Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Sacrifice (Memorial Service)

Mary and I returned to Forecariah for the funeral of our host father. We were able to spend a few good days with the family. We were welcomed warmly by the family but I was surprised that the mother hardly recognized our presence. She was sitting on the floor of the leisure hut in front of the house surrounded by family and friends who were reciting blessings and words of comfort in Arabic, Soussou and French.

We sat in silence inside the hut for a long time. Occasionally a family friend would drop by and start wailing inside the hut, which would then provoke a similar wailing from the mother. It was all rather startling and heart-wrenching. She would stay that way for the three days that we were there, which is understandable considering the circumstances.

But, we had a very warm welcome from the family. They had meals ready for us three times a day and we got to play games and sing with them for old times sake. Hopefully, it helped take their minds off of the difficult situtation.

When the community found out that Karbahal had taken his own life, they were there for the family. Apparently, hundreds of people showed up at the family's doorstep to support them and mourn with them. Karbahal was well respected in the community since he had been a community leader for years, so everyone found out fast. The story was even broadcast on the national radio.

During the couple of weeks between his death and the memorial service, family and friends pitched in to reroof the hut and finish building the wall around their home. It was amazing how much people were doing for no cost--just out of their love and support for the family, which is also well-loved in the community.

People built a canopy for the day of the sacrifice. There were lines and lines of girls and boys bringing in buckets of water for the service. Several big meals were cooked during the couple of days we were there. There were some speeches made in Soussou and French from authorities, family and friends. Some delegates from the Peace Corps came and spoke a few words of honor towards Karbahal. Even Madame Le Prefect was there from Forecariah and President Lansana Conte's uncle--a well-known authority in Guinea. There were hundreds of people there in the family's courtyard. Many gifts were offered. We left Forecariah with a renewed love for the family.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Peace Corps Director Visit

Dr. Tchetter, the Peace Corps Director in Washington D.C., came to visit Guinea and other countries in West Africa for that matter. He dropped in to meet my organization's employees who presented him with a wooden plaque that had the shape of Guinea on it with a bird who is covering her eggs with her feathers--just as Peace Corps does for Guinea. Madame Conde says it is necessary for that care and protection as her little ones grow.

The US Ambassador to Guinea wasn't able to make it to the organization, but we got to see him in Kamsar at The Sawmill Restaurant. We got a buffet with pork chops (hard to find in a Muslim country), jumbo shrimp (you can usually only find the "bug" shrimp in the local markets), and many other goodies such as fruit salad and eclairs.

My favorite part of the whole evening were the highly energetic African dancers. They seemed to have a never-ending supply of energy. The best part was they chose some awesome songs, such as "I can't get no satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, and some other rap songs. All choreographed with their violent African movements. It was pretty sweet.

Water Method Madness

Who needs toilet paper? Toilet paper is for sissies. So, the story goes--I usually carry around my backpack with toilet paper in it. The ironic thing is that I was only within meters of my own house, but I forgot to bring my backpack or my TP. So, absent-mindedly I went to the restroom in a latrine only to find a bucket of water there.

For some reason, I actually thought the head of the health department in our prefecture would have toilet paper stashed somewhere in the squat latrine. To make things worse, I think the water came from the well that Mary and I found worms in. And not the kind of worms that are invisible to the naked eye. No, they were live, squirming, one centimeter worms. So, I just tried not to think about it and got it over with as quickly as possible. Luckily, they had soap to wash my hands with afterwards.

Death in Guinea

Mary and I found out this week that our "host father" died. We lived with the Soumah family for 2 months and grew very close to the mother and kids. The father was a community leader in a nearby city, so he only came home every other weekend. He was a really nice guy and always brought goodies home to us and the family.

We heard he had been transferred to a city closer to us, so we were excited that the family was going to be closer. He had called me about a month ago to say "hi" and thanks for the video slideshow of pictures we had taken of their family.

So, it came as a shock when his son Joe called to tell us he passed away. It sounded like strange circumstances and we didn't get any details at that time. Then we found out from his daughter Mignonne that he had committed suicide using a gun. It was bad enough that he had died, but suicide makes it much more painful. And suicide seems to be rare, almost unheard of, in a country like Guinea. At this point, we can only speculate what the reasons were and what actually happened.

His sudden death affects the twelve or thirteen other people under his roof. There were seven kids in the direct family and then four other kids from difficult situations. That's how it is in Guinea--those in "well-paying" positions are usually required by culture to take in other relatives (the word relatives being used loosely).

We are absolutely crushed by this news and fear for the family. They were such a good, strong family--it will be hard to see them split up due to the recent events. Mary and I are tempted to take in some of the more independent kids, but haven't decided yet. We're not sure how they would take it and we're not sure how it would work in our small lodging. But we want to help somehow.

In any case, we'll be going to our training site for the sacrifice on Sunday, April 27, 2008. This is where the family holds a feast to raise money for a little support in the transition period. The family was a wonderful blessing to us the first two months in Guinea. Their generosity and their love emanated on a daily basis.

May God bless and protect their family during this difficult time.

Teaching English

This week I started teaching English to the employees of CEFACAM. Even though I didn't specifically come to Guinea to teach English, I think it will be helpful to those who learn it. I'm not sure where they'll use it, but if Guinea jumps into the globalization thing, English will be important to know. Teaching English allows me to do something productive--even in the infinitesimal degree. So, I guess it feels good to finally be useful to the Guineans. Up to this point, I've been kind of wandering around, getting to know the people in my neighborhood, which is exactly what Peace Corps wants me to do. But, I'm glad I can start offering something to the community. My students are definitely motivated as we start the classes, but hopefully that won't dwindle down. It also helps that I actually like teaching English. I taught English in France on a weekly basis and helped write an English teaching manual. I find it interesting to find out the little nuances of our language. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn't meant for teaching in some way or another.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Some Quick Updates

Just to set the record straight--I accidentally sat on my wife's thumb while we were hustling to jump into a taxi. But she'll be fine with a little ibuprofen.

Also, I have a parasite living inside of my digestive system. It's called blastocystis, but I'm taking a drug called Flagyl. So, hopefully it will be dead in a week.

Another thing--anyone who thought the picture of the baby lizard was cute, my wife ended up feeding it to the chickens. She also fed a walking stick to the chickens.

note from mary: I didn't FEED the lizard and walking stick to the chickens. I mearly swept them out of our house and off the porch. The chickens just happened to be there to eat them up. I think this is why we don't see many lizards in our courtyard - too many chickens.

On a different note, I named Dan's parasite Gary.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

a selection

Washing all of our new dishes out on the front porch after we moved into our new house.

Taxi bonding. An average size car that typically would fit 5 people is called a 6 passenger here (really 7 people when you count the driver). Since we were in a station wagon, we had 10 - 3 in back, 4 in the middle, 2 in shotgun, and 1 driver. (plus a random guy who was hitching a ride on the top of the car...)

This makes rides especially fun when you don't know the people you're traveling with.

During this particular taxi ride, our car kept breaking down. I took this picture right before the driver took a large part out from under the hood, closed it back up, and we drove along our way.

(And oh, the windshield was already like that. We didn't get in an accident. It's completely normal for a car to have a shattered windshield like this. I'll have to get some pics of other cars on the road here. I just particularly liked the sticker he chose to secure it with.)

Sorry for the disturbing nature of this one. This is one of the dogs that lives in our compound. He was very happy to show off his find by sitting down right in front of our house to enjoy it.

Surveying the damage left by our carpenter who installed a new screen door for us. After getting tired of shaving down the door to make it fit, without saying anything, he pulled out a chisel and resorted to pounding away at the cement wall. Can you imagine a carpenter doing something like that in the US?

Dan with the people at his NGO. The founder Mme. Conde (Dan's counterpart) is towards the middle in the dark blue.

Roadside stop.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

home sweet home (and other random pictures)

homefront: africa.

our living room. our lovely decorative shelf for african artsy stuff in the corner, fabric batiks on the walls. check out the awesome couch coverings we made too.

Another angle of our living room. The big blue barrel and yellow jugs are for our water. Hows that for indoor plumbing?

Other side of the living room. sorry for bad lighting. The camera batteries died. I'll try to get better pictures up at some point.

our kitchen.

another view of our kitchen.

a baby lizard we found hiding under our dustpan.

some posters I made for Jan's farewell shin-digg. (As an aside, I would just like to say I had no say in what the posters said or where the posters were placed...) The streamers are actually quarantine tape. The DPS team is resorceful!

making african bread for a sacrifice

At a sacrifice in honor of an old man who died, woman prepared rice flour to make 'african bread' - rice flour, sugar, and water - as part of the offering to everyone who came.