Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ten Things I Hate (Love) About Guinea

Sent via e-mail 6/24/08

Hello all,

So there's a popular girl movie, Ten Things I Hate About You. I saw it once, and vaguely remember hoping that the general chick-flickishness of the film would make one of the two girls I went with develop instantaneous crushes on me. While leaving the cinema, I think I may have mentioned that the plot of the movie is taken from a Shakespeare play (it is, n'est-ce pas?). Middle school not being the age when looking knowledgeable about Shakespeare is cool, I fear this may have tanked my hopes.

Needless to say, Ten Things I Hate About You randomly popped into my head today as I was riding in a taxi in downtown Conakry. I was en ville, en route to the bank. This was my first day being in Guinea after a beautiful, heavenly, 10-day vacation visiting my girlfriend Rene Marshall in England and N. Ireland, and thus was making a few mini-adjustments being back-- firmly-- in the heart of the developing world.

As the chauffeur passed me the car's one handle to roll down the window, I shook my head distractedly at a young man earnestly trying to sell me cheap plastic belts and reflected: "What are ten things I hate about Guinea?"

As soon as I thought that, it seemed like a dumb question. A much BETTER question would be, of course (cue an image of Meg McFadden, sitting across the table from you, holding a mug of tea and looking very interested in what you were about to say):

"What are ten things I love about Guinea?"

Having given it a little thought, here are ten things, in no particular order:

1. Big, beautiful, majestic baobab trees. They line the main streets in Conakry and provide shade, serenity, and splendor.

2. Clearing cows off of my yard in order to reach the latrine where I do my business.

3. Being mobbed by a horde of children every time I return to my village after a trip away (looking forward to that tomorrow evening!).

4. Knowing and being known by every single person in my village.

5. Bartering for everything. You walk to the marketplace-- there are no price tags here! 95% of the vendors can't even read. You approach a woman; let's say you want her tomatoes. You don't, of course, simply ask her how much the tomatoes are. First you ask her how her family is, her children, her work. You both laugh as she compliments you on your ragged attempts to speak her native language. You glance at the tomatoes, then, and venture the question: Ko jelu? [how much?] Let the fun begin! She names a price-- you act deeply offended and make disapproving noises with your tongue. You propose a lower price-- she dishes back the 'tude, complete with tongue noises. You do this for a while, faces stony, until you eventually agree on a price. Whoop! That was easy. Smiles return, tomatoes go into the bag held by one of your eager child helpers, you wish one another well, and continue on your way. Just like shopping at the Acme, right? ;)

6. Bike rides, at sunset, in the foothills around my village.

7. Children here are so helpful-- I can grab any child, at any time, and send them off on an errand. Need water from the pump? Hello, Siradjo! Need bread from the marketplace? Bonjour, Alphadjo! This isn't exploitation, this is cultural assimilation! It's just what people do here. And the kids are generally happy to help. Plus they know that the porto [me] gives out good rewards: candy, piggy-back rides, and old Sports Illustrateds.

8. Teaching children silly things like how to shuffle cards the American way (you know, with the waterfall) or sing properly all the words to the chorus of Akon's "Don't Matter."

9. Meeting up with other Peace Corps Volunteers after a long two weeks at site and enjoying the ease with which the English you speak rolls off your tongue. Wow-- I can actually say what I mean and be understood!! Glorious.

10. Eating bucketfuls of juicy, sweet mangoes.

So there you have it. Guinea (and I) enjoyed the presence of Donnie Stuart for 8 days at the beginning of June. Have questions? Comments? Concerns? Please toss them my way (or his!). It is a pleasure to share little slices of my life here in Africa, and I hope and pray that these little emails would encourage others to deepen their vision and understanding for the forgotten countries of the world.

Til the next time,
Love you all!