Yesterday -- Tuesday, June 1st
At around 8am, Edie (the other volunteer) and I loaded our stuff into the winrock landcruiser and left the hotel in Canakry. I sure was glad to be done with my three days penned up there.
Looking at the escalating graph of ebola deaths in Canakry gave me a certain sense of escaping a plague. Ebola isn't present where I am now, but I'm slightly concerned if it continues unabated i might not be able to return through ebola. After all, Doctors Without Borders had described it as "uncontrollable."
Previously I think we'd all declined to make a move for the front seat out of politeness, resulting in one of the winrock staff getting it by mere virtue of being the last in. With an all-day journey ahead I wasn't going to dance around the issue, and nabbed the coveted from seat. At first it was just Edie and I and Winrock's new driver -- their previous driver died on Saturday.
Roads out of Canakry were surprisingly well maintained. Smoothly surfaced and smoothly flowing. And this despite ongoing construction to widen the road for a great length of the road out of Canakry.
Once we left the city behind, the road wound through lush green hills. There were sporatic spats of drizzle -- I'm told Guinea is "the water tank of Africa." They say the Senegal and Niger rivers both begin not far from where I am now. I didn't know there was a river Senegal but Niger is quite noteworthy, being as it gives both the countries of Niger and Nigeria their name!
After about an hour Edie and I were beginning to seriously wonder where the other two supposed passengers on this drive were. We'd been told we were picking them up at Ibrim (the Organization's Guinea Country Director)'s house just outside the city. We finally arrived there at a place called "Kilometre 36." His house was a lovely little walled in compound abounding with trees and his in-laws. Here Ibrim, Baro and their luggage joined us, filling the car pretty much to capacity.
Ibrim would be accompanying Edie on her project, which is on the way to mine, and Baro would accompany me. Baro is actually the Country Director for Mali, but he is presently displaced to Guinea, so helping out over here. He is an easy-going fellow one might describe has having a stolid stature, except he has a pronounced limp*. Interesting fact, he was actually born in Timbuktu.
Crowded into the vehicle, we resumed our winding journey through the beautiful Guinean countryside. Presently we came to a town where they'd planned to stop so I could get lunch, but all the restaurants were closed for ramadan. Similarly, it is only I who was after lunch because the Organization's staff are also observing Ramadan and so is Edie, in solidarity with the people she'll be working with. Personally, I'm all for cultural experiences but I don't think I could adequately do they job I was sent here to do if I was starving the whole time.
On any account, other than my non-regulation 7am breakfast I pretty much ended up observing it.
Dropped Edie off at a pretty decent looking hotel in the town of Mamou. While it looked nice on the outside she did quickly acertain that the running water didn't appear to be working, among other things. And then the rest of us continued. The driver would be returning that way with Ibrim so he'd rejoin her on the return trip.
Around 2pm we stopped by Ibrim's home village, near a particularly hilly area I'm told is called "The Switzerland of Guinea." I'd have tried to take a picture but rain was thundering down on us at the time. Ibrim brought some bags of rice to his aunts and uncles (parents no longer with us. There seems to be an alarming lack of old people about), and we left him there.
Drove through the town of Labe and turned off the paved highway onto a dirt road. I was a bit confused because I'd been lead to believe I was staying in a hotel in town. We pulled into a quaint little village. Apparently they'd found room in one of the houses of this village, which also contains many beekeepers! It is an absolutely lovely quaint little place. The very picture of an idyllic village. None of the plastic trash carpeting the ground like autumn leaves I'd seen in so many villages in Nigeria.
There was just enough light left for our host Abdul to give me a tour of the surroundings. Abdul himself appears to be old, though his small stature makes him more reminiscent of a particularly mellow twenty year-old if you ignore his lined face and bad teeth*. The village consists of some small square houses with painted walls, and a few huts with thatched roofs. The whole habitation is surrounded by a low fence to keep the local herd of children from wandering too far afield, and keep the goats out until they can be herded into pens every evening. Thick stands of corn and cassava occupy the open spaces around the village. Just outside the village there's some fairly thick forest, though I'm not sure I quite dare to call it jungle. The tree tops aren't nearly high enough anyway I suppose. But there are numerous staghorn ferns to be seen growing off thick branches overhead, which is fun. There appear to be hundreds of beehives (kenyan topbar, for those who are keeping track) stashed away in the immediate surroundings. They appear to be pretty well made, though I've seen enough to comment on that I don't think I'll feel useless..
Later on we were sitting under the porch watching the pouring rain when the call to prayer sounded on Baro's phone. "Come, it is time to break fast," he said to me.
So I followed him and the troop of other men from the village as we tromped under umbrellas through the dark and the rain, around a few houses to the village elder's house. There I stood on the balcony while they did their prayers and then they invited me in to join them. They distributed large bowls full of millet soup, everyone sitting on the floor or small stools, and ladles were passed out. We used our ladles to consume from the communal bowls. It was an interesting mix of savory and sweet. Having not eaten since breakfast that morning myself I certainly had an appetite.
There were also bowls with ??? some kind of something in it possibly describable as the consistency of couscous. This we ate with our hands, mixing in some spice we'd take pinches of from another bowl, and some gooey stuff that was in the middle of the big bowl (I didn't discover this until I put my hand in it -- remember the only light here is from a few flashlights). It was good but I think next time I might take the spoon they proferred me -- the stuff was genuinely good, but the growing gooeyness of my hand was fairly unsettling me.
Walked back to the house I'm staying in. Several other local men joined us in sitting on our porch and talking, though unfortunately it was almost entirely in either French or the local language and I couldn't follow. This one fellow, Mamadou, who also might be the owner of the house, seems to love to discuss the politics of Guinea and I dearly wish I could understand what he was saying, he seems intelligent. Thursday morning he's leaving to drive to Dakar, Senegal, which, if he leaves at 5am he might be able to get there by 9pm, he says.
This just hanging around chatting though, this is a thing I think we really miss out on in our electrified distraction filled world.
I had kind of assumed that was it as far as dinner was concerned, but to my surprise several big dishes showed up around 10pm. In Nigeria I had come to expect pretty rudimentry food, even in the electrified towns. But here I was in an un-electrified village and some very appetizing dishes were being trotted out! There were two kinds of rice with a sauce "made of leaves" (?), a lettuce/egg/tomato salad with balsamic dressing, fried plantains (which I simply love), and some sort of beef soup which I didn't actually get around to trying. We probably had about a dozen men with us in our little livingroom for the meal, and a car battery had been hooked up to light the house. As we finished the meal we listened to the US-Belgium worldcup match on a handheld radio. I kept insisting "we can still win!" as the last seconds ticked away but to no avail.
Fell asleep to the sound of pounding rain, woke up to the sound of pounding rain. Lay there wondering how this training, which would start later that (this) day, would go if it rained the whole time. But my battery is nearly out. So amid the sound of another prayer behind me in the house, and crickets chirping in the darkness in front of me, I'm going to end this for the day. Hopefully I can find a charger soon!
* I'm trying to work on my descriptions of people. Of the two described people, this is Baro (I'll link a better picture when I get one up), and this is Abdul. Feedback on the quality of my character descriptions would be in order (: