Monday, December 24, 2007

kids


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
the two little ones were petrified of us for a while. The one on the left, Aissata, would cry and scream when we would come near her. Then we gave her candy and popcorn and she became our friend :)

with a few of our new 'siblings'


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
they were FACINATED when I brought out the camera... Everyone wanted to have their picture taken.

Christmas in the City

Well, it definitely does not feel like Christmas, but I'm glad for a day of repose. I saw my first christmas tree of the season while driving into Conakry this afternoon on the roof of some random building. Very out of place and sad looking, but it made me smile : )

Thank you to all of you who have thought of us. We miss you all and hope you have a great Chrismas and happy new year!!

Also, we put up some pics on flickr. Our time is almost up on the computer, so we might not be able to link them all. Check em out if you have time.

SITE ANNOUNCEMENTS!

12/18/2007

Today we were told our sites. We met with our APCDs (basically our PC bosses for our training sectors –public health for me, Business for Dan) the week before so they could get to know us and find out our preferences for where we would be placed after training. Unfortunately for us, the process was more of a formality than a productive event. For married couples the equation is more complex and they already knew where they were going to place us since options are much more limited. As a result, they really couldn’t take our preferences in to play. Because of that, I had already heard through the grapevine where we were going to be placed before site announcements.

Initially I was pretty disappointed overall about our site selection. It is pretty much opposite of all the preferences I had given. I didn’t really care too much about some things, but it was still hard to have to give up on some of my ideals. I really wanted a small village. Instead, we’re placed in one of the biggest cities in the country. I really wanted to be placed in the Fouta (the mountainous region in the middle of the country). Instead, we’re in Bas Cote. I really wanted to work with a small community health post and be out in the community more. Instead, I’m going to be working at the DPS. (Equivalent of probably the county health department I would say…) I thought it would be awesome to be a first generation volunteer in the community. Instead I’m at least third. (ie- there have been at least 2 health volunteers at this post before me.) I said it would be great to ride a couple K to work every day on my bike. Instead, we live in the DPS compound where I will be working.

Now even though it sounds like I’m dogging on everything, I’m really OK with it all. It was just the initial disappointment of not getting ANY of my preferences. The great thing about the PC is that I can take my assignment and run with it in any direction. So, even though I will be living in a huge city, since I work with the DPS, I can ride out to all the smaller villages around and maybe adopt one of those as my own instead to base my projects. There are 2 agfo volunteers very close to us, so I can do some cross sector projects with them – like a demo garden right in the DPS compound (aka my yard). Fresh tomatoes and basil, anyone? And then there are side projects… I’m sure I’ll be able to find hundreds of things to interest me right in our town. Overall, there are definite benefits to being in a bigger town. It’s just not what I would have picked. Ask me in 2 years though, and I’ll probably tell you there is nowhere I would rather be!

Dec 20, 2007

We’ve been here in Guinea now for a little over 2 weeks now. The first few days in Conakry were just to get our feet wet before we were thrown headfirst into Real World, Guinea style. On the 8th we drove out to our training city, a couple hours outside of the capitol. Once we got here, we had an ceremony in which we were ‘adopted’ into a Guinean family. After the adoption, we ate with our new parents, found our luggage, and were whisked away to our new home. It was a pretty crazy day.

Our family: Our father is the Sous-Prefect of the neighboring village where the Agro-forestry volunteers are doing their training. It’s a pretty big position for around here. I would kind of equate it to the level of city mayor, only he was appointed. But there is a mayor too… just to confuse you. He’s pretty interesting to talk to, but we don’t see him much. He spends the week down in the other village and only comes home for the weekends. Whenever he comes home, he always brings gifts for everyone – candy, popcorn, little cakes, a chicken. I haven’t decided if he does it to show off his money or if he does it out of guilt for being absent all week. Either way, we all appreciate the gifts. (I especially appreciate the chicken… I can’t take too much more of the fish here.)

We’re still trying to figure out the rest of the family. The mother, Kadiatou, has 7 kids of her own, the oldest of which lives back in Conakry, but there are 11 kids who live here in our compound. Apparently one of Kadiatou’s brothers died and they took in a few of his kids. We don’t know the connection with the others, but they are apparently taken in out of generosity. Since our dad is well off, all the kids can go to school and they all have enough food to eat. The kids here range from 2 to 19. The family speaks Soussou, so we don’t know what’s going on half the time. We’ve only learned a handful of phrases. Only the older kids have learned French, and their level of fluency varies greatly. The oldest daughter (I think she’s one of the adopted ones) never learned French though. She doesn’t go to school. She stays at home and does all the cooking and cleaning and looking after the two little 2 year olds. That’s fairly typical here.

Life here is very different for us. I don’t know where to even start. We squat over a hole, carry all of our water in buckets from the neighbor’s well, bathe with a cold bucket of water (over the same hole we squat over), filter and bleach our drinking water, eat rice with fish sauce every night, walk miles every day, and sweat profusely. We do have electricity… occasionally… for a few hours at night (if we’re lucky). It still takes us a second to realize when the kids start cheering that they cheer because the electricity has come on. It typically comes between 6 and 8 in the evening, surges, cuts out for 10-20 minutes periodically, and occasionally does not come at all. Our family has a TV. They just put up a new antenna, so they get 12 stations now instead of just one. Very exciting. They told us they have a DVD player too, but we haven’t seen it.

Our bodies are adapting, but still getting used to it here. Not everyone is adapting too well though to the new life here. Group moral has hit a few slumps. Several people broke down once we got to our host homes. Feeling overwhelmed and tired on top of being sick is not a good combination. Two people have already thrown in the towel and Early Terminated (ETed). They’re already back home in the US. I just hope that will be all the ETs for training… I know that every one of us has had at least one moment of “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING HERE?!?!?” but our motivation and determination that got us here (or sheer pride) keeps us trudging along. Overall, training is just hard. Not the classes, but just adapting to a completely different world and way of living is extremely exhausting. I can’t wait until we get to our own sites with our own home and own schedule and can make our own food. I just want some degree of feeling settled and can make some choices for ourselves. For now, things are all scheduled for us. In some ways, that makes life pretty nice. In others, it is very very hard. We hang out with the other volunteers just to vent and veg. We hung out last night and sang Christmas songs while the Guineans looked on and laughed. Great therapy right there.

Quick Note

wow--it's strange to see a computer let alone have internet access. We're back in Conakry after only two weeks in Forecariah. Strange--it seems much longer than that. I feel much more "at home" in Guinea now, but it is still a trip to think I'm here in Africa.

Life is much slower because everything takes longer to do. We did our laundry for the first time last Sunday. We had three weeks worth of clothes and it took two girls three hours to wash them all on a washboard. We pretty much watched them the whole time, but we did attempt to help rinse and hang to dry. It literally would have broken my back had I tried to do it myself. I am just at awe at their physical strength.

There is much more to say, but alas, time is limited as many other volunteers would like to use this Christmas trip in Conakry to contact family and friends. I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. We love you all. Thank you for your thoughts, prayers and comments.

Friday, December 07, 2007

sunset over ocean


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
Sunset as viewed from the restaurant where we ate last night. pretty cool if you ask me. if you zoom in, you may be able to see all the people and kids who were yelling "fote" (white person) at us from accross the water. hah.

The PC house is also right on the water (outside of the compound of giant cement walls surrounding us which are topped by barbed wire...), but they told us in no uncertain terms to STAY OUT OF THE WATER. A bit dirty... but still looks amazing!

On the ground in Guinea!


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
Bonding time crammed into the PC van going to the PC house in Conakry. Excitement is shown here for first, actually having made it to GUINEA! (it took some of us a long long time to make it to this point in our lives, let alone the 27 hours of travel time.) and second, that ALL of our bags made it too!

Andrew and Neil in front, and Candee, Ciara, and Alison behind.

view from the plane


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
Our first view of our new home! This is Conakry, the capital where we are now. I took this so the people sitting in the middle of the plane could see our view vicariously. We had the window seat.

plane ride


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
This was on the final plane ride into Conakry from Dakar. The excitement was felt by all as exhibited here by Erich, Katy, and Allison. Caleb is being Caleb.

unloading at JFK


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
what a MASSIVE amount of bags! Wish we got a better picture to depict the sheer quantity of it all.

gettin on the bus


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
Loading the bus from Philly to JFK.

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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
this is what training is all about baby... human pyramids.
This was in Philly too.

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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
Dan during staging class in Philly

Eating Fish in Guinea


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
If you look closely you can see the fish heads. There were white things in its eyes--not sure what it was.

Mary at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia


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Originally uploaded by dan&mary
Just a picture of Mary while we were at "staging" in Philadelphia.

first thoughts

Well, today marks my third full day in Conakry and it also marks my third full day with the "Green Apple Quick Steps" as my fellow volunteer Jim calls it. I can't say that it has been too much fun being as sick as I am. I think everyone has this initiation process of getting sick—most of our group have the runs or are vomiting—if not, they have at least felt some stomach aches. It's definitely taken away the euphoria of being in Africa—but I still can’t believe I’m here.

I don't think anyone can imagine what it's like being in a country where you can't trust the food, the water, the bathrooms, the hands, etc. Anything and everything can get you sick. I must say that I was not expecting bad health to hit me so soon or so hard. I don't feel like eating much, but the food tastes good. The food is the same, but it tastes different. It's hard to explain. The beef, the chicken, the fish--it all tastes different in itself. One thing I learned is that you can't trust anything to be cleaned properly. Everything has the bones intact. I don't think you'll ever see chicken or beef that comes boneless. Not only did the fish have its bones, but the head and tail as well. Even rice has stones or hard shells in it.

About the only really familiar thing we’ve had was some Fanta orange soda—which is actually made with real sugar instead of corn syrup.

We’re unable to use the tap water for drinking or even brushing our teeth—right now we’re just using bottled water, but apparently we’ll have to start boiling it and filtering it on site.

The traffic situation is also unbelievable. There are no sidewalks, so there are people constantly jumping out of the way. The drivers are honking like crazy and flashing their lights at cars and pedestrians. There are so many people out walking around at all times of the day. There are little cars with loads strapped to the top of the roof that are bigger than the cars are.

Other than that we’ve just been going through the basic orientation for Peace Corps. We’re learning to speak Susu—and the classes are in French, which makes it interesting. All of the staff have been really helpful—some of them are Americans, but most are Guineans and a couple are from other countries.

We’ll be going to our host families tomorrow, so it may be awhile before we have access to internet again—hopefully less than a month. We’ll all be in the capital for Christmas apparently.

other blogs/pictures to check out

Well, if you have time and want more than our sparse posts can provide, check out some of the other volunteer's blogs. Go to peacecorpsjournals.com and choose Guinea. (Or just click HERE)Most of the ones at the top of the list, dated Nov 2007, are from our stage (aka the group of people we left the country with). Their journals might give you an idea of what we're all going through right now and some people may be able to give updates a little more often than others.

Today the majority of our group is feeling pretty sick. Nothing to worry about much, just stomach/food issues they say are 'normal' for integration. hah. We went out to eat last night at a pretty nice restaurant, and a lot of people think it was food poisoning from what we ate. I just hope that we get it out of the way now, and will be back up to speed by the end of the week.

Don't get spoiled by the frequency of posts this first week... this is not going to be typical. We're just updating while we can! As I mentioned before, we will be going off to our training site tomorrow, which means no internet til probably Christmas.

Until then, think of us! Write us letters. Comment on our wonderful posts.

And if we don't talk to you before then, Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dan & Mary and Peace Corp Group Arrive in Guinea


Here is a group picture of everyone in our stage. PC calls us G15. (Guinea group 15... best there is, baby!) For those of you who have already forgotten who we are and what we look like, we're in the lower right hand corner.

Day One

Well, we officially survived our first 24 hours in Guinea. We arrived yesterday a little after 6pm GMT and slid through customs with the aid of the Peace Corps people who greeted us.

Chaos. Thats the first word I would use to describe our experience. Lots of people and chaos. (The lack of sleep and 27 straight hours of travel for the large pack of disoriented americans didn't help the situation at all.) But, we amazingly enough found all of our bags and drove to the PC house. The drive was interesting... our first glimpse into the life we're about to start. People. Everywhere. In packs, walking down the street, jumping between cars, piled into cars... everywhere. We were told it was still kind of Conakry's 'rush hour,' but apparently its pretty packed most of the time. I'm interested to see the streets again during daylight hours. We only saw it lit by headlights of all cars and scattered kerosene lanterns.

So far we haven't really ventured out of the PC compound gates much. Just classes and, yes, more shots. We head to our official training site on Saturday for our "adoption ceremony." That's when we'll meet our host family where we'll stay for about 9 weeks of training.

Stomaches are trying to keep up with it all. Yuck.
But thank you for all of your warm wishes! We'll try to post again before we head off to training, but time is limited. It's doubtful that we will be able to post for a while once there...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Stage complete!

We're currently sitting here in Philadelphia. We just completed our 'stage' (aka pre-service orientation) before we fly out tomorrow for Guinea. It was pretty interesting actually -- beginning to get to know all the other volunteers and getting a taste of PC -- but nothing concrete in the ways of Guinea much or practical day-to-day stuff. We stuck to overviews of policies, safety issues, integrating and adapting, logistics of actually getting there, and of course some unavoidable getting-to-know-you games. Once we arrive, we'll have 9 weeks of intensive training to get us up to speed on language and whatever the heck we'll be doing.

Stats: there are 37 of us altogether heading out. 13 guys, 24 girls. There are 15 volunteers currently in Guinea. One other married couple. Average age is 26 they say. I think only 2 people are over 30. Youngest I believe is 22. Pretty interesting and fun group overall. It takes an interesting person I guess to want to jump into this!

Tomorrow we head out bright and early to get shots... lots and lots of shots... then we pile onto a bus to JFK. We fly out tomorrow night and arrive in Guinea Tuesday night after way too much time in buses/airports/planes (about 27 hours altogether, if all goes smoothly) Cross your fingers for us that we wont get snowed into New York and that all of our bags arrive in Guinea with us!!

Sorry for the lack of exciting posts. I will try to get to some better posts beyond just reporting at some point. For now we are just extremely exhausted. We stayed up all night on Friday getting packed to fly out early Saturday. To top it off, Dan is fighting off the remnants of a cold. Great start... come to a third-world country already sick. Wonderful.

Overall though things are great. We just wanted to post a little something before we leave since we have no idea when the next time we can post will be. We'll try our best to keep everyone updated though!