Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Peace Corps Guinea Program Suspended

Greetings friends,

There's no quick and easy way to put this, so I'll be simple and direct: The Peace Corps Guinea program was suspended over the weekend. PC/Washington administration met to discuss the situation and decided to suspend the program indefinitely due to the lack of security in the country. This was announced to us yesterday morning and since then we have all been thrust forcefully into scramble-mode as we fill out paperwork, take medical tests, complete language and technical interviews, figure out our next life steps (transfer, go home and re-enroll later, travel, stay in Mali, etc), and try and find some closure in the midst of the confusion.

My bare-bones personal itinerary is starting to look like this:
Next week: try to smuggle my way back to Guinea to say goodbye to my village and get my stuff.
Two weeks from now: Bush taxi back to Bamako and fly to Morocco to get a taste of N. Africa (anybody have info on Roland and Beth Lefebvre's whereabouts?)
Three weeks from now (ish): Head back to the States to be home for Thanksgiving.

Sorry if that's scatter-brained but I feel scatter-brained right now... I am comforted by the thought of returning to my village to say goodbyes and get some personal closure, so that has softened the emotional blow. Thanks for keeping up with what's happening and keep Guinea in your thoughts and prayers.

Thanks, much love,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guinea update: More tension and the waiting game

Hello all,

Sitting here typing in the sweltering heat of a sticky Malian evening is all the reminder I need that I am NOT in Guinea anymore.

Many of you have asked about the continuing situation in Guinea and what exactly all of us Peace Corps Volunteers are doing now that the program has been evacuated.

For the moment, we are playing the waiting game. Peace Corps Guinea-- 93 Volunteers and dozens of Guinean support staff-- left the country last week in a "consolidation" movement that went smoothly. As I wrote in my last email, I was in Ghana at the time, taking the LSATs and spending time with my fiançée, René. After some wrestling with what exactly to do with us, Peace Corps bought us plane tickets to Mali and flew us here last Friday. I, unfortunately, had to say goodbye to René and cut short our previously-planned trip to Guinea to visit my village and see what my life was like there. Huge bummer.

For the moment, all 93 of us are hanging out here at the PC/Mali training compound outside of Bamako. We are being spoiled-- free meals, toilet paper, running water, and a daily per diem have all been very welcome. Our official stance now is to wait and see how the political situation plays out in Guinea to see whether or not it will be possible for us to return to the country. As many of you may know, the country has been run by an interim military government following a bloodless coup d'etat last December. While initially hopeful for some real political change and an end to the rampant corruption killing the country, the Guinean people have become more and more disillusioned with the interim president, Moussa Dadis Camara.

This came to a head on Sept. 28th, when participants in an opposition rally in the national stadium in Conakry were gunned down by the military and women were raped and abused in broad daylight. These despicable, evil acts have been roundly condemned by the US, the UN, the EU, and ECOWAS, yet Dadis and his entourage have failed to take full responsibility for the actions of the military that they, in theory, command. This is extremely troubling.

Even more troubling is the news that came yesterday that China, despite calls for sanctions and political pressure from the international community, has gone ahead and signed a 7 billion dollar mineral and oil contract in a bid for Guinea's vast untapped natural resources. If indeed Dadis turns out to want to hold on to power and continues his current behavior-- reneging on his promise not to run as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, continuing to consolidate government power in the hands of a military elite, ranting on national television about the dishonesty of former Guinean leaders and the need for the West to treat him more "respectfully"--this fat Chinese check will give him all the capital he needs to hold on to power regardless of what the international community thinks.

Does China give two figs about human rights or blatantly supporting regimes that commit horrible atrocities? Clearly not. All the hard work and advocacy regarding the tragic situation in Darfur these past few years has been repeatedly foiled by China, who refuses to acknowledge that the Sudanese government is committing systemic genocide and cheerfully continues buying billions of dollars worth of oil from a regime that is one of the worst human rights abusers on earth. 157 people dead in a stadium in Conakry is certainly nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands killed in Darfur over the past four years.

So this is the situation that we are watching. I've called friends from my village, who have assured me that everyone and everything is just fine there. Frustratingly, this is the situation all across Guinea: life continues normally. Conakry certainly is tense yet up country there has been no violence or even major protests. As for us, we are in Bamako for a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of a month before they decide to either suspend the PC/G program or send us back in.

I will keep you posted with future details.

In the meantime, we're all fine-- I'm tying up some loose ends work-wise, honing my resumé in anticipation of a future job search, and getting some much needed work on my Scrabble game. Thanks to everyone who's written or dropped a facebook message with their concerns. You could keep Guinea in your prayers.

Thanks again!
Much love,

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Peace Corps Guinea Evacuates (But we're all fine)

Hello all,

So many of you may have been following the news on Guinea the last week or so. For those who haven't, there has been a spate of violence in the capital, Conakry, surrounding a scheduled rally from the political opposition last Monday. Rioters were shot by the military and there were a number of other abuses, including stories of rape at gunpoint and other brutalization of women. Terrible stuff, and deeply disturbing considering the precarious nature of the political situation during this interim government period.

I've been in Ghana since Friday, taking the LSAT and meeting up with my fiancee, Rene as well as spending time with some other Peace Corps friends. It's been a great week-- beaches, hammocks, great seafood, and a real movie in a real movie theater have all been highlights. I heard the news about Guinea Tuesday night as I was waiting to pick Rene up from the airport. Getting back to the hostel that night, we made some phone calls and heard about the violence-- over 150 dead. Pretty shocking. From there, we've been in touch with Peace Corps and with Guinean friends back in-country.

Peace Corps, in coordination with the US embassy, has decided to evacuate all Volunteers as a precautionary measure. The country is ostensibly calm: the violence hasn't spread outside of Conakry although tensions are apparently high. However, the situation with the military and the interim government looks extremely grim-- the men who ought to be maintaining order and justice are instead murdering and brutalizing civilians.

Despite this, Boulliwel is of course entirely unchanged. When I called M. Diallo the other day he confirmed the reports that we had heard through the grapevine but assured me that everything would get better and that they'd have us back in Guinea soon enough. Apparently Blaise Campaore, the President of Burkina Faso, and a high-up American State Dept official are being dispatched to Conakry to "mediate." So we'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, it looks like the Guinea Volunteers that I'm here with in Ghana and I will be heading to Bamako, Mali this week, for a minimum of two weeks (and potentially more) to watch and see if the situation cools down. This is a huge bummer for me, because it means that Rene won't get to come see Guinea. She and I had planned to head back to Guinea on Tuesday and now it looks like she may head back to the States instead. We are exploring the option of her coming to Bamako for a few days to prolong the visit but it looks unlikely. And Boulliwel had been so excited to get to meet her after all these months! A real shame.

Please keep Guinea in your thoughts and prayers. All the Volunteers will be leaving Guinea for Mali on Thursday-- we might be there as soon as Wednesday (waiting on PC/Ghana for word on that one) to meet up with the rest of the crew. Bamako may not know what hit it! But we have all been shocked by the news and are hoping for a swift and peaceful resolution to the conflict and a just, orderly organization of the presidential elections scheduled for January.

Take care,
Much love,