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.

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The American Dream is Alive and Well

 

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This is Alison Camara. He is a 21 year old resident of Conakry, Guinea. He is good at soccer and loves Lil Wayne. And he desperately wants to come to America.

Practically everyone I meet in Guinea describes America as their “pays du reves” — Dream Country. The photo of the young man above was taken in front of my house, only after Alison begged me to show it to my American friends in the hopes that one of you has the means to send him to the USA. I have to repeatedly assure him that I do not. I will not marry him. I do not have visas to hand out. This is a very frequent request — and once I deny it, I am immediately asked about my American friends. Do any of them have the means? So, ladies. If you’re in the department for a Guinean husband, have your pick.

I’ve been here for over 3 months now and I’ve done my fair share of describing America. I try to dismantle the fantasy of the red, white and blue. It’s not like a Guinean who moved to USA would suddenly “have it all.” We work, often tirelessly. We have political and social issues. Everything is too expensive and the price of gas is always going up. And comparatively with Guinean culture, we as Americans are kind of cold-hearted, self-centered bastards…to put it bluntly.

Really, I want to shake some sense into the people that look at me with Red, White, and Blue stars in their eyes. “You wouldn’t be happy here!”, I think. “People wouldn’t help you like in Guinea, people would ignore you, you’d be lucky to find a minimum wage job and cheap rent in a shitty area!” I’ve felt this way since I arrived — that they’d honestly not be happy in our cold, capitalist world.

But then the other night happened.

I was sitting in a circle of plastic chairs (high quality furniture here, reserved for the most important members of the group, manufactured and produced here in Guinea!) with a group of about six 20-something’s. All men. Inevitably we talked about America, their desire for an American wife, and I tried to steer them back to ‘sanity’ — you should want to stay here! In Africa! We’re mid-first world problem. I’m describing the poor economy, the difficulty to find a good job, when one of the guys stops me and says, “Moi, je peux couper le fleur bien!” 

Me, I can cut flowers well!

With 100% sincerity and desperation. My thought process slammed to a halt. Have I been thinking about this all wrong? It’s always “Yes, there’s running water and electricity, but…” even writing it now seems silly. When your country has no infrastructure, no running water, no electricity, and little law enforcement, do you give a damn about the “BUT”? 

I imagine a hard immigrant labor position as something bad, but for someone else — like a 21 year old Guinean — it could be a dream come true. In America we have opportunities that cannot be found here. I’m happy here in Guinea, surrounded by the natural and cultural beauty. Every day is an adventure and I feel like my life has true meaning. But I haven”t lived here. I haven’t fetched 21 years of water from the well. I haven’t lived 21 years by candlelight. I haven’t had friends and family die from malnutrition, infection, and disease.

I need to have more pride in America. I need to see the America that Guineans see, and not the petty problems and dissatisfaction I left behind. 

I will end this post with some newly released data from the 2013 United Nations Human Development Indicators:

Guinea

Life expectancy at birth: 54.5 years.

Mean years of schooling: 1.6 years.

Mean total income per year: $941

Rank: 178 / 187

United States of America

Life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years.

Mean years of schooling: 13.3 years.

Mean total income per year: $43,480.

Rank: 3 / 187

There’s a fine line here between recognizing the privilege and opportunity we have in America and also fostering pride in Guinea and promoting change here. I haven’t quite found the proper viewpoint to take but, if anything, 3 months in Guinea has helped me appreciate the country I’ve left behind.

Oh, and if anyone wants to marry Alison, please do let me know.