CHRISTMAS IN GUINEA! Turkey & Site Announcement

Today was a whirlwind of emotions. In the morning, we had a TDA (training directed activity, me thinks) and my group visited a chicken farming organization who also operates a huge garden. The goal is to practice asking questions in French and to give us hands-on experience before we get to site. The guys there were awesome and very forthcoming; they had awesome practices and didn’t seem to need Peace Corps’ help at all — they were doing intercropping, crop rotation, irrigation, marketing tactics and all the things we are learning about. But the down came when we entered into their chicken farm. I have, as most Americans have, seen pictures of factory farms. Even videos. And don’t get me wrong, the operation at this location was much smaller scale and of way better practices than any factory farm or basic chicken farm in the US is… but still, it really shook me. Seeing it in person, with all the sights, smells, and noises associated really… shook me. I am still processing how I feel about it but I am glad I had the opportunity this early in my service to confront such a basic fact– the food I eat — and the ways in which I choose to live and participate on this planet. Here in Guinea, these types of organizations aren’t the most common. My family raises free-range chickens for their eggs and occasionally uses them for sacrifices. Most of the meat (read: all) I eat is fish which is caught from the sea. I don’t feel bad about the meat I eat here at all. But that’s not the case in America. I can honestly say I am done eating meat in the USA unless it is from a farm that I know has practices I agree with, and preferably one that I have been able to visit. It’s a challenge, it’s not easy. Sure, it’s convenient to just pick up that hamburger from McDonald’s, but having physically seen that environment changed me. I encourage you all back home to really think about how removed you are from your food and try and change that. Seeing the entire process will change you.

So, that was my down. My other emotion today was A HUGE UP! Today was a big day for us in Dubreka — SITE ANNOUNCEMENT!!!!!!!!!! It has been HIGHLY anticipated and we have all been very anxious waiting for it to finally arrive. So… dun dun dun… I will be living in Koba, a medium/large village in Basse Cote. It is ~1 km from the ocean and right near a huge lake resort where I can swim. I am SO very excited about this because I am a FISH and love to swim. They speak Susu and French. It is about 1 hr north of Dubreka, where I am doing training. I will have my own house on a family compound. I am SO excited and very happy!!! It is exactly where I wanted to be and… I’M SO EXCITED!!!

After site announcement we piled into our minibus and drove to Conakry for Christmas Eve dinner at the US Ambassador’s house. His house was stunning, complete with a pool, and he fed us beer, wine, turkey, mashed potatoes, GRAVY, green bean casserole, and apple pie. It was a beautiful night and a very awesome oasis compared to our usual rice and sauce. Our stage has planned a Christmas brunch tomorrow morning along with a white elephant game. It’s probably been my most memorable Christmas so far, but I’m Jewish so I’m fairly biased in that regard (hah). Tomorrow afternoon we go back to Dubreka to get back into the swing of training.

Speaking of, training has been great! My French is coming along fabulously and I’m picking up a lot of Susu as well which well help me at site. Technical training is great — we have transformed a dirt plot into a sprouting garden and tree nursery and have learned lots of awesome techniques to implement at site. I think we are doing soap-making soon which I am very excited about. Last weekend we visited a beautiful waterfall about 30 minutes outside of Dubreka and swam our little butts off. Homestay life is great — I uploaded a bunch of pictures on Facebook tonight and I found myself really missing my family. In two weeks, I will visit my site so I will be able to better paint a picture of what it’s like. I’ll be replacing a Community Economic Development volunteer, so I’ve picked her brain a bit (read: texted her a ridiculous amount of questions) but nothing will be better than actually being there.

So, c’est la vie en Guinee! I’m happy, healthy (despite a lot of snot the past few days), and had a great Christmas break here in Conakry. I hope everyone back home is having an amazing Christmas and has a Happy New Year! I’m ready for 2014 to come and all the exciting new things that it will bring.

Sending my love to you all,

Sara

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Dec 17, 2013

**note: I posted this on my Facebook the other day but I have better internet access now so I figured I’d add it here**

Hello from Guinea! I’ve meant to write sooner but internet access has been down due to technical issues. Additionally, there’s so much going on its hard to think where to start. I’m currently in Dubreka living with a host family, the Camara’s–Mom, Pop, Three brothers, and one sister. My Guinean name is M’mah Camara andmy 17 year old brother Mamady is my best friend — he shows me everything, teaches me French, susu, and laughs at my jokes. I absolutely love my family. They love to laugh and I love to make them laugh, so we get along well. The most common thing I hear here is “ayyyyy M’mah Camara” followed by knee slapping and laughter. The food is delicious – rice, sauce, sometimes spaghetti. Some volunteers are complaining, but my mom’s a good cook. My favorite sauce has coconut water, cassava leaf, pepper, peanut butter, onion, and bouillon. I helped my mom make it the other day! Which kind of turned into a photoshoot — pictures to come.
We eat a lot of fish. Probably more fish than I’ve eaten in my lifetime, but for now I haven’t grown tired of anything and find it all delicious. Lots of fried dough, too. And delicious frozen hibiscus juice.

Greetings here are of prime importance. I live about a 30 minute walk from the Peace Corps Bureau where all of our trainings are held. Every morning and evening the walk takes longer because I’m constantly stopping and asking everyone how they are, did they sleep well, is their family well??? If you could only see their faces when this white girl speaks to them in their local tongue. They love it. Quite a few petits on my route still shout “FOTE” or, my favorite, “foooOooOoooOoote” (which means white person or foreigner) but most people shout out M’mah. They tell me I’m a star here, which I thought was some weird French word I hadn’t learned yet but, no, it literally means star. In the celebrity sense. So life is going well! I’m definitely not short in the friend department.

Classes and training are fun. Lots and lots of French classes, but you would all be amazed to see how far along I’ve come in only 1.5 weeks. I feel confident ill be able to reach a passing level by the end of training in February. So far in technical training we have dug garden beds, planted vegetables (I’m growing corn, beans, okra, moringa, onion, and spinach), learned about small scale chicken farming, income generating activities, and food security. We also have a lot of cross-sector activities about health, malaria, and safety. We have also met a ton of other current volunteers and picked their brains for ideas about their site and more accurate representations of the ride we have just jumped on. We are so busy every day that I mostly don’t have time to think. I get home around 6, take a bucket bath, eat dinner, hang out with friends and family, and then sleep. There hasn’t been much time at all for decompression or philosophizing. I’ve had a few moments where I realize, Wow, I’m in Africa. I live here now. Im speaking two new languages. I’m very, very, far from the nearest WalMart. I’m really happy though. It’s beautiful here, albeit hot. The heat isn’t yet unbearable. It slightly worries me that this is the coldest time of the year but we’re taking it one day at a time. Be where your feet are! I have a great support system here – 32 other members of my stage. I honestly love them and feel very close to them even though it’s been such a short amount of time. We’re a weird, giggly bunch.

In 7 days (Christmas Eve) I will find out where my site will be!! I am tres excited to say the least. There are pros and cons for each placement so I’m not sure I have a preference. I really like Bass Coate (the region Dubreka is in) but that’s the only place I’ve been so I’m biased! I will find the positivity anywhere they put me.

We are going to Conakry for Christmas, which should be nice. American food, site announcement, air conditioning, and running water. Count me in!

That’s all for now. Thinking of you all! Send me letters!