10 1 / 2014
Happy 2014 everyone! With kind of some perfect timing, the beginning of 2014 is going to be all about transitioning for me. My two-year service in Guinea is up, and I am getting ready to head stateside very soon. It has been kind of a short-lived last two months since I last posted. Christmas and New Years passed, and I left Siguiri for good as well. I finished up my projects and spoke on the phone with the new volunteer who will be replacing me. Much like life itself, my time has come to bow out and welcome in the new.
Christmas and New Years were great this year. I have been somewhere different the past three holiday seasons, which has been both really exciting and exhausting all at the same time. Needless to say, I will be happy to spend the next one in America…finally. Anyway, I spent Christmas in Kankan with 8 other volunteers. It was really a fantastic time. We exchanged gifts, cooked a Christmas eve dinner, watched movies on a projector all day on Christmas Day and baked way too many sweet treats. By the end, I was in a serious sugar coma. Probably one of my personal favorite things though was the extensive amount of decorating Stacy, Laroca and I did. Laroca made all 8 of us amazing stockings using local fabric. They came out so well! The three of us all painted on large pieces of paper a large fireplace to accompany the stockings and a pretty large Christmas tree too (check out the photos below). I was lucky to have spent Christmas with some good friends, most of which I won’t see again for a while. New Year’s wasn’t a letdown either. In fact, I was able to find fireworks, or as they are called in Siguiri “fire”. So, Chris, I and about 20 neighborhood kids went crazy lighting them and watching the kids go crazy and laugh every time there were bursts of color or loud sounds coming from the “fire”. After the fireworks display, Chris and I did one final tour of Siguiri’s bars and clubs. We had a great time hanging out at some our favorite places from the past two years one last time. While New Years can be a letdown more often than not, the introduction to 2014 definitely wasn’t. Hopefully, that will be a good sign of things to come.
Workwise, I finished up my last entrepreneurship training. A total of 10 women finished up the training. I was so proud! I know attending and participating in this training when they were always busy with something wasn’t the easiest thing, so major kudos to them. I am also happy to have trained the head of CECOJE and my university student friend on how to give the training, in the hopes that they will continue to give it to others. I know for certain that CECOJE-Siguiri is interested in giving the training to their peer educators and other youths in the city. I won’t be around for that, but I will have to check in every now and then to see what they are up to. Speaking of not being around, I left Siguiri. I don’t think that the full extent of what that means has fully hit me yet. I think the fact that I am leaving Guinea and leaving Africa won’t actually hit me until I am at the JFK airport surrounded by Starbucks, iPhones and crowds of people speaking English, not French. I am pretty sure that the moment I touch American soil, I will feel overwhelmed, but happy to be back.
Before I left Siguiri though, my work threw me one giant going away party. I was told it was going to be a small together with co-workers, but they surprised me with giant speakers, a good meal, some lovely speeches and a nice gift of a dress made out of local indigo fabric. They said some really great things about me…it was very touching. I too gave a little speech and thanked them all for their hospitality. We took advantage of the speakers and danced a little too. My host sisters were down to dance, but my brother tried to hide. After a few minutes, he was won over and danced with me. The whole night was one of those iconic and ideal Peace Corps moments. It was one of those nights that made me feel like it was all worth it.
A few days after the party, I finished packing up my things and left Siguiri. I had imagined that moment at least a million times. Would I cry? Would I break down? Would I experience something profound? The answer to all of those questions is No. I didn’t cry or break down. And, I didn’t experience anything profound. I guess it is one of those things. You can’t make yourself have some clarifying, final moment. Those kinds of moments or lessons can’t happen on command. I am sure down the road, probably when I am already in America, I will able to think about leaving and my whole service with some more clarity. All I can say now is that I was glad that my last day was completely normal, and I left having said goodbye to everyone I wanted to. I had no expectations for my last day, so I left on a good note. Not, a sad and unhappy one.
I also think that it was time. There is a reason why Peace Corps is 2 years. After 27 months of living abroad in a very difficult country, it is just time to go home. It is hard to explain to Guineans that no matter how long I stay in Guinea, it will never be my home. I have given everything I had to give to Siguiri and Guinea, so now I am tired and ready for a change. As for the future and my plans after Peace Corps, only time will tell. I am going to Morocco for 11 days with my PCV friends Kenny and Amanda, and then heading home. I guess from there I will figure it out. I don’t have any definite plans as of right now, so I am keeping my options open. As far as the future of Siguiri, I am happy to report that two new volunteers will be there starting in February. One will be with my organization and the other with my friends at CECOJE. I think both of them will do really well in Siguiri, and I hope I can keep up with their projects.
Right now, I am in Conakry with just a few days left before flying out. Tomorrow, a bunch of us will head to the islands that are in front of the city for a day of sun and sand. It is the perfect way to end my adventures in Guinea.
A bientôt Amérique!
08 1 / 2014
08 1 / 2014
23 12 / 2013
23 12 / 2013
29 11 / 2013
It’s Thanksgiving weekend! Like last year, it was decided that we would celebrate T-giving the Saturday after in order to accommodate everyone since, obviously, Thanksgiving is not a holiday here in Guinea. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it’s great that I can celebrate it with so many other Americans under the same roof in Kankan. November has been a crazy month of traveling. I literally felt like it went by in a flash. The longest I have been in Siguiri this month is 4 days. I have literally traveled from one side of the country to the other this month. All of this traveling has left me sick with a cold, but it has also been a super exciting month. Let’s start from the beginning…
Kamsar & Conakry (Nov 1-13)
The beginning of November was met with an 18-hour car ride from Kankan to Conakry and the world’s slowest car accident. No exaggeration. It was the world’s slowest car accident. Let me explain. As a city, I don’t particularly enjoy Conakry. It is the definition of a clusterfuck. It is messy, disorganized and needlessly complex with a complete lack of city planning. Since the whole city is basically on an island and every car has to use the same lines, getting in and out of the city is basically impossible. Not to mention, it is normal to have to pass up to 3 security checkpoints, just to reach the outskirts. It’s bananas and one of the many reasons why I only visit Conakry twice a year at most. Once you are in the city, traffic can have you stuck for upwards of 2 hours, which is when we got into the car accident. We were warned early on that traffic was going to extra bad in the city, but we didn’t know that meant that cars weren’t moving at all. Cars were literally parked bummer to bummer without moving and any time cars would move an inch, another car would cut them off or would pull into reverse and because there are no stop lights or road signs of any kind, the drivers of the 2 cars would get out and yell at each other in the middle of the road, thus stalling everyone else. See what I mean by dysfunctional? Anyway, it was at one of these intersections that the taxi was supposed to turn, but another car was trying to get its nose in front and, in a ridiculous game of chicken, the taxi was t-boned by the other car…at 4 mph. The car accident happened so slowly that all of us in the taxi made the same “ohhhhhh” sound for a good 10 seconds. And of course, both drivers got out of the car and started yelling at each other, while the rest of us in the taxi yelled at our driver to get back in the car and continue driving.
Finally, though, after about 2 and a half hour of traffic, we made it to the Peace Corps offices and volunteer house and were greeted by our friends, pizza, a hot shower and a shot of tequila…all of which were needed. A day later, all 22 of us in G21 were packed in the PC bus (which most of us hadn’t been in since PST) and we traveled up north towards Guinea-Bissau to Kamsar, the site of our COS (close of service) conference. The conference itself was held in a hotel and was overall a great time. The best way to describe it is that is not unlike any other event in a PC service because it is basically a mini vacation. Things are more relaxed since it isn’t a training. It is usually held somewhere nicer and the general work day is just shorter with just a couple of sessions a day instead of what feels like a million during PST, IST and Reconnect (I know, we have a lot of trainings). The best part of the whole COS conference was the pool! The hotel had a functioning pool!
G21 took full advantage of that pool-morning, day and night. We were definitely spring breaking it. The pool was vital because without it, I am not sure what we would have done about the scorching humidity in Kamsar. Siguiri is hot, but at least it’s hot and dry. Kamsar and the general Basse Cote area is more of Florida weather- hot and humid. Anyway, I think the conference was an overall success. As a group, we went over how readjustment will be like back in America, our successes during our service, reviewed and evaluated PC Guinea and most importantly, at least for me, learned the whole process of “COS-ing”. “COS-ing” is the term we use to mean the process of completing all of medical and admin paperwork we have to do before leaving. There’s a lot of it. We need a medical exam, fill out a booklet of paperwork and write basically a summary of all the work I did in PC that they keep on file. Because there is so much to do before leaving, it’s a good idea to spend at least 4 days in Conakry, in order to get it all done. After Kamsar, we took a day trip to Bel-air, one of the only swimmable beaches in Guinea (most are covered with garbage and aren’t safe to swim in). It was a nice enough beach, but nothing special. Grant it, I am from Florida and I am used to awesome beaches. But, I am comparing Guinea’s beaches to those of Sierra Leone, which is like comparing apples to oranges. Back in Conakry, the haute crew and I stayed a couple extra days in the capital hanging out and enjoying the hot showers and air-conditioning. We mostly stayed because we figured that since it technically could have taken us up to 6 days to travel from Kankan to Kamsar and back, we needed to make that 18-hour ride worth it by staying more days. Thus, we hung around and ate pizza and Chinese food.
I can teach entrepreneurship in my sleep (Nov 18- )
This month has been the month of YETP (youth entrepreneurship training program). That has been 100% of my focus. From Nov 18-22, I once again traveled to Kankan to take part in Kenny’s YETP conference at the University of Kankan (Look at the photos below!). In the four-day workshop, Kenny, Amanda and I gave sessions on entrepreneurship to university professors, who we hope will use parts or not all of the sessions in their university classes. I had 2 sessions on feasibility study and accounting. Although I was battling the beginnings of a cold, I got up in front of 43 professors and spoke to them about strengths and weakness, supply and demand and how to keep an accurate accounting system all in French. It was a proud moment for me. I wasn’t sure if that would have ever been possible in my 2 years. The best part was that I sincerely believe that they understood all the concepts and ideas I was sharing with them. It was definitely a highlight for me of my Peace Corp service. Plus, I did the whole conference with three of my best friends in country, and, at no point, did we want to kill ourselves or each other. Major plus.
My second entrepreneurship project is with a group of 20 women in Siguiri. Using the same YETP program, my friend who taught the program to RAFOC and my friend at CECOJE are teaching the 20 women the same marketing, feasibility study and accounting principles. Because the program was a success with my organization and in Kankan, I was very confident that it would be as successful with the women as well. That hasn’t been the case really. I would say that it was been much more difficult with them. Grant it, we have only done 2 of the 11 sessions, but we are already facing issues. One of the toughest things to begin with is getting the women there. Because there is no official thing that binds the women together like an organization or association or university, getting them all to show up on time or at all is really hard. The first day, all of the women showed up, but most of them late by over an hour and some over an hour and a half. Punctuality is not an issue here in Guinea, so this can be frustrating. That being said, I do understand why the women are often late. Like I have mentioned before, Guinea is an uneven and unequal society. Women have the brunt of the work and little time to improve themselves, thus making it very hard on them to attend anything for their own self-improvement. Time is something they don’t have nearly enough of (I think mothers everywhere can sympathy with that). Second, the entrepreneurship sessions, I learned, must be taken at a slower pace because of the level of comprehension that the women have about entrepreneurship. I was surprised to learn that the majority of the women at the training had no idea why they were there or what the word entrepreneurship meant. This is all fine. The women are there because they want to learn, so I am going to give it my all so they do. I have told my two trainers to, as my mother would say, to fill themselves with patience. This is going to be a tough 4 weeks for them, but that’s fine. I don’t expect every woman to end up finishing the training for different reasons, but I am hoping that at least a couple of them leave with the knowledge they need to start their own business. This past Sunday, we got to the part of the program where each woman had to share their business idea. I was impressed by one quiet woman, who said she wanted to start her own daycare. It isn’t something that is really done here, so I thought it was so wonderful that she wanted to, not only do something unique and creative, but also something that would benefit her neighbors as well.
I have talked a little bit about what it’s like for women here, but I am not sure how to fully express how difficult it really is. Oprah once said that girls who are born in the United States already are the luckiest girls in the world. That’s true. Girls here are expected to marry young and have children. They are expected to provide childcare, while also cooking and maintain the household. My two mothers in Siguiri also hold down jobs at the market or just outside the house selling grocery items. Most will tell you it isn’t an easy life. I agree, it really isn’t. The thing that angers me the most here though is the very obvious disrespect that men have for women. How very much they are second-class citizens and, as many men here will tell you, are at the mercy of their husbands. I remember having a conversation with my organization’s director about American women. He asked me if it was against the law to hit women in America. I told him absolutely. He then asked me, “Well, what if they do something wrong? What if they make a bad meal?” I told him that if he touched one hair on a woman’s hair in America, he would go to jail. It’s a crime, I told him. This took him a minute to process before he said, “really?” How can this not anger me? Hitting here is just another way to control. The director then asked, “What about sex? What if the husband wants it, but the wife doesn’t? What happens then?” I told him that if the wife didn’t want to have sex, that was that, no sex. This baffled him as well. He then said, “Well, here in Guinea, if the husband wants it, then it’s the wife’s duty and obligation to have sex.” I shook my head. “Nope, not in America. If a man forces a woman to have sex with him, that’s rape and the man will go to jail” I said. He took in what I said, before saying, “Well, you guys in America have a lot of laws.” To which I responded, “ We just believe in an equal society. No one is at the mercy of anyone else.” Now this conversation wasn’t an argument, and I wasn’t necessary annoyed by it because I know the director was more curious than anything, but if the mentality of men here are that of the director’s, Guinea has a long way to go. Like I said, being a woman in Guinea is not easy, even for me, as a “white” woman who is seen as well-educated. I still face men who have look down at me or challenge me at every turn. I am, after 2 years, harassed on a more-or-less daily basis by men who are looking to date a white woman for alternative reasons (green card, status, etc.). Men here have made me cold and cynical right off the bat when I met someone new because I assume they look at me like a piece of meat for sell. At least, I can say no because I am not tied down by culture or family pressure, but Guinean women don’t have that option. So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for being me; a woman who was raised in a country that believes that I can do and become anyone I want to be and for having a family and friends that encourage me to do so.
Wishing everyone back home a very happy Thanksgiving,
28 11 / 2013
28 11 / 2013