Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sour Milk

Today I drank raw, fermented milk. The market people have large bowls of this lumpy, sour milk and they serve it into small plastic sacks. To make things worse my friend dropped the sack while he was riding his motorcycle, which ripped a hole in it and some of it spilled out. He then proceeded to pour the remainder into a mug through the ripped hole. I definitely have a phobia of germs in this country. It was terribly bitter and sour. Then they offered me some sugar which made it more palatable.

I also ate raw peanuts for the first time in my life. I guess I always took for granted that the peanuts we buy in America have all been roasted and processed in some way. Raw peanuts have veins and their texture reminds me of garbanzo beans. They taste different, but good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Custom Furniture

Mary and I sat down and designed our furniture for our new home. For under 100 US dollars we were able to score 9 pieces of bamboo furniture. Let me see if I can remember everything we ordered.
1 Nightstand
2 Sets of Shelves for clothing
1 Small Corner Table for the “hand washing station”

Living Room:
1 3-person couch
1 bookshelf
1 coffee table
1 corner decorative shelf for African paraphernalia

1 set of shelves for cooking supplies

Traffic Accidents in Guinea

On our way to site we witnessed a car accident while crossing a one-lane bridge. A taxi approaching us was going too fast and hit some speed bumps meant to slow vehicles before crossing the one-lane bridge. The brakes went out and the driver decided to take the car off the road instead of colliding with a couple of other cars on the bridge. The car missed a couple of trees, but grazed one enough to cause a lot of glass to go flying. One of the guys was badly cut up on the head and arms. Blood was streaming down his face. He and another guy jumped in our car and we took them to the hospital up the road.

I’ve seen a few motorcycle accidents with much blood involved and a couple of not so serious accidents. I also saw a bus of people that had lost control. It missed a bridge and got stuck over the stream. Luckily nobody was killed, but I didn’t know how a busload of people was going to get help in the middle of nowhere. Our taxi was too full to take any new passengers.

Our country director said that the three most dangerous things about Guinea are transportation, malaria and staphylococcus infections. I’ve definitely seen enough traffic accidents to be most scared of that aspect of life in Guinea.

Being Sick While in a Bush Taxi

Being sick in Guinea is ten times worse than being sick in the U.S. Maybe the intensity is the same, but the inconveniences are exponentially burdensome. Squatting becomes a whole lot less fun. Taking a bush taxi ride for hours across rough terrain isn’t fun anyways. The worse part about being sick on a taxi is that convenience stores don’t exist. If you want to use the restroom you ask the “chauffeur” to check the tire. He stops at the side of the road and you wander off in the “bush” to find a nice place to squat. And you better hope you remembered to bring your own toilet paper. And hopefully you don’t have any animals or insects bothering you while you do your business. Then there’s no way to wash hands, which is always quite disgusting, so I try not to think about it. Sometimes hand sanitizer is available.

On top of that, you have 9 passengers and a driver in a car that was made for 6.5 passengers. So, you don’t want to slow the trip down. Then there’s the issue of no A/C in the car, etc.

And, did I forget to mention that you are probably one hundred times more likely to get sick in Guinea? I haven’t seen any official statistics on that, but I’m living it. I’ve been in-country for about 10 weeks now and I believe I’ve been sick a good 4 or 5 weeks total—not including the occasional day here and there.

the moment has arrived.

The moment has arrived. Tomorrow we will be installed at our site and left to be on our own. We will be seen as "experts" in the community and will attempt to share our "expertise" with those we meet. Am I really ready?

We've spent the last few days running around shopping for things for our new house. We bought everything from a gas stove, dishes, and buckets for setting up a new kitchen to caulk, nails, and metal screen for attemping to bugproof our new abode. We also ordered a bunch of custom made furniture - couches, shelves, tables - 9 peices in all for the equivilant of less than $100. Amazing. We'll be sure to post picutres once we get it all.

I kind of went a little over board with african decorations though, but I justified it by reminding myself that its next to nothing in american money... it just turns about to be a lot when we're getting paid in guinean francs... We bought 3 little wooden masks and a cool little wooden sculpture from this guy today for a total of about $11. He originally asked for about $20 for it all, but you never pay the initial cost someone tells you here. I'm sure we could have talked them down even lower in price, but I start feeling guilty trying to jip a guy out of an extra quarter or two for an awesome hand carved mask that would go for a rediculous price any where in the developed world.

Anyone who knows me well though knows that I am a rediculous cheap skate. Here in Africa though life is much different. I feel guilty knowing that I'm arguing over a differece in price that will turn out to be maybe a dollar on some things. (ie - for tailor made clothing, we talked a guy down from $5 to $3.75...) On the other end of the spectrum though, everything has its price. Why should I pay $5 just because I'm american? I know that you just charged my Guinean friend $3.75, so that's what I'm going to pay too, dang it.

We're definitely not rich here. We are legally, for tax purposes and all other, living below the poverty line for the next two years. Yes, the Peace Corps takes good care of us. They know we, as Americans accustomed to much different standards, need a little bit extra to keep us sane and happy living here. They pay us a little bit extra so that we don't have to eat just rice and sauce every day. They build in a vacation allowance. They make sure we're happy and healthy. So even though we are in poverty by all American standards, by Guinean standards, we're very rich. We're advised to live as simply as possible though, and not flaunt our money. We don't want to distance ourselves from our neighbors. They won't trust us as much if they see us as rich outsiders. We need to really be a part of the community to do our job well.

That, in a nutshell, is our real job for the next three months: integrate into the community. Settle in and make friends. Pretty cool job description, huh? This is what we've been preparing to do. I think we're ready.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

swearing in

Here is a sampling of pics from yesterday's swearing in ceremony. We'll tell you more about it later.

It's crazy to think how long it took us to get to this point -- to be offical Peace Corps Volunteers. There was a man who spoke yesterday who was a part of the first ever Peace Corps program. He was sent to Etheopia. Things were a bit different back then (ie: before they flew out, they had tea in the whitehouse with Jackie and JFK), but it was an awesome speach about his service that I think really touched us all.

Dan and I sporting our Guinean best.
Dan giving his speach in Susu. He did awesome despite being sick as a dog.
trainees awaiting becoming volunteers
The Public Health Team. Country Director Steve is in the back in the suit.
Some of our awesome formateurs. The people who trained us for the past 9 weeks.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

long awaited pictures

For more pictures, visit our flickr site:

canoe on the river

Dan selling pineapples in the market

mary with two host sisters

a day at the waterfalls

Dan and some neighbor kids admiring pictures on his camera

Our host mom making fried banana chips. Thats the 'kitchen' behind her.

Our host brother Alhassane carrying wood

Dan in his new boubou. This is Guinean high fashion.
(This cost a total of about $10 to buy the fabric and have it custom tailor made.)

Try deciphering this for me and let me know what you come up with... This was in our taxi up to our site visit.

My birthday cakes. All 100 of them. Covered in chocolate syrup... mmmm...
(Don't worry... I shared) :)

Dan and I chillin at the PC house for dinner during my birthday.

Dan dancing with our host brother Albert.

Our hole in the ground, aka toilet, sink, shower.

Yeah... bonne chance guys... ("good luck")

New Years Day soccer game in maf-town

soccer game in maf-town
Originally uploaded by dan&mary
so this is an old post I wrote right after new years and kinda forgot about.


Happy New Year! One month down, 26 to go. It’s pretty crazy to think about it that way. We hope all of you had a great holiday season and wish you the best for the New Year. All the stagiaires were out together to celebrate last night. Dan caught a bit of a cold, so we ditched out a bit early. It was probably all for the best.

Today we were challenged to a soccer match. They asked us about a week ago if we trainees would be willing to play against some people down in the agfo village. Always up for a soccer match, but not thinking too much of it, we agreed. Little did we know what we were in for…

This wasn’t your average “get some friends together and we’ll play a little soccer.” This was an event, THE event of the town for the holiday. Our first inclination that this was a little more than we expected was seeing the seating area set up with a tent, chairs and a couch. This was serious. You don’t have a couch unless someone important was coming. There was a car with giant speakers strapped to the roof, and we were informed that it was so that a guy could commentate to the crowd as we played. Wonderful. As we started warming up, people started flowing in. By the time the game was about to start, the area was crowded. By the end of the game, there were people packed in, at least 3 deep if not more, on every inch of sideline watching us. When the game was ready to start, they lined us all up facing the crowd. In rolls the sous prefect (aka our host dad) on a motorcycle with an entourage of military men. Behind him rolls in a big shinny SUV with the prefect and her military men. They get out, go through a bunch of formalities, greet us all individually. After that, Madame le Prefect does an opening kick, equivalent to someone important throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game.

We were originally supposed to have two games: our girls versus a high school girls’ soccer team, followed by our guys vs. some of the important people from town. Due to last minute issues with people who couldn’t play, we ended up playing two mini games as one coed team. The first game was against the high school girls and the second was versus the men. They almost didn’t let the girls on our team play in the second game, but we were pretty insistent, so they let the crazy Americans have their way.

Game One score:


Game Two Score:


We figure they will attribute our loss in the second game to the fact that we allowed females to play against males…

Either way, it was very crazy and quite a bit of fun!

On Families in Guinea

Families are everything in Guinea. I would even say family relationships here are better than those in America—in general. Families must stick together to survive. They literally spend all evening together. They eat together every night. They all work hard and share the burden of chores. My host family impresses me everyday with how well organized the housework is.

Distractions are less of an issue here. Electricity only comes on occasionally, so the television is not on all day and all night. There aren’t any computers or internet, so no addictions there either. They sit out on their front porch and talk, listen to battery-operated radios, do chores, etc. They can’t just jump into a car and head off to the movie theatre or shopping mall.

On Dumpster Diving in Guinea

Trash is everywhere in Guinea—that is the foremost shocking thing to the American volunteers. There are no trash collection companies. There are no trash men. There are no littering laws. Even at the lowest level there is very little restraint as to where people put their trash. People open a piece of candy and throw the wrapper on the ground. People open a tin can and throw the sharp lid on the ground. People use a syringe and throw it on the ground. We’ve seen just about everything lying on the streets.

I think some people try to use the “designated” trash dumpsites. These are just areas at the side of the road that have large amounts of trash. Then, at any given time of the day, these dumpsites are burned. We are constantly breathing in smoke and ash from the burning trash—plastic included. Our nose and ears are always full of black substances, whether it is from smoke or dust. I’ve had a cough that has lasted a couple of weeks, probably due to the fact that my lungs just can’t get clean air. A few of us wonder what long-term harm this may cause our bodies—carcinogens can’t be good.

Another problem with trash lying around is that the animals eat the trash. My host family had to kill a lamb a couple of weeks ago because it was choking on a piece of rubber. It couldn’t walk, it couldn’t breathe and it was foaming at the mouth. When they killed it and cut it open they said they found a piece of rubber—I can only imagine where that came from. They were planning on eating it, but luckily we went out of town before they had a chance to serve us some sick lamb. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable eating it.

But then again, all of the animals here eat the trash, whether it’s goats, sheep, chicken, cows, dogs, etc. That’s never a real comforting thought. The chickens here are like the family garbage disposal. They eat anything the people drop in the yard.

Yet another problem with the trash situation is that dumpster diving is a whole lot easier. The kids go through the trash like they are opening Christmas presents. My wife and I found out right away that we would need to separate our “safe” trash from the bad stuff. I can’t explain how disturbing it was to see a couple of kids using a plastic applicator as a whistle—not to mention them opening a used sanitary napkin. We’ll definitely need to be more discreet with certain waste articles.

fitting in.

Here are a few pictures from our farewell ceremony. I promise I will put some better more interesting ones, but they're all on the laptop and not with me right now. So this is all I've got to share for the time being. I also promise to write something a little more interesting, but time and energy are both in short supply for the moment.

Here's me, giving the susu speach. ( I really just wanted to post it so that you could see my lovely new "complet." aka, Guinean garb.) I had a microphone because they turned on a generator just for our ceremony. The real reason they brought in the sound system though is that Guineans like any excuse to play loud music. We all got up and danced before and after the ceremony.

This picture is of us with our host mom and dad after they were presented a certificate for their generosity. Very cool. I'll have to post a better picture of Dan in his outfit (its called a "Boubou.")

BTW: The popular new thing is the flat rate international package. $39 for all you can cram in. (I bet you can fit at least 39 lbs of chocolate in it...) :)

Ok. I don't need 39 lbs of chocolate... but if you happen to come across anything you think two dirt poor Americans stuck in the middle of Africa might appreciate, it will DEFINITELY be apprecaited. Just pack it well and dont send anything of too big of value... (ask Friends of Guinea Network people for shipping/packaging advice...)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

training is over!

Just a quick post to say hello to everyone. We are officially done with training! We are back in the capitol for the rest of the week, then head out to our sites on Sunday. Today we had a farewell ceremony in F-town with all the city officials, PC people, and our host families. I had to give a little speach, which wouldnt have been too bad except for the fact that it was in SUSU! AH! I wrote it first in English, translated it to French, then had one of our instructors translate it into Susu for me (since all I can do pretty much at this point is say hello, ask how your mother is doing, order a plate of rice without fish, and ask where to find a latrine. The important stuff). But it went great. People even said they understood me! Dan will have to give a speach in Susu on Friday at our swearing in ceremony. I'm glad I got mine over with.

I'm just getting over the flu. I started coming down sick Friday night and have been laid up since. Being sick is not fun. Being sick in Guinea is worse. I try to roll with it, but there are some days it's pretty hard to function.

Overall though, things have been good. Thanks for all the brithday wishes. I'll give details about that when I have more time tomorrow.

Look for pictures too. (uploading takes a lot of time here, but we'll try!)

lots of love,