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Monday, April 14, 2014

My Failed Spring Break

The guys of Team Minimal Effort
My experience as a teacher here in Guinea has had many ups and downs, yes, but one guarantee for both my first and second year is that one great benefit of being a teacher: vacation time. Flights to West Africa are not cheap and I know that I may not be back for many years to come, thus, to take full advantage of my time off, I planned a big trip to Sierra Leone with three other volunteers. Lots of other Guinea PCV’s have taken trips to Freetown and their photos and stories make quite the argument for calling Sierra Leone a “must-see” while in West Africa. My group had made all the necessary plans, filled out the required papers, and dealt with the insanely rude staff at the Leonean embassy. We had a hotel booked in Freetown and plans to spend 4 nights at a surf camp on a beach outside of the big city as well. We were only waiting on the final meeting at the Leonean embassy when everything got ruined, RUINED BY EBOLA!
                
Sunrise beats sunset every time.
Yes, Ebola, the disease that put Guinea on the world stage for the first time in years, if only for a few weeks. I do not want to make light of a tragic and scary breakout, but I also refuse to join in on the sensationalist rhetoric that creates panic where clear reasoning should prevail. In brief, the Ebola virus found in Guinea is different than other strains found in other African countries (also, I think it’s worth mentioning that those other countries are really far away). The Ebola strain found in Guinea has a different fatality rate but still manifests with the same symptoms. Now the hard truth, it’s honestly difficult to contract Ebola if one takes the minimum of proper precautions. I don’t have any contact with the dead or dying and thus my risk is quite low. And despite this clear lack of threat, my group and I were denied access to Sierra Leone. I won’t explain the politics behind the decision, but just add my vacation plans to the casualty list. After one brief meeting with my boss, my spring break plans were wiped clean.

Looking out towards the ocean          
Without our surf and sun plans in Freetown, we were left without direction for a few days. We passed them by watching continual episodes leading to full season’s worth of TV shows that we’ve missed out on while being in Guinea. After finishing a season of vampire-themed show I wouldn’t like to admit I watched, our doctor recommended we do something. We had tried making replacement plans but everything seemed to involve too much effort. We finally worked up our meager strength to make a day trip out to the islands off the end of the peninsula that Conakry sits on.
               
Despite our clear lack of motivation, the day started quickly right when we got in the boat on the way to the islands. It was a slow 45 minute ride over to the farthest island called Rhume, but the ride was gorgeous. The views off the near coast of Conakry were both gorgeous and disappointing. It was a bit sad to see such natural beauty interrupted by a mass of industrial sized cranes indicating the large port of Conakry.

Luckily, on the islands, there’s enough of a distance and land mass between you and the port that all you can see for miles in any direction is open water. I can honestly say, I’ve never been in a more tranquil and relaxing place in my life. The beach was clean, the beer was cold (enough), and the waves were rolling. We spent the entire afternoon playing in the surf and sleeping on the sand; a true beach paradise. The night somehow managed to meet the high bar the day had set, starting with an amazing dinner of fresh crab and fish cooked specially for us. We awed at the amount of seafood set in front of us and relished in its deliciousness. We followed that up with a bonfire and drum circle on the beach with 13 volunteers and 5 Rasta Guineans, I’ve never felt more Peace Corps Hippie in my life. We sadly left the islands after one night but I’ll do my best to block out the wasted days of TV watching with the memorable perfect day we had out on the islands.
Tropical paradise. 
So there it is. A massive vacation plan squashed and almost lost to the crevices of a decent couch, resurrected by clean beaches and complete disconnection on a not too remote island. I’m not giving up my quest to attempt to surf Freetown’s lovely beaches but it’ll have to wait until school is over!