Friday, April 15, 2011

Le Grand Depart

I get on the plane tonight in just a couple hours, to leave Africa until…! Eep! I wrote this a few days ago:

It’s my last week at post, I leave little Dabola in five days. More so than the goodbyes, it’s the return to America that has me mildly intimidated. In the two times that I’ve been back to the States during these last three and a half years, it’s always just been a quick trip, and then back overseas. But this is it now: the American Big Time. Time to get a big-girl job with a real salary and wear some respectable clothing. And buy a hairbrush! (Yessss, I just use my fingers here.)

I’m nervous as to how people are going to react to me when I can’t stop starting every sentence with, “When I was in Africa…” or the funny looks people will give me when I insist on wearing my African moomoos in public, and am generally clueless about things currently American. And job hunting??! Enough said!

But I’m excited at the same time. Mostly to be close to the comforts of my family and friends, which is the number one reason I am coming home. :)

I’ve found myself extra sentimental these last few days. Little things Guineans say or do just really touch me and break my heart a little. (I know, that’s sappy.) But the idea that I get to go back to big shiny America, where things mostly work the way people say they are going to work, where rampant corruption and extreme poverty are not a daily way of life. So many people here have been kind to me, generous, thoughtful, and funny, even in the face of poverty and a world of inconveniences, and I sometimes wonder what I have done to deserve their kindness and good humor, or how I could thank them. And I’m at a loss. I just hope that one day, in my turn I can be as giving and hospitable to others as Guineans and Cameroonians have been to me.

One last image comes to mind. I was whizzing down the road on my bike earlier today. It’s a road I’ve been down many times, but I’m looking at everything a little harder now, trying to soak it all up and not forget anything. I passed a little boy who was walking from a nearby well, carrying a bucket of water on his head. He was small enough that his arms were completely extended upward to grasp the rim of the bucket. He caught me looking, smiling at him and shyly smiled back and hesitated a moment, making the water splash out of his bucket and all over him, which made us both smile even more. Little moments like that—how easy it can be to connect with someone here, and how incredibly much people appreciate the simplest gestures. I'm not sure I have the capacity to give such joy so easily in the States—that’s what I’ll miss. In fact, I’m already missing it, and I’m not even gone…

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Busted flat in Dabola

Or, ruins everywhere...

Just because I think this is fascinating, I wanted to share one other thing I’ve noticed about Guinea, unique little country that this is, from my travels. Ruins are everywhere, in ways I have not seen in any other country—French houses dating from before independence, depots, and train stations. Most impressive is the colonial-era railway, running like a backbone, the spine of this country’s skeleton that has not yet decayed. I mentioned Camara Laye in my last blog entry, and one of the most evocative descriptions in his book L’Enfant Noir is of taking the train from Kouroussa in Upper Guinea across the country to Conakry, on the coast.

Well, that train is certainly no more. The ties have been ripped up and sold for metal. The remains of the stations stand out because they are surrounded by old mango trees, planted by French colonialists who liked shade (I don’t blame ‘em!) It seems almost any time you spot tall, aged mango trees, you know the French were lurking there in the past. The decaying train station in Dabola, my town, is my favorite. A few photos, courtesy of my friend David.

On the platform.

“Busted flat in Dabola, waitin’ for a train, and I’m feeling just as faded as my gray pants…”

You just keeping waiting for that train to come, David.

Remaining colonial-era houses and depots surrounding the train station. You can even see the mangoes, like little green Christmas ornaments, hanging in the trees in this one.

Cartwheels on the platform, just cause :)

One big-ass tree, a silk cotton. (That’s me in the roots!)

Since the train station faces away from town and the main market, all you see is fields. It’s calm and quiet, and for a minute you’d think you are somewhere else—maybe rural France fifty years ago—as it seems so different from anything else I’ve seen in Guinea.

The station masters’ huge house, dripping with dilapidated colonialism and wrap-around porches, is a surreal past-meets-present mix, where people have set up shop and an impromptu café, moved in, and are cooking meals under the trees. I’m glad to see that at least it’s being used!

During our travels to another town, Dalaba, we saw the old French governor’s house. It was beautiful and spacious, situated on the edge of the mountains of the Fouta Jallon. I could imagine long-ago soirees, pre-electricity; the magnificent huge room lit up by candles, women swishing around in ball gowns, and men talking about the colonial government. Windows stretch to the ceiling and give a view of the mountains fading into the distance. Now, paint is peeling and there’s a table with souvenir bracelets laid out for tourists’ perusal, but the view is still stunning. I like the lack of maintenance, it feels more authentic. It seems in most places, when a new group comes to power, they quickly take as their own the fancy buildings and relics of others who have come before them. Maybe it’s a statement of how Guinea felt about the French (and I can’t blame them!) that the Guineans have almost completely turned their backs on buildings/infrastructure/anything French. (Likewise, the French and all their architects, engineers and technicians completely abandoned Guinea after it took its independence.) Throughout Dalaba I saw other buildings that seemed once grand, and were now just shells, ever-present reminders of Guinea’s one-of-kind history.

Friday, April 8, 2011

You never know what you’ll find when you travel…

Or, hold on to your toes.

My time in Guinea is quickly coming to an end, so I decided to get out and see what all the fuss is about—because Guinea is supposedly a marvelously beautiful country. The fuss was right on—Guinea is pretty nice. Here’s a little summary, and a few photos.

Is so hot. I do not know how people live there, actually, and am grateful that I do not. Wow. Guineans are tough! It’s the second or third largest city in Guinea and it has no electricity. Would that be like Los Angeles or Chicago with no lights? Any power comes from small privately-owned generators. And no electricity means no fans, means one does not fall asleep until about three in the morning!

I got to see a couple of fellow PCVs in Kankan, one of whom, Darline, does some amazing things with hibiscus. Did you know you can make a nice wine out of that? Darline did! You boil the hibiscus petals in water, throw the resulting juice in a bucket, add sugar and yeast, cover the bucket, and then serve all your friends who come to visit until they can barely walk straight. :) Navigating the city’s streets after a night of hibiscus wine with your equally intoxicated PCV friends and no lights to guide you—always a good time in Kankan! Bonus points for not landing in one of the ditches on the side of Kankan’s nice paved roads. My hat goes off to Darline!

Then, feeling inspired by weather that must have been under 95 degrees (woohoo!) a fellow PCV David and I decided to bike from Kankan to his village. Almost four hours of chit chat and biking later, we arrived chez lui, an awesome little village called Baro eight kilometers off the paved road, and hometown of our newly-elected president, Alpha Condé. (The town used to be on the national highway, but Condé’s nemesis, then-President Conté, did not like Condé so decided to say a big booyah by redirecting the national highway so that it no longer passed through Condé’s village. And that is what Guinea’s infrastructure dollars are used for, as opposed to say, electrifying Kankan.)

The biking.

Note that fancy paved road. It's a small part of the national highway, and about the only bit of road like it in the country. I am also aware that my 80-cent Guinean sunglasses make me look a little bug-eyed. Helpful for scaring off small children.

So anyway, David does a lot of work in agriculture, so I biked with him off to a neighboring village where he was demonstrating to some local ladies how to make natural insecticides. (For the curious, you mix the right combo of some certain ground-up leaves, water, peppers, and a little soap, which makes the whole mixture stick to the leaves of the crop that you are trying to protect.)

My friends are seemingly quite adept at preparing toxic brews.

Here, the ladies are grinding up the plants that are to be a part of the insecticide concoction.

At work in the garden.

One guy takes a momentary break in the wheelbarrow.

On the way home from David’s, I had to change bush taxis in Kouroussa. Kouroussa holds a bit of intrigue for me, being the hometown of Camara Laye, one of West Africa’s great authors. (If you want to read about pre-independence Guinea, read L’Enfant Noir!) As the car passed herds of cute small boys parading to school in their uniforms, I kept imagining little Camara Laye, that age, circa 1937. Kouroussa is not quite as thrilling as I hoped, largely cause I got stuck waiting eight hours for a car, and then took said car for a trip of 85 miles—only six hours on the semi-paved main national highway! (Our road-side stops included one flat tire, at which we all piled out of the car and sat on the shoulder in the moonlight waiting for it to be repaired, two engine checks, one fiddling with the headlights to make sure that those wires stay connected and our headlights keep shining—not necessarily a given among Guinean vehicles—a prayer break, a detour for some lady to drop off a package, and a pee break. Remember, this trip includes thirteen people packed in a station wagon designed for seven. I am grateful that my bush taxi days will soon be over is all I have to say, and again, hats off to the Guineans who endure this every time they leave their town!)

Barely after getting back to Dabola, I bust off again, this time to the Fouta Jallon region, also known as Middle Guinea. The best thing about the Fouta is that it’s COLD!! Probably in the steady 80’s, which is a praise-Jesus beautiful temperature range if I ever saw one. The Fouta is thick with the Peuls—the cousins of Cameroon’s Fulbé. One thing I can say about both Upper Guinea (Kankan area) and Middle Guinea (the Fouta) is that I appreciated the clarity of knowing which language to speak. In Upper Guinea it’s always Malinké, and in Middle Guinea it’s always Pulaar (and boy, are the Peuls insistent about your speaking their language! Not knowing Pulaar is hardly an option—they’ll just keep firing away at you in Pulaar until you crumble or stare blankly enough at them that it becomes clear that you do not understand! And then they scoff at you.) But at least it’s none of this guessing that you’re required to do in Dabola, which sits right in the middle of the two regions, where you never know where one is from or what language they speak. Knowing which language to use just to greet someone is really a relief!

In addition to cool air and lots of Peuls, Middle Guinea is known for some beautiful hiking and waterfalls. My friend Christiana, the fellow expat of Dabola, and I were traveling together and we got to splash around in lots of waterfalls, and stand on the edge of many in ways that would never be allowed in America! (Protective barriers are not yet all the rage here.)

This is near the little village of Doucki. (And once upon a time, that shirt was white, back when I bought it in eighth grade.)

The hut where we stayed while hiking.

This is Christiana and our guide going down a waterfall. One thing I learned from this hike is that just because there seems to be no possible pathway, you can still climb on/up/over things and get into places you did not think people were supposed to go! Goats, yes, but humans? I think I achieved new levels of nimble.

We met some wildlife along the hike in the form of a hungry cow.

Then it was time to hike back up a waterfall! Eek. The crafty villagers in the area had constructed make-shift ladders from bunches of sticks tied together, to facilitate the ascent up the rocky waterfalls. About once a year, they replace the ladders.

Guess whose butt that is:

Here you can see three more of the ladders that make up part of the trail on the left and the waterfall on the right.

I think the coolest thing about this hike is that it would just never happen in America. Rules, regulations and lawsuits probably don’t mix well with home-made stick ladders.

That is a mid-hike, I-am-very-tired face.

Again, villagers taking care of each other—they leave that yellow half of a jug and purple plastic cup on the rocks at all times so it can collect waterfall water and any passers-by can drink it. I should note that while we tourists are paying lots of francs to troop around and get blisters and hike in the waterfalls, the local villagers use this path as a part of their daily life--reminds me how easy we have it in America--no stick ladders required to get to my grocery store!

Each night after hiking it was bucket baths under the stars, and local rice and sauce for supper. All very lovely although sometimes I do question just how clean I get with a bucket bath. Christiana, however, did not complain of any unpleasant odors. (Thanks, dear!)

Near Labé, we crawled down some more waterfalls, the Chutes de Sala. Unlike bucket baths, playing in waterfalls, akin to frolicking under a high-powered hose, will get you clean!

If you happen to notice my legs in this picture, it is true that I have now lived in Africa/the Tropics for three and a half years and have still not obtained a tan. Now that takes something special.

What the hell
I’ll finish this blog entry by mentioning that on this trip I had a couple of interesting and unexpected encounters. The first was while Christiana and I were hiking. Our guide had just pointed out a thick red line of ants crossing the pathway in front of us. I was admiring the ants when I heard a rustle in the bushes just off the path to the right. The rustle turned into a flapping, and the flapping turned into a very hard FWACK against my head! Stunned, I looked as the creature flew off. Christiana had been right behind me and seen it all. “Did that bat just fly into your head?” she asked in her proper British accent. “Was that a bat? Holy shit!” Not only was that a bat, it left a little bat cadeau too—a nice sticky trail down my arm. Mmmm, bat poop. Wow. I scared the shit out of a bat! What are they doing out in the middle of the day anyway??!! No lasting, vampire-esque damage done, however, and my ear stopped ringing from the impact about twenty minutes later.

The next up-close and personal encounter was while Christiana and I were waiting at the car park for a bush taxi out of Labé, heading homeward. She had wandered off in search of a bathroom while I was sitting on a curb in the shade, reading a book. I’d slipped off my sandals and just had my feet resting on top of them. I was enjoying my book when I felt a curious pulling at my big toe. I look up from my book, down at my feet, and see a crazy man bent over, releasing my toe, and smiling up at me as though pulling the white girl’s toe at the car park is just as natural as picking daisies in the spring time. He stands back up again, the transaction complete, and contentedly walks away. I just stare after him, so surprised, and thinking he’ll at least turn around, look at me, maybe thank me for a pleasant toe-pull, but he just moseys off! I can’t help but start laughing! I’m not even sure if anyone else noticed it!

As the hours wore on and we waited for a car, I saw the crazy guy wander around a few more times, and felt myself instinctively pull my feet up under me and my eyes follow him. What was he going to go after next? A bunion? My nose?! All told, we left Labé with no further harassment, but of all the parts of my body that have ever been admired, I believe this was a first for my big toe.

So, just a couple more entries is probably all you’ll here from me! The Grand Depart from Guinea is next week, with a brief detour in Europe before arriving on terra firma, aux Etats Unis on May 13!
My love to all! :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ask and You Shall Receive:

A Chicken Head Dress.

So I asked the local tailor to make me a dress out of his leftover scraps. I’m quite satisfied with the results, below. Who doesn’t like chicken??

People do wear entire outfits out of Chicken Head fabric. I only got the scraps. :)

Monday, March 7, 2011


And in no particular order, here are more random excerpts from Guinea…

I was at a fancy restaurant in another town for a conference recently and ordered a salad. It came with fries in it! (I’d thought they were tomatoes at first cause it was dark and hard to see, and they were covered in dressing. Surprise!) Who knew how good that could be? (Very good.) Another African delight!

Also at this conference, my Guinean counterpart surprised me one night after dinner. We’d all eaten a lot, and he leaned back, rubbed his belly, and said, “ooohhhh, haari bébé!” Haari is Pulaar for “I’m full,” …my counterpart had an “I’m full baby.” I always say when I’ve eaten too much and feel like I’m going to pop that I have a food baby. Apparently Guinean men get food babies too!

Another interesting run-in I had was on a bicycle. The closest volunteer to me is 14 miles down the main road in a small town. I was riding over to pay her a visit and feeling just a little bad-ass for biking it instead of taking a bush taxi. I came upon a couple frail-looking old men on the road, also riding their bikes, and we exchanged greetings. They were very friendly and seemed to be enjoying themselves, chatting, in no great rush to get wherever they were going on their rickety old bikes. (Most bikes I’ve seen in Guinea and Cameroon are pretty low-tech—one speed, with foot brakes.) The men asked me where I was going, listing a couple of far-off town as options. I told them I was just headed to the next town, and inquired after them. “Kouroussa!” they said cheerily. That was humbling. Kouroussa is about 85 miles past where I was going. And I thought I was tough. Hats off to the happy old men!

On another unrelated note, I am apparently building a reputation for myself as a traditional healer, complete with bag of fetishes. In the part of Guinea called Haute Guinee, in the Northeast corners where the Malinké folks live along the Malian border, I’ve been told that the traditional healers carry their fetishes, charms, and goodies in a little black bag. Well, I have been carrying the same little blue bag (kind of a wallet on a string) since I found it in my apartment in France in 2003. Needless to say, it is getting a little ratty. OK, it is exceedingly ratty, and is held together with electrical tape and safety pins (which have also doubled to hold up my pants when the zipper on those bust in the middle of an Ethiopian museum.) So my little blue bag has long since given up its shade of blue, and is now resigned to a sad and dingy shade of black. And so, I’m a sorcerer! I was recently approached by some co-workers with inquiries as to what fetishes I carried in my bag, and what I could potentially do for them… Safety pins, anyone?

And lastly, work is going well. I’ve been hammering out the training modules for the members and staff of my microfinance organization, CAFODEC. It’s really enjoyable to collaborate with my Guinean colleagues because they have great insights and examples, and I just put it all on paper. Plus, Guineans are really entertaining to work with! I was with about five of them to review some drafts of the training modules, and between practically every module, someone had to stand up and “warm up the room” by telling a joke or some ridiculous story. Some of them were totally inappropriate for a work setting, by American standards, and so were that much more awkward/entertaining! I’ll translate my favorite one, but I’m sure I won’t do it justice. I should note that the days of the week in French, starting with Monday, are lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi and dimanche. (That’s important for the joke.) Soooo, a man takes a new wife. Satisfying this man’s sexual appetite is just wearing her out, so they talk about it and come up with a truce. They’ll have sex only on days that end in redi—mercredi and vendredi. (Wednesday and Friday.) However, on a Monday, lundi, the man comes home and is feeling particularly hot to trot. “Madammmmme!” he calls out, “Can we…?” She stops to calculate the say of the week. “It’s lundredi!” he cries out!

That’s all from Guinea for now! Gros bisous!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The bobos of Dabola

Hey amigos!

Here’s some random updates from Dabola—odd and entertaining things I’ve seen while wandering around town.

First, we all know that the baby on the back tradition is alive and well in Africa. It is the way to carry your child— from the age of an infant to about a two-year-old. Little kids often imitate their mothers doing this, tying little dolls or other random things onto their backs. But one kid, who looked about three, took the cake. The doll he had tied onto his back was SO big that from a distance I had know idea what it is—all I saw was a jumble of different-colored limbs. It was a white plastic doll that must have stood about 3 feet high, when not strapped onto an even smaller kid’s back. Its big white plastic arms were sticking up above the kid’s head at different angles and its plastic dolly legs were jutting out in front. Needless to say, it looked ridiculous and adorable at the same time, and I couldn’t help laughing out loud as I walked past the oblivious little boy (and kept laughing for about the next 100 meters too!)

Additionally on the subject of piggy-backing, I saw some young girls accomplish an impressive feat that in my childhood, I always wanted to attempt but never quite had the prowess to pull off—the double piggy back. They were standing only about twenty feet from where my colleagues and I were sitting at the village bank one day. Our heroine was about twelve years old and she already had a girl who looked about eight on her back. Then she managed to bend over, and a ten-year-old climbed on on top of that! The ten-year-old had long enough arms to be able to reach around the eight-year-old and they all proudly (and noisily) took off to show some grown women. I was massively impressed! I’ve never seen anyone else manage that! (Any volunteers want to try when I get back?) I made sure all my colleagues saw, but no one seemed quite as thrilled as I was. :) Oh well, there are perks to being easily entertained.

One thing that seems somewhat universal is high school girls being high school girls. I went to a soccer match—apparently a big deal of a soccer match—that featured the 11th grade vs. the 10th grade teams from the local high school. It was the final of some tournament and I and everyone in Dabola under the age of twenty were present. The field was pure dust, and everyone crowded the sidelines sucking on oranges and cheering. I found myself surrounded by high school and middle school-aged girls. They seemed to be all dressed in their best pagne—matching tops and wrap skirts, hair freshly braided, proud and ready to show off. I’d say about zero of them were actually paying any attention to the game, yet somehow, they all seemed to know at exactly which moments to scream and jump up and down, when their team would shoot a near-miss or perform an awesome save. It seems to be a high-school-girl sixth sense. It felt like Friday night football in America.

Two other cool things I got to do recently: hold babies and look at electric dams! (Random, I know!) But first I should explain that an ongoing form of entertainment for me is finding the smallest babies I can, silent sleeping bumps fastened to their mother’s backs. The mothers go about their daily business in the market and at home, seemingly not even remembering the baby back there, but I’m just fascinated—the tinier the little human, the more I have to try not to stare. And sometimes I’m too tempted and just have to pat the little baby butt. (Boy, I sound like my mother there.) Anyway, a colleague and I recently visited his sister, who’d just given birth. The baby wasn’t even a week old. I’d never seen such a tiny baby! (I should also note that typically, African village women eat less when they are pregnant, because a smaller baby is that much easier to birth.) So this one was miniscule! I even got to hold it. They asked me if I wanted to throw it on my back; I declined. Maybe it was because I’d asked at what age they start wearing babies on the back and they told me at about this age—one week. Wow! Floppy heads and everything. “Baby” didn’t even have a name yet—that happens at a baptism ceremony when it’s about eight days old. Until then it’s just “Baby.” Even better is the Pulaar word for baby, “Bobo.” (Drag out the first syllable and make it long.) I love that word and it is definitely coming back to America with me. :)

And lastly, not involving small children, or any children at all! I got to see where my town’s electricity comes from. The local hydroelectric facility was put in place by the Chinese in the 1974 and refurbished in the 90s. In America, you’d never be able to stroll into a major electrical plant. But here, I just did. A lone guy was sitting at a table in the middle of a huge room with high ceilings. He had his feet propped on the table and was gazing at a wall-full of flashing lights and buttons. He stood up and shook my hand when I came in, and then I got to look at all the flashing lights and buttons myself! Everything was labeled in Chinese! Most knobs and buttons and dials also had a French translation printed in small letters, but not all of them. … And now I see why things don’t get fixed when there’s a break down!

Hope everyone’s doing well and life is happy in America!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bonjour de Dabola!

So I’m here at my post! Back to the world of trash fires, errant goats and cows, dusty roads, and enthusiastic toothless old men greeting me in languages I don’t know! I’ve taken these first few weeks to do a lot of exploring. Dabola is laid out along a main road, and loosely bordered by “mountains.” It’s got lots of trees! There are endless footpaths that make for great rambling and exploring. Somehow, I feel like I’m noticing things in different ways than I did in Cameroon.

For example, I am obsessing over the mango tree outside my window. If I remember right, mangoes were ready and waiting for my mass consumption by about February in Cameroon. Here, the rainy season is shifted later, and thus, I have to forlornly stare at my mango tree… and wait. Let me assure you, watching mangoes grow is only minimally more riveting than watching grass grow. But I never even noticed the itty-bitty baby mangoes in Cameroon! (Maybe it’s the five mango trees in my compound?) I never noticed when the trees flower, and then the tiny mango, already perfectly shaped, first comes out as small as the nail on your pinky finger. Fascinating. Even if slow-moving.

Another thing I’d failed to notice as closely in Cameroon was the moon. Maybe it’s because my old house had a tin-roofed overhang so I never really saw the moon and stars? And in Dabola, there’s that much less electricity, so when the moon is out, you notice. It is so bright you’d think you could read by its light. And when it is not there, wow, I can’t remember the last time I’d been in such darkness.

And speaking of electricity, I was spoiled in Cameroon. Here, we get electricity starting at about 2pm, in spurts. So I’m learning to adapt my work schedule and entertain myself otherwise!

One thing that’s great for entertainment is that Dabola is so much more open than my part of Cameroon, where everyone lived behind walls, in compounds. Here everyone’s huts are out in the open and it’s fascinating in that just walking around town I can see so much more of people at work and play—women pounding grain, kids running around, men watching TVs that are perched on a stool in the dirt. It also means it’s that much easier to enter into conversations with people, exchange greetings, and just be visible in the community. Oddly (or at least I’m still getting used to it!) so many of the footpaths run straight through people’s compounds—and in this sense, I mean just a family’s grouping of huts. So you troupe right past women cooking, naked children running from their bucket baths—it’s accessible in ways it never was in Cameroon. This morning I walked past a guy eating his morning serving of rice. I greeted him, and he shouted out, “Invitation!” Every one does that here! Any time you’re eating, you’re expected to at least offer to share it… even to strange white people wandering past! (And no, I did not have any, but I have taken other folks up on that when their sauce looks particularly tasty. :)

I live in one of few walled-in compounds (and really I don’t mind the minimal privacy that that affords. And not having to offer my food to every passer-by. :) But another big difference from Cameroon is that in Guinea, the volunteer’s host organization provides your housing. So you really do live like a Guinean, in ways some of us didn’t in Cameroon. There were so many safety regulations in Cameroon, (like you can’t have a thatch-roofed hut cause it’s easier to break into) that a lot a lot of us PCVs lived in the nicest house in the village, just to meet those regulations. (Again, I was spoiled and had a faaat house!) Not in Guinea! Bring on the thatch roofs. It’s pretty cool. I don’t have one, but my closest fellow volunteer does. Although it looks charming, she says that snakes have fallen from it, and it leaks during the rainy season—not fun. As for me, I live in the same compound as the office of my host institution, along with a few other co-workers. I have two small rooms in a row of little apartments—one for the bed and one for cooking and working and everything else. Privacy is not a big part of my life these days. People are always around—so at least on the flip side, it’s good for socializing and easy to hang out with Guineans. And lucky for me, my colleague who is right next door (and whose every word I can hear through the wall) is a really nice single young woman. (She’s my age and not married yet—quite rare by Guinean standards!) She has a TV too, so sometimes in the evenings I go over and watch the Guinean or Ivoirian news or the Latin American imported soap operas, which are just as revered here as they were in Cameroon.

I’ve been able to start my work, visiting village banks and preparing training modules to hopefully help them with some of their operations. The local village bank is open every Wednesday and Friday, is completely volunteer-run, and consists of a table under a veranda on the side of the road. All transactions are recorded manually in a variety of ledgers. When business is slow, there’s always a steady stream of high-schoolers walking by that I can watch. One of the “responsables” of the bank runs a local omelet and tea shack, and he brings us tea and coffee in plastic bags to sip on. (real coffee!! whoa! never saw that in Cameroon!) It’s really pleasant and the folks are very friendly.

And lastly, I’d forgotten to mention I’m named—fully! I took a week to pick a Guinean last name because I wanted to get a feel for the town and the different groups and not pick any name that would label me as the town crazy or reject or anything too offensive. But you’d think my not having a Guinean last name was catastrophic! Guineans I’d meet in town were always asking me about it, and my entire first week, it was a constant topic of discussion among my colleagues. Nabou, my Guinean first name, got turned back into the full Djénabou, yet another version of that name. That’s fine with me— Djénabou is a great name, not too common but everyone knows it, and easy to pronounce (jen-a-boo). So, that first week, it was a constant battle for who would bestow their last name upon me—everyone wants you to give you their name. Mr. Sow would call out, “Djénabou Sow!” And Mr. Coulibaly would say, “Djénabou Coulibaly!” I’d just smile and nod at anything. My counterpart, like everyone who works at my host organization, is a Diallo, so he was all for Djénabou Diallo. It’s a little too much alliteration though and I’d rather add a little diversity to the group instead. When Mr. Diallo saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere with the Djénabou Diallo suggestion, he also proposed the name Sock. He said Sock is a last name that’s from all over Guinea, and it could include people of any tribal group, which is important here! When I explained just what “sock” is in English, holding up my foot as I did so for emphasis, he burst into laughter and it was clear that Djénabou Sock had gone by the wayside. Additionally, I had to tactfully explain why I was not interested in being a Sow. So finally, there’s a name I like, which in Malinké means “take hold of your heritage.” It’s Keïta… pronounced Kate-uh. :) So I’ve gone from Kate to Fleurange in Cameroon to Djénabou in Guinea, now back to Kate…uh. :) And it’s doubly cool because Djénabou is a Pulaar first name, and since Keïta is a Malinké last name, that covers the two big tribal groups in town, so everyone is happy!

More updates from Dabola soon! My love to all!