December 21, 2007
Bonjour a tous,
Merry Christmas from Guinea! I woke up early this morning in a Peace Corps trainee-packed room in the Conakry HQ transit house, stepped outside the air-conditioned room, and was greeted with a blast of hot African air. Man, this is like no other Christmas I've ever experienced.
It's been a few weeks since I've had internet access, and so much has happened. It's tough to package it all into a pretty email, but I will do my best. Here are the nuts and bolts:
I've spent the last two weeks in Forecariah, a decent-sized town about 2 hrs drive south of Conakry. I've been living with a host family, the Toures (Tour-ays), and have been given a Guinean name.... Aboubacar Toure! Bouba for short, thanks. Actually, I just tell most people to call me Andre (Ahnd-DRAY), which seems to work out. I've been immersed in Peace Corps stuff 5 days a week... Mostly French classes and Health technical training. Every day after classes get out, I go home, change, and head over to the "terrain" to play either soccer (glorious!) or basketball (significantly less glorious but I'm getting better...) (most Guineans stink so I'm in good company;).
Everybody in Forecariah seems to just love us. I wonder if my life these past two weeks has been something like what celebrities go through regularly. Every time I walk through town, I am greeted, either with stares, smiles, chants of "Fote, Fote!" (white person, white person!), or perhaps salutations from people who know my actual name (a good number of kids seem to already). Thus far the scrutiny has been welcome and somewhat novel; I hope it continues to be that way!
Forecariah seems to be, in some ways, your stereotypical African town. There is a big, noisy, crowded "marche" (market) where hundreds of people sell all kinds of stuff. Imagine squeezing through small alleyways packed with people, having your senses bombarded with sights, smells (all kinds-- good, bad, and weeeird), sounds, and-- if you get some bananas or a baguette from someone--tastes. Everybody seems to want a piece of the Fote, either because they are simply curious as to who this random white person is in their marche, or because they have learned a mental equation that goes something like this: Fote=money. I can't blame them for thinking that way: the Peace Corps walk-around allowance that they've given us is a pittance by US standards (100,000 or so Guinean Francs) (so maybe 25$ for two weeks), yet by Guinean estimation we are quite well off. I haven't even found places or things to spend all that money on, and we got more last night.
Stuff is dirt cheap here: I can go to a movie at the "cinema" (read: large room with a B-grade Bollywood DVD projected on the wall, packed with Guineans sitting on uncomfortable wooden benches, all talking loudly on their cell phones or to each other during the movie, getting up and walking in front of the projector, cheering at random times during the movie... etc.) (awful;) here for 500 francs, or like 15 cents. I can buy a whole thing of bananas for 1,000 francs (30ish cents), or a 1.5 liter bottle of purified water for 1,500 francs (you do the math :). Yay for cheap Guinea!
At the same time, people here are also dirt poor. Many families pack 8 or 10 people into small houses (grandparents, uncles, cousins, neighbors, etc.) (in a community-centric place like Guinea, to not have a big ole family like that is considered bizarre), and maybe 50-75% actually have electricity that works (when the power's on, of course) (I'd say it's on maybe 60% of the time). It is very, very common to have children or mothers die in childberth, and already there have been two deaths of people in my quartier (who I didn't know). Death is far more commonplace here, and seems accepted as God's will, etc. I was a little surprised at first when people asked me if my father was alive. I told them, "bien sur," (of course) and they said, "oh Dieu merci." (thanks be to God) What is normal for us in the States is remarkably different for people here. By Guinean standards, both my parents at the robust age of 52 are over the average Guinean life expectancy: 50.
There is much, much more to tell and a long line building up for the computers. Please, please know that I am thinking about all of you family and friends back home and I miss you dearly. I will do my best to keep in touch-- I've already sent a "mass email letter" to my mom to type up and send out to you guys when it reaches home. I've tried not to have too much overlapping info here.
Til the next time, enjoy a wonderful Christmas and New Year and don't be shy: send me snail mail! Shameless plug, it's terrible.
Love you guys,