via snail mail arrived 12/27/2007
Dear family, friends, family friends, friends of friends, etc.,
Greetings from Forécariah, Guinea! I have been here in the village for a little over a week now. [Editor's note: this is Andrew's first snail mail, transcribed by his mom, so it was written before the last e-mail you received. Thus some of this may sound a bit familiar… are you confused yet?]
[By the way, a friend here in Ohio has created a blog for Andrew, with some cool links about Guinea and all his e-mails as they arrive, so feel free to check it out and/or pass it on to others who might be interested: http://andrewsadventure.wikispaces.com/. Now back to Andrew's letter…]
I am proud to report that I am entirely integrated, adapted to the local culture and customs, a master of my Public Health field, and a whiz at building proverbial bridges across ethnolinguistic divides. I am almost convinced that I don't need the rest of my Peace Corps training. There are only a few telltale signs that I may be mistaken (no big deal in my book J)…
Every time I walk ANYWHERE here in Forécariah, I am generally the center of attention. I am frequently greeted or followed by hordes of children chanting "Fooo-té, Fooo-té!" ("White person, white person!") as I cheerily say "Bonjour" and try and herd them away from the road (and, thus, the insane motorcycle drivers).
I know about .00001% of the Susu language, the mother tongue and lingua franca of the vast majority of people here. I know just enough (basic greetings, salutations, etc.) to get groups of people to smile and laugh at me, and provoke long sessions of impromptu Susu lessons that usually go like this:
Andrew: Tana ma feñen. ("How are you" in Susu)
Susu person: Non, non, c'est "tana mu feñen.
A: Tana my feñen.
SP: Non! "Tana mu feñen!"
A: C'est ça que j'ai dit (That's what I said.)
SP: Non, tu as dit "Tana my feñen."
A: Balls. This is a hard language.
And so on and so forth. You get the idea.
I have been given a Guinean name – Aboubacar Touré (pretty sweet, huh – "Bouba" for short) – but am still having trouble responding to it. I tell most everyone to call me André, and have gotten used to that, but when people say "Aboubacar," I just keep walking like a tool.
I happen to think Guinea is the hottest, sweatiest place on earth, contrary to what most Guineans think. Do they not know that it is abnormal to produce a liter of sweat while writing a letter to one's girlfriend? Do they not find this unnatural? Clearly it is up to me to enlighten them.
All in all, these telltale signs might indicate that my cultural adjustment is not quite complete (give it a few more days probably), but I am confident that in a few weeks' time I will be mistaken for a native Guinean very easily. Very easily.
Or maybe not. In all seriousness, my time thus far in Forécariah has been wonderful and trying at the same time. My host family, the Tourés, are hospitable and kind, yet the first day or two I had a hard time eating the food and threw up a couple times. Since then, however, I've managed to keep all the food down and have really enjoyed chatting with Guineans of all sorts. They are very curious about me and my country – the possibilities for good conversation seem limitless. I have already had several requests for English lessons, which are always a good time.
Andrew: "Tu vas à l'école." (You're going to school.)
Sèkou #1: I am the school.
Sèkou #2: No! I going is the school.
Djenab: No. You're both wrong. I am going the school.
Andrew: *sigh* OK, good effort, guys…
(There are about five male names in common circulation here in Guinea: Sékou, Alasan, Mohamed, Ousmane, and Amadou. Thus, I frequently have found myself in a room with several people who have the same name. As a remedy, I just add numbers on the end, i.e. Sékou #1 and Sékou #2. It works. J
I am enjoying my language and technical classes, and have been playing lots of soccer and basketball, fotés (white people) vs. forés (black people), in the afternoons. (Don't worry, no racial tension here – just easy team recognition.) I feel pretty good about my soccer game, but basketball is leaving a bit to be desired. Still, every game we play ends up having like 50 spectators, and the joy that comes with good clean competition is priceless. I anticipate getting in fabulous shape over the next few months.
Well guys, there's so, so, so much more I could write (trying to think about how to describe all this is nearly overwhelming), but I will leave this here, until the next time. If the letter gets through the sketchy ol' Guinea mail system…
Take care and God bless,