Friday, January 25, 2008

On Handwashing

The handwashing situation has always bothered me in Guinea. You have
to pour water with one hand while trying to scrub soap off your other
hand with the same hand. It's almost impossible to get soap off this
way especially if you have it on the back of your hand. Plus, you
waste a lot more precious water this way. In other words, in a
country where washing your hands is most important you are unable to
scrub and wash your hands completely. There is very little motivation
to wash your hands at every needed moment.

I plan to fix this with a little camping secret I learned from my dad.
The American version: Use a hanging milk jug with water. Poke a hole
towards the bottom of the jug. Plug it up using a golf tee. Tie a
nylon to the handle and put a bar of soap in it. Voila! You have your
own hand-washing station.

The Guinean Version: Use an elevated oil drum of water. Use an
imported spicket—the kind you find on corporate water coolers. Use
imported liquid soap (the bar soap is so hard to get off of your hands
and wastes water.) Catch the soapy water in a bucket and use the used
water to flush the toilet once enough has collected. I plan to have
at least two of these in the house.

First Thoughts on our House in Guinea

Our house is in the same compound as the Health Department building.
It is a really strange placement, but the house is quaint. We have a
cement house with a tin roof. The front porch is on the west side.
There are no windows on the west side which is important because the
sun is unable to penetrate our humble abode during the hot part of the

We have a front room with a table which holds our water filter. We
have a bedroom that has a full bed with a mosquito net over it.
There's also a small camp trunk for clothes. We also have a bathroom
added in the bedroom. Imagine the smallest half bath you can imagine
with a sink and a toilet. Then imagine that the shower drain is right
in front of the sink. In other words, you have to be careful where
you put the roll of toilet paper because it might get wet when you are
taking a bucket bath (a cold one by the way).

Our bathroom wall doesn't go all of the way to the top of the ceiling,
so our bedroom is subject to some of the foul smells that come from
it. You might think that having a toilet is a good thing. But when
you haul your own water, you soon realize that it takes over half a
large bucket to fully flush the toilet. So, you don't fully flush the
toilet after every use.

We have only seen two small cockroaches in the house—one in the "Site
Journal" and one in our First Aid Kit. I didn't think small
cockroaches existed in Guinea. We've only seen a couple of spiders,
but lots of spider webs.

We have bats living in our attic—we do have a fake ceiling, which
protects us a little bit, but we still don't like the idea of bats
above us. I think I read somewhere that bat guano causes cancer, but
who knows. We need to do some research on how to get rid of
bats—blocking the attic is pretty much impossible because the tin roof
is about 1 foot away from the cement structure all the way around the
house. Plus, the idea of a rotting bat above us is disgusting as
well. We want to avoid anything that attracts ants, bugs, etc. The
bats flap against the tin roof all night long and make that screeching
sound that bats are known for.

First Thoughts on B-town

I've been in B-town since Sunday and I must say I am impressed by this
little city. Someone discribed it as a big city that feels like a
small town and I think it's pretty accurate. There's definitely a lot
of people and the market is relatively big with a lot of variety. It
definitely has more to offer than F-town. But the "downtown" area is
just small and quant enough to give it the small town feel.

My Guinean counterpart took Mary and I to see all of the important
people in the government and also some other community leaders. I
even met the governor of the region—there are only 8 governors in
Guinea (but Guinea is the size of Oregon).

I met hundreds of people this week. I don't think I remember any of
their names. When we told them our African names they always had a
funny reaction. My name is Alpha Soumah and Mary is Diaraye Soumah.
"Oh, you are my cousin." "I'm a Soumah too." "Oh no. My family
doesn't like the Soumahs." They all think it is funny that these
white people have African names.

First Thoughts on My Guinean Counterpart

Here's a short story to describe Madame Conde: Peace Corps has a rule
that no volunteer can get on a motorcycle—especially a "Taxi Moto."
During the "counterpart workshops" our APCDs all emphasized that we
could not get on a motorcycle. There must have been a twenty-minute
discussion with all of the Guinean counterparts on why we are unable
to take motorcycles. There was definitely a cultural issue with this
rule. They clearly stated that we would be sent home if we are caught
on a motorcycle.

We broke off into our different sectors. In our Small Enterprise
Development group, our APCD Josh mentioned again that we are
absolutely not allowed to get on a motorcycle. Madame Conde leans
over and whispers, "We have a motorcycle you can use—do you know how
to ride a motorcycle?" Classic.

Diankemba is the President of CEFACAM, which is a
non-governmental organization who works towards the literacy of women,
economic autonomy of women, small enterprise development of youth and
women, hygiene promotion, etc.

Before I met her, my APCD told me she was great and that she was super
motivated. Other volunteers told me that she was really talkative and
really energetic. One girl said that Madame would drive her crazy,
but that she's growing on her.

I met her first at our "Counterpart Workshop" in M-town. The
descriptions of her were quite accurate. She definitely likes to talk
and she's definitely super energetic. In the group of 34 volunteers
and about 40 counterparts she participated the most in our sessions.
In fact, I don't think there was any discussion she didn't have
something to say about.

She's definitely on the ball and she's on top of everything—really
sharp lady. She took meticulous notes on everything. She is
constantly joking around and laughing with people.

I must admit I was a little overwhelmed by her energy and "go-getter"
attitude. If any knows me, I think they'd say I'm a pretty laid back
individual. I was a little worried about clash of energy levels. One
exercise was to plan our five days at site. We filled in every minute
of everyday. I had only mentioned one request and she never really
mentioned it during our planning. I was worried about how we were
going to get food, water, etc. I knew it would take some time to get
comfortable, but she wanted me to hit the ground running.

The ironic thing is that my wife's "temporary" counterpart was the
complete opposite. He just said they should wait until they get to
B-town. I felt like our counterparts were swapped accidentally.
Where Mary probably would have preferred to have things planned out, I
would have preferred playing everything by ear.

But she hadn't really done much else to get on my nerves—I was just
nervous in general. To make me even more nervous, all of the men
counterparts would come up to me and tell me that I've been assigned a
"brave" woman. "Elle est une brave femme." "Elle est une femme
forte." "Elle sera une bonne personne ressource." These were just
some of the things others were saying having only known her for the
two days at counterpart workshop.

Now that I've spent a full week with her, I can see she is a great
resource person. I think everyone in B-town knows who she is. She is
also more flexible than I first imagined and it turned out that our
week planning ended up being a really good thing—Mary even came along
with us the whole time due to her counterpart being out of town. So,
everything worked out for the best.


Hello everyone!

We are in B-town for the week visiting our site. (the place where wewill be living for the 2 years after we finish training.) Its a big city near the coast. We live in the DPS compound, which is a little weird. Our house itslef is pretty nice. Dan wrote about in our blog,so I won't go into too much detail now.

The best part about our site is Kamsar. It's not too far away, right on the coast. It's a mining town full of a bunch of expats. That means, they have everything here ex-pats would want. We have access to internet (about a dollar an hour), a hotel swimming pool (FREE!), grocery stores (ok... can't compare to a US store, but for Guinea, it's amazing! but expensive...) and a magical mailbox that we can use. This is probably the coolest part. One of the mining companys lets us have a mailbox at the hotel. They fly backand forth to the states about once a week and will take letters for us. We just have to put a US stamp on it and they will drop it in a mailbox once they get stateside. Then, they have a mailbox in Pittsburgh where we can get letters. You just have to stick a regular stamp (are they $.41 now?) on it, mail it to Pittsburgh, and they will bring it to our mailbox here in Kamsar. Amazing!

Heres the address:

Dan and Mary Fredley
Mitchell (#142 Kamsar)
30 Isabella StreetBoke Services Management
3rd Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15212

They say they will only accept letters, no packages. Other volunteers say that small, flat padded envelopes make it sometimes, and it can't hurt to try, but nothing big like a package will make it. I really want to plant a small garden while here, so if someone wants to try sending some seeds, I bet they would make it if mailed inside a card orsomething. Others have said they have gotten DVDs and CDs in padded envelopes (disk only between cardboard) in the Kamsar mailbox. If youwant to try that, we wouldn't mide a change-up in our movie collection occassionaly :)

But back to important -- seeds I want:

green peppers
any other sweet peppers
sweet corn (?)
green beans
sunflowers (just to show a little Kansas pride...)

mmm... getting me excited just thinking about it. I'm sure I'll think of more things that I might want, but those would definitely make mehappy to start, especially the herbs.
Anyway, training has been going ok. It's long, hard, and tedious, butnot terrible. We spend all day, every day in classes from 8 am to 5pm. Classe schedules change every day, but a big portion is focusedon language. Dan and I both passed out of French, so we're now learning Susu, which is the local language most people speak in the town we're going to live in. The bigger the town, the more people you will meet that speak french. The smaller the town, the chances are slim of finding someone who you can communicate with easily. Other than language, training consists of cultural classes (how to adapt to living, working, adapting, integrating, and functioning in Guinea), Med classes (how to not get sick or hurt and what to do if you do), safty classes (how to be smart and not be a moron and what to do if not), and last but not least: sector classes. For me that means Public Health classes. For Dan that means Small Business Developement classes. These take up about a third of our training time. We learn what they want us to teach the Guineans, we practice making presentations, go on field trips to hospitals and helth posts, and basically try to get a grasp of whatthey want us to mainly do once we get to site. We do have the optiontoo of doing secondary projects (ie: non-health related things likeyouth groups) or cross sectoral things (like projects with small businesses or agroforestry) but they want us to find tie-ins with health somehow for most of our projects.

Anyway, classes take up most of our time and energy. We get home, eat dinner, sit and talk to our host family, then go inside around 9:00 toget ready for bed. It's weird to be in bed so early, but especially when there is no electricity, it's really hard to stay awake and want to do much beyond sleep.

I'm glad that training is almost over. We only have 6 days left ofclasses. We head back to Conakry on the 7th and swear in on the 8th. (the official ceremony where we go from "Peace Corp trainee" toofficial "Peace Corp Volunteer.") We get installed at our site February 13th. Crazy to think about how fast training has gone. Am I ready?

Thanks mom for the birthday card. I got it not too long ago. Mail is so slow here! I hope the Kamsar mailbox will make that a better situation for us. I'm pretty excited about it.

Anyway, hope everything is going well and that everyone is happy andhealthy. (We're doing good, health-wise, FYI.)

Love to you all!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Counterpart Workshop

we're in M#### now to meet our homologues (counterparts). luckily they have internet here. We're both doing well. I've had a cough for a couple of weeks now, but I'm feeling better.

We took all of the pictures outside. This culture is never inside unless watching tv. Even then, they bring the TV outside to watch at night. The hut is considered outside--they just have the hut and hammock for lounging. Since it gets really hot inside of the cement and tin roof house they chill outside in the shade.

The trip here was about 6 hours from F######. It was "paved" the whole way but there are big pot holes and areas of dirt roads. All of the bridges here are only one lane, so you have to wait to cross them.

I've been shooting a lot of video and hope to send you some DVDs and upload some videos too. I'm planning on giving a Video CD to the family. They don't have DVDs or videocasettes here--just video cds. I think they're all black market stuff too. Or bad Indian "Bollywood" movies. One of the girls, Candee, has a host family that pretty much bought they're own generator so they would never miss this brazilian/argentinian soap opera that comes on every night at 7pm. they're serious about their tv here. The electricity comes on sporadically at best. It's pretty annoying actually.

Training has been good, but hard sometimes, because there is very little to no free time or personal time. Our host family demands a lot of our attention. They're cool though.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Menu Chez Nous

(breakfast for us is always served with a fresh baguette)

Eggs - Scrambled with onions, cooked in plenty of peanut oil. Served with a side of potato wedges (french fries) also swimming in peanut oil.

Salad du Jour – Varies by day. Made from a selection of the following: hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, canned sardines. Topped with shrimp bullion, vinegar, and mayonnaise.

Spaghetti – Served with tomato sauce and mixed with fish

Canned Luncheon Beef - sautéed with onions

Tennise – Small boiled potato-like thing. Peal and eat on the go.

(These are the choices in village – on Tuesdays and Thursdays we eat together at the Bureau. Those are usually our favorite meals of the week – great cooks, plenty of choices, plus lots of protein and vegetables.)

Rice with Sauce – various places to purchase in the market. Sam’s host mom runs a very popular place in the market.

Goat or Beef kabob – served with raw onions – can be eaten as is or put on a baguette. (Jess likes the beef with Laughing Cow cheese on baguette. Like a cheese steak sandwich!)

Scrambled egg sandwich– onions and Laughing Cow cheese optional.

Peanut butter and honey sandwich

Peanut butter and banana sandwich

Canned luncheon beef sandwich with mayonnaise

Hard boiled eggs – can be eaten separately or sliced and put on a baguette with mayo.

Baguette with Laughing Cow cheese


Oranges – Peeled and sliced open at the top. Simple to squeeze and drink on the go.
Grapefruit – not as popular or as prevalent as oranges, but very good when you can find them. You can get 4 for the equivalent of 10 cents.
Bananas - everywhere
Fried Manioc (cassava)
Fried potato wedges
Fired smashed potato things – similar to tater tots. Saw them for the first time yesterday.
Boiled Tennise – small potato like things
Gâteau – “Cake” Small fried dough pieces, similar in taste to a doughnut hole. Varies greatly by vendor. Some made with onions or hot peppers. Some are very sweet, others very plain. We all have our favorite vendor.
Biscuits – “Cookies” A variety to chose from – chocolate cream, vanilla cream, orange cream, no cream.
Sugared Peanuts
Boiled Peanuts
Roasted Peanuts
Peanut butter squares – Peanut butter mixed with rice flour
Sesame Bars – Sesame seeds mixed with honey/sugar into a granola bar type thing
Peanut Brittle – Peanuts mixed with peanut butter, hardened into granola bar type thing (my favorite)
Cola nuts – Red or white. Great gift for old men in the community. Sign of respect and tradition. VERY high in caffeine, but rarely enjoyed by us foté.
Yogurt – Harder to find at training, but easy in Conakry.
Candy – variety available.
Cold Pop


Rice with sauce

Sauce selection:

Palm oil, hot peppers, and fish sauce - Fish either served whole or as meatballs. Bones are included in meatballs. Made with plenty of MSG and bullion. Occasionally made with chicken or sheep. Includes a chunk of manioc and sometimes squash. (This is what we have 90% of the time…)

Peanut sauce with hot peppers. Served with either fish, chicken, beef, or sheep.

Potato leaf sauce with fish and hot peppers

Manioc (Cassava) porridge with fish and hot peppers– Very similar to potato soup. If it didn’t have the fish, I would have loved it.

Spaghetti with sheep


Oranges – pealed with top cut off. Squeeze to drink the juice. There hasn’t been a day yet where we haven’t had at least 2 oranges each.

Pineapple – You can buy it only in the neighboring village, but we’ve had it nearly every day since our host dad works in that village. It’s awesome.

Bouille – cooked rice served porridge style with sugar and lemon juice.

Fresh coconut