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.


Anonymous said...

Very glad that your family is so welcoming, and that you had such an amazing birthday! How could anyone really ask for more?
The miles diminish when I think of you.

Andy said...

Hi Jennifer, I read your LJwhenever you post. I can sympathize somewhat... working in Afghanistan and seeing extreme poverty for the first time has been an eye-opening experience. I just now read about your birthday, and about the slow mail system. If there's anything you need, or the people there need, let me know. I'll see what I can do to help. Also, are there any freight forwarding companies that serve that area? Would the Peace Corps know the best way to get stuff there? Email me back privately, if you like...