Last weekend was World Malaria Day. 18 volunteers from the Basse Cote region headed to Fria — a large mining town north of Conakry. A 2nd year education volunteer stationed in Fria organized our malaria education filled weekend. Friday we would be hitting the field and, to much amusement, play in a soccer game pitting American volunteers against Guinean high school students. Saturday we would spend at the town’s youth center holding a malaria fair.
We arrived in Fria, our team spirit building and our confidence rising. A hodge-podge group of Americans, in less than perfect shape (*ahem* myself), some with no prior soccer experience (does 10th grade gym class count?) — how could we possibly lose against 21 year old Guineans who spend hours every day playing soccer? We got this, right?
OK, so we knew we were going to lose. We did manage to lose a respectable 4-3.
But the point of these events is to leverage the crowd that will inevitably be drawn in and shift the attention to malaria education. Throughout the game and during half-time, we dispelled myths about malaria (No, it is not caused by mangoes) and promoted the use of mosquito nets. The next day at the malaria fair, a group of students from Fria performed a play about the importance of sleeping under mosquito nets. My favorite line from the show was a young boy playing an elderly man resistant to changing his ways — “Il faut utiliser une moustiquaire — Mousti-quoi???” We also had people sign a banner to pledge to sleep under their nets, along with trivia, Q&A, and a mosquito net washing and repair station. It was a really successful event. We made asses out of ourselves in the name of a good cause and were able to spread malaria education to 300+ people.
Malaria affects 100% of Guinea’s population. In 2013, there was a free country-wide distribution of mosquito nets. Since the nets have already been handed out, PCV’s and NGO’s are now focusing on encouraging and determining actual usage. Last week I had the opportunity to go house to house in Koba with members of an NGO working on the reports of net utilization. We went to every house in Mankoura, a small fishing district of Koba located along the ocean. 95% of the houses had the nets set up — very encouraging. Still, there are many Guineans who refuse to sleep under the net because it’s too hot, or they don’t like the way it looks, or they think it will get them sick. Change is hard for humans, but using a bed net is the kind of change that can save lives. The change that can eradicate the very disease that kills so many of our fellow humans.
I’ve been told by several Guineans that Fria is called “Petit Paris” and one weekend there explains it all. There is a large mine located there and the town has excellent infrastructure — roads, sidewalks, streetlights, and even 3 highrise apartment buildings with 24/7 electricity. The mine stopped functioning 2 years ago, and when I mentioned how beautiful Fria was the Guineans in ear-shot scoffed at me and said I should have seen it before. That the town is in decline now. The people of Fria remain hopeful that the mine will reopen. Insh’a allah.
The one bad thing to come out of my time in Fria was a knee sprain. I’ve been known to be… competitive. Perhaps agressively competitive. I was fielding left-mid, going after the ball, pretending like I know how to play soccer, when I slammed into my opposing player and felt a sickening internal pop and dropped to the ground. Unable to walk. It was about in that instant that I decided soccer maybe isn’t for me. Luckily, Fria is one of the few places in Guinea where you can reliably get ice! I picked a good place for a sprain. The past week I’ve been back home in Koba on a strict R.I.C.E. diet — rice, Ibuprofen, compression, elevation. Accompanied by lots of actual rice, of course. 3 meals a day! The Guinean idea of how to treat a sprain involves rapidly jamming things around and forcing the injury into position. I think my family thought I was being lazy because I refused to let them “massage” me (read: jerk my leg around and rub mint oil on it) and instead chose to rest, but after a week of R.I.C.E. (I’m holding back so many rice jokes…) it’s feeling better and the doctor says I’m on the right track to healing.
I’m writing to you all from Conakry. I leave Sunday for 2.5 weeks in Mamou, a large city in the Fouta. We will be staying at a school/hostel there and holding the In-Service Training for my stage. This will be the first time in 3 months we have all been together! We will discuss our sites, our problems and solutions, work on local language, and augment the training we received in Dubreka. Immediately after that I am attending another training at the same location — the West African Wide Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program. I’m excited to reunite with all 31 members of my stage and all of our local staff. I’m excited to escape the heat of Koba — Mamou is in the mountains and is significantly cooler due to the elevation. I’m excited to come back to the rains! Everyone keeps telling me the rainy season begins on May 15…we’ll see how accurate that is. I’m excited to learn from our staff and my fellow PCVs.
5 months in country — done! And it flew by. Here’s to the next 5 passing as smoothly.