Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Onward to Guinea (LJI Edition)

Leg 1

   I felt the aircraft gently jolt into motion, the motion mainly transmitting from the seat in front of me through my knees which were jammed against it. I peered out the window as the gate pulled away, and wondered why I couldn't shake this strong feeling I'd forgotten something. I had packed for a year in Australia the morning-of, but for some reason for this, a month in the West African country of Guinea, I'd had this anxiety for the past week that I'd forget something important. Usually it hit around the time I pulled onto the freeway. Sometimes it took until we were pulling in to the airport. But this time it was far overdue and it was freaking me out.
   The crinkling noise of the guy in orange bermuda shorts next to me unfolding a newspaper drew my attention from the window. Wall Street Journal. Headline: "Bomb Blast in Abuja." Big picture front and center of carnage. I peered at the picture trying to see if I recognized any buildings in it. That's where I'd normally be headed!! I thought to myself, easily picturing the hot chaotic atmosphere of Abuja. This seemed very ominous.

   As the flight accelerated down the runway I pondered why I felt so anxious. It's not like I could be unprepared, I've done many of these projects already and pretty well have it down. I moved on to pondering if that was the guy next to me's body odor I was smelling, and leaned closer to the window. Tiny houses went by far down below, and cars like toys. We soared up over Saddleback Mountain and left Orange County behind. If you're not from Southern California, you might not realize this, but just over our small little mountain from Orange County lies the planet of Tatooine. As I hungrily devoured the tiny bag of little pretzels that pass for a meal now (because lord knows there's no meal that falls between 8am and 3pm) I gazed out at the barren landscape below and tried to make out Jabba's Palace or perhaps a tuskan raider village, but all I saw was a windfarm. I tried punching some buttons on the screen in the seat in front of me and found it would cost at least $6 to watch anything, and I'd have to pay for headphones too. I read my book about insects.

Leg II
   In Atlanta I got some surprisingly decent tacos at the food court, and happily took note that in contrast to California liquor laws, I could leave the eating establishment with an alcoholic drink. Narrowed my eyes at those posh bastards in first class as I passed, margarita in hand, and proceeded halfway down the plane to a middle seat in the middle row. No aisle for extra legroom nor at least a window -- frown. But then as the airplane began to back away from the gate, lo, I heard angels singing, and a mysterious light shon down from above as churebs proudly indicated to me that neither seat on either side of me had been occupied! I hastily turned off the overhead lights and flight attendants sternly told the cherubs the seatbelt light was on, but I had ample space! Later when I got up to use the lavatory, and didn't have to climb over anyone to do so, to my amazement nearly every seat in the plane was taken except for these two.
   And so I hurtled through the night much more comfortably now that I wasn't on a US airline. A little complimentary bottle of mediocre wine came by, and there was food, and free headphones and free movies. I was still strangely anxious. Still hadn't thought of anything I'd forgotten. As I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which is about travel and being adventurous, I started to ponder more existential hypotheses -- what if I just felt guilty because I needed this project as much as the people being trained? What if I feel anxious about taking so much time off work during the busy season? ...but then again, my boss hadn't even asked when I'd return. "When I was your age," he'd regaled us at work the other day, "I was chasing bees all over the world."

   I awoke from first semblance of sleep in nearly 24 hours on a bench by my gate in Paris, which fortuitously hadn't had the usual rails between seating positions.
   "Hi, you must be Kris." said an older woman whose hair still had a tinge or red was sitting near me.
   She was Edie, another volunteer with the same organization. We'd been informed we'd be on the same flight, though we'll be in different parts of the country. She does business and organizational communications training.

   By and by, and after a few delays, it came time to board, and I joined the throng of colourfully robed Africans jostling to board the plane. The line was by no means "single file" and people didn't seem to have any compunction about wriggling ahead in the line. I tried to more-or-less maintain my position relative to some other people and wound through the zig-zagging queue until I reached the ticket check. They scanned my ticket and the machine flashed a red light and growled. The attendant frowned at the ticket and punched the number into her computer. It made a short R2-D2 noise and popped out another ticket for me -- I'd been upgraded to first class!
   While the mere mortals shuffled past on their way to airplane purgatory in coach class, I settled into the fully reclining armchair seat and a waiter with a towel over his arm poured us champagne. Once we were in the air, the waiter / flight attendant quickly began plying us with wine (several options from full sized bottles of what was no doubt high quality wine) and food. Lunch came in a blur of three or four courses, involving such fancinesses as foie gras (which I disliked), scallops, a choice of three different kinds of balsamic viniagrette, and creme brulee. Stuffed full of delicious food and fully reclined, I couldn't even muster the energy to peer out the window at the Spanish coast below, and dozed away like a happy otter.

Guinea near Canakry from the air

   Below me Guinea materialized as a landscape seemingly devoid of human development, a maze of curving rivers and damp looking foliage. And this just outside the capitol.
   There were no buildings in sight until just seconds before landing. The capitol, Canakry, is build on a peninsula, and, being built from the tip (an island off the tip actually) first, the airport was probably at the "base" of the peninsula, and I was seeing the wild interior as I came in.
   As we got in the aisles to finagle for our luggage from the overhead racks, Edie introduced me to the attractive young lady who had been sitting next to her. She had also just come from Atlanta, probably on the same ATL-CDG flight as me. She was with the World Health Organization, here in Guinea to fight the ongoing ebola outbreak. My project had earlier been postponed due to it, but she informed us it's actually still getting worse. Doctors Without Borders has described it as "completely out of control," and we had just landed in the very midst of "the worst ebola outbreak in history."

IV Canakry
   In the dingy baggage carousel room, I fished my first duffelbag off the conveyor relatively quickly, but the thing went round and round without my second bag appearing. As I stood in the jostling crowd I took heart that it appeared hardly anyone else had found their bags yet either ... but then I realized it appeared that 90% of the passengers had had bags of about the same shape and size, thoroughly wrapped in pink cellophane, so they were just having immense trouble sorting out which bag was theirs. I was about ready to despair when finally my second bag came along, a duffel bag stuffed like a giant sausage looming down the carousel like a juggernaut. My boss had stuffed it with ten bee suits -- in addition to providing me with a smoker (clean and new, I found its great for putting small things that would otherwise get lost in my luggage in), and letting me borrow his go-pro camera.

   Outside the terminal it was hot and humid, and there were the usual throngs of pushy porters trying to help us (for a fee) and taxi drivers insistent on taking us whereever we needed to go, but Edie and I had both been through this before and plowed through the crowd to the two staffmembers from The Organization (identifiable by their hats), a young man and young woman, and loaded our things into the Organization's landrover.
   Canakry seems more like a large village or expansive town than a city. Previous African capitols I've been in (Abuja, Addis Ababa) are at least characterized by paved streets and big buildings, but across the street from the airport there were houses with corrugated metal roofs, and dirt roads with streams of filthy water running through them. Not quite shantytown, more "functional squalor." The Lonely Planet guidebook had described Conakry as "smelling nausious" in general but the misty rain must have been dampening that effect. We wound our way around throngs of children playing soccer. World Cup fever seems to be in full swing, unless they're always obsessed with soccer.

   Total travel time: 28 hours. Hotel is decent -- the AC works, the power hardly ever goes out, and the internet usually works, what more can one ask for? The room doesn't have a safe, not that I was expecting one, but that causes some anxiety when carrying a fortune by local standards. I noticed something peculiar though -- the refridgerator in my room has a lock on it with a key. So I've squirreled away my 2.8 million guinean francs in the fridge. I unplugged it so I can store my laptop in there as well -- with the very high humidity I think condensation could be a serious concern when using a chilled laptop.
   Unfortunately the largest guinean franc note is the 10,000, which is worth approximately $1.42, so I have bricks of the ragged bills. It really isn't very conducive to carrying much money around.
   Edie, the other volunteer, got an even bigger suite on the top floor, but several things were broken or have broken on her, including the shower door which apparently fell and mauled her while she was taking a shower. Africa, it's a dangerous place.

V Cooped up in Canakry
   This morning (Monday) I slept through my alarm for an hour because I couldn't hear it over the rain. Fortunately I still had half an hour before breakfast, and our ride is running an hour plus late. Welcome to Africa.
   I need to make a mental note to request not to arrive on any future assignments at the beginning of a weekend. Not knowing anyone here yet, arriving to spend two days cooped up in a third world hotel is not very fun. On the bright side the internet has been working so I finally beat the game 2048.
   Most of the local restaurants recommended by the hotel staff have turned out to be closed but there's a Turkish restaurant down the street, complete with a coterie of Turkish men smoking on the porch, and a surprisingly nice Chinese restaurant (our waitress appeared to be part of the other dining party in the place, also seemed enthusiastic about a chance to practice her English, which was very good) in the other direction.
   On Sunday Edie and I went to church, which was in French and local languages so I didn't understand a thing, but it was a good break from the enforced idleness. The singing was wonderful.

traditional boats being built on the shores of Canakry

   Tomorrow morning we begin the long journey into the interior, I can't wait to get out of this hotel.

Tags: agdev, guinea, guinea 2014, lj idol entry, travelogues, travels
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