ONE YEAR! Can you believe it? I have lived in Africa for one year. Craziness. Technically, my official PC year isn’t until February when we swore in as volunteers, but official…unofficial…whatever. It’s a year, damn it! Lol. It really has been one hell of a whirlwind year. I have experienced one change after another, a whole lot of twists and turns, ups and downs and have survived/embraced/lived with it all. I feel like that graduation song by Vitamin C should be playing right now, as you read this. Anyway, it has already felt like one crazy ride. So, what do I hope for during the next 15 months? Fulfillment. Both in my projects and all other aspects.
But, let’s back up a little bit before I talk more about my year here. Let’s talk about Tabaski! Tabaski is the most important holiday in the Muslim calendar and it occurs at the end of October. Tabaski is known for the many goats and cows that are killed during this time period. This year, Tabaski was on October 27. Like all holidays in Guinea, this means that everyone gets dressed up, usually in a fabric called bazan. Bazan feels like wax paper and looks like tie-dye. It looks so pretty on the women who wear their heels and elaborate jewelry. Like Ramadan, everyone goes to the mosque in the morning and has breakfast afterwards. Unlike Ramadan, the holiday is really only 1 day, but like good Guineans, people here usually extend it to 3-5 days. For Tabaski, I started off my day by eating breakfast with my host family and taking a couple of photos with them. They were really excited about having their photo taken. I promised that while I was in Conkary, I would get the photos printed and give it to them. Afterwards, my little host sister, Sanaba, and I did a little tour of the neighborhood and stopped by the neighbors’ houses to wish them a happy Tabaski/Seli ma fo. In exchange, I got a bag of goat meat, which was very kind of them, which I quickly gave to my host family. A note to vegetarians/animal lovers/PETA supporters, Tabaski is not your holiday. I mean I had a great time, but I saw a lot of goats being cut up and some other volunteers saw cows being slaughtered. They had photos and video. I declined the invitation to view them…lol. Anyway, after my bag of meat, I hang around the family for a little bit and then, with Sanaba again, I headed to see my host family’s family that lives in downtown Siguiri, right next to the market. They have a block of houses where aunts, uncles, grandparents, mothers, fathers and children all live. I hang around there for a little bit and said hi to everyone and then headed back in my host family’s car with Amara on my lap. Overall, not at all a bad day.
On another note, I am almost done with computer training! At least with the training aspect of it. I have done three rounds of the same training of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. The first round was with the bosses of the office, the second with the agents and the third was with the chefs of the other offices in Kan Kan, Mandiana and Koroussa. While I understand that learning about computers will take some time, I feel like most of the people in the office have understood most, if not all, of the training. Which, of course, makes me very happy. I still have to finish the second half of the training with the third group since they aren’t based in Siguiri and only come at the end of every month, but I feel good about the direction that the office has taken in transitioning all reporting from paper to electronic. Step 1 was the basic training of computers and the Windows Office suite. Step 2 will be a little more difficult to implement since it will require behavioral change from everyone in the office. The chefs of my organization and I need to have a little pow-wow about how to start transitioning. We need to talk actual logistics and changes that need to be made, which will hopefully happen this month and the next. Finally, WE GOT COMPUTERS!!! If you can tell by the photo that I posted below, we got all 10 of them! I am super excited and happy with this outcome. We had a little bit of trouble getting them since the money transfer didn’t go through the first time, but with a little persistence, we were able to send the money the second time. I thought the most difficult part was going to be getting them through customs, but apparently, according to Mr. Camara, the CEO of RAFOC, it wasn’t that bad (I stayed in Siguiri). He just went to the Conakry airport, paid some customs fees and volia! We have computers. My job now is to go through all of them and make sure they all work and that all the programs work as well. In thinking about the projects I want to do and are doing, I have come time and time again to the same point. A little saying that applies to most things in life. It is not about quantity, but quality. That rings true for what I want to do here. Some volunteers would rather do many projects over their two years. But for me, I rather do just a few and make sure that when I leave, those projects will either continue or have actually made an impact in my community. It is just the way I feel about my time here so far, and it helps calm any insecurities I may have about not doing enough.
Another project I am working on right now is at the high school. Along with my English teacher friend, we have formed an English after-school club. I have usually between 10-25 students twice a week for an hour and a half. We go over grammar, spelling, vocabulary and we do a little reading and speaking practice too. I have held the club for about a month now and, it seems like the students are enjoying it. I am trying to focus more on the female students in the class, since, being that Guinea is a male-dominated culture, are less likely to raise their hands or participate. The first few times, it was mostly males, but thanks to the hard work that my English teacher friend has done in spreading the word about the club, more and more girls are coming. I want to shine a little light on the importance of equal education and how girls have just the same right to answering any question as the boys. Traditionally, the Guinean school system has based a lot on memorization and repetition. So, I want to start trying to implement a little bit of critical thinking into the lessons. Once a week, I ask a discussion question in English, and have everyone talk about it. Grant it, the students’ English is limited, but I want to give them a chance to practice and express themselves. I really look forward to teaching English every week, which would make my mom laugh. She is a Spanish teacher and, I have told her many, many times that I have no interest in being a teacher. Lol. Oh life, you never know what to expect.
Ok. Time for a little what-Carolina-has-learned/gotten used to-so-far.
Things I have learned/gotten used to:
1) I have gotten used to…greeting everyone all the time. It is a formality I will probably take with me to The States. Fair warning now, I am going to be weirder than I was before.
2) I have gotten used to…speaking in Franglais. I speak most of the time either in French, English or with other PCVs in a mixture of them both. When I am alone, I speak in Fran-span-glais. Again, I am going to be weird.
3) I have gotten used to….speaking in acronyms. Like any good American agency, Peace Corps has a lot of acronyms and special vernacular. We literally have an acronym for everything. When you speak to another PCV (example), it is like we are speaking a moonman language.
4) I have gotten used to/learned to do…manual labor of all kinds. People always said that Peace Corps is like camping for 2 years. I kind of agree with that. I have learned to pull water from the well, do laundry by hand; get rid of spiders the size of my hand and infestations of other creepy crawlers and bath with a bucket.
5) I have gotten used to (deal with)…unsolicited attention. One of the things that have been the hardest thing to get used to is the attention I receive as a single “white” female. I receive a lot of male attention, all of which I don’t appreciate. I have learned that the only way to deal with it is to be stern, strong and authoritative, which is something men in this country aren’t used to.
6) I have gotten used to….the African ways. By this I mean, no running water, little electricity and having to either bike or walk everywhere.
7) I have gotten used to…my work and family. I really like my organization and the work I am doing with them. And while the family across the way and I have had hard patches, I have to say we are doing pretty well.
8) I have learned….all about patience. Whether it is traveling around the country or trying to get projects going, patience is key and, l am learning all about it.
9) I have learned…. about not being so stubborn and going with the flow. Yes. I am stubborn. Africa has taught me that that just doesn’t work every time.
10) I have learned…about open-mindness. Africa has opened up my mind to new ways of life, and has me wanting to travel more and see more of the world.
11) I have learned…about friends (I know this is cheesy). Before coming to PC, I thought about every possible aspect except one of the most important parts of the experience, my fellow PCVs. Being some of the only Americans in the country, we have bonded like family. I think I may have never met some of the great people here. But, I am happy I have. I am especially happy I am in Haute with the crazy Osborne-like family we have in this region. I look forward to my Kan Kan visits.
Lastly, I can’t wait for Christmas!!! I will be seeing my family for the first time in over a year and, it will be in Europe!! I literally am counting the days. Only one month left!! I will be flying on the 21st from Conakry (another epic cross-country trip I have to make…yeah) to Morocco and from Morocco to Amsterdam. I have family in Amsterdam, where I will be meeting up with my American-based family for Christmas and then we are off to Paris and then Rome for New Years and to see more family. I realllyyyyy can’t tell you how excited I am about this. I miss my family, warm showers and cheese so much. It is going to be the best vacation ever!
I will be thinking of everyone back home when the Haute volunteers celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday and in Europe when I am with my family. Because I don’t think I will be writing another blog post until 2013, I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. Write some more in 2013!