Read this e-mail (below my signature) to one of our students from his friend in the Peace Corps in Guinea! Interesting studd, especially about the insects, flies, etc! Remember - swat - do NOT smash them!
See you tomorrow - Tuesday - to continue our study of South Asia and especially to keep on viewing our video on the Lost Temples of India.
10/21: GBereire, Labour, The Thiam family is my host family. Lamine is my name and my room is in one of five in the family compound. There are over 60 people living in the compound. Mane (pronounced like a jamaican would say “man” –mon) is one of my host family brothers and makes sure that all of my needs are taken care of. He assisted me in learning how to do my laundry in the river, explained the excision ceremony that was taking place in a house across the street, and explained that the large scorpion shown to me, over 5 inches long was not really dangerous (I don’t believe him... looks pretty dangerous to me). I took my first bucket shower as dusk fell, watched the fireflies collect and watched the full moon rise before retiring to my bed for the first night in my new home. I sweat all night long, hoping that I will soon become acclimated.
10/22: My family consists of a father and his three brothers, their wives and all of their children and some others that may not be theirs. One of the brothers is the Imam and attached to the family compound is a mosque. The large community mosque is across the river and in another part of the village, but the Imam and his family, along with other people from this part of the village utilize the family mosque. One of the other brothers is the Meuzin, the prayer caller, who is up early to call 5 a.m. prayer and then again 6 a.m. prayer. Two of the brothers have more than one wife, and the other brother only has one wife. All total there are three fathers, with their five wives living in the five houses with all of the children. Two of my host family brothers, Lamine and Mane, provide French lessons for me each night after I return from Peace Corps classes. Each week Peace Corps offers me 20 hours of French lessons. I started in a lower intermediate class and have progressed to middle intermediate by now. I have also learned some greetings in Susu. Most of the kids and many of the women only speak Susu. There are some kids who yell out at the white people as they go past. They yell Fote’, which literally means “white person.” Most of them love it when we respond in French or Susu. Some of the children are afraid of the white people, break out into a scream, crying, and yelling, hiding behind mom’s skirt.
10/23: There are orange trees all over the village. Mango trees and guava trees also grow throughout the area. I swim in the river daily daily in lieu of a bucket bath and keep a wet t-shirt on to combat the heat. I have mastered the squat latrine toilet and when I need a shower and it is too dark for the river, I shower behind a palm frond shelter using a bucket of water drawn from the well. I eat home-made peanut butter, a baguette and fresh bananas each morning. Other meals include eggs, lettuce that is just now beginning to grow, potatoes, patates, manioc root, tomatoes, leaf sauce (they use leaves from many plants to make sauces), spiced up with peppers, and peanuts. I get lots of leaves in sauces. Laundry at the river is scenic. While standing in the water I can look pu past the thatched roof of houses in the village, past the coconut palm trees next to the field of rice to see the mountains that rise aburptly, less than five kilometers away. Outside of my house I have a similar view of the mountains from my recently hung hammock. I hung the hammock between two large mango trees and look out past the family garden throught the rice field to see the sam mountain rising up past the road that runs past the village.
10/24: I got my Trek bicycle today, so I have some freedom to explore. The mornings are cooler than at first and evening rains are cooling things down at night. I am not sweating as much. Days are 80 – 85 degrees, nights not much cooler. I made my first visit to the hospital to learn about hospital care here. It is mostly basic care with an emphasis on pre-natal care and childbirth. The cost is low, $3.50 for a hospital visit, $2.50 for children. Once you pay the fee for the visit, you do not pay any more until they release you. One price for the whole stay. Surgery is $15.00. Most of the problems treated here are Malaria, parasites, and respiratory problems. While touring the facility, we walked into the maternity ward and were invited to watch a woman give birth. I won’t bore you with details, but it was quite a surprise to walk in on this and to be invited to view the process. I believe my future job will involve some work in a healthcare facility, so I guess I will get used to it. I learned a little about some of the more common problems here, like the acid fly or acid beetle that likes to walk on humans. If you slap the fly it secrets a fluid that burns the skin and sometimes leaves scars. I have learned to swipe at flies rather than slap at them. Another thing to watch out for is another fly that lays its eggs on your clothing while it is drying on the clothesline. When you put on the clothes, the larvae crawls out and embeds itself in your skin, the larvae grows, giving you a sort of pimple, which, when squeezed, a fly or the larvae will come out.
10/25-10/27 I bicycled to the closest town today, Dubreka, with a group of volunteers. We rode down a road into a small village, parked the bikes at a family’s house and began a hike up the river and into the mountains. In the evening, I spent time with family members discussing religion and taboos. We also discussed the family members a little more and I am beginning to understand some of the structure of this complex extended family. The women work hard all day, squatting low to the ground to do the cooking, going to the river to do laundry, taking care of numerous children, cleaning, and catering to the men of the house. The men work in the fields, fish, and build new structures needed in the compound. As stated before, one of the men in my compound is the Immam for the village. His brother is the Meuzin, making the calls to prayer at the specified times. I am learning the importance of greeting everyone I see. These people greet each other numerous times, repeating greetings, asking how your health is, the family, the business affairs, how the children are, and if things are going well in general. They will often repeat a specific greeting numerous times, and also in several languages. It is difficult to walk down the street in a hurry, since you have to greet everyone so many times. As part of my Peace Corps work, I meet with family members to discuss their culture. Last night I spoke with one of the daughters about a club she is the president of. The purpose of the club is to come up with money for any individual that might need some money for whatever reason, a wedding, a new birth, farm implements, or for health care. Everything here is collective, not only in the family, but in the entire community. There are also many groups to empower women. Most of the women do not attend school due to the numerous duties around the house, so they do not, in general speak French. There are clubs to assist them in learning French and in producing written forms of their mother tongue.
10/30 Today the students in Dubreka went on strike. They were upset over crowded classrooms, 85 students per classroom with one teacher, with three students to a desk. The students were upset because the government had given the school district some money and none had been spent on the school or the students. There is alot of graft and corruption around any money issue here. (We visited the school on another ocassion and observed some classes operating under these terrible conditions. We will probably have some involvement with the education system once we complete training and move to our job sites). The strike got nasty when a gendarme injured a student. The students rolled over some police cars and burned them. They threw rocks and broke some windows. All was calm by the end of the day. The students were given a holiday to avoid other problems, the president responded, and all is back in order. Peace Corps alerted us to the problem and ensured our safety. We were pretty safe since the ordeal took place several miles from where we actually stay. None of us ventured toward Dubreka for several days.
10/31 Halloween. Lately the nights have been a little cooler. The rainy season is coming to an end, and they tell me the winter cools down a bit, maybe to 80 instead of 85. Nights might get down to 70 during December. I still sweat at night, but not as much. We have attended several cross-cultural in-services, including a cross-cultural fair set up by The Peace Corps to experience Guinean music, food, clothing, and religion.
11/2 Today the Peace Corps took us on a trip to Soumba falls, near Bereire. The falls are owned by a Lebanese American who has built a hotel and restaurant overlooking the falls. I will attempt to send a picture on my next trip to the computers. The hotel is nice and the food at the restaurant is good. There is electricity and running water, and the hotel rooms are air conditioned. This is a nice place, so if you decide to come visit Guinea, there is a nice place for you to stay, the first I’ve seen outside of Conakry. The swimming was great. The base of the falls forms a natural pool that is over 15 feet deep in most places. This area is some of the most scenic near Conakry, although I did notice some nice islands just off Conakry, when we flew in, visible before landing. It was a great relaxing day at the falls. We dined on tabouli, hummus and pita bread, a real treat after two weeks of basic Guineen village food.
Upon return to Bereire, I hung the hammock, and before long my host family brother, Mane came to sit next to the hammock to work on his school work, while I studied French. Within 20 minutes 2 other brothers joined, and Mane was shooing away three of the younger kids. After several others gathered around, Mane sent three of them to fetch some drinking water for the filter system in my room, while another was sent to climb a coconut tree to retrieve coconuts to dring and eat. Another brother got the machete and helped open the coconuts and brought some guavas he picked from a tree on the way back with the machete. After eating coconuts and guavas with a group of 6 or 7 brothers, their mother delivered a plate of fried bananas, patats, potatoes, and manioc. All of this relaxation ahd to come to an end after several hours when dusk approached, so the brothers took down the hammock for me and returned it to my room. One of them swept my room while I gathered my laundry. Mane assisted me with my laundry at the river and we bathed with other kids from the community in the river. On the way home, we stopped at Mane’s grandmother’s house, where I was fed rice with spicy fish/peanut sauce and chunks of fish. She sent us away with rice flour cookies which we shared with two other brothers that were returning from their bath at the river. Nothing is done individually around here. Everything is collective. Sometimes the brothers will just come sit around while I do my own thing. They just sit. It is not necessary to talk. They do not know the concept of doing something alone.
Although there are already over 60 people living here, more are showing up for the big wedding being held here tomorrow. The wedding will be here, but the reception will be in Conakry. They want to dance at the reception, and since the Imam forbids dancing at the house, they just moved the reception to the more liberal city.
I am going to wrap up for now. I will write some more next week and send it off next Saturday during a scheduled trip to town.
I have begun to learn alot about Islam and have joined in with the Ramadan fasting. There’s just too much food being served all of the time. Thank Allah for the fasting. After a day of night eating there is a big family dinner after the evening prayer. I’m not starving myself, just eating more reasonable amounts in the morning and night, basically, skipping lunch.
Will send more soon.
Carla: One of the local ways of saying goodbye is N’Wahlhi, but actually means Thank-you. They also say Merci’, the French version of Thank you when you leave, but they have other expressions too.