August 4th, 2016

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Guinea 2016 Part 1 - The Journey There

Wednesday, August 3rd (today), Moriac, Australia - Well I just got home today from my third project in Guinea. Let me tell you, it was an ordeal getting there as well as getting back! I think I can break this down into just four entries, (1) on getting there; (2) the project itself; (3) on the drive back from the interior to the capitol; and (4) the FIVE DAYS it took to fly back.


Monday, July 11th, Moriac, Australia - I was due to leave on Wednesday, the 13th. As of Monday I was freaking out because I had sent my passport to Washington DC for the Guinean visa stamp and as of Monday it hasn't been released yet. At this point it was no longer physically possible for my passport to arrive on time. In fact I had been stressing out since the week before when I realized it was still in the Embassy in DC. I don't stress out much about things that I can control but thins like this that are entirely out of my hands can really freak me out. I was barely sleeping, constantly feeling stressed.
   I tried to contact the US Consulate on Monday and after initially having some trouble getting through the bureaucracy to actually talk to a human (they only actually answer the phone on Tuesdays and Thursdays or something and the appointment system is automated), but once one of my emails reached a human there they were actually quite helpful -- they called ME and said even though the next day was booked out they would make an emergency appointment for me. They were very careful to say they could by no means guarantee I'd be granted an emergency passport but I figured it was my only chance to save this project.

Tuesday, July 12th, Melbourne, Australia - Arriving at the consulate I began to tell the guy at the window my situation and he was like "oh, yes, you, we've been briefed about you." I had to fill out a bunch of forms, pay a $130 fee I hope will be reimbursed by the organization, and wait an hour, and... voila! they issued me a new flimsy temporary passport! My old one, by now finally in transit with DHL but a week from arriving, was cancelled. I still needed a Guinean visa but I was told the Organization's contacts in Guinea could arrange that on arrival, and I didn't even think of it until I was in transit myself but my yellow fever vaccination document was in my old passport .... could have been a big problem but they didn't ask for it on entry to Guinea -- just re-entry into Australia but that's another story.

Wednesday, July 13th, Geelong, Australia - The first frantic misshap of the actual travel occured on my way to catch the bus to the airport. The airport is about an hour and a half away but there's a direct airport bus from downtown Geelong. My housemate has to go to a train station on the outskirts of Geelong to take a train into Melbourne for work so she gave me a ride there and I was going to catch an Uber from there. I had 40 minutes, plenty of time, ... but my uber app on my phone decided THEN was the time it needed to update! It spent ten minutes updating and then still wouldn't load, as I begin to panic anew! And my prepaid phone had run out of its monthly payment just that morning and I wasn't about to put $20 more on it just for one call!! So I put in my American sim card and called a regular taxi. Succeeded in catching the taxi to the train to the plane.

Thursday, July 14th, in transit - Had a bit of a sore throat by the time I landed in Dubai after a fifteen hour flight, which progressed to stuffed up sinuses during the flight to Ghana (but the sore throat actually went away) ... and I don't know if you've ever gone through elevation/pressure changes with entirely stuffed up sinuses but it's actually agonizingly painful, feels like you're head is going to explode.
   In Ghana we landed, disembarked some passengers, and took off again. As we landed in our next stop, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, my seat mate my have wondered why I was leaning forward cradling my head in my hands silently rocking back and forth with tears rolling down my face, I don't know and I don't care, I'm just glad my head did not in fact explode and my eyes did not pop out (I'm really not 100% sure it's not possible for something to catastrophically burst in such conditions). The pain subsided pretty quickly after landing but my right ear remained plugged for most of the project, making me a bit hard of hearing.
   Optimistic that the trip was just one quick hop from being over I sauntered over to the connections desk ... only to find out that the flight to Conakry had been cancelled. On this occasion everyone I interacted with in the airport was extremely friendly and helpful and really made a positive impression of Cote D'Ivoire.
   Since the flight was cancelled they put me up in a hotel, which had a shuttle to take me, so no stress. During the drive there I observed that Abidjan has broad streets without too much traffic or squalor. Apparently it's the second biggest city of West Africa (and here you'be probably never heard of it before). The little hotel they put me up in was cute and the manager, a young man who looked in his mid twenties, was very friendly, though his English wasn't great. When he found out what I do he asked why I wasn't working in Cote D'Ivoire. I said I only go where I'm invited ... the next day he had printed out this really cute "invitation letter" which I promise I will link in here asap. voila:



Friday, July 15th, Conakry - I had bought a massive 250gb "microSD" memory chip for my phone, so I was looking forward to actually being able to take lots of videos even, without constantly running out of room. Well on day 1 it started borking out. Some 85% of the pictures I took resulted in unreadable files until I removed the chip and then things worked fine. It's weird though because I have been using that chip for months without a problem, but the moment I'm out in the field counting on it it completely fails!
   At this point I did succeed in recording and uploading this video, which is mostly just me telling the above story. It cuts out abruptly but all attempts to record the second half resulted in bad files so this is all you get. Anyway I pretty much just spent Friday and Saturday trying to recover from jet lag.

Sunday, July 17th, Labe - The drive from Conakry, a peninsula on the coast, to Labe in the interior, can take 8-10 hours, plus 3-4 hours of traffic in Conakry itself. Fortunately, being Sunday, there was no traffic!
   My driver one of an infinite array of Mamadous, didn't speak much English so we couldn't really talk but he seemed like a capitol fellow. The drive is always beautiful once you get out of the city as well. In Mamou, about 2/3rds of the way up, we picked up Monsieur Morlaye Damba, who had been my interpreter last year. In Labe we stayed in a hotel, and while we were (for some reason?) standing by the front door a well dressed man in a suit came in accompanied by some other guys in suits and some uniformed soldiers. He shook our hands as he went past and I was afterwords informed he is the Guinean Minister of Justice!

Monday, July 18th, Labe - we met up with some people I knew from before from the beekeeping federation, and it was good to see them, and then we greeted the regional governor in his office. And then we were off to the project site about half an hour north of town! But that's another entry!

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Guinea 2016 Part 2 - Project 146

Monday, July 18th, Labe - Arrived in Lafou about half an hour north of the town of Labe. The highway was really shockingly well made here -- no potholes at all. Apparently its part of a new road that goes from Labe to Senegal and will eventually link all the West African countries together.
   We (myself, Mr Damba, our driver Mamadou, the beekeeping association trainer Khalidou) were put up in a guest house on one side of a dirt square across from the tiny little local government hall, which is where the training would take place. There was also electricity this time! The little government building had solar panels and they strung across wires so we had working lights, though we couldn't plug anything in to charge.
   Along the highway and around the square there were these big white light poles with solar panels, to light up the streetlights at night. Apparently this charity project called Akon Light Up Africa put them in. Personally I think they're a nice improvement of safety by the main road and I guess prevent people from tripping at night in the village, but I'm not sure where streetlights fall in the pyramid of needs. Still everyone seems excited about it and everything helps. I did miss my starry nights though.

   As the people filtered into the little hall that first day I noticed a mzungu, or as they call us in Guinea apparently, a porto -- a white person. She was, it turns out, a Peace Corps volunteer. She was working on a beekeeping project so she came to attend the training, which she had heard about the previous years' projects. She was really nice and it gave me someone else to speak with, since Damba usually couldn't be bothered to translate anything conversational for me. Monica, AKA "Umu Bah," wrote a blog entry herself about the training. I'm not going to write too much about the nuts and bolts of the training because that's the same as it always is, so you can read her entry for a fresh look at that (:

   For me, having a Peace Corps volunteer there was itself one of the most interesting things. I have an interesting relationship with Peace Corps, having been thinking about doing it on and off ever since college and at one point had almost gone. And there are lots of informational sessions where you can talk to returned PC volunteers in the states if you are interested, but that's nothing like spending two weeks with one in the field to really see what it's like. I greatly enjoyed discussing various development problems and projects with her.

   In the evenings a local man named Abdul would take Monica and I walking around, in a different direction each day, and I greatly enjoyed this, since I always love to explore the area. While the part of the village where we were staying was more open, other parts of the village were much more like Doumba had been last year, that is, houses and huts connected by veritable tunnels through thick maize, lots of tree cover, generally green and lush.
   One of the days, Abdul led us up a mountain trail, pointing out various herbs along the way and telling us the local beliefs about their medicinal values. Just when I thought we were really far from anywhere, up the mountain, we suddenly came to another little village, where he said his sister lived. Greeted his sister and her family and came back through thick rain.
   We got a fair bit of rain in general, and one whole day was lost because it was raining too hard to do anything, but even when it was raining I was revelling in the fact that it was SO MUCH WARMER than Victoria, Australia, which has been within ten degrees of freezing all winter. As always, many hours were spent sitting on the veranda, reading as it rained.
   Since Mr Damba only really seemed interested in translating for me when it suited his purposes and/or translating what he wanted to communicate, I found myself increasingly using Monica to go around him to communicate directly with the FAPI (beekeeping association) president and FAPI trainer Khalidou. When someone annoys me I tend to tell myself I'm just being grumpy and it's not that bad but after awhile I realized its kind of ridiculous that I was having to go to all this effort to go around my own interpreter (so he wouldn't intervene I'd often be trying to get a chance to talk to Monica without him around about what I wanted to communicate to the other participants!
   Things really came to a head at the end of the week -- I had talked my friend Daniel from Ethiopia into coming to Guinea for the project. He is a honey exporter in Ethiopia, and even if they found another exporter in the United States, no one would have as pertinent experience as Daniel does from exporting from a similarly undeveloped African country to Europe. So Daniel had volunteered to come which I am very grateful for and I paid for his flight from Ethiopia. He was arriving in the nearby town, Labe, on Monday. All week I'd tried to bring up the plans with Damba and he kept brushing me off with "we'll deal with that later." So finally on Friday I sat down with him and said
   "okay we need to go in to Labe on Monday to pick up Daniel," to which he said
   "No we're going to Labe on Wednesday it's in the itinerary"
   "Yes but Daniel is there on Monday and we need to go get him." I said
   To this Damba went into the other room and came back to show me the printed itinerary, saying "no see it's on Wednesday"
   "I don't care if it's in the itinerary!" I exclaimed, "my friend will be there Monday and I'm not going to leave him twiddling his fingers there for three days"
   Damba was completely unmoved, saying we couldn't change the itinerary. Which, I've seen all kinds of wild deviations from the itinerary. We had days off and trips to Labe that weren't in the itinerary already, I really don't know why he was being like this.
   "Okay well I'll email Ibro then and ask about it" I offered, since Ibro, the country director for the Organization, surely had the authority to change the god damn holy text of the itinerary. Ibro called him an hour later and I don't know what he said but Damba seemed a bit better behaved.


Monday, July 27th, Labe - On Monday we headed back in to Labe to pick up Daniel, and Ibro who had actually come up with him. At breakfast that morning in the hotel in Labe there was the Justince Minister, the governor of Labe region, and the mayor of Labe. Place to be apparently!
   Returned to the village of Lafou for one more day of wrapping things up with the participants and "closing ceremonies." Lots of speeches ensued. I gave a boomerang decorated with aboriginal art to Abdul as thanks for taking us walking every day. I'm not sure he knew what it was or what the kangaroo on it was but he seemed very touched.

Wednesday, July 29th, Labe - On Wednesday we had a meeting with the board of FAPI and Daniel presented about how to meet the import requirements for the EU and it was very good and informative and I myself learned a lot. I had really wondered many times if it was worth the stress and cost and effort to bring Daniel here but after this I was satisfied I had done the right thing. His contributions were very valuable and I'm very happy to have fostered pan-African exchange.
   For lunch that day we went to Sanpiring, the little village just outside Labe where I had my first Guinea project in 2014. There I was shocked to learn this young girl of about sixteen I knew (she's the one who was declared my wife after she cried for two weeks after I left the first time) had been married and gone off to live with her husband. You hear about these young marriages but it's truly shocking when it happens to someone you actually knew. She was so young! I was really quite shocked. At least her husband looked young too, not some old creeper.

   And the next day we would return to Conakry! Usually its mostly a straight shot but it actually turned into a rather interesting 14 hour road trip complete with being waylaid by drunk soldiers. But that's definitely another entry! (:


Myself, Ibro, and Daniel

Related
Monica's Blog Post
All entries about Guinea