Another month, another blog post. Actually, in this case, more like 2 months. Due to the elections here, Peace Corps had us stay at our sites for over a month. We weren’t allowed to move for security reasons and so they could basically keep tabs on us. Thankfully that period is over and, I am in Kankan, so I am able to blog once again. Although Guinea doesn’t have seasons, unless you count very hot and very very hot, the nights here have begun to cool down, which is a sign that our version of fall/winter is approaching. There is a little crispness in the air. It is a welcomed change and very much appreciated.
Election Day a la Guineen
Like I said, at the end of September, Guinea held legislative elections for the first time in a long time. These elections were supposed to happen since I first arrived to Guinea and had continuously been put off for over 18 months due to disagreements between the government and the opposition. Finally though, they happened. Many of my friends, co-workers and family here had been gearing up for the big day by attending meetings and trainings to help in the voting process. The director of my organization was the head of one of the polling stations in a small village. One of my other friends was helping set up polling sites all over Siguiri. I saw so much effort and anticipation go into this particular day. I will say, not to be cheesy, but seeing how passionate most people around me were about helping in the voting process made me realize how truly invaluable having a say in your country and government is. This is a country that was shut off from the world for 50 years, during which time the people had no ability to voice their opinions. The day of the elections, in my office, everyone kept asking each other if they had voted. They asked me if I had voted. They would say that I was basically Guinean at this point, I even had a Guinean name, so why not go down to the high school (my nearest polling place) and cast my ballot? Of course, because Guinea is new to voting, there were charges of corruption and vote tampering. The ballots were supposed to be all counted by 72 hours, when it really took over a week and a half. But, I still think it was a step in the right direction for Guinea. They cleared a huge hurdle. To explain my previous remarks on why I had to stay in Siguiri until the elections were over, it really comes down to PC policy. Elections in Africa can produce a lot of turmoil and unexpected events. I think all of the PCVs in Guinea were hoping for the best and most peaceful outcome. But because elections can be so unpredictable, PC had us all stay at our sites, as part of their security plan, to know where we were at all times before, during and after election day…just in case. Thankfully, there was no need to go beyond step 1 of their action plan.
Tabaski: Part II
With Ramadan done, there was only one major holiday left on the Guinean calendar, Tabaski. Like Ramadan, this was my second Tabaski. Tabaski is usually in mid-October and is known as the goat holiday, because many goats are sacrificed and eaten on this particular day. Goat raisers must make a killing in October since the price for a goat goes up like it’s the most popular toy in December. Every place has their overpriced item to coordinate with their particular holiday, right? Anyway, I woke up as the family was coming back from the mosque, put on my blue bazan outfit (it’s the ensemble I was sporting in the picture with the high school English club) and ate breakfast with the men in my family. I then proceeded to watch about 8 men from the family and neighborhood disassemble a 600 lbs. cow. When I say disassemble, I mean disassemble. They cut up every part of that cow as if they were stripping a car of its parts. After about an hour and a half, all that was left was the hide and fur of the animal. It was crazy to watch. I would like to mention that 2-years-ago Carolina could not have watched this event unfolded. I would have refused to. I don’t know if I am just a little less skirmish or just used to my environment, but I was just fascinated by the workmanship that went into cutting up that cow. I will say that I am still a proud vegetarian, and I didn’t eat any of the meat, but since being here, I do have more respect for butchers. After the cow cutting, I helped Sanaba distribute meat to all of the neighbors. The men would put the meat into bags and then Sanaba and I went around to the neighbors to wish them a happy Tabaski and say “here, please take this bag of meat from my family to yours”. It is customary here that if you sacrifice something, you share the wealth. All day long, meat was exchanged between families. Meat gifts for all! In the late afternoon, I walked with my host brother to another family member’s house to say hi and for him to receive an English lesson. They were his uncle and aunt. They were very wonderful people, and I had a surprisingly good time. Although I have been here 2 years and understand a lot more about social norms and requirements, many social gatherings are still somewhat awkward and uncomfortable for me. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with them so much was because it was very relaxed and conversational. While the uncle was giving my host brother his English lesson, I hung out with his wife who was from Bamako, and we just chatted. She was so interesting and showed me some of the handmade things she had made (Mom, I am bringing you home something from her). After the English lesson, I talked to the uncle who told me he had studied and learned English in Belgium and had come back to Guinea to help develop his country. I think that is a really noble thing to do. My host mother in Dubreaka told me the same thing. She went to university in America, but came back to Africa, to try to make it better. The uncle and I talked about development in Guinea and before I knew it, it was late afternoon and time to head home. Not a bad fete, not a bad fete at all.
A Guinean hospital: the scariest thing this Halloween season
In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I would tell a scary true-life story. Let me backtrack a little. Because I live so far away from Conakry, which is where the PC doctors are, I have been really scared of getting really sick. I am pretty sure that that trip from Siguiri to Conakry would kill me before I would reach the doctors. Therefore, I have been very proactive about my health from the beginning of my service. I take my malaria medication religiously every day. I take my vitamins. Anytime I get a cut or scab, I disinfect and bandage it ASAP, so it doesn’t get infected. So, what motivates me to be so proactive? In two words, Guinean hospitals. I had never been to one, but I had heard horror stories from other volunteers about them and would rather make the trip to Conakry than to ever go to the hospital in Siguiri. I will preface this by saying that I am not a hypochondriac, but I do really dislike hospitals, even in America. They cause shortness of breath. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was washing my dishes and realized that none of my family was around. This was bizarre and not a good sign since there is usually always someone outside. My host dad approached me and told me that Koumba, a family friend who had been staying at the house for over a year, had had a motorcycle accident and had been rushed to the hospital. I felt bad and sent my best wishes to her to get better. He and I stood there for a moment. While I felt terrible for her, I was dreading the question I knew he was going to ask. He asked, “So you want to come with me to the hospital?” There was no way out. I hopped in the car with Amara on my lap, and we drove. It was getting dark as we drove and when we arrived, the whole family was there, leaning against the wall outside of the emergency room. I figured I would just wait outside with everyone, but soon I was being asked if I would like to come inside the ER and say hi to Koumba. Again, how do you say no? I said OK. The emergency room wasn’t really an emergency room, as much as it was like a big bedroom with no electricity. Everyone was just using flashlights to see around the room. The moment I walked into that room, I felt the heat and smelt something foul. I couldn’t see much at first since it was dark, but as I took a few more steps into the room, I saw the beds with patients and the flashlights were acting as spotlights, my eyes went from bed to bed to look at the injured. The first person I saw was Koumba, whose head had hit the pavement when she fell off the moto. Her entire head was swollen, with a giant bump on her forehead and scabs all over. She could barely speak and had at least 6 people by her bedside- both nurses and family. All of these darkened shadows looking down at her. The spotlight was just on her head. The bed on Koumbra’s right had worse injuries. The spotlight of the flashlight showed a man’s knee completely torn up. Blood, skin and muscle were exposed as the nurses tried to bandage him up. With that sight, I had had enough; I walked briskly out the room and decided to stay planted on that wall outside of the ER until we went home. I stayed for another hour outside with the family and during that time, three more people came into the ER, dropped off in their friend’s car and then carried by those in the car to the ER. There are no ambulances here. If you are injured, you better hope you have some good friends around to help you. I am sure it isn’t hard to imagine that Guinea, a third-world country, would have such poor healthcare. But to see it in person, it’s something else. To see an emergency room being lit by just flashlights, people coming in and out of there without any regard for germs and cleanliness and people having to be carried into the hospital by those who drive them there, it was just insane. I think I just gave you the real horror this Halloween.
I <3 electricity
I HAVE BETTER ELECTRICITY! This is the best thing to happen to me in over a year. This is like 5 Christmases, 3 Thanksgivings and 9 birthdays rolled into one. I wish I was exaggerating. Since I arrived to Siguiri, I have had electricity, if you want to call it that. Electricity in Siguiri is free for the residents since it is powered by the nearby gold-mining association. Great news, right? Not so much for me. Where I live is so far away from the main road, that by the time I get the electricity, the tension is so bad that it ends up ruining my electronics rather than powering them. I could barely power my phone. My fans barely spun around in full circles. The situation wasn’t good. In order to deal, my organization and family would use generators to power their respective places. The bad news, I would have to go to the office when the generator was on to charge my things, so timing was important and the generator could be temperamental , so sometimes it would work, sometimes it would blow up my charger (as it once did last year). As far as my family, the generator would be turned on at night, so my host dad could watch the news. The noise itself is terrible, but on top of that, my room wasn’t powered by it. The generator was too small to power the house and my room, thus I missed out. I guess my host dad had had enough of the problem and was tired of his generator breaking every other day, so he gathered up the neighbors and told them that we needed new power lines and a transmitter closer to my neighborhood. He asked all the neighbors, including myself, to pay a little to help solve the problem. After about a month and a half of fighting with neighbors who wouldn’t pay their share and the energy company telling him that new power lines couldn’t be instilled without the mayor’s approval, my host dad had made my dreams come true. The power lines went up about 2 weeks ago, and it has changed my life. I can power anything and everything, including as many fans as I want. I can finally cook and not sweat at the same time and turn on and off the light switch to my room. Those power lines are the most beautiful things ever. I do wish this would have all happened earlier, especially during dry season, but whatever. I am just happy to have my fans a blowing.
Making des entrepreneurs
Workwise, it’s all been about entrepreneurship. Over the last two months, I have been putting together 2 trainings that teach entrepreneurship skills to groups of agents in my microfinance institution and a group of women that want to start their own businesses. After about a month of going over each lesson for the training, photocopying, writing down points and other preparations, my counterpart, Dansoko, and I gave a week’s worth of lessons (10 in total) to the 20 people at my organization. I was pleasantly surprised by how engaged and participative everyone was. We had to ask people to calm down and listen to each other more than once. They had a lot of lively discussion with each other and asked a lot of questions. They, overall, said they really had a good time and got a lot out of the training, which is all I wanted to begin with. Dansoko also benefited from the training. He received the same training at his university by another PC volunteer and now, in Siguiri, he was on the other side of the coin and has become a trainer. The next obstacle is how to teach the same training to the clients of my microfinance institution. How do you teach entrepreneurship to people that are illiterate? I think there’s still a long road to reach that. Hopefully, I can help steer RAFOC in the right path and then, they can continue after I leave. My second training is going to start in a few weeks with 20 women in the community. It is going to be the same material, with Dansoko and the chef of CECOJE, Cisse, teaching it. If I can create excellent trainers that can grab the attention of participants, then I think I will have done my job. There is no point in teaching all of these trainings, if I don’t make sure I leave people behind that believe and are very knowledgeable about all things entrepreneurship.
The countdown continues. I am 3 months from my COS date. Because I am pretty close to ending my service here in Guinea and heading home, Peace Corps is having a little conference for my group where we are going to do some program evaluations, talk about how to get home, receiving money that PC gives us as we leave, etc. I am on my way to that conference now, along with 6 other volunteers in a packed taxi. The conference is going to be across the country, beyond Conakry. But, we have been promised a pool and some dancing. It will be a nice little break from Siguiri, especially since I haven’t moved from here in 2 months. It’s time to hang by the pool and enjoy the last of my experience here.
Happy Halloween to all,