Friday, March 14, 2008

100 Days! Incroyable, mais vrai.

Today marks our 100th day in Guinea. Incroyable, mais vrai. (aww... I miss Makan...)

If I were back at JCPRD, that would mean we should be celebrating by taking the kindergarteners to Chuck-E-Cheese or something great like that. The 100th day of kindergarten is a big deal, man. 100 days in a third world country I think tops that though. The closest Chuck-E-Cheese is a bit too far away for a field trip here, so we do what we can Guinean style.

Congrats to all my fellow G-15. Awesome accomplishment indeed.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ghosts of Volunteers Past

Yesterday Jan, the volunteer who I am replacing, left. Her counterpart, also my counterpart, Dr. Pepe, threw her a little party the other night to honor her time here and wish her well.

There have been many volunteers here in our town over the years, all of which have left their legacy in some way. This is one reason I wanted to be a 'frist generation' volunteer - lingo for being the first volunteer to work in a particular village. Instead, Dan and I are following at least 6 other volunteers, 4 of which have worked in the health sector with my counterpart, Dr. Pepe. This results in what many of us refer to as the "ghosts of volunteers past." If any one who's reading this is a yongest child or even a younger sibling, you may know the feeling already: being compared both positivly or negatively to the others, always being reminded of their accomplishments or prejudging you based on their failures, assuming you're just the same as them. It's like the teacher's reaction when they see they have a younger sibling of a previous student... Expectations one way or another.

As the youngest child from my family (Guineans, by the way, always get a kick out of learning that there are 6 kids in my family... and all from one man and one wife!) I've had pleanty of time dealing with this. I should be a pro at it, but it's still frustrating at times to be judged based on preconceptions rather that on who I am. (Even so, here in Guinea, I will carry the stigma of being a rich white American, with all the preconceptions and prejudices that go along with it... even if I were a first gen volunteer.) With the previous volunteers though, it just gets to the point of laughable. I've been called Jan millions of times by everyone in the community, and even the occasional Steve, another previous volunteer. I mean, we're all white, so it's all the same, right? And I've lost track of how many people have claimed that they were 'best friends' with a previous volunteer, so now they need to be my friend too.

There is this one volunteer in particular who has left quite a detailed legacy. I learned about her even before I got to town, this uber-volunteer. Nearly everyone I have been introduced to at the various government offices, hospitals, health centers, and community centers all asked if I knew her and sang her praise. She was involved with every project, had connections in all parts of the community, and definitly left her mark. She's even the one who got us the connections in Kamsar to use the pool and the US mail route. I definitly give this girl props for everything she did. Shoot... I'd be thrilled if I could accomplish even a quarter of the things she was able to do here. It just makes living up to that legacy a bit difficult sometimes. Dr. Pepe loves telling me stories about her and tells me daily that he thinks that I can be an amazing volunteer like her... possibly greater than her... NO... possibly the greatest volunteer ever to come to Guinea!.. if I work hard and try to be like her. I'm going to try to track her down to send her an email letting her know what a mark she has left and how many people still applaud her name. LITERALLY. The other night at Jan's farewell party, Pepe said a few words and mentioned the past volunteers who had worked in the town, He mentioned a few highlights and then mentioned the super volunteer. He said, "now I know she's not here with us now, but we need to stop and give her a round of applause." So we did. So if anyone out there knows who I'm talking about and knows how to get ahold of her, I know she would appreciate hearing how much of an impact her service really did have here. It makes me laugh and shake my head every time she comes up, but I really am in awe of how much she was able to accomplish. I don't know how she did it, but I'm definitely impressed. At this point I feel like a success if I can get through one day without wanting to scream at someone. (I can find at least one person each day who doesn't drive me crazy, right..?) Maybe sometime over the next two years I'll be able to do something worthwhile like she did. For now, I just have to take it one week at a time.