Saturday, December 23, 2006

Still in the Suitcase

Thursday 21 December 2006

Tonight the family drummed plastic water containers and clapped, once voice sang and while the others responded- call and response.

I brought a tape recorder.
I better unpack.

The Giving Dilemma

Thursday 21 December 2006

Tonight I ate half a chicken. It was prepared by the 11 year old daughter and her mother, one of the 3 wives of my concession.

Who got the rest? Did the mother? Did the daughter? Did the other two wives? Did any of the other 10 children? Did the father eat as well as I tonight?

How do I repay the labor and cost of each evening’s meal?

Money? How much?

Goods? I gave a 50 kg bag of rice (twenty-two dollars) about a fourth of my monthly living allowance. I buy produce and give it to the family.

As a giver, I want to just give and give, to go to Labe and get twenty dollars worth of oil for the family.

I need to find a balance though, a fair exchange. Just because I can give and give doesn’t mean I should. My income will not be contributing to this family for a lifetime. I’m leaving in a year and a half. I don’t want them to become dependent on a second breadwinner.

The problem is givers keep giving and giving. Givers also downplay their value, and sometimes even feel guilty or uncomfortable accepting an exchange.

My tailor made a beautiful skirt and blouse for me. He charged a dollar for his labor.

The daughter and mother who plucked and prepared the chicken probably only got to taste the chicken juice in the delicious soup not asking for anything for their labor.

I have a sense of guilt. I feel like a taker sitting in my house packing to go to Labe for Christmas, waiting for my dinner to be served.

How do I find a balance giving and taking in this giving culture along with my own nature to give?

Should I go back to cooking my own meals? Should I calculate the cost of the labor and of the meal and pay that in money or goods?

It is hard for me to feel a sense of satisfaction contributing to a family by giving money or goods; therefore, I have a tendency to just keep giving and giving. I want to partake in the labor, but it is hard to know how to. Today, I had 9 little kids trying to help me wash a sock. Is there a way to contribute other than by an exchange of money or goods, when the labor is split amongst so many?

Volunteers often give a 50 kg sac of rice every 2-3 months for their meals.

I didn’t even ask the wives if the mind cooking for one more.

When I first arrived, he father sat on my porch and explained that whatever I need, the family is there for me. I just have to ask.

The family gives. I give and now we have a giving dilemma.

A Balancing Act

Wednesday 20 December

We pushed our bikes up the mile long hill with the natural made speed bumps to the main road which was only a little better. At least it was flat.

We straddled our bikes- two in their sarongs, their knees showing and me in my hippie dress, a petticoat, and capri pants, my knees not showing. Off we went for the 5 km ride back to my village.

One carried my backpack full of eggs, peanuts, oranges, grapefruit, cassava, guava and potatoes. The other had two on one handlebar and one on the other. I had one on each, hanging upside down tied by their feet, a total of five chickens. Our skirts safely flowed in the wind and we arrived dusty to my house.

Today I spent 3 hours eating freshly plucked fruit, walking in a neighboring village where at least 10 of my students commute from to attend school.

The generosity of the village was tremendous, even helping me carry all of my gifts home, circumventing what would have been a true balancing act.

Is giving good?

Monday 18 December 2006

The hospitality of many Guineans is tremendous.

Pleasure is derived from feeding you well and giving you whatever they have.

People here often ask for gifts from us “rich” Americans. We often perceive it in a negative way. I often have to check my first response, my attitude of “Why the hell are you asking me for gifts? You think just because I am a rich American I have bikes, computers, and 100 francs to give you? No, I am not going to give you anything.”

I have to learn to adjust my reaction. I hate being called a patron by strangers who don’t know my name. The thing is I am rich. I don’t have three wives and 10-15 kids to feed. By American standards though I am not rich, but I am not in America. Yet, still when someone says, “Patron buy some lettuce,” my silent, irritated response is, “I’m not a patron. I’m a volunteer.”

The thing is Guineans give. Rich Guineans get asked for gifts just like us Americans. They are well off. I am well off. We are all seen as such. If you have, you give in his country. This is not an American philosophy. Ours is sometimes more- I got mine. Why can’t you? I worked had. You can too. Don’t try to mooch off me.

I remember my host sister in Foreicarriah once saying that visiting relatives in Labe was extremely expensive because she would not only have to have the couple of 100,000 GF for transportation but a couple hundred more for gifts. She could not visit without giving gifts.

Even if you have nothing you give in this country. Farmers who live from hand to mouth give to this well-off teacher just because I can give their children something they can not, an education. They are happy, pleased, energized by giving.

Is it easy to take advantage of people who derive pleasure from giving, to take advantage of people who are more concerned for others’ well-being than their own?

I am at times a giver, someone who puts aside her wants, needs, desires for a partner. This becomes a problem when the generosity is neither acknowledged nor reciprocated. I can easily be taken advantage of by takers.

Is Guinea the same way?

Latrine: A Study by Headlamp

Monday December 18, 2006

Cockroaches are so cool.
Their antennas are longer
than their bodies.

Walking in their Shoes

Monday 18 December 2006

Some of my students are not as lucky as I. My home is right across from the school. I can leave my house at 7:44 am and be there on time for the 7:45 am national anthem and flag raising.

My students come from all directions. Some live off the main dusty road and can ride their bikes. Others live near the big Mosque, a mile or so from the school.

Today I hiked on a rocky non-bikable path up and over two hills, crossed two creeks, chasing after my 3 students who were almost running. In the hot noon sun surrounded by yellow tall grass, pulling up my long Guinean skirt that limited my stride, I walked an hour and half to the furthest village that my students come from.

The village welcomed me with great big smiles, enthusiastic handshakes, and fed me oranges and fonio with sauce until I was stuffed. Then they loaded me from their plentiful gardens, fruit from their trees containing hundreds of rotting and sweet oranges, grapefruit, cassava, peanuts, taro, fonio, sweet potatoes, and a live chicken. Thank goodness I brought my backpack.

The sun was setting as I tried to hurry home. Two students accompanied me part of the journey and then sent me on my way having no doubt I could make it carrying all of my heavy gifts, oranges and peanuts on my back, edible roots in one hand, and a live chicken in the other. One nice assumption Guineans have is that women are not assumed to be physically weak.

I have four truly dedicated students who walk 14 km (8-9 miles) round trip, 6 days a week to receive an education. I have a new respect for them walking in their shoes today.

What Makes Me Laugh au Village

Thursday 12 December 2006

Sitting in the outdoor kitchen with my family, having a short-haired, goat looking sheep come into view running for its life, a half naked little boy in swift pursuit, of that gobbling manioch-leaf eating, nanny berry leaving pest, makes me laugh.

Having six little kids copying my every move as I dance, do the hokey poky, jump and hop on one foot, as I twirl, do somersaults, handstands, and cartwheels, high kicks in the air, pushups, and situps, makes me laugh.

Having crayons, sheets of paper, and kids scattered all over my porch shouting with glee as I say draw a flower, a car, a tree, a motorcycle, your family, feeling their eagerness to please, watching their shaking smiles at the impossibility of drawing a person makes me laugh.

Laughter, what a feeling for my well-being.

Females: A Strength in Guinea

Thursday 7 December 2006

A tree limb as thick as my forearm with a length of 15-20 feet long was carried balanced upon her head to the outdoor kitchen and then she took an axe almost as tall as her and split the limb into firewood. This eight year old smiled each time I would watch her lift the axe above her head hitting her target right on mark. It made me scared to watch her as we would make eye contact before her swing downwards. She was happily on stage though with her sole admirer. She never did miss.

I thought I was a tough, physically, aggressive, strong female. Playing football with some girls in Foreicarriah gave me a taste of the physically strong females of this country, but it was today as I sat with the family of my concession watching them cook that I really began to understand.

I was given a live chicken by one of my top student's family. My family offered to cook it for me. Women are not allowed to kill chickens. A man slit its throat while saying a prayer.

I sat outside in the middle of a ton of bustle. Four fires were going. One of the three mothers was preparing my chicken. The other two mothers were still at the market. The busyness was caused by 6 girls between the ages of 5 and 12 plus 2 babies.

Remember making mud pies, collecting leaves and flowers for yummy meals in our play kitchens? Well the 3 five-year olds had their fire roaring cooking a pot of collected scraps and peels that the other girls were leaving behind as they prepared the family meals.

The older girls, ages 7-12, were hacking away at a squash with a dull knife, sorting rice from rocks, washing the rice and cooking it in boiling water, chopping firewood, getting condiments for their mother, pounding cassava leaves with a pestle taller than they, and bring big buckets of water from the pump closer to my house than theirs (30-40 yards).

Remember carrying baby dolls in strollers and in baby backpacks? Well these girls took turns carrying the babies on their backs while working. The 5 year olds would sometimes take over playing with the babies and carrying them around too also on their backs. I am amazed that babies are not dropped. The only incident was an accidental grazing of a sitting baby, causing it to topple over when the girl brought in the 20 ft long tree limb. Those things are apparently hard to navigate.

It was non-stop hustle and bustle, and I just sat there in the middle of it watching, amazed, thinking, "Ummm... That 8 year old is chopping firewood with a dull axe. I don't think I would want to meet her on a rugby field."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Done with city life

Conakry has been fun.
Unlimited internet access was nice.
Nighttime that feels like daytime was a bit trippy.
That electricity, you know?

My ear problem that brought me to Conakry isn't serious.
My right ear feels like I am on an airplane. It never pops.
Be patient is the diagnosis.

Got a long taxi ride today.
And then tomorrow a long taxi ride along with a long walk, 17 km.
That village kind of hard to get to, you know?

You might hear from me again around December 22.