Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prime Minister surrenders

The Prime Minister has surrendered to the military coup.

Yahoo article

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Dakar!

Walking down the street the other day here in Dakar I saw a Senegalese man dressed in a Santa costume outside of a store. We greeted each other with the Islamic salutation. (greeting: as-Salâm Alaikum -"God’s Peace be upon you" response: wa-laikum as-Salâm "and God’s Peace be upon you." It's the average 'hey, hows it going' type of thing when you talk to or even pass anyone here.) It seemed a little ironic, but I guess the sentiment is the same for any religion, right? But nothing says Merry Christmas better than a Muslim dressed up like Santa! I just love the eye brows.

Anyway, things are good here, even though Dan is in Conakry experiencing a merry military Christmas coup and I'm stuck in Senegal by myself. I came to Senegal about two weeks ago to have some dental stuff fixed and got stuck here due to the military coup. With luck, hopefully I'll be able to return to Guinea next week. But we're safe and well taken care of. I was adopted by the regional doctor's family for a couple of days and had a good traditional Christmas with a tree, turkey, and even presents! They call me their little orphaned war child. :) Everyone has been so great and thoughtful here that I really have no cause to complain. We're making the best of a non-ideal situation.

Anyway, we miss and love you all and wish you the best for the holidays. Take care and have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Today's news update

Here's your news summary for the day:

Early yesterday representatives from the military announced that they have seized power and are in control. In the afternoon, the prime minister and president of the assembly said that they are still in control and the government is still functioning as it should (Hmm... as it should? What does that really mean?) Statements were given that indicated that the military was divided in its allegiance: some for the government, some for a coup. The government officials plead for support (both citizen and international) in not recognizing the "coup-mongers." The coup leaders responded by making another statement that said they ARE in control and that they have organized a council who will run the country until elections are held in December 2010. (They originally said elections would be held within 2 months. Right... but I guess 2 years is close enough.)

Coup leaders appointed this relatively nobody, a junior army officer, Captain Moussa Camara, as the interim president until they do have the elections. He was paraded through the streets this afternoon to the presidential palace with reportedly thousands of cheering onlookers. Coup leaders also claimed that the government is trying to use mercenaries to quelch the coup. The Prime Ministers response (given from 'a safe location'): "that's idiotic." They said it just shows how desperate the coup leaders are to make such a claim.

Confused yet? Yeah...

For those wanting more, here is a sampling of news for your reading pleasure, mostly from the BBC:
Q&A: Guinea's power crisis - a break down summary of what's going on.
Full text: Guinea military statement - what the military said after the announcement of Conte's death - very aimed at appealing to the general population
Guinea plea to end attempted coup - the president of the assembly's response to the apparent military overthrow
Guinea coup leader parades through capital
- an AP article about the appointment of Moussa Camara
Guinea coup 'was predicted' - for those of you who would prefer to listen rather than read, a BBC radio story
Peace Corps Press Release - they say we're all ok and accounted for. yay!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

President Lansana Conté is Dead

(I think the dove is a great touch, no?)

President Conte died last night. A few hours after the announcement, a military captain declared that they were disolving the government and suspending the constitution and all political actions. According to the constitution, the president of the assembly is supposed to take power after the presidents death and organize an election within the next 60 days. But apparently that is not what the military has in mind. Instead, they say they are organizing a consultation council to work things out. They also declared that the state is in morning for the next 40 days.
For a good article about it all, the BBC has one here: Military 'seizes power' in Guinea

As some of you know, I am back in Senegal for more dental work. (another wonderfully long story) My flight back to Conakry was scheduled for this afternoon, but our Country Director (the guy in charge of Peace Corps Guinea) doesn't want me flying back until things are clear and calm. So don't worry. Peace Corps will always take good care of us.

If you want to read up a bit on this guy's life, wikipedia has a good synopsis. If you scroll to the bottom, they even already updated it with this new info about his death. Wikipedia: Lansana Conté
Other news sites that may be of interest if you want to do more reading:
Le chaos et le déluge de l’après Conté. (in french... but check it out, just for the picture...)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

money matters

To state the obvious: Being white in this country makes you stand out. The stereotyping that goes along with it is sometimes very hard to deal with as a volunteer. Everyone assumes we're rich and we should help them out. Yes, even though we make next to nothing by all American standards, we're very much the upper class here with what we get paid. And everyone knows it and everyone thinks we can and should help them. We pass kids in the street and the first thing they do is ask for money. "Foté, donnes-moi cinq cent." (translation: "Whitey, give me 500.") Adults aren't much better. Luckily, as we've gotten to know people around town, we face this less often, but since we're in a big town and will never know everyone, we'll never escape it completely. But in a country where everyone is poor, everyone is in need, and everyone has a heart-wrenching story to tell, it often becomes paralyzing. What becomes even harder on us is that, as far as ex-pats in this country go, we are a completely different breed. We get paid very little and we get paid in Guinean Francs (instead of dollars or euros). We live only with bare necessities - without running water, air conditioning, or reliable electricity. We walk everywhere on foot or pile into multi-passenger taxis with Guineans instead of being driven around in a nice SUV by a chauffeur. We buy local food for ourselves in the local market from the local women in the local language. We try to be a part of the community and live like they do.

A few weeks ago in town, a nice SUV stopped at the corner. A beggar came up to ask for money from the white man in the car. The man gave him 10000GF, which is about as much as an average health worker would make in a day or two to three times as much as a laborer would make, but was only $2 to the man. What happened though was everyone started coming up to beg. The man as a result just started handing out 10000GF to anyone who came up. This is what makes our job here so hard. That's a standard we could never live up to, nor would want to. That's not why we're here. Yes, obviously we want to help people. That's why we joined the Peace Corps. We just have a different way to do it. The whole "give a man" vs "teach a man to fish" thing... It's just hard and frustrating sometimes trying to explain that difference to the people we work with.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Baptism and marriage all in one day

Dan's counterpart, Madame Conde, got married this month. It came as a surprise not only to us, but to her as well. She was friends with a French man who works with one of the mining companies. He expressed that he wanted to find a wife. Yama, our regional coordinator and mutual friend to both of them, suggested for him to convert to Islam and marry Dan's counterpart and to go ahead and do it as soon as possible. So the following Friday after the 2:00pm prayer, he was baptized a Muslim and at 5:00 they got married. Random. Very random. But very interesting to take part in.

This is Yama, our regional coordinator. She is pretty awesome.

Me at the mosque. Women have to cover their heads when at the mosque.

Dan in his boubou. Guys aren't obligated to cover their heads.

This is Sylla, one of the Imams at the Mosque. He's a great guy and one of our very few neighbors.

At the marriage ceremony which took place at Mme Conde's house.

Us looking on.

The happy couple after the marriage.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Journalism Workshop

Dan and I had the chance of participating in a journalism workshop that was sponsored by the big mining company in Kamsar. They flew in a TV news anchor from France to work with the local radio journalists in our region. It was pretty interesting. There are several journalists in our town who are really eager to start a local private radio station. This is a project Dan really wants to help out with. There are no news sources available here that are open for free speech. There is 'radio rural' which is a local radio branch owned and operated by the government, and the mining company radio station which reaches us, but that does not allow any political content or touchy subjects to be aired. The only TV stations that are picked up are from Conakry and even then, very few people own televisions. The people here rely on gossip as a result, which is quite hard on social progress.

The workshop was held over 5 days, but Dan and I only attended the last 3 because we didn't find out about it in time. (Again, most of our information comes from the grape vine.) The mining company ended up putting us up at their hotel in Kamsar (which was an amazing treat for us) because we're not allowed to travel at night and the conference lasted until late in the evenings. I felt a little bad getting treated like someone important and getting a free ride, but we really appreciated the opportunity and I think the mining company was eager to network and increase its PR.

This is a shot of us with some of the people who were at the workshop. None of these people are from our town, so I don't know any of them, but I'm posting it for two reasons: 1) We have very few pictures with both us together, so I thought it should be shared. 2) To point out the absurd amount of pictures we end up in with people we don't know because everyone loves to have their picture taken at any chance and everyone loves to have their picture taken with the white people.