Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Road Conditions

Road conditions in Guinea are iffy at best. We're lucky because the road to our town from the capital is paved... mostly. Two of the five hour drive is like what you see in this video. Even though it is technically "paved," it is so potholed and beat up that you spend all of your time swerving between holes, driving on the wrong side of the road, or, as in this video, driving completely off the road on the shoulder since the road isn't worth the trouble. I get motion sick sometimes, especially when I'm in a car that's going too fast or when the windows are up and it gets too stuffy in the over crowded cars. Even so, we're lucky compared to the road situations most of the other volunteers have to put up with.

This was in our nice Peace Corps car coming down to Conakry. Since it's Ramadan, they don't listen to music. What you hear is a tape of someone reading the Koran. Try listening to that for 5 hours straight. (My heart goes out to the volunteers who make 14+ hour trips listening to nothing but this... I guess that's what ipods are for though, right?)

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Banks in Guinea

Raven and Dan counting Guinean francs for girls' conference--less than $2,000.
Like a lot of things in less-developed countries, certain things we notice aren't necessarily bad, but they do strike us as strange or different. The banking system definitely took some getting used to, but it works in this milieu.

One thing that is nice about the bank is that it is one of the only public places that has electricity and air conditioning whenever it is open. It is really spacious with high ceilings and looks relatively modern and clean.

The first thing you notice is that there are no designated lines--none of those roped off areas to keep the clientele organized. It is absolute madness--everyone rushes the reception desk and gathers around pushing their way to be the next person helped. So, needless to say, there is absolutely no privacy. Everyone around you knows exactly how much you have in your account and how much you want to withdraw. They don't even try to keep it quiet--they practically yell the information to you over the noise.

Also, do you remember those large metal trunks you use at scout camp or in the army? That is what they use as a safe in a separate, but still open room--not even behind the counter. The original bank in our town actually burned down a couple of years ago due to an electrical fire so maybe it had an actual safe, but I doubt it.

So, after you write a check to yourself or have the "teller" write one for you, you sign it in ten different places. Then you go to the money window which is also madness as everyone gathers around waiting for their money. The bank teller there is wearing a bio safety protection mask--I think you can imagine all the crazy germs you'll find on the money here. You sign the check again and they do their obligatory count in front of you.

You get your large wad of cash--and it will always be a brick because their largest bill is worth about $2. So, when you take out a couple hundred dollars it adds up. They put them in neat stacks of 10 bills with the 10th bill folded in half around the other 9 and then they put those stacks into groups of ten rubber banded together for a total of a hundred bills. Then you do your obligatory recount to make sure nothing was snagged or miscounted, which always takes forever with so many bills. They rarely deal in coins since their only coin is only worth about 5 cents.

The bank network we use has one ATM in country in downtown Conakry. I actually got a personal checkbook so I could write checks to myself. Recently, I tried to close a bank account and I ended up going to three different branches to close it, since you have to go the bank where you originally created it. Peace Corps opened the account for me, so I had no idea. But it was a fun walk around Conakry. But overall, messing with the bank hasn't been that bad. Luckily, I only have to go every couple of months, but I'm still on a first-name basis with the tellers. I don't think you get that in the States very often.

West African Flooding

Guinea isn't the only country in West Africa battling the rains right now.  Here are a couple good BBC articles about the current flooding happening all over West Africa:

Senegal battles rising tides
By Will Ross, BBC News, Dakar

Getting to bed is a nightly assault course for Mamadou Mbaye and his family in the Senegalese capital. Their home in Dakar's Guediawaye suburb is under water and piles of precariously balanced rocks form stepping stones between the flooded rooms.
"There is nothing we can do. We just have to live with the water," says Mr Mbaye, adding that they do not sleep alone as they now have plenty of mosquitoes for company.
"This has been happening for the past few years. But we are poor and we can't do anything about it.
"I've lived here for 49 years. We were born here and we brought up our children here so we don't want to leave."

Climate change
The recent heavy rain in Dakar has been too much for the city's drainage systems which are often inadequate, blocked or non-existent.
At times roads have become impassable and people in flash saloon cars look jealously as the more practical horse and cart clip-clops, or more accurately splish-splashes, past.
Residents of Dakar point out that the quantity of rain that has fallen during the past five or six years has been far higher than before.
Analysts suggest climate change is having an impact but it is not the only cause of the flooding.
As people have rushed from the villages to live in Senegal's mushrooming capital, many have built on land which is unsuitable and is susceptible to flooding.
Residents in Guediawaye say that even if they pump the water out of their homes, the rooms quickly fill up again as water comes straight up through the ground - so high is the level of the groundwater.
"This is a very hard place to live. Because of the water everybody is sick - the old and the young," says 28-year-old Elimane Diop.
"We are not helped by our government - all we get is words but they don't do anything.
"They come near here by car and then announce that they have visited the area but we want them to help the people living here. If people want to move they should be helped and if they want to stay they should also get help."
Exaggerated impact?
Many residents in the flood-affected areas have directed their anger at the government which stayed remarkably quiet about the floods until President Abdoulaye Wade returned from his month-long vacation in France.
The government then appealed for help as it announced that more than 250,000 were affected - a figure which the United Nations repeated but had little means of verifying.
Some observers suggest the government figures are a little on the high side and could be part of an effort to attract aid to make some political gains in a city where the opposition swept to victory in local elections earlier this year.
In 2007 Ghanaian officials were accused of a similar tactic when they said entire villages in the north of the country had been wiped off the map by floods.
It turned out to be a gross exaggeration.
When governments are shouting for help and aid agencies are shouting for funding, it can at times be hard for journalists to be sure they are being presented with an accurate assessment.
Whatever the figures, for the people battling with the floods, the sight of more heavy clouds is a great worry.
In mainly Muslim Senegal, this has been a difficult holy month of Ramadan.
People have been pounded by rain and have also been plunged into darkness after the national electricity company, Senelec, failed to pay the bill to import fuel for the power plants.
Across the region, the UN says 600,000 people have been affected by the floods since June.
This is a cumulative figure and therefore is not a snapshot of the current situation.
The UN says "affected" refers to people who have been displaced as well as those who are not able to get on with their lives as normal - for example cooking and studying.
The UN says 100 people have died in the floods, most of them in Sierra Leone. Burkina Faso has also been hard hit.
"It is not as bad as two years ago when 800,000 people were affected but it is worrisome as we have a few more weeks to go of the rainy season," said Yvon Edoumou a spokesman for the UN's humanitarian agency, OCHA.
And while West Africa has been hit by floods, the east of the continent is suffering from a drought - twin battles which analysts say will become more common as a result of climate change.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Swept Away

Here is a video of someone's water jugs getting swept away in the flash flood. Everyone watching was quite entertained by the spectacle.

Luckily with a little help the woman was able to retrieve all the jugs before they got completely swept away.

Why nothing gets done in the rainy season...

It's the rainy season in Guinea now. People live at the mercy of the elements here. Yesterday I got caught in a flash flood while trying to go to one of the neighborhood markets in Conakry. When I left the house, there was no rain. By the time I got to the market, it was sprinkling. I stopped by a tailor to drop off some fabric and by the time I was ready to go, it was pouring. I thought I'd wait for it to ease up, but instead, the situation got worse.

Unfortunately, cities are not prepared for large downpours. There are some ditches for runoff, but unfortunately, they usually get filled with trash and eroded dirt, making the water spill over. And in a case such as a major downpour like today, there is just nowhere for that quantity of water to go. It just overflows the ditches and streets like a raging river, flowing down in the quickest path towards the ocean it can. Since there are no real sewer and advanced plumbing systems either, this means everything gets swept up. Raging rivers of sheer filth.

The rain started letting up, but the river still raged. It was strong enough at its peak to push grown men off their feet. Traffic was a gridlock. After waiting for over an hour and a half, you could start to see the road again under the river. Cars and people started to tentatively move. I made a break for it, grabbed a few things from the corner store for lunch, and wadded back to the house. Once back, I immediately took a shower and tried to disinfect the lower half of my body...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Just a funny bush taxi story...

Mary and I were taking a bush taxi from Kamsar to our home a couple of weeks ago. Taxi drivers usually stop for random personal reasons, but rarely explain anything to the passengers. This time, the taxi driver felt compelled to tell us that he had to take a back road to get some containers full of oil. It didn't seem too out of the ordinary so we just said it was okay.

After driving forever on this backroad he goes to turn back on the main road and there is a military woman telling him to pull over. It seemed that the taxi driver took the back road to avoid the military checkpoint. He explained to the woman that the prefet asked him to get some oil. She asked where the oil was and he said it was coming. The driver told the woman that another guy at the checkpoint was aware of the situation, so they went to find the military guy who came and said it was okay and that they could pass. It all seemed really sketchy to say the least.

We continued and never did get any oil. We can only assume the rest of that story...

some pics of bush taxis

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rainy Season Photos

The back alley leading to my new office--an enjoyable walk everyday.


The main road I take to work everyday--sometimes in a taxi, but mainly on foot.


The new office for my NGO--CEFACAM. It is much nicer and quieter than the one we used downtown. It was furnished with tables, desks, chairs, fans, computer, printer, etc. by a large refinery called Guinea Alumina owned by BHP Billiton. Currently we are giving business classes and consultations. We hope to start a grasscutter (bush rat) raising project soon to benefit small businesses in the surrounding villages.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Top Ten. Go Guinea...

The 2009 Failed State Index was released in July. It is an annual study done by The Fund for Peace in collaboration with Foreign Policy magazine. Guinea's back in the top ten this year, down from 11 last year. (Unlike your score in golf, smaller is NOT better...) Guinea has been going back and forth between 11th and 9th place for the past several years, so this is not a huge change. Nevertheless, it gives you an insight as to what kind of place we are living in right now.

Joining us in the top ten, in order, are:
1. Somalia
2. Zimbabwe
3. Sudan
4. Chad
5. Democratic Republic of the Congo
6. Iraq
7. Afghanistan
8. Central African Republic
10. Pakistan

Here is a link to the complete index with interactive map and breakdown.
Failed State Index

Here is a very interesting article they wrote explaining the index.
Article about Failed State Index

It's all just a bunch of numbers though that can be looked at in so many different ways, so take it for what you will. You all know what they say about statistics... But seeing it as we do, we know for sure there is still plenty of truth in it somewhere.

Anyone notice that the US isn't a dark green as one would have guessed?