“See you tomorrow, Inshallah.”
“I will be there, Inshallah.”
“Have a nice weekend, Inshallah.”
If I had to sum up the Guinean (and general African) attitude towards all aspects of life, it would be Inshallah, which means “God willing” in Arabic.
In Guinea, nothing is sure. No matter is in the people’s own hands, so there is a complete lack of faith in everything – except in God.
I am not passing judgement, but this attitude can be frustrating to a Westerner like me. For example, two weeks ago we had a big department meeting at my university. I saw one of my colleagues a few days prior, and upon taking my leave, I said, “See you on Saturday at the meeting!” to which he replied, “Yes, see you, Inshallah.” I thought to myself, “No! Don’t say that! We have a mandatory meeting, and you have to be there. We all do! Don’t wish for it to happen – make it happen. Just be there!” I mean, back in North America, how strange would it sound for a business executive to say “I’ll be there, God willing!” when asked to join a highly important meeting?
But this is not North America. I’m in Guinea. I’m in Africa.
After being here for nearly two months, I get it now. We can’t be sure of anything.
Last Monday was supposed to be the first day of the semester at the universities. I showed up for work, raring to go, and was immediately informed that the first day of classes has been postponed until further notice. Even some other lecturers and a few dozen students showed up for class, not knowing it had been announced the Saturday before that the semester was postponed.
Since there would be no classes, I decided I would stay home all week and finish tweaking my syllabi, researching Internet resources to enhance my curricula, and taking care of some other administrative tasks that are on my to-do list. But the problem with planning anything here in Guinea is that there is a good chance it will not happen.
We went without power for almost the entire week. We did have power, but only 1-3 hours of it per day, and it’s really hard to get any work done when you can’t charge your laptop. In addition, we didn’t have water for all of Thursday and half of Friday, which didn’t affect my work plan, but it did prevent me from bathing, and that’s just gross.
To be honest, it was an emotionally draining week and my attitude about being here changed. I felt so defeated. But I’m still trying to keep everything in perspective; despite all the uncertainties of living here, I am still experiencing a much higher quality of life than the vast majority of Guineans. If they have hope, then I can surely muster up hope as well and not resign myself to total defeat.
One of the most hopeful people I have met here in Guinea is my driver. (I hate saying “my driver” because it sounds so bourgeois, but honestly, I don’t know how I would get around without him – and I think the people I work with don’t know how I would get around otherwise. It isn’t easy to get around Conakry if you don’t have your own car, and most of my peers don’t own cars, which is another reason that getting somewhere – on time, especially – is left in the hands of God, too.) My driver is available to me day and night, 24/7. No matter how much or how little driving he does, he still gets paid a flat monthly rate. If he is out all day, he will go without eating and drinking because he simply can’t afford to buy anything, yet his positivity and generosity towards others is unparalleled.
On Friday, he invited me to meet his wife and children at his home. I accepted, of course – it was my first opportunity to visit a Guinean home. They live in a one-room house about half the size of my bedroom, without electricity or running water. They all sleep under a mosquito net, because the one window has no glass or screen. Their 2-year old girl wears boys’ clothes, because it is all they have. Their older child, a 7-year old boy, they took in when his parents died from Ebola two years ago. Learning all of this and seeing how they live was a unique and humbling experience for me, and I felt so ashamed for being frustrated with the on-and-off electricity I experience at my clean, spacious, three-bedroom apartment.
After visiting his home, I had an attitude reset; I will not accept defeat, but I will also not count on anything anymore. Putting faith or trust in something will only create expectations that may not be met. Instead, I will expect the worst but hope for the best. I will be realistic, yet remain optimistic. It’s the only way to survive here.
That’s all for now. I will write again soon, Inshallah.