Michael Douglas Lives in Guinea

One of my good friends at site is named Douga. This is his nickname, which comes from his preferred name “Michael Douglass”. Yes, the American actor. I was put into contact with Douga from former PCVs who lived at my site. He’s a young guy, insanely funny, and very smart. He was trained in electrical repairs by a Chinese expat. He speaks multiple languages, draws, and is interested in philosophy.

What do you mean you don't see the resemblance?

What do you mean you don’t see the resemblance?

On a day without any meetings, I would bike down to the phone charging center he worked at and hang out with him and our other friends all day, laughing the hours away and discussing life and politics in Guinea.

Before I left I gave Douga all my stockpiled chocolate. He’s really into Hershey’s. It was only one week home in America until I received a call from him – “Uh, Sara? I ate all the chocolate. When are you going to be back with more?”

Unfortunately, Douga has had to wait on that.

We talk regularly on Facebook. He travels between our village and the capitol frequently, looking for phones and computers to repair for money. As such, he’s got a pretty good hold on what’s going on with the Ebola outbreak. Although our conversations generally center around “How’s the family?” and “Man, I miss you!” I always try and get the on-the-ground perspective from Douga. Today, I was saddened by what he said.

“The city is dirty, the people have no work, there is no money, the health infrastructure is weak, the government has no money, all of this now leads to possible famine.”

He mentioned how happy he was to hear about the 3,000 U.S. troops being sent to West Africa. Unfortunately these troops will be directed to Liberia. Douga hadn’t realized that.

“All the troops are for Liberia? Then that’s another thing. We are screwed, my dear, because Ebola is not forgiving.

You know how it is here. The available time is small, life is short, laziness is vast, and Ebola separates us.

Tell Obama that we, too, want to live very much.”

Life Through Photos

I wanted to share some of my favorite photos of my time in Guinea. 

The Shocking Differences Seen In a Country the Size of Oregon

This morning I left my site by bush taxi to get to Conakry. With all of our baggage strapped to the roof, we were a packed car. Our chaffeur and a little girl took the driver’s seat, two grown men sat in the passenger’s seat and 4 adults and 3 children snuggled up in the backseat. And a live cow in the trunk. A normal day in Guinea transport.

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Later that same night I visited members of my host-family who had left Koba and moved to Conakry. They turned on the generator for me and we sat under fans on a leather sofa and watched hip hop music videos on a TV nicer than my own back home. Their smart phones and iron charged while we chatted over the hum of the generator and the fans.Image 

Africa is funny.

Life Through Photos

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My counterpart pounding leaves of a local tree species rich in Nitrogen to make an organic fertilizer.

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Group shot of a gardening collective, or groupement in French, I visited to learn about their practices, what they’re missing, what they’re interested in working on and how motivated they are. They grow corn, pepper, eggplant, and okra during the dry season. 

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My counterpart, Mangue TP, at his (our? I work with him there every day) garden. We just created those garden beds behind him and he is standing next to an orange tree nursery.

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Garden beds at a groupement I visited.Image

My friend Marijo and my host-sister Djenab. They are in their school uniforms and are about to walk 10 kilometers to attend class. They are both mothers.

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My counterpart and his wife in front of their house. Mangue is a trained architect and built and designed the house himself.Image

One of the older brothers in my house family is a serious enterepeneur and extremely intelligent. He lives in the capitol but when he comes back to Koba for work or to visit the family, I give him English lessons. He called me out of the blue yesterday and asked me if I was home because a carpenter and an electrician were on the way to install an outlet and a socket in my room to run off of the family generator. Good karma has brought me LIGHT!!!

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The view of my house from the front door.Image

My brand new screen door to keep critters out.Image

Garden beds mulched with hay at a groupement I visited.

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My friend Mariam and her two sons, David Jr. and Papi.

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Members of a groupement posing in front of their garden bed — pepper and corn and the Guinean stare-down. Guineans don’t have the same desire to say “Cheese” when the camera pulls out.

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Took a bike ride along the beach.

 

 

 

Officially a PCV!

As of this posting, I am an official volunteer with the Peace Corps. Although the days in Dubreka sometimes passed slowly, the past two months have flown by. I came into this country positive and outgoing, but in the past two months I have really come into myself. I am proud of what I have accomplished here, proud of the connections and friendships I have made, and excited for what is to come.

Me and my host-mother both teared up when we said goodbye. When they walked away, I bawled. I really have felt at home here in Guinea, and that has been due to them. Luckily my site is only 2 hours away so I will be able to visit. It won’t be the same, though — and that’s what’s sad. But goodbyes are unfortunately a part of life. I learned that by saying goodbye to America, goodbye to friends, goodbye to college, goodbye to Brazil — I’ve had a lot of practice, it seems. It hasn’t gotten easier but I know the importance of staying in touch. One thing I’ve already learned from Guineans is the importance of family and friendships. Guineans are the most loving and giving people I’ve met. They will give you the shirt off their back if you say you like it and they will call you just to tell you their salad tastes good. Just today, I was at the bank in Conarky and I met a woman named M’mah Sylla — my name is M’mah Camara. We started talking and joked about how the Syllas are theives, no, the Camaras are theives, no Sylla! (There is a lot of running rivalries here between family names). We talked for maybe 5 minutes and she asked for my phone number. She’ll probably call me a few times just to ask how I am, if there’s evil in my life, if everything is good, if my family is healthy. People here care.

I’ve never been so happy to be where I am in life. The past years of my life have been headed in a positive direction, but always had some level of anxiety about “what next???”. Here, I am at ease. I am happy. I am joyous. I am content. I feel that I am in the right place and doing what I should be doing with my life. Over the course of the next few days, I will go shopping for various food items, possibly a smart phone (ayyy internet!), and hang-out in Conakry. Then, I will go to Boke to meet the Prefect and the Mayor. Then, I will be at site.

The first three months have been said to be the hardest. Life will switch from training 8:00am – 5:00pm to being completely on my own. I’m going in roaring and ready, though. I’m ready to be back at my beautiful site and begin getting to know my community, my new host family, my counterpart, and my site mate! I don’t have a singular complaint. Diarrhea is a real thing, but it’s really not that bad. Electricity is already something of the past. Internet, shminternet. It’s funny how quickly you adapt. I’m happy here.

Thank you to my family for supporting me in this journey so far and for the awesome packages!!!! The fan has changed my life. Thank you to my friends for supporting me and sending me messages and letters. I love you all. Here are some highlights of the last two months:

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My sweetheart, Alia. He is my host-brother in Dubreka. A 4-yr old ball of energy and cuteness.

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My speech, the swearing in schedule, and my expert card stating why I’m here in Guinea. I gave a speech in Susu at our swearing in. Probably one of the most amazing moments of my life. Learning French and Susu in only 2 months is a crazy accomplishment, and the crowd was applauding almost every sentence I said during the speech. They laughed at my joke! C’ete bien passe. The best thing about speaking Susu, and my motivation for learning, is seeing people light up when you speak their language. It really is the reason why I’ve integrated so well.

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The crazy oath we took to make us official US GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE/VOLUNTEERS!!!

 

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Making soap with my mom.

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My mom and petits with the Moringa tree we planted.

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My three Dubreka boys — Lamine, a family friend. Ostage, an imam / super religious arabic teacher, but hilarious and open-minded and intelligent guy. Mamady, my host-brother and best friend.

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Aboulaye and Alia, my two little brothers. The outfit I’m wearing was a goodbye gift from my family.

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Mamady, Me, Host-Mom, and Host-Dad

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