Thursday, May 28, 2009

Breakdowns, Bush Taxis, and the Chief

The latest Guinea installment:

"So, Andrew, what's the word?" My friend Matt Higbie asked, his face showing a remarkable lack of consternation considering the circumstances.

I slumped dejectedly down onto the ground beneath a mango tree. "We're waiting for a mechanic now to bring the fluid that they need."

"How long is that gonna take?" John Voge asked, looking skeptically at our bush taxi, broken down on the side of the road.

"Oh, who knows-- he's gotta come all the way from Conakry, where we just came from. I'd say at least 2 hours, maybe 9." I let out a groan and chucked a rock at a low-lying mango.

We had been waiting on the side of the road for 2 hours after our bush taxi broke down. We would be there another 2 before the "mechanic" (read: teenage dude with a grimy bottle of motor oil) got there, only to discover that it wasn't just motor oil that was going to fix our problem-- we needed to flag down another taxi entirely.

Ah Guinea! I had just picked up Matt and John from the Conakry airport the night before-- their first trip to Africa, uniquely to spend time with me and to see what life in Guinea was like. They joined my friend Ben Dunning, one-time piano mover, Bear counselor, and bearer of trademark curly red locks of hair, who had already been in Guinea visiting for the month of May. Ben and I had spent two weeks in Boulliwel, playing cards with kids and painting a malaria education mural in my health center. We had been co-counselors at Camp Brookwoods in Alton, NH; Matt and John had been our campers. So meeting up in the middle of West Africa was like any old Brookwoods reunion-- just with more bleating farm animals and less "sing-us-a-song" during the evening meal ;).

Needless to say, these guys turned out to be total troopers.

Despite all my well-laid initial plans-- organizing rides to and from the airport, getting pizzas from my boy "Gary" (real name: Mamadou Juma Bah) at the beach bar, changing money in my looks-sketchy-but-works-fine secret upper office place in downtown Conakry-- we had been stymied in traveling up-country this time around by a taxi with a bad engine. Guinea strikes again!

We ended up waiting on the side of the road for over 4 hours until finally, after intense negotation in Pular, French, and Susu, with the help of 15 random guys who had all gathered to chit-chat and hang out with the portos in their plight, we got a guy to take us all the way to Boulliwel for a reasonable price, on the condition that we would be accompanied by the local Chef Secteur of the village we had broken down in. The Chief-- a short, portly fellow with a cool hawaiian shirt-- turned out to be the man, and helped us immensely from start to finish, translating directions to our Susu driver, watching our bags during our "dinner break" (read: bananas and lukewarm cokes by the side of the road), and even the next day bringing back the bag of toilet paper--essential item--we left in the car. What a guy. On our way back down to Conakry on Thursday, we stopped at his house and gave him one of John and Matt's Yankees shirt. I know, I know, Yankees suck, but nobody here knows what a Yankee is anyway ;).

The chief and bad bush taxis aside, B & J & M all had a solid trip. Language barriers were not a problem, as "hitting the rock" (frappe le pierre), throwing the frisbee, and playing hand-clapping games all translate quite easily across cultural lines. Rice and sauce were also not a big problem, although Ben did spend an inordinate time in the latrine after downing some suspect eggs last Wednesday morning. Sorry 'bout that, Ben.

To sum up, we had a solid four days in Boulliwel and a couple days out in the beautiful Guinean bush-- a place called Doucki, with a strange, active little man named Hassan Bah as our tour guide. Doucki was verdant: green hills, sheer, noble cliffs, tumbling waterfalls, and large white-tailed kobokobo monkeys provided a sublime place to explore and play in. More pictures to come.

To Ben, John, and Matt: thank you so much guys, for experiencing the rawness and grit of African life, with all its rough edges. To everyone else: thanks for reading my emails-- Boulliwel's ready and waiting for you to visit! We've got your place saved around the rice and sauce platter.

Until the next time,
Much love,

PROJECT UPDATE: To all my wonderful donors to the PCPP NGO Headquarters project, we've finished all the construction work. Woohoo! The floor has been cemented, the walls, painted, the windows fixed, and the building looks great. What remains is to give it a good sweep, clear out the construction materials, move the furniture in, and have the opening ceremony! Thank you so much for your kind contributions. I will have more pictures and info to come soon. Albarka buy!

No comments: