how I was going to eat during school days, being as the market is no where near the school and I've lost enough weight as it is. Come to find out, there's lunch ladies. By that I mean just some ladies who show to sell lunch. They show up right before the first class finishes and make a semi-circle at the edge of the school yard.

More to come under the topic of Guinean Equivalents as well as other stuff for Reflections of a Fote like Guinean Look-a-Likes, Guinean clothing style, and Guy Love!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Newbies!

Finally we have some volunteers newer than me in country! In November, G23, a new extension stage arrived. They are fun, tough, and motivated group. I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with all of them and enjoyed even more being the person who answers the questions for once. So in my Peace Corps experience, I’ve moved onto my “sophomore” year, and much like college, it’s better with a little experience under your belt. Also, it’s like high school because you’re still a little peon who has so so much to learn!

In an effort to play welcome wagon to the new stage, I paid them a visit at the training site in Dubreka. It was a really weird experience for me seeing that place again. It’s like going back to your elementary school (I’m clearly a teacher- that’s my third education based analogy) or some place from your past, and when you visit all you can think about how different of a person you are now compared to the na├»ve lost puppy you were when you were there.

I had fun partying with the new stage and then made plans to help them climb the nearby mountain. Yes, the very same mountain that I climbed twice during my pre-service training, I figured the hat trick was necessary. Unforeseen caveat- the change of season can really change the conditions of the mountain! We got near the top that was mostly water and low plants the first time I was up there and found a full grown forest! We had to hack our way through to the summit with a machete, real bushwhacking! Also, at one point I suffered a slight injury: I got a splinter! This wasn’t a little prick that you pull out on the first try but instead I had my new friends dig at my heel with a pocketknife to remove the piece. Really odd place for a makeshift surgery but we managed, and I’m fine the piece fell out after a week (danced it out actually!). This also means that the Chaco’s commercial that was my service so far has been ruined. They’re great sandals and durable as hell, but not great to defend against stubbed toes and splinters in the feet.

I got to continue the party with G23 when I helped with their swearing-in process. It was again really odd to be on the outside of the process that I’d just gone through a few months prior to. Next thing to look forward to is my in-service training! The ever awaited follow-up to PST, IST will be a wonderful reunion of G22, the best Peace Corps stage I’ve ever been a part of!

Dante