Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PC Guinea does Bamako

Hello everyyyone.

I'm sure you've all heard or read about the current situations in Guinea. At an opposition rally in Conakry on the 28th of September, there was violence and shootings killing at least 157 people. Naturally, the Guinean people, and everyone that cares, was upset by the shootings and worried for where this meant Guinea was headed. Supposedly the presidential guard is assumed to have played a large role in the unnecessary attacks. Naturally, the Guinean people were concerned with the fact that their President could allow, or instigate this to happen. Who knows.

Unfortuately, "eye witnesses," etc are sometimes not trustworthy with press in Africa, so no one really knows for sure how all the events ended up going the way they did. Things were calm after the "massacre," as the news was calling it. I was at site and everything was fine and normal in my town. We were all getting ready for the school year to start (in theory, it would've been starting this Thursday), and just living life as usual. The new group, G18 had just been moved into their sites, so I had a new neighbor and, like I said, there was no threat or anything to us in our towns, etc.

But, the Peace Corps has/had 94 volunteers spread out over all 4 regions of Guinea, and with so much unknown in Guinea, they chose to be safe rather than sorry and told us they'd be picking us all up and taking us across the border to Bamako, the capital of Mali.

So, naturally, we were all miserable and completely lost. Abruptly uprooted from our homes, families, friends at site with 2-5 days notice without knowing when or if we'd ever be back. I, along with probably 93 others, was pretty depressed. I remained hopeful for a while that we'd be back, but the practicality of it all, and everyone around me, have made it pretty evident that we won't be back to Guinea. At least not with Peace Corps and not within the next month or so. No matter what, I will be back to Kankalabe, but now the question will be when and how.

It's a total bummer, but as it turns out, it seems to be part of the plan for me. Since realizing we probably wouldn't be back, things seem to be falling into my lap at the right time and place, not coincidentally, I'm sure. So, I went from depressed and just really miserable, to realizing that whatever is next has been planned for me, and is becoming more and more apparent to me as I continue my Peace-Corps paid vacation here in Bamako.

Since our arrival here, we've been kind of spoiled (at least by PC standards). So we eat well and have nice places to stay, and lots to do in Bamako. We went to the National Museum and to the Sudan v. Mali soccer match on Sunday. It was really nice to be at a professional sporting event. It's been so long! Even if it was soccer, it was still nice to be at a big stadium.

My group, G16 went out for a nice dinner last night and we had drinks and went dancing. Great times. And on Saturday, we're all going to a Habib Koite and Bamada concert. They're apparently pretty good and well known, so that should be a good time. Mali has a pretty big music scene and is just, generally speaking, rich in culture, so I look forward to exploring that for however long we are here.

So I'm not sure how long we're here for. PC hasn't officially told us we aren't going back to Guinea, but they've pretty much un-officially told us we aren't going back. So whenever they officially announce it, that will determine how soon/when I'll be home in the states. I think I may have a job lined up for me in Baltimore, so the timing is right. My best estimate is that I'll be home by November. No guarantees, but that's how things are looking right now.

So, as it is, the past week has been a whirlwind of emotions, etc. I'm past the depressed stage and have moved on to the excited-for-the-next-step stage, even if it wasn't what I had in mind a week ago. So, seems I'll be seeing a lot of you sooner rather than later!

Keep in touch and I'll try to keep you updated on what's happening here in Bamako.

Love and miss you all
~ rb

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rainy season in Conakry

This is in our quartier of Conakry. Unreal! Every football "field" was totally flooded as was all of the market.

(Pictures thanks to Mary Fredley).

Be aware of the edges.

So been about a month out of site. From vacation in the Gambia to training the new group of education volunteers. Training has been fun. A good time to catch up with some from my group and getting to know the newbies. There are 17 new education volunteers in G18 and they're all doing really well.

The Dream Team :) G16 girl trainers at the toga party.

Some G18ers at the toga party.
The TEFL trainees and me.
I went to visit my host family from when I was in training last year and like last year, walking in our neighborhood, once my house was in sight, my little sister, Dalanda, runs to me and jumps in my arms. A nice thing to walk home to :) So she hadn't forgotten me and neither had the rest of the neighborhood and family. It was really weird seeing how big all of my little siblings got- kind of actually made me realize that I've been gone for over a year. Very surreal. My then-baby brother now walks, talks, and dances. My mom was really excited to see me and it was a really good time because I actually had my first conversation with her. She only speaks Pular, so now I could actually understand and carry on a decent amount of conversation with her without going through my little sister as a translator. Very cool. Mind you, it's always the same conversation about where I've been, how's the family, etc. So once you know certain vocab in Pular, you can carry on about 80% of conversations.
The family was awesome, I brought them some pictures from last year which they loved. Then they invited me to dinner the next day. So I went with my friend Kim and my mom had made us fries and a meat... which was white (not chicken) and the consistency of scrambled eggs? Our best guess is that it was brains. And yes, we felt smarter after eating them. And after that we felt sick. No, not really. But pretty gross. We ate it tho, like the good Guineans we've become. We didn't discuss the possibility of what it was until after leaving, which I think was a good idea. Ha. Before I left training again, I went and had dinner again with them and my neene had made my favorite meal from training that she used to always make for me after I fasted with them on Sundays of Ramadan. Very sweet.
Other than that, it's been fun getting to know the new trainees- one will be my neighbor- another hour ish bike ride away, so looking forward to welcoming him to our neck of the woods.

Lis, me and Kevin, our new neighbor.

Went to the Catholic church in the town where we do training and it was very cool. One thing I love about Catholic masses is you can go to them anywhere in the world and pretty much know what's going on. Though, there are some local touches that just make it that much more special for the outsider. When carrying up the gifts, they not only carried up the money collected, but a group of 4 women carried up plates of local foods they've grown as the community's contribution. They danced up the aisle to the beat of the song while carrying peanuts, manioc, eggplants, etc. Very cool.
I got to go to the waterfall again with the new group. SO much more water than last year! So not as much under-the-waterfal exploring done this year, but still a good time swimming around and hanging out in the middle of the HUGE rapid flow of water.

Cascade de la Soumba.

Trainees have two more weeks or so until they swear in as official volunteers! So that's exciting. I'm heading back to site on Tuesday, si alla djaby. Excited to get back to the Fouta and my town. Hoping to finally get to working on the school's library. THEN! I'll be heading back down country to pick up STEF! Woohoo! So keeping busy and all over the place before school starts sometime in mid-October.

That's the latest from me.

Lots of birthdays coming up, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY to all of you! (Alice, Roho, Allie, Dad, Pop-pop, Stef) Sorry if I forgot anyone and love you all! Hope it's the best bday yet!

And John- BON VOYAGE! Safe travels en France and j'espère que tu es prêt pour ta grande aventure post-université!

Love and miss you all- keep in touch!

<3 rab

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Through my mother's eyes

I asked my mom to write a blog about her Guinea experiences, et voilaaaa...

Well, I leave feeling quite prepared, because, after all, I was a Girl Scout and (you know, I’m also naïve). I was right, though, I was prepared, but it was really because of Rachel and Cal and some moms who travelled before me. They gave me all the good advice I needed. Rachel charmed her way into the airport to help me with baggage claim and had commissioned a taxi to take us to the PC house. There, I was lucky to meet some of the smartest, and I’ll use the term courageous, PC volunteers. We slept there, enjoyed a real shower and left next morning for Kankalabe.

That was an exciting journey. It is rainy season and roads are not good, very congested and with potholes and on the last 3 hour stretch, unpaved with craters, big and deep. Sharif is driving again, someone Rachel knows pretty well and with a reliable car. We made it to her house about 10 p.m. Rachel’s cat, Njemma, welcomed us – he’s not your typical tabby but some cross between that and a cute wild thing. Mind you, Rachel has a nice house, a living area, kitchen with a burner, bedroom and extra room she’s converted to an indoor bucket shower and dressing room. No running water or electricity, but still, a house, with a porch, and a view. We called it a night – she knew next day would be busy with visits and a tour of the village.

View from Rachel's house.

Friday, we awake to sunshine, a nice surprise and I prepare for the Greetings coming my way. I am the talk of the town, Neighbors stop by to greet me, then one of Rachel’s students, a couple more neighbors, and her Guinean “sister”, Diaraye, who invites us to have a salad at her restaurant that morning. She also brings gifts of a wallet with “Welcome mother” hammered in and sandals, with “I love my mother” hammered in. So sweet. We venture to her restaurant, a stall in the long string that line the “street”, enjoy fresh veggies and then walk on to the medical center where Rachel’s “mom” (Neene) works as a nurse. She’s the sweetest person in Kankalabe and we enjoy time with her and others in the center, including one of the girls who accompanied Rachel to the Girl’s Conference a couple weeks before. Everyone is so gracious. Rachel has to interpret for me but I start to learn a few key phrases I’ll use a lot for the next few days. We stopped at the home of Rachel’s principal and visited a bit. His son, also one of Rachel’s students, agrees to take us to the school tomorrow for a tour. We get a tour of Neene’s garden, full of good things, and of course leave with some sweet limes and oranges. Another lady gifts us with peanuts from her garden.

We stop at a porch next to Diaraye’s restaurant and have a lively discussion with Sadou and Ismaela and another gentleman who were making and drinking a sweet, strong, frothy tea. The older gentleman thought I’d been there before and did dental work, I had to disappoint him. Our discussion was around numbers of children and wives. Having only two children indicates we must be poor and unable to support multiple wives and children. Of course, Rachel tells him multiple wives are not allowed in America. Both Sadou and Ismaela indicated they intend to have only one wife (not sure they aren’t hoping for Rachel). Of course, the older gentleman thought they were crazy and that was one reason he would never go to America.

Ismael, Rachel, the gentleman, and Sadou .

We stop again to visit with Diaraye as she and her daughters and extended family (all the girls) cook and clean and prepare the local dishes they serve at the restaurant. They grind manioc to mix with vegetable ceke’, and make tons of rice for rice and sauce. Some boys are in and out, but the girls seem to work non-stop into the evening. Diaraye sends us home with some rice and peanut sauce, very tasty.

Next stop is to the seamstress to check on the “complet” (outfit) Rachel is having made for me. It isn’t yet started, but they assure Rachel it will be ready for me tomorrow, in time for market on Sunday. The seamstresses are quite young, probably close to Rachel’s age. The owner has just had a baby. We sit there to visit awhile and another lively conversation begins. They tease Rachel about an older teacher they think wants to marry her and she responds with the standard reply “no way”. More on the teacher, later.

We return to Rachel’s house to pack for our sleepover with the Peppers. The Peppers are a missionary family sent by God to Rachel, (oh, and to the Guineans, too, I suppose, and to Lisa and Conor). Doctor Pepper greets us from across the street and we walk on to their house and compound where they have a great garden, a couple goats, a dog, cat and bird. They have solar panels so have electricity and a gas oven. What an easy-going family, and we “girls” gather in the kitchen where Rebekah,15, is making pumpkin bread from a giant squash they had grown. Sarah Catherine is cutting cukes, Rhonda (mom) is making the pizza. We help a little, with sauce and veggies and pepperoni slicing. The boys, Paul and Andrew, are playing quietly in their room. When the first couple pizzas are done, we assemble to watch Finding Nemo, what fun, everyone has a favorite character. We sleep over on the comfy sleep sofa, and a nice rain falls all night but stops in a.m. – weather has been really considerate of me on this visit. Breakfast is pumpkin (squash) bread, best I’ve ever tasted, yogurt and blueberries, yum.

We leave to meet Hamidou for our school tour. We walk the road to the school, greetings along the way, and as we enter the library, we hear a shout and I look out to see Conor, PCV from next village, has biked over to visit with us. He joins us, and next thing we know, there’s another white person at the gate, Lisa (PCV from different nearby village) has come with three of her village authorities, also to greet me. It’s all about me, these few days, truly. So gracious are these people. After a few pics and a look-around, we walk back to town. Lisa and her friends depart, we’ll see Lisa again Sunday, for our return to Conakry and then to the Gambia.
Conor and some friends sitting at Diaraye's restaurant.

Conor, Rachel and I walk to have lunch at the Hoflands, another missionary family with a nice house and compound. Cheryl and Dale (another missionary couple) are also joining for lunch. The Hoflands greet us and Jamie takes us to the small school where Aaron teaches their younger children, Levi, Micah and Jeschelle. Benjamin is home now, but attends university in the US. Cal, the dad, joins us. He’s the one who gave us the really helpful travel advice. Jamie has made the best chicken pot pie I’ve ever had, and there is bread and oranges for drinking, and carrot cake to finish off. No hope of losing weight while in Guinea. We leave Conor who is going to hang out awhile with Aaron, they are close in age and have become friends, but Rachel and I need to walk up the reso hill to make some calls and back to the seamstresses to check on my complet. As we walk, a moto comes honking and it’s the older teacher (the one the girls teased wants to marry Rachel), and he’s been looking for us for two hours bringing me a gift of sandals that say “I love” and “Rachel”. So thoughtful.

On our way to the reso hill, we stop to greet others, including some of Rachel’s students, hear a party going on and learn it’s to celebrate the arrival of the wife of the new “in charge” military town leader, I don’t recall the term for him. So, Rachel feels obliged to stop there and greet the wife. It was nice to hear and see local music and dancing but we stayed only a few minutes. Made what calls we could, then back to pick up my complet.

By “pick-up”, I mean stop to visit again. Conor finds us there, he wants some pants made for a friend. The baby is there and likes Rachel for awhile, very cute and small. We walk back to Diaraye’s restaurant to sit for quite awhile before dining on rice and soup sauce. Conor is very popular with the village, he and Lisa visit pretty often as their villages don’t have as big a market. People are stopping by the entire time, to visit me and frankly, to hang out with Conor and Rachel. It’s a good time. Neene stops by to bestow another gift upon me, a calabash bowl and woven mat. She’s absolutely the sweetest. Rachel and I return to her house to sleep, but Conor is going dancing and spending the night at Sadou’s house.

On Sunday, I wake at 7 for my last day at Kankalabe. Stay was too short, and I hope to return one day. It’s market day, and mail run day and we plan to join the missionaries for worship. Another family stops by to greet me, they have come from Dougaya. After they leave, we walk to market and it’s bustling as Rachel assured me. We wander around, sampling some great dough balls, greeting more people. The mail truck is due about 10, so we return to her house, where it will deliver the mail, then go to Lisa’s village, bring Lisa back to Kankalabe, and pick up Conor to take him back to his village. It’s late, but brings Rachel lots of good stuff, then goes for Lisa; we’re very late for worship, but they wait for us and are very understanding. We’re supposed to leave about 2 p.m. for our return to Conakry. I felt really moved at Worship, grateful Rachel is surrounded by faithful people who welcome her. Rhonda invites us for a fast taco lunch, it was great and we’re late for the car, but things work out. We’re going to Dalaba, a beautiful village on the mountain where the paved roads start. We’re meeting Katy and Andrew, two PCVs nearby, for dinner. We’re spending the night there, at a hotel, where we are the only guests. Dinner is chicken and fries and COLD BEER! There is electricity here, so quite nice and really beautiful. Had a pleasant evening, and left the next morning to return to the PC house in Conakry. We stop a couple times to take pictures of the beautiful scenery that is Guinea. It’s truly a beautiful country.

Market Day

Rachel and some of her students.

Back at the PC house, there are a few other volunteers, and we all go to the “Beach Bar” just behind. Beach is filled with young boys/men playing soccer. It’s not a beautiful place, really, but is a beach and has a bar. A couple U.S. Marines join us for a short while. It’s a pleasant evening. We sleep in the PC House bunks, and leave next morning. Lisa, Rachel and I, are flying to the Gambia, where we’ll see what a difference exists between two very close West African countries.
Plane sat 18 – we all had window seats, and landed about 1.5 hours after we departed. Small world story, again, Rachel and Lisa know two people on our plane – more missionaries they had met through Rhonda and Robert. They are stationed in Guinea but are going to the Gambia for a couple weeks for some commitment. They tell us of a dancing/music troupe they know is supposed to be performing close by one night and assure they’ll call us with details.
We had chosen our hotel via the internet, and it was a pleasant surprise, more beautiful than I had really anticipated. We have two rooms, as Jake and Rob are joining us on Thursday. Grounds are pretty, lush green with lots of floral plants, there’s a pool, a beautiful beach, a pool bar, game tables, restaurant, birds and monkeys. Interesting thing here, is VISA isn’t welcome everywhere. No credit cards are. We charge food to our rooms, hotel takes VISA, fortunately. There’s an ATM right outside the hotel where we can get cash, so things worked out.

I won’t make this a book on the Gambia, but will say we had an awesome time, sun was hot, pool was cool, Pool bar band was entertaining and excited when Rachel spoke to them in Pular. We met Marlane and Tony from Columbia and Spain, originally, but living in UK. At the pool bar, the same people assembled for happy hour so became comfortable and familiar. The band played typical Bob Marley music, there was dancing, Kemo, a server, would encourage all to join. He seemed to be assigned to us as he served us at breakfast, lunch and happy hour most days. Jake, Rachel and Lisa, joined Marlane and Tony for drum lessons on the beach Sunday morning. They had fun. We went on a tour of the local forest area which included a ride on the river in a hollowed tree boat. There were lots of birds and eventually baboons, a good diversion. Two band members met Rachel, Jake and Lisa to go dancing one night. We played tourists, enjoyed the entire visit, was lucky with weather and are really grateful to have had the opportunity for the family and Lisa vacation in Africa. Really glad Lisa joined us, what fun! Only downer, no checked bags have made it home. Afraid Rob’s refusal to slip money to the airport “official” might be the problem, but Air France is trying to locate.

On jaaraama - hello to more than one person, or to show respect to a person of higher standing in the community

Tanaa alaa gaa? - There is no evil here? Response: Jam tun (peace only)

Some pics from the Gambia

The beach outside of our hotel.

Lisa and me on the beach.

Monkeys and their babies at our hotel.

Baboons at Makasutu Forest.

Family out to dinner at Ngala Lodge.

Some pictures from Mom's visit to Guinea

A beautiful day in Kankalabe. (this captures my favorite colors in Guinea)

My moms.

Lisa, Conor, and some visitors from Mombeya :)

My neene (Guinean mom), mom, and my sister, Diaraye at Diaraye's restaurant.

Barron ladies lookin goood on market day in my town.

Rainy season in Guinea is beautiful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Traditional Wedding Pics

Ladies having all the fun.

And the miserable bride...