Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mixed feelings

August 13, 2006

For those who know me, am I an extrovert or an introvert? Do I get energized or drained from social interactions with more than one person like party atmospheres?

It is almost midnight and the music is still playing.

This morning I woke at 5:30 am to start my 2 weeks of laundry. Because of travelling for a week I got behind. It took my 19 year old sister and I at least 2 hours to finish. I try my best to conserve outfits, wearing 2 good outfits a week for school and then changing into a stay at home skirt and tank top. Three outfits a week plus dance and workout clothes. It adds up when you are washing by hand. Do I even remember the days where I would wear something once and then wash it?

I do love the simplicity of not having to pick out an outfit daily. I always wanted to wear the same outfit each day even if it meant having 7 identical outfits in my closet.

After laundry, there was shopping. It was hot. We had to walk at least 2 miles round trip and we had a lot to buy: cucumbers, eggs, seasonings, meat, flour, sugar, and onions. We had to go back to the market to buy mayo. Going to the market is hard work, heavy work, socially draining work.

At home, 5 women were in the outdoor kitchen preparing a western style feast of beef and chicken pasta with a cucumber, egg, and onion salad, using wood burning fires. Who were they preparing for? The five of them?

I walked so much today, to and from the market taking detours to hand out invitations to my evening birthday party. The next thing I knew I was sitting at a store front listening to my sister bargain in Sous-Sous with a vague French word here and there: essence (gas) 6,000 Francs. What were they talking about? Money was exchanged. We walked home. Later all of the family boys and I walked back. Each kid took a piece: a generator, 2 speakers bigger than me, a boombox, and a megaphone.

The invitations said 18 h, but luckily I was told things run two hours late. I warned the Americans. Yet we were still the first to arrive and the most tired after a weeks worth of travelling. As the Guineans were arriving, the Americans were ready to go to bed.

In this city of uncertain electricity, my 29th birthday was lit up with lights, with music blaring, with a spotlight following a video camera, 1 Liter of gas ($1).

It was a huge fete! At least 150 people. Everyone was given a plate of pasta, meat, and salad. A 3 tier cake was decorated with frosting and candles. There was a lot of dancing. A photographer was hired. My family gave me $20 worth of fabric to make clothes from. People were happy. It was a very unique and extravagant birthday especially for people who only make $100 a month.

It was enjoyable, but I was left with a lot of inner struggles.

Can you guess what they may be?

August 14, 2006

My first bouts of stress and worry in Guinea were due to my own feelings of guilt for being given such an extravagant expensive party. At weddings you bring a gift to offset the cost. But would it offend my family, if I collected a $1 from my 30 American guests who attended?

What only a $1 you may think? But that is actually a lot in Guinea. It costs $1.50 to have a tailor make you a full outfit. People's salaries are low. Food is cheap. We get $25 every two weeks as walk around cash to pay for lunches and other miscellaneous things.

I struggled with how do I repay my family? How do I process the generosity of my family? In this country where during my site visit a couple of people were extremely nice to me but then handed me a letter written in English asking for a computer, how am I suppose to react to kindness?

Thankfully, the cross-cultural coordinator was my guide. He advised me to send a committee of 2 physic/math profs, 2 chem profs, 2 English profs, and 2 trainers to say thank you. Do not give money at this point. Sometime in the future I can do something for the family.

The cross-cultural coordinator also explained to me that Guinean people are extremely generous. They love giving even if they have so little. I understand this because I love to give too. It was just hard for me to be on the receiving end, me the one who has even a hard time accepting offers of generosity to shuttle me back and forth from the Seattle airport.

We expressed our gratitude and I let go of my feelings of guilt and worry. I came to peace with my amazing 29 birthday filled with generosity and cross-cultural exchange.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

My new home

My new home to be is in the Fouta region and it is gorgeous! I am pretty much in the middle of nowhere in a small village that has taxi service to the big city of Labe twice a week. The roads are dirt and pot hole ridden. I likely will not be going the 2 to 5 hours to Labe much (60 km). I have a big once a week market 5 km away and there are a couple of other Americans only 15-20 km away.

Because taxis don't go to my village every day, I took a taxi to a neighboring Peace Corps Volunteer's site. I was packed into a small truck with 16 of us, 10 in the back. It took us 4 hours to go 60 km. The next day another Peace Corps Volunteer and I hiked 14 km to my village.

I will be living in a two room concrete house that has a shower room, an outdoor pit latrine, and outdoor pump water. It is quite luxurious about 600 square feet. The school is right across the road from my place.

There are gardens everywhere. Food is plentiful: rice, cassava, corn, avocados, oranges, eggplant, limes, bananas. We even have fresh baguettes daily.

I am excited about my village. There is a lot of hiking and biking to be done in the beautiful setting of rolling hills, dotted with round hut filled villages, pastures filled with free range goats and cows who are kept out of walled up gardens.

My village is an outdoor person's dream. Getting to my village from Conakry is the hard part. It is a 2 day trip in bad cars packed full of people. If you think you can endure it, there is a slice of paradise waiting for you in West Africa.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Life is work

August 1, 2006

I live a physical life here in Guinea. In this city of about 12,000 people 28 of us Americans are training to become Peace Corps Education Volunteers. It is week 3 of 11 weeks of training.

Our minds are flooded with French, technical French specific for our teaching subject (math, chemistry, physics, English), safety and security, health and cross culture sessions from 8-17h. It is a long day of exhausting brain work that never ends. After school, my next step is home to my bilingual French and Sous Sous speaking family.

I am integrating and adapting well. I spend most of my social time with my family. We talk about divorce, domestic violence, cultural differences. We play games, crochet, make friendship bracelets, dance, tell stories, sing, and laugh a lot.

I rarely feel the heat. It is like Alabama. The evenings and shade are cool.

I love life in Guinea. Life in Guinea is physical. It is work. I sweat. I take bucket baths. I wash clothes by hand. I write by candlelight. I walk to the market to buy food. I talk, sing, and dance as entertainment. I eat freshly prepared meals cooked by wood fires daily. Dishes are washed using well water, the dirt ground as our kitchen counter. Yes this is the life for me, back to the basics, back to the simplicity of activity compared to the easy life of non-activity. Non-activity, yes I am talking about you: electricity, TV, fast food, e-mail, Internet, cars, machines, air condition.

Life is work.

Rarely do I have time to sit and think, to question and ponder the depths of my heart and soul.

Yet something has popped up.

Life is work here, but at what price do I pay for this simplicity?
gender specific roles, patriarchy, and non-equality between the sexes

Is my US Independence worth giving up for the simple Guinean utopia of life is work?

I am taking African dance. I spend an hour soaked through dancing and dancing. I love it!

Teaching chemistry in French at practice school has been fun. I like it a lot better than teaching at the university.

Food is awesome here. I get rice and fish sauce, leaf sauce, peanut sauce. Lots of fresh avocados and French baguettes for breakfast. Try an avocado with sugar. It is like jam.

I rarely have electricity. My Internet and e-mail access is very very limited. I am in Conakry for just one night and then will be off again to the world of non-electricity. I am going to visit my site where I will be living for 2 years then I will be back in training. It is about a 12 hour ride.

I am doing very well. Life has not been stressful yet. I am waiting for a challenge to pop up.

I will try to post again at the end of August.

Best wishes my friends and family.