|CEDs hanging out on the terrace. A typical use of downtime.|
Things are gearing up and getting serious here. Next week we head east to Mamou, where we’ll meet our counterparts! Our first few months at site we’re not expected to really start any projects, but rather to focus on assessing our organization and the resources in the community. This workshop is to get us acquainted with our counterparts, and also to clarify our expectations for these coming months. Once we’ve been at site for 3 months they’ll ship us all back to Mamou again for In-Service Training, where we’ll learn more site- and job-specific skills.
|Barack Obama sent us an email for Christmas, and then bought us flowers!|
Speaking of sites! I'll be working right on the waterfront, down in a little city/ big village called Koba. I'll be working with a savings and credit association of fishermen, which means I'll get to learn everything from motor maintenance to how to smoke a fish. I already eat fishy rice nearly every night of the week here - it was a little scary at first thinking that fish would be my main diet for the next 2 years, but I've figured out how to put it in perspective. Everyone else may get sick of the fishy rice, but I'm going to master it so well that everyone else is going to be jealous of my mad tasty meals. Add that to my beach, my ability to go swimming any time I want, and the fresh eggs from the chickens I'm going to invariably raise, and I'm going to have a better setup than I ever had at home. Minus electricity and running water, though.
|Bro Kenny. He has a lot of things that other volunteers don't.|
We’ve been getting a lot of statistics this week about Guinea. There’s a 45% literacy rate. Genital excision occurs to 98% of the women. 85% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. It can be overwhelming to see how much work there is to be done. Peace Corps has four cross-sector issues that all volunteers are encouraged to address: HIV/AIDS awareness, Information/Communcations Technology, Gender & Development, and Youth Development. We made a list of all the possible activities we can do to address these issues, and while it’s easy to let your brain blue-screen when faced with so much work, it’s also heartening to see that there are so many options and methods to approach the issue.
And as usual, our summer camp mentality of planning too many activities for every day is still going strong. One of the trainees here is the gung-ho runner type, and wants to set up a 5k run for our volunteer group. When we head to Mamou he’ll scope out the route, then make up a workout schedule. The idea is that we’ll do our runs independently, and then when we head back to Mamou in April/May for our In-Service Training, we can hold the official G21 5k!
|The early stages of dirty feet during our Christmas Dance Party in Conakry.|
Speaking of running, it’s one of the things I love to do most around here. With the heat and humidity, it’s definitely not the easiest activity. (Give me a misty Pacific Northwest jog, please!) But it’s hands-down the most spiritually reaffirming and mind-clearing activity I do. It’s refreshing to turn off my brain for a while and focus on getting through the physical challenge. There’s a dirt path that goes out between the rice paddies, and it’s just wide enough for 2 or 3 people to jog abreast. No people or houses around, just you and the African bush. On clear days you can even see the two giant mountains that hover over the town, perched right over the rice and just to the side of the setting sun.
|Creepy Uncle Shane sometimes drinks too much wine at Christmas and makes everyone uncomfortable.|
Let’s talk about food! It’s a huge thing around here. We love food. Between food and gossiping about other volunteers and their love lives, we never run out of things to talk about. We’re all so stressed about language skills and the realities of our jobs that in our off-time, we all drop down to the lowest IQ levels possible. Anyway. Food! There’s something here called keke that I cannot get enough of. It’s a type of fluffy manioc/cassava – think extra soft and fluffy couscous. I usually buy it in a plastic bag, and the market lady will put some flavored oil, hot sauce, bullion cube powder, onions, and cucumber on top. (I could get half a dried fish too but I usually decline.) All for 3,000 GF! We get 8,000 GF for our daily food stipend, so then I’ll augment my lunch with 3 oranges for 1,000, a sugar cookie for 500, and a cup of tea or Turkish coffee from one of the “cafes” for another 500.
|My Christmas dinner! There was even an entire roasted goat!|
These cafes are not at all cafes in the American sense. They’re usually wood shacks with aluminum siding, with a covered terrace/porch full of low benches and tables. It’s a national pastime for Guinean men to hang out and drink tea, but they’re happy to make room for the fote crew when we show up. It’s a great place to hang out and socialize, and we’ve been taught that drinking tea is a legit tool for getting to know our community at site. I’m all for it! The other day I even found out that one of the regulars at the cafe is my uncle! (Though whether he’s my mom’s older or younger brother is up for debate – they both insist that they’re the older sibling.)
|Medical training activities are always a hoot|
On a more personal note: in case you’re worrying about me, don’t! Other people here have had little mental breakdowns, but I’m running on a steady jet of high-octane enthusiasm for everything I do here. There are moments where I feel overwhelmed and under-qualified and unprepared, sure. But even when I wake up at 3am to run to the latrine, there’s no question that this is exactly where I want to be.
|These are all good people.|
And finally, I'll close with a quote from a book I've been reading:
"Try to keep a lively sense of humor about it. That way lies grace - and maybe even glory."
|Merry Christmas from the CED program in Guinea!|