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. :)

Friday, August 15, 2008

our new addition

Dan and I are now the proud parents of an African grey parrot. Timneh species, we think, for the geeks out there like us who want to know. We just got him this afternoon, so we still don't have a name for him. Any suggestions? (We really don't even know if it's a 'him,' but that's what pronoun we decided to use for it.) We also don't have a decent cage for him either. We'll have a big one built once we get back to site. He is allegedly 5 or 6 months old, but that is taking the word of the guy we got him from.
Anyway, I'm really excited about getting him and am currently looking up as much info as I can. I'll post better pictures once we get him to trust us a little more.