Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prime Minister surrenders

The Prime Minister has surrendered to the military coup.

Yahoo article

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Dakar!

Walking down the street the other day here in Dakar I saw a Senegalese man dressed in a Santa costume outside of a store. We greeted each other with the Islamic salutation. (greeting: as-Salâm Alaikum -"God’s Peace be upon you" response: wa-laikum as-Salâm "and God’s Peace be upon you." It's the average 'hey, hows it going' type of thing when you talk to or even pass anyone here.) It seemed a little ironic, but I guess the sentiment is the same for any religion, right? But nothing says Merry Christmas better than a Muslim dressed up like Santa! I just love the eye brows.

Anyway, things are good here, even though Dan is in Conakry experiencing a merry military Christmas coup and I'm stuck in Senegal by myself. I came to Senegal about two weeks ago to have some dental stuff fixed and got stuck here due to the military coup. With luck, hopefully I'll be able to return to Guinea next week. But we're safe and well taken care of. I was adopted by the regional doctor's family for a couple of days and had a good traditional Christmas with a tree, turkey, and even presents! They call me their little orphaned war child. :) Everyone has been so great and thoughtful here that I really have no cause to complain. We're making the best of a non-ideal situation.

Anyway, we miss and love you all and wish you the best for the holidays. Take care and have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Today's news update

Here's your news summary for the day:

Early yesterday representatives from the military announced that they have seized power and are in control. In the afternoon, the prime minister and president of the assembly said that they are still in control and the government is still functioning as it should (Hmm... as it should? What does that really mean?) Statements were given that indicated that the military was divided in its allegiance: some for the government, some for a coup. The government officials plead for support (both citizen and international) in not recognizing the "coup-mongers." The coup leaders responded by making another statement that said they ARE in control and that they have organized a council who will run the country until elections are held in December 2010. (They originally said elections would be held within 2 months. Right... but I guess 2 years is close enough.)

Coup leaders appointed this relatively nobody, a junior army officer, Captain Moussa Camara, as the interim president until they do have the elections. He was paraded through the streets this afternoon to the presidential palace with reportedly thousands of cheering onlookers. Coup leaders also claimed that the government is trying to use mercenaries to quelch the coup. The Prime Ministers response (given from 'a safe location'): "that's idiotic." They said it just shows how desperate the coup leaders are to make such a claim.

Confused yet? Yeah...

For those wanting more, here is a sampling of news for your reading pleasure, mostly from the BBC:
Q&A: Guinea's power crisis - a break down summary of what's going on.
Full text: Guinea military statement - what the military said after the announcement of Conte's death - very aimed at appealing to the general population
Guinea plea to end attempted coup - the president of the assembly's response to the apparent military overthrow
Guinea coup leader parades through capital
- an AP article about the appointment of Moussa Camara
Guinea coup 'was predicted' - for those of you who would prefer to listen rather than read, a BBC radio story
Peace Corps Press Release - they say we're all ok and accounted for. yay!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

President Lansana Conté is Dead

(I think the dove is a great touch, no?)

President Conte died last night. A few hours after the announcement, a military captain declared that they were disolving the government and suspending the constitution and all political actions. According to the constitution, the president of the assembly is supposed to take power after the presidents death and organize an election within the next 60 days. But apparently that is not what the military has in mind. Instead, they say they are organizing a consultation council to work things out. They also declared that the state is in morning for the next 40 days.
For a good article about it all, the BBC has one here: Military 'seizes power' in Guinea

As some of you know, I am back in Senegal for more dental work. (another wonderfully long story) My flight back to Conakry was scheduled for this afternoon, but our Country Director (the guy in charge of Peace Corps Guinea) doesn't want me flying back until things are clear and calm. So don't worry. Peace Corps will always take good care of us.

If you want to read up a bit on this guy's life, wikipedia has a good synopsis. If you scroll to the bottom, they even already updated it with this new info about his death. Wikipedia: Lansana Conté
Other news sites that may be of interest if you want to do more reading:
Le chaos et le déluge de l’après Conté. (in french... but check it out, just for the picture...)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

money matters

To state the obvious: Being white in this country makes you stand out. The stereotyping that goes along with it is sometimes very hard to deal with as a volunteer. Everyone assumes we're rich and we should help them out. Yes, even though we make next to nothing by all American standards, we're very much the upper class here with what we get paid. And everyone knows it and everyone thinks we can and should help them. We pass kids in the street and the first thing they do is ask for money. "Foté, donnes-moi cinq cent." (translation: "Whitey, give me 500.") Adults aren't much better. Luckily, as we've gotten to know people around town, we face this less often, but since we're in a big town and will never know everyone, we'll never escape it completely. But in a country where everyone is poor, everyone is in need, and everyone has a heart-wrenching story to tell, it often becomes paralyzing. What becomes even harder on us is that, as far as ex-pats in this country go, we are a completely different breed. We get paid very little and we get paid in Guinean Francs (instead of dollars or euros). We live only with bare necessities - without running water, air conditioning, or reliable electricity. We walk everywhere on foot or pile into multi-passenger taxis with Guineans instead of being driven around in a nice SUV by a chauffeur. We buy local food for ourselves in the local market from the local women in the local language. We try to be a part of the community and live like they do.

A few weeks ago in town, a nice SUV stopped at the corner. A beggar came up to ask for money from the white man in the car. The man gave him 10000GF, which is about as much as an average health worker would make in a day or two to three times as much as a laborer would make, but was only $2 to the man. What happened though was everyone started coming up to beg. The man as a result just started handing out 10000GF to anyone who came up. This is what makes our job here so hard. That's a standard we could never live up to, nor would want to. That's not why we're here. Yes, obviously we want to help people. That's why we joined the Peace Corps. We just have a different way to do it. The whole "give a man" vs "teach a man to fish" thing... It's just hard and frustrating sometimes trying to explain that difference to the people we work with.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Baptism and marriage all in one day

Dan's counterpart, Madame Conde, got married this month. It came as a surprise not only to us, but to her as well. She was friends with a French man who works with one of the mining companies. He expressed that he wanted to find a wife. Yama, our regional coordinator and mutual friend to both of them, suggested for him to convert to Islam and marry Dan's counterpart and to go ahead and do it as soon as possible. So the following Friday after the 2:00pm prayer, he was baptized a Muslim and at 5:00 they got married. Random. Very random. But very interesting to take part in.

This is Yama, our regional coordinator. She is pretty awesome.

Me at the mosque. Women have to cover their heads when at the mosque.

Dan in his boubou. Guys aren't obligated to cover their heads.

This is Sylla, one of the Imams at the Mosque. He's a great guy and one of our very few neighbors.

At the marriage ceremony which took place at Mme Conde's house.

Us looking on.

The happy couple after the marriage.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Journalism Workshop

Dan and I had the chance of participating in a journalism workshop that was sponsored by the big mining company in Kamsar. They flew in a TV news anchor from France to work with the local radio journalists in our region. It was pretty interesting. There are several journalists in our town who are really eager to start a local private radio station. This is a project Dan really wants to help out with. There are no news sources available here that are open for free speech. There is 'radio rural' which is a local radio branch owned and operated by the government, and the mining company radio station which reaches us, but that does not allow any political content or touchy subjects to be aired. The only TV stations that are picked up are from Conakry and even then, very few people own televisions. The people here rely on gossip as a result, which is quite hard on social progress.

The workshop was held over 5 days, but Dan and I only attended the last 3 because we didn't find out about it in time. (Again, most of our information comes from the grape vine.) The mining company ended up putting us up at their hotel in Kamsar (which was an amazing treat for us) because we're not allowed to travel at night and the conference lasted until late in the evenings. I felt a little bad getting treated like someone important and getting a free ride, but we really appreciated the opportunity and I think the mining company was eager to network and increase its PR.

This is a shot of us with some of the people who were at the workshop. None of these people are from our town, so I don't know any of them, but I'm posting it for two reasons: 1) We have very few pictures with both us together, so I thought it should be shared. 2) To point out the absurd amount of pictures we end up in with people we don't know because everyone loves to have their picture taken at any chance and everyone loves to have their picture taken with the white people.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

soccer tourney

The drama club we work with sponsored a soccer tournament over the end of October/beginning of November. Their main theme and objective was to encourage people, especially youth, to register to vote. They focused on this in light of the parliamentary elections that are supposed to take place next month. They wanted people to understand the importance of voting and that if they want change, they need to start by registering. The finale of the tournament was great with a huge turn out. Guineans love their soccer.

This is us with a part of the drama club who were at the final game. The director of the club, Moussa Camara, is standing behind me. The girls are dressed pretty scandelously for Guinean standards, but it was fine since this was an 'event' and they were the 'hostesses.'

This is the pomp before the game of meeting the officials/persons of note in attendance and the ever important picture taking.

On a hike

After being here in our community for over half a year, we realized that we still knew little about it. We always stuck to the same roads and saw the same things. We decided that it would be good to do more exploring on a regular basis. On this particular day, we were trying to find if there was a closer access to the river from our house. We usually go down to the stream behind our house to swim or do laundry, but this day wanted to go to the big river.

We were going to ask a friend to guide us, but decided to make our own discovery. After about an hour and a half of wandering, we finally got to the river, but realize that it was most definitely not the closest access which was our quest that day. It was a great hike though and pretty fun to get away from the city like that. We were exhausted by the time we got home.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope all of you were able to enjoy Thanksgiving. We were able to spend it in Conakry with a big group of other volunteers. It was a great day full of friends and far too much food - turkey, pumpkin pie, and just about every other dish one could want - just the way it was meant to be.
I hope you've liked all our new blog entries too. I wrote a bunch over this past month and scheduled them all to post over the last and next week. So be on the lookout for more to come. Hope they don't bore you too much.
The holiday season is a little different on this side of the ocean.... no rushing to the local market for after thanksgiving sales, no Christmas songs and decorations, no change in season or snow... It just feels a little different when you're dripping with sweat as opposed to bundling up in sweaters and scarves. But we're thinking of all of you, our friends and families back home, and wishing you the best for this holiday season. Don't let the stresses of the season get to you. Just remember to be thankful for what you have and those you love.
Happy thanksgiving! :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

pumpkin carving guinean style

My favorite part about Halloween is carving pumpkins. I tried to grow some pumpkins for this very reason, but the vines never fruited. Fortunately squash is in abundance this time of year, so I bought one that resembled a pumpkin and went at it. I wanted to carve something more detailed, but the squash was going to be lunch and dinner, so I had to hurry. We turned it into squash soup and pumpkin peanut butter brownies the first day, put it into thai peanut curry and pumpkin pie the next day and still had two big pieces that we gave away to neighbors. It was pretty dang good. The thought of carving it and not eating it would have been a ridiculous waste in this country.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

troubled water

We gave up long ago carrying our own water from the pump. There's only one pump in our neighborhood, but we're lucky enough to live just one compound away. Even so, we pay a student to fetch it for us because we lose enough of our time as is just trying to survive and work here that we don't want to spend more of it waiting in line at the water pump. Besides that, you try pumping water from a foot pump, carrying 20 liters of it about a block and repeat that twice a day, every single day. It was a little easier to buy a 50 gallon barrel and pay someone to come fill it for us every week.

The student we had was gone for summer vacation though, so we had to find an alternate water boy. We ended up asking Fasine, the guard here, to help us until school started again. Unfortunately, some of the water jugs he used to get us water were not really clean. One particular time we ended up with hundreds of tiny little worms in our barrel. The water that comes out of the pump is actually very clean, but when you put clean water into dirty jugs, it kind of defeats the purpose. Anyway, we had the brilliant idea of trying to kill them all by boiling a bunch of kettles of water and pouring it into the barrel. After about 2 we realized how silly it was to try to heat the 50 gallons to any level that would make that kind of difference... So we dumped in a ton of bleach and they were all dead by the next day.

We told Fasine he should try to clean out his water jugs, not just for our sake, but for his family's health. They used the same dirty jugs for all their drinking, cooking, and bathing water. The next time he got our water, it was especially clean. I hope he understands that it's better for him too that way...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

finger lickin good

This was our first attempt at cooking chicken at home. (yeah... we put it off quite a while...) We had Fasine kill it for us while Dan watched and took note so he can do it himself next time. (It's not culturally acceptable for a woman to kill anything... darn.) Then we had one of his wives clean it for us. Here I am with the final product ready for cooking. Oh, how I miss frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts from grocery stores.

We breaded and fried the legs and wings and cut all the meat off the rest of him and made popcorn chicken bites. We had a bottle of KC Masterpiece that we got on sale in Kamsar (such a treat!) and feasted. The process took up a huge part of the day, but it was delicious. Still, I won't mind waiting a while before we attempt it again.

Monday, November 24, 2008

rain rain go away

Rainy season is pretty much over now. We were surprised with the sudden change from wet to dry, having expected a gradual slacking off rather than a sudden break.

Rainy season was nice because it brought much cooler weather. Unfortunately, it also brought a lot of humidity. All the humidity helped bring these mushrooms into our living room. Along with mold. Lots and lots of mold. We were gone for about three weeks in a row during the month of August (peak rainy season) and came back to find everything in our house was covered in mold -- pillows, sheets, clothes, furniture, shoes... everything. It was quite disgusting.

Now we have the dust of dry season to look forward to. At least our laundry dries in a single day in the sun again rather than hanging on a line on our porch for days. Even then, nothing really ever felt dry.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the accidental garden

So, the garden I planted has not been very fruitful. We've gotten a couple handfuls of green beans, cherry tomatoes, basil, dill, and a few pathetic green peppers. The zucchini, squash and pumpkins grew like crazy, but never fruited. There are still some squash vines going strong, but no squash. It's a little disheartening. I intentionally only planted a few plants of each kind of veggie since I didn't know what would be able to survive here, but I was most looking forward to the zucchini and pumpkins. So I was a little sad that none of them bore fruit.

Ironically enough though, I have an amazing accidental garden. Dan and I throw all our kitchen scraps into a compost pile in the corner of the yard. It started as just a shallow hole where we throw all our food trash. It really isn't a good compost pile though, since we don't care for it, turn it, or anything. Things just get thrown in the corner and chickens, dogs, kids, sheep, etc. pick through it and the rest decomposes. Well, it has been my most successful garden spot. All of our mango pits sprouted (there were at least 40 of them... probably more) along with a couple avocado pits, ginger root, tons of tomato seedlings, and a hot pepper plant. I didn't realize that things were growing until I stopped one day to look at it. I transplanted all the tomato seedlings into another bed and thinned the mango and avocado trees to two each. I left the ginger and it's doing awesome. It was after our last trip to Conakry that I noticed the hot pepper plant. I was going to pull it up because I didn't realize what it was, but then noticed the 10 or so peppers hanging from it. I am so impressed, but at the same time a little discouraged that my accidental garden did so much better than my intentional garden.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

50 years of independence

I thought I already posted this, but I guess I never did. Guinea just celebrated 50 years of independence. Here's a couple interesting articles about the history and some of the sentiment around the country today.

BBCs article:

(much shorter version with audio)

a different perspective:

and one about the new corruption ranking: (we're down 5 spots. thats not a good thing, in case you were wondering...)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Needless to say, a white person sticks out like a sore thumb in Guinea, so you can kiss your privacy goodbye. It took a little while, but it's finally gotten to me. Lately, we've had the pleasure of being watched by three neighbor kids. They literally stand at our front door and stare at us.

I guess what is even more strange is that we actually allowed them to do this for a couple of weeks. We thought that they would get sick of watching us do our daily routine, but alas. Finally, we chased them away.

Unfortunately, in allowing these kids to take over our front porch we got all of our basil and cilantro ripped out of our planting box. We got our porch light knocked dead by jump ropes. We got our wall paint scratched off and our wall drawn on by charcoal. The neighbor toddler also relieved himself on the porch several times since they don't have diapers here. Sometimes you wouldn't know if you were walking in water puddle or something else. The screen door also suffered by them hanging on it and "accidentally" pushing it open from time to time. Looking back, it's amazing that we were so tolerant through the whole ordeal.

Adults like to look into our house as well while they pass by. This wouldn't be so bad if we lived in a "quiet neighborhood," but it so happens that we live on public property. We live in front of a public health building, so crowds of people pass our house--especially when there are conferences. Occasionally, strangers come up to our door and ask us health-related questions.
Our life is visible to all those who care to look. So, coming from shut-in America, it's hard living in a fishbowl with very little opportunity to escape. I'm hoping that putting up a bamboo privacy fence will help relieve the stress--we'll see.

Friday, October 31, 2008

My Guitar

For the first time in my life I have my very own acoustic guitar.

In 9th grade, I bought a vintage electric guitar from a garage sale. The guitar and amp cost me $40 and the guitar had pickups that looked like CO-2 cartridges. The guitar didn't work that great, so I took it to a guitar store for repairs and a guy talked me into doing a straight trade for a $240 electric guitar off the rack.

After ten years of playing that Honda guitar, I sold it as I didn't have time to play it during college. Then, a few years later I ended up borrowing an acoustic guitar from a friend who would be gone for a couple of years. Then I came to Africa and lost hope of any chance of getting a guitar.

I looked around Conakry, but guitars are not in huge demand around here. There were plenty of people interested in selling me the traditional African instruments, but everyone kept saying I would have to go to Bamako, Mali to find a decent guitar.

It turned out that my wife had to get a root canal and went to Dakar. My first thought was that she might be able to score me a guitar while she's laid up in pain in Senegal. She went to the safe and took out our American dollar savings just in case, though I had little hope of her finding one and even doubted if she would feel up to it.

Well, it turns out she spent a couple of weeks there as she explained earlier in this blog. She had a heck of a time searching out a place that had decent guitars, but a fellow volunteer from Senegal guided her to the right place. I'll have to let her tell the story, but to make a long story short she got a guitar for about $125.

I was partially excited and partially worried because the guitar might not be what I was expecting--especially since it was "Made in China." She told me that none of the guys at the shop knew how to play the guitar so she couldn't verify that it sounded good.

Mary flew home and I nervously cut the box open. But one glance and I knew it was perfect. The best part--it's lined with winged bats.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

african dancing

Mary recorded these neighbor girls going crazy--it became a competition.

Goodbye, Candles

Life is just better with electricity--even if it is just from 7pm to 7am. We no longer have to walk 45 minutes to charge our cellphones and computer. We no longer have to lie in our sweat-soaked bed sheets because of our nifty new fan. Our electric burner only has two settings--plugged in or not plugged in. But it gets the job done--hot water for a warm bucket bath or popping popcorn.

I used to feel that Guineans had their priorities mixed up when they desired electricity over running water. But now I see that electricity is much more practical. It's still painful to think of all the man-hours wasted on transporting water, but I really don't mind having to haul my own water around the house. I guess I've just gotten used to it.

It's a lot harder to get used to living in the dark. Having light alone has made life so much easier.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

new pics

Its been a while since I've posted some new pictures, so you're getting a bunch today. Just a random sampling of life over the last few months.

We went to a party at the start of summer vacation with the kids from the Drama club we do work with. There are about 25 students between the ages of about 16-22. They're some fun kids. The father of the house where they had the party was actually someone who I work with at the DPS. They fed everyone some amazing food and we had a great time.

These are 3 of the drama club kids that we took with us to workshops in August. We Want to do more work with the club, so wanted them to be a part of our trainings, etc. We held a 'malaria poetry' contest to decide who we would take... It didn't quite turn out as we had pictured, but it was still fun to work with them on it.

More dancing with the club members

Some boys from our neighborhood. Pretty cute little devious smiles...

The guard at our compound, Fassine, and his two wives - both named MaBinti. The two girls are the skinny Mabinti's sisters. Kadiatou (the small one on the right) lives with them. The other, Mariam, was just visiting for a few weeks over vacation. Skinny Mabinti has a son named Mouctar, but they didn't want to wake him up for the picture.
This was them all dressed up for the end of Ramadan celebration. Everyone gets new clothes and goes to visit all their neighbors to show off for the occasion.
We named the bird Charlie. He likes going exploring in our house. This was him on one of our shelves. He stayed in this position for quite a while actually. The look he was giving me pretty much said "What? Do you have a problem with that?"

Charlie checking out his new cage. We had a guy in town make it for us. For the cage, screening, and table to put it on, we payed about 75,000GF, which is about $15. Yes, thats nothing back home, but I felt pretty guilty spending that much (which is quite a bit to a Guinean) on something seemingly so frivolous in a third world country...

Back before we got electricity. Candles actually made the house look pretty cool, but I appreciate lightbulbs now :)

It's so funny how different our house looks at night now compared to then... It really surprised me and took a long time to get used to.
Fishing boats in a little village on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. I was told that this is the farthest West point on the African Continent.

The pelicans they have trained to help them fish in this village.

One day while in Dakar I decided to go walk to the top of this lighthouse. (I was going stir crazy at the Peace Corps office...) It was a beautiful walk.
The view from the trek to the top of the hill to see the lighthouse. It was perfect. Unfortunately it got overcast by the time I got to the top of the lighthouse, so I didn't get many good pics or views from the top...

One view from the lighthouse in Dakar. What you see is the farthest west point on the African continent that I was at the day before. The PC office is near there and I walked pretty much from that point all the way to the top of the lighthouse. It didn't look that far when you drove past it in a car, but it took a hours to get there on foot and back. It was fun and I'm glad I did it, but the heat and humidity kicked my butt so I was pretty dead by the time I got back.

The guy who showed me around the lighthouse. He was pretty funny. He was showing me the lightbulb they used to use (the big one) vs the new little one which sends off even more light a further distance. As he was telling me about them, he said "you can get out your camera and take a picture." So I did.
One day I went to one of the islands off the coast of Dakar. It was gorgeous as well. It was an island they used for slave trading, so there was a lot of interesting history and sites. They keep it really nice and clean because they rely on tourism as their way of life there. This is something Guinea hasn't picked up on...

The art people make here is just fantastic. These were mixed fabric scraps made into awesome wall hangings. I'm kicking myself for not buying one.
The souvenier I brought back for Dan from Senegal. (I also counted this as his birthday present...) He has wanted a guitar ever since we got to Guinea, but they're impossible to find here. I think this *almost* makes up for me getting a trip to Dakar without him... You can't tell in this picture, but he was so excited.

Dan and I made pickles - cucumbers and hot peppers. I don't like pickles, so they're mainly for Dan and any Guinean he can convince to try them. Some he said turned out awesome. Others... need a little improvement...
A five legged green spider that was in our bedroom... weird.

I might have already posted this, but couldn't remember. In case you were wondering what the money looked like, here you go. The currency here is the Guinean Franc and it is devaluing continually. The bill in the upper left corner is 5,000GNF, which is roughly one dollar. This can get you a kilo of dried rice, a good bowl of rice and sauce with meat in town, or it's what you might pay someone to do a weeks worth of laundry. I tried to take a picture on one 'cleaner' bill and one typical bill for each of the denominations. The newer bills they print (the clean ones) are a tad smaller than the older ones. There are coins, but very very very few people use them anymore because they're pretty much worthless now. There is a new 10,000GF bill too, but I didn't get a picture of it.

At the start of the rainy season, there were THOUSANDS of these tiny guys everywhere.

Pigs eating trash in our town. We were surprised to see any since the population is pretty much all Muslims who don't eat pork.

I like taking pictures of Charlie... :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Obama-ites

Guinea is obsessed with Obama. The Guineans constantly tell me to vote for Obama, and when I ask why, they laugh as if that is the dumbest question in the world. If any Guinean were to find out that you weren't for Obama, you would probably be hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor.

It just amazes me how the mass media alters the mindset of the masses. They all have the exact same opinion because they all listen to the same radio station and watch the same television programs (when there's electricity). I feel there needs to be more private radio stations and news programs that offer different points of view. But I digress.

The point of this blog is to declare that I have done my citizenly duty and marked my vote on a write-in absentee ballot. Unfortunately, my vote doesn't really count unless it's a close call, as absentee ballots are ignored until a crucial tie-breaker is needed. Everyone here in the Peace Corps office thinks it'll be a landslide victory for Obama, but sources at home tell me McCain is slated to win. So, who knows?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Against Malaria Script Competition

I can't even remember the last time I updated our blog--I guess I could look in the archives. In any case, I figured I couldn't leave my wife to do all of the work--equally yoked or something like that.

Anyways, and sponsored a competition where people could use the Celtx screenwriting software to write an inspiring promo for Against Malaria. The winner would receive a $1000 honorarium to produce their little spot for Against Malaria and would get to choose the country where 5,000 treated mosquito nets would be distributed.

Well, I submitted a silly little "Against Malaria" promo script to the competition and actually thought I might win since there were so few entries. But, alas, I didn't win but I did get a SWAG pack (1 GB USB Drive and a Celtx Jacket). The script is nothing too exciting, but I felt good that I actually participated and tried to be creative.

If you want to, you can read my script at the following:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I had a toothache... now I'm in Senegal.

I finally got to do a little more exploring of this continent, even though it wasn't planned.

We have great doctors here in the Peace Corps. They take your health and safety very seriously. I was having a toothache and was taken to visit a dentist in Conakry. He recommended a root canal, but Peace Corps did not authorize him to do it. (They have pretty high standards as far as what they allow done, who does it, and at what quality.) The closest dentist who was authorized to do it is here in Dakar, Senegal. So, I had to get on a plane and leave one developing nation to go to another developing nation to get it done.

I opted to have it taken care of ASAP because right now is Ramadan. Why does that matter, you ask? Well, Guinea has a predominant Muslim population and Ramadan entails (among many other things) a month of fasting. Fasting for them means they won't eat from the first call to prayer at about 5:00am until the call to prayer at about 7:00pm. This includes no water. Many people won't even swallow their saliva and spit frequently as result. Since it is pretty hot and living here requires quite a bit of manual labor, people get very tired and not much of anything can get done. So, in answer: I figured since I wouldn't be able to accomplish much work at site this month, I'd go ahead and get my tooth taken care of now.

I've been here in Dakar about 2 weeks and fly back tomorrow morning. The procedure itself went very smoothly. The dentist was amazing and I survived with only some minor discomfort. Getting a trip to Dakar out of the deal may sound cool, but was kind of a pain. I had to come by myself (w/o Dan - I've been away from him for almost 3 full weeks now!) and have had the annoyance of 9 dentist appointments. (Try scheduling in a root canal during your next vacation...) Add on to that limited money, extremely hot afternoons, the fact that they observe Ramadan here as well, and you get alot of down time to kill. But it has been fun trying to play tourist a little bit and interesting to see a new country. It definitely gave me a new perspective on West African life. I'm beyond ready to get 'home' though to Guinea.

I'll try to post some pictures of Dakar when I get back.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some Guinean news

We made the BBC news.

The mayor, governer, and police chief of our town were busted for cocaine trafficking last week. You can read the story here:

Guinea drugs bust nets officials

Cocaine (File pic)

The governor, mayor and top police officials of a town in Guinea have been arrested in a drugs raid.
The officials from the northern town of Boke were taken to the capital, Conakry, for questioning.
An aircraft allegedly carrying a large quantity of cocaine mysteriously landed and took off early on Thursday in Boke.
The UN says Latin American drugs cartels are using West Africa as a transit point to smuggle huge quantities of cocaine to Europe.
The BBC's Alhassan Sillah in Conakry says the plane landed at Boke airport at 0400 local time on Thursday.
It was suspected to have come from neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, which observers warn is in danger of becoming a "narco-state".
In a separate raid on the same day, Conakry police and soldiers swooped on a truck, allegedly loaded with cocaine and cannabis.
Our reporter says the quantities of drugs seized have not been revealed.
The UN estimates that at least 50 tonnes of cocaine are shipped through the West African region every year. Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/09/05 09:14:29 GMT

Friday, August 29, 2008

catching up a bit

I forgot I wrote a couple of blogs last month that I never posted. Whoops. You get them today instead. Things have been crazy this month with conference after conference after conference, followed by a visit to Conakry and the dentist (yikes!), meeting the new volunteers, and now finally back home with always something going on. Somewhere in there August happened.

In other Guinea news:

-We found out yesterday that my counterpart, Dr. Pepe is being transferred and promoted to Regional Director of Health in another area of the country. He found out by watching the news like everyone else Wednesday night. Surprise! It'll be sad to see him go - he is an awesome guy to work with - but we're all happy for him. The director that will be replacing him was actually in the position before. Dr. Pepe was here for 7 years, the new lady was here the 5 years prior to that. I'm hoping that will help to ease the transition.

-The public health workers of Guinea had a strike earlier this month. They put forth a list of grievances and stopped working for a few days. They made a compromise and started working again, but if an agreement is not signed by the 31st (Sunday night), they will strike again starting Monday. That would mean all of the hospitals, health centers, health posts, prefectoral and regional offices, etc. would all shut down for who knows how long. eek. For now, we just wait.

-Ramadan starts next week as well. I don't think I'm up for a hard-core month of fasting. Some volunteers go for it, but I’m proud to be Christian. We have plenty of our own observances. I’ll just have to remember not to eat in front of Guineans…

Let there be light!

July 18, 2008

After 5 months of living here at our site, it finally happened: we have electricity. This is something that we have been wanting since we discovered the city where were be living. The previous volunteer who lived here had spoken to the electrician and had it priced, but since she was leaving so soon, she didn't want to put the money into it herself. (Unfortunately, we ended up paying almost 4 times the price she was given... but that's a different, very long story, which includes having to pay off the health department’s electrical debt… gotta love it.)

As soon as we moved in, we started looking into having our house hooked up, but we hit some road blocks. Wait, we were told, until it's a little more stable. Apparently at that time the power was so unstable that it only came once every few days and would cut out frequently even when it was on. This really didn't bother us though since it was better than the nothing we had, but it meant that no one was willing to help us go to the trouble.

About a month ago, our neighbors were finally saying that it was pretty much stable now - coming nearly every night at regular intervals. We talked to my counterpart and he agreed to help us get it hooked up. Three weeks (and yet another different, long story) later, we decided to go ahead and at least get the wiring installed in our house on our own while waiting to get hooked up to the line.

Side note: appreciate fixed prices.

I could probably write quite a long essay on the process we went through to finally get that accomplished, but the bottom line is that the stars aligned and we got it done. As of today (this was written July 18th), we have electricity with working light bulbs and outlets. Now I am just like a Guinean kid when the power comes on in our neighborhood: I cheer out loud.


Added notes:

In theory we should have electricity every night between 7:00pm and 7:00am. Reality is that it will come on *most* nights sometime around 8:00pm (a little earlier if we're lucky), go off two of three times throughout the evening for 10 to 20 minute periods, and be pretty stable from 11:00pm to 7:00am. There are of course the occasional nights where we don't get any at all and that one memorable night when it came on almost exactly at 7:00pm and stayed on all night. Whatever the case though, we are thrilled to have power whenever we get it and would go through the same crazy process all over again to get it.

Monthly bill: a flat rate of about $6. (That may not seem like much, but that's about 12% of a Guinean teacher's or an average health worker's monthly salary... ouch.)

In the first week and a half that we had electricity, we blew 3 light bulbs. Some nights it was a little too strong and made the light bulbs explode. On those nights we just turned everything off, unplugged anything we were charging, and hoped it would be better the next night. We called the electric guy to see if there was anything he could do to fix it, but then we left town for three weeks. It looks like he might have fixed it though, because in the week and a half we’ve been back, no exploding light bulbs. Definitely an improvement.

The way things are done

July 20, 2008

Just to give you an idea of how things are done in this country:
A carpenter will show up at your house to install something and ask to use your pliers and screwdriver. A plumber will show up without any tools or equipment and ask why you don't have a plunger. An electrician will show up and ask if you have the spikes he needs for his shoes to climb the electric pole. The vitamin A campaign at the health center was stalled for a couple of days here in our town because they weren't given scissors to cut open the capsules and of course they didn't have any of their own.

Unless you've actually been somewhere like Guinea before, you really have no idea how vastly different the constant flow of life really is compared to what you are accustomed.

"Wow! Look at how fat you're getting!"


"Oh.... you're getting so fat! That's wonderful! Look at that butt - so pretty." These are the type of 'compliments' I've been getting lately. They mean well, really, but ouch. I grew up surrounded by the American culture where gaining weight is not seen as becoming prettier and where you would never pat a woman's stomach or butt and smile and nod about how big it is getting -- unless she was pregnant.

Now, I'm OK with putting on a little weight, but it's still slightly unnerving to have it thrust into my face like that. The fact that they love it and see it as absolutely wonderful that I'm putting more meat on my bones is so foreign to our culture, but it just thrills them.

A part of the compliment is that since I'm getting fat, it must mean that I'm adjusting well to their country and culture. Plus, they take it to mean that my husband must be prosperous and that I must be a good cook. (What it really means is that my activity level has gone way down since we've arrived at site and that I bake a lot as an escape for a little sanity and comfort food. Not a good combination.)

Nonetheless, I try to smile and nod back and adapt to hearing it as the compliment they intend. In any case, I'll try to start watching the number of brownies I consume.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

picture update

Fassine, the guard of our compound, and Dan holding Mouctar, the Guard's son. Until recently Mouctar was petrified of us white folks, so this is a big accomplishment.

Me with my first 'harvest'"

Enjoying our bountiful first harvest with our dinner of peanut butter pancakes. A balanced diet :)

Dan with Fidele, one of the guard dogs.

We just got back from girls conference. Volunteers from all over Guinea invited girls from their communities to come for a 3 day conference that focused on empowering women and education. We covered just about every topic from study skills and job oportunities, to reforestation and personal health. This is the awkward moment of explaining the proper way to put on condoms.

The last night of girls conference, we took the girls out to a dance club to celebrate. These are the two girls we brought.

Josephine, one of the counterparts we brought to lifeskills conference. She is in the drama club and is excited to work with us in the community.

At lifeskills, we practiced new ways of teaching people in our community. This is a review session involving inflated condoms with questions about AIDS inside, used in a musical chairs kind of game. Interesting.

Giant caterpillar with big red spikes. yikes.

We spent 2 full weeks in Mamou for 3 consecutive conferences. (girls conference, malaria, and lifeskills.) I was exhausted and not feeling so well by the end of it.

One more picture of our new friend. :)