Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Saturday, November 28, 2009
It's been over a month since I last posted and I feel a little guilty. In our defense though, we've been a little busy. I'll post more in detail when we have more time and internet at our disposal, but wanted to give you something.
We've been traveling now for a little over a month. We will be back in the states next week. Its a little crazy to think about, so I try not to.
We've been making our transition back to the developed world in stages: from Guinea to Mali, from Mali to Morocco, from Morocco to Spain. Each stop along the way has been progressively more developed, and with that, more expensive unfortunately.
Mali out-does Guinea by having (besides a recognized government and not having a military that rapes and kills its citizens...) advances like paved roads and electricity in most big cities. A good indicator of their development in my mind is that there is a seemingly good-sized middle class that can afford 'luxury' items like prepackaged goods and eating out. Another random advancement: animal rather than child labor. (ie: using donkey or horses to plow fields and pull carts of goods rather than children.)
Morocco was an even larger step up. We were actually quite blown away by the vast differences and the fact that it is still considered a 'developing nation.' They still rely on basics like donkeys (what else can get a load of cement through the narrow market roads? really, sometimes basic is better.) and life in the village, I'm sure, is quite different than the life I saw in the cities. But Morocco has McDonald's and a shopping mall with Versace. Yet there are still Peace Corps Volunteers there... hmmm...
Spain is developed. And extremely cold. And extremely expensive. We spent more than a weeks wage on our dinner last night. (Granted, we were only making about $240 a month...) It's shocking to see the differences and expense in ways of life. But we're having fun.
Here are some picture highlights of our trip so far:
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
What does that mean for us? As of Sunday, we are no longer volunteers. We are unemployed, homeless, moneyless... So what are we going to do? Travel.
We're heading out tomorrow for a trip around Mali. We figured that while we're here and so close that we should take advantage of the sites here. We're planning on taking a boat up the Niger river to Timbuktu then head over to an area called Dogon country. Do a google search for pictures if you're interested. Pretty cool. It may take a while before ours will make it on the blog...
We fly out of Bamako on November 9th to Casablanca. We'll spend about 2 weeks touring Morocco, then fly to Spain and the Canary Islands. We won't be having any turkey this thanksgiving. Instead, we'll be scuba diving at the Canary Islands. I think that's a fair exchange. Don't worry. We'll take lots of pictures.
After that, we'll head back down to Casablanca and fly to New York and eventually end up in Utah December 4th.
After 2 years, I am excited and scared all at the same time to come home. I don't know how re-entry into US life will be. What have I missed? Last time I left the country, I came back and there was this crazy new obsession with something called American Idol... What will be new after the last 2 years? Does Cafe Rio really still taste as amazing as I fantasize about? Do such places as Target and Walmart really exist? What will it be like to drive a car after so long and after living in a place that doesn't have recognized traffic regulations? And snow??? I haven't worn shoes in 22 months. That's going to be a problem.
But I know it'll be amazing and wonderful to see everyone again and be among people that understand me and where I'm coming from. Just be gentle with me.
See you on the other side!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
We put some branches in our window for him to chill in, since we don't want him to stay in the carrier the whole time. He likes sitting there and watching the world go by.
We're currently going through quite a bit of headache trying to figure out if we can still bring him home. It was pretty complicated before when we were just in Guinea, and now it seems nearly impossible. It'll be a miracle if we can actually get him home, but I will be so sad if I have to leave him behind at this point.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
In a Guinea Seized by Violence, Women Are Prey - Front page NYTimes article
Guinea’s Capital Fades Into a Ghost Town After Soldiers’ Rampage - Another good summary article from the NYTimesEyewitness Report - BBC report
People are calling the events a massacre. It shocked everyone.
Considering all the political trauma and difficulties, they pulled out all of us Peace Corps volunteers. We were brought to Bamako, Mali to consolidate and wait. Even so, after the incidents of last week, things have been calm outside of Conakry. It was life as normal where we were. Not unsafe at all. Everyone was just a little tense about what was going to happen. (Gas stations closed, black market gas price skyrocketed and some shops had little in stock.) But for now it is mainly political, not safety issues that they're worried about. Either way, it was difficult to have to rush off as you watch everyone going about their daily routine. Everyone said they understood why we had to go, but I know they were questioning why. And none of our Guinean friends have the option to leave like we did...
We're not really sure whats going to happen next. They told us we are going to wait here in Bamako for 2 to 4 weeks to see how things play out. Unfortunately for us, we were supposed to be out in two months any way. Even if they give us the all clear to go back soon, we don't think it will be worth it for us. We had already started packing our bags. Literally. Going back at this point for a month would just be painful in more ways than I think we could handle. It was hard getting ripped out the way we did, without real closure and goodbyes, but going back just to rush out again wouldn't make it easier.
Leaving itself was... well.. crazy and exhausting. A Peace Corps car came to pick us up early Tuesday morning and we were off. We had 27 hours of traveling over two days, even though it was only about 750 miles. I had a GPS on, so I'll post the stats later so you can see our voyage. It could have been worse. No real problems, just the typical African headaches of terrible roads, crammed cars (11 people in a Toyota Land Cruiser...), police roadblocks, miscommunication, tedious 3 hours of ordeals at the border, etc, etc, etc. We brought Charlie our parrot through it all too. He was a trooper. If we actually get him back to the US, its going to be a miracle.
We'll wait around here for as long as they let us and then probably travel for a bit. Maybe a couple weeks here in Mali, maybe other neighboring countries, then a bit in Morocco, then home by the beginning of December? We'll see. It's all up in the air. We'll keep you updated as we figure it out.
We're staying in a pretty nice place (ok... nice for our new standards... picture summer camp.) But we've got running water, electricity, ceiling fans in our huts, good food, wifi... all a hard-up PCV could want. We're going to the American club today for swimming and cheeseburgers. Amazing. Museum and a Mali vs Sudan soccer game on Sunday. Should be fun times. It's almost kind of an all expense paid vacation by Peace Corps. Even though its a terribly crappy situation, they're making it the best they can for us. In any case, we'll have daily internet access, so I'd love to hear from all of you. I'll write more later and post some pics, so keep in touch!
*pictures from the BBC and NYT articles
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
This was in our nice Peace Corps car coming down to Conakry. Since it's Ramadan, they don't listen to music. What you hear is a tape of someone reading the Koran. Try listening to that for 5 hours straight. (My heart goes out to the volunteers who make 14+ hour trips listening to nothing but this... I guess that's what ipods are for though, right?)
Monday, September 14, 2009
One thing that is nice about the bank is that it is one of the only public places that has electricity and air conditioning whenever it is open. It is really spacious with high ceilings and looks relatively modern and clean.
The first thing you notice is that there are no designated lines--none of those roped off areas to keep the clientele organized. It is absolute madness--everyone rushes the reception desk and gathers around pushing their way to be the next person helped. So, needless to say, there is absolutely no privacy. Everyone around you knows exactly how much you have in your account and how much you want to withdraw. They don't even try to keep it quiet--they practically yell the information to you over the noise.
Also, do you remember those large metal trunks you use at scout camp or in the army? That is what they use as a safe in a separate, but still open room--not even behind the counter. The original bank in our town actually burned down a couple of years ago due to an electrical fire so maybe it had an actual safe, but I doubt it.
So, after you write a check to yourself or have the "teller" write one for you, you sign it in ten different places. Then you go to the money window which is also madness as everyone gathers around waiting for their money. The bank teller there is wearing a bio safety protection mask--I think you can imagine all the crazy germs you'll find on the money here. You sign the check again and they do their obligatory count in front of you.
You get your large wad of cash--and it will always be a brick because their largest bill is worth about $2. So, when you take out a couple hundred dollars it adds up. They put them in neat stacks of 10 bills with the 10th bill folded in half around the other 9 and then they put those stacks into groups of ten rubber banded together for a total of a hundred bills. Then you do your obligatory recount to make sure nothing was snagged or miscounted, which always takes forever with so many bills. They rarely deal in coins since their only coin is only worth about 5 cents.
The bank network we use has one ATM in country in downtown Conakry. I actually got a personal checkbook so I could write checks to myself. Recently, I tried to close a bank account and I ended up going to three different branches to close it, since you have to go the bank where you originally created it. Peace Corps opened the account for me, so I had no idea. But it was a fun walk around Conakry. But overall, messing with the bank hasn't been that bad. Luckily, I only have to go every couple of months, but I'm still on a first-name basis with the tellers. I don't think you get that in the States very often.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
It's the rainy season in Guinea now. People live at the mercy of the elements here. Yesterday I got caught in a flash flood while trying to go to one of the neighborhood markets in Conakry. When I left the house, there was no rain. By the time I got to the market, it was sprinkling. I stopped by a tailor to drop off some fabric and by the time I was ready to go, it was pouring. I thought I'd wait for it to ease up, but instead, the situation got worse.
Unfortunately, cities are not prepared for large downpours. There are some ditches for runoff, but unfortunately, they usually get filled with trash and eroded dirt, making the water spill over. And in a case such as a major downpour like today, there is just nowhere for that quantity of water to go. It just overflows the ditches and streets like a raging river, flowing down in the quickest path towards the ocean it can. Since there are no real sewer and advanced plumbing systems either, this means everything gets swept up. Raging rivers of sheer filth.
The rain started letting up, but the river still raged. It was strong enough at its peak to push grown men off their feet. Traffic was a gridlock. After waiting for over an hour and a half, you could start to see the road again under the river. Cars and people started to tentatively move. I made a break for it, grabbed a few things from the corner store for lunch, and wadded back to the house. Once back, I immediately took a shower and tried to disinfect the lower half of my body...