Double-take: What’s in a Photograph?

I remember quite clearly how these two photos came to be. I had pulled my camera out, which always led to a flurry of excitement. Every child screaming at me to have their picture taken — a sort of reverse paparazzi. If I wanted to take a picture of something or someone, I had to prepare for a 30 minute riot with the whole family demanding another pose.

So, I had wanted a photograph of one thing or another and my camera was out. The kids were circling. These photos were taken at the beginning of my training so my French was limited and my Susu non-existant. I managed to explain to them through a combination of movement, basic words, and guttural noises to group together and smile and stay still long enough for me to get a good photograph. Immediately after hearing the shutter click they would run towards me and demand to see it.

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I saw the first photograph on my camera screen — dissatisfaction. I changed a setting, turned the flash on, hounded the kids back together and made them pose for another one. I glanced at the screen again — satisfied. I had finally gotten them to hold still which, to be honest, was quite a monumental task.

We passed the camera around, everyone happy to see their face on the tiny LCD screen. They demanded more photographs, I obliged, and eventually the camera was put to bed for the evening. We went on with our night and our lives. I completed training, I moved out of this family’s house and into my village, I lived there for six months, I was evacuated, and now I have been home for almost 3 full months.

Now when I look at these two photographs they are incomparable. The first photograph, the one that seemed flawed at the time, the one I almost deleted immediately but by some chance left on my memory card, this photograph is the one that now calls to me. Don’t get me wrong — the children look beautiful in the second photograph. It brings a smile to my face to see their happiness and recall the time we spent together. But the first photograph?

It shows the motion and joy of their lives. The constant movement, laughter, and play. It shows the glee budding on Alia’s tiny face. It shows Fati mid-giggle. I feel Bountu’s amusement in this photograph. I sense my playmates running around me, pulling on my hair, begging for me to pick them up and spin them around in the air. There is feeling and life in this photograph.

It takes me right back.

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