Monday, November 26, 2007

a letter from PC to friends and family

Dear Families,

Greetings from the Guinea Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to the Peace Corps Guinea Program. During the past few years we have received many questions from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc. As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest you handle them.

1. Irregular Communication. (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps' office in Conakry the capital of Guinea) The mail service in Guinea is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service. Thus, it is important to be patient. It can take three to four weeks for mail coming from Conakry to arrive in the United States via the Guinea postal system. From a Volunteer's post, mail might take 1-2 months to reach the United States. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the States by a traveler and mailed through the U.S. postal system. This leg of the trip can take another several weeks as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the U.S.

We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes for him/her to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also, try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he/she has missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes--otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office!

Volunteers often enjoy telling their "horror" stories when they write home. Letters (or e-mails) might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. There are two medical officers at the Peace Corps office in Conakry to meet the medical needs of the volunteers. Through a “telephone tree”, the Peace Corps office in Conakry maintains at minimum, regular weekly contact with the Regional Coordinators, one per region where Peace Corps works. Peace Corps Guinea has also established a monthly mail run which delivers mail, medical supplies, and sometimes volunteers or staff to each volunteer site.

In the event of an emergency, Volunteers have been instructed to contact their designated Regional Coordinator, who in turn contacts the staff in Conakry, and appropriate steps are taken to assist that Volunteer. In the event of a serious illness, the Volunteer is sent to Conakry and is cared for by our medical staff. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Conakry he/she will be medically evacuated to either Senegal, South Africa or the United States. Fortunately, these are rare circumstances.

If for some reason your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for at least three months, you may want to contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470. The OSS will then contact the Peace Corps Director in Conakry and ask him to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), you should call OSS immediately, so that the Volunteer can be informed by a member of Peace Corps/Guinea staff.

2. Telephone Calls. The telephone system in Guinea is decent at best. Service in and out of Conakry to the United States can be unreliable. If communicating via email or by phone, please understand that the telephone lines and their connections can be, and are often down. Outside of Conakry, where most of the Volunteers are located, there are even fewer phones. Sometimes Volunteers plan to be in Conakry on a certain date to receive calls from home. This can sometimes work, but there are also innumerable factors that can make the best-laid plans fall apart. Please be aware that the Peace Corps staff in Conakry and Washington do not have the time to assist in arranging these calls. Your family member will be able to inform you of the actual telephone numbers once they arrive in country.

The Guinea Desk usually calls the Peace Corps office in Conakry once every two weeks. However, these calls are reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages over the phone. All communication between family members and the Volunteer can be done via telephone, email or international mail. You may be able to send a Western Union telegram to the Volunteer at the Peace Corps office in Conakry. If you have an urgent message, however, and have exhausted your other means, you can call the Desk, and the message will be relayed.

3. Sending packages. Parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to the high incidence of theft and heavy customs taxes. You may want to try to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail. Even though many Volunteers sometimes choose to get local post office boxes, you may always use the following address to send letters and/or packages to your family member:

John Doe, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 1927
Conakry, Guinea
West Africa

It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently. Custom fees can sometimes be up to $100. For lightweight but important items (e.g. airline tickets), DHL (an express mail service) does operate in Conakry. If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to the Country Director, c/o Corps de la Paix, Quartier Taouyah, Commune de Ratoma, BP 1927, Conakry, Guinea (the phone number for the Peace Corps office in Guinea is (224) 60-22-78-09 , as DHL will need this information). If you send the item to the Country Director, no liability can be assumed. For more information about DHL, please call their toll free number, 1-800-CALL-DHL, or visit their web site at www.dhl.com.

Sending airplane tickets via international mail is not recommended. Certain airlines will allow you to buy a pre-paid ticket in the States; they will telex their Guinea office to have the ticket ready. Unfortunately, this system is not always reliable.

Trying to send cash or checks is very risky and is discouraged. If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange receipt of it. Western Union seems to work well in countries where they are present. Some banks will also do electronic funds transfers.

An alternative option is to send packages or money or other important documents with a family member or other visitor traveling to Guinea. The GPS (see next section) is a good way to stay in contact with family members of current Guinea Volunteers.
4. Guinea Parent Support (GPS). In collaboration with the non-profit group, Friends of Guinea (http://www.friendsofguinea.org/) parents, family, and friends of Guinea PCVs can correspond with other PC family and friends, in groups by departure date, to share tips and support during this exciting yet stressful time. Each new group will have a parent mentor from a previous group to help guide them through the entire two years of service. You may send your email address(es) on the form provided in your Volunteer’s packet to become part of the group of family and friends whose PCVs will train in Guinea together. Or you may email your desire to become part of the secure listserv by sending your email address(es) and your PCV’s name and departure date via email to: gps@friendsofguinea.org .

We hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea. We understand how frustrating it is to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate your using this information as a guideline. Please feel free to contact us at the Guinea Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions. Our phone number is 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2326 or 2307, or locally, 202-692-2326/2307.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Brown, Country Desk Officer

Sunday, November 25, 2007

T minus 5.5 days and counting.

Less than a week to go... crazy to think.

I was telling someone last night that I hope our posts get a little more exciting once we get to Guinea, but not TOO exciting like some of the blogs we've read. (One person's blog included stories of getting robbed at machete point, getting malaria (again), and getting in various car accidents - all within a few weeks.) I'm up for adventure, but prefer to stay alive.

I'm sure we'll have our share of crazy stories though. So stay tuned!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

upcoming elections

"Guinea is full of people who are pitting one against the other to ensure that change never takes place."

from an article on upcoming Guinea elections