Since it is a new year, I’ve resolved to have a new outlook on my time in Guinea: Survive teaching and look forward to teacher trainings. Unfortunately, there have been too many insurmountable challenges when it comes to teaching my courses for me to really enjoy them. As pessimistic as I’m sure that sounds, that’s just me being honest about my teaching experience here. That’s why my new mantra is to survive teaching, and to focus on the things I am enjoying, such as the weekly teacher trainings I conduct, plus some of the side projects I’m working on.

New year = new outlook.

But it’s foggy. Really foggy.

Foggy figuratively, because the concept of planning ahead here really doesn’t exist, and is virtually impossible to achieve. For example, I’m planning a workshop that I’m hoping to do in March, but there are too many unknowns to actually plan it: I don’t know when the first semester will finish and when the second one will begin; I don’t know how long the semester break will be, or if it will be over the Easter holiday; I don’t know if people will be traveling at that time for anyone to actually attend the workshop; I don’t know if the facility I’m going to use will have any kind of technology available to me, or if it will even have electricity. I have many goals and destinations in mind, but the fog is hindering my ability to reach them.

Foggy literally, because it’s harmattan season. As I mentioned in a previous post, harmattan is a dry, dusty wind from the Sahara Desert that blows across West Africa from December through the end of February. Imagine an early spring morning when it’s so foggy that you can hardly see in front of you. Now, imagine that the fog is made up of brown dust and sand particles. Also imagine that it’s so hot, you’re sweating all day from head to toe, so all of the particles stick to you and you’re caked in layers of brown filth by the end of the day. You go home after work to the electricity being off, so you keep sweating and never manage to feel clean. And because this is the air you’re breathing, it gets into your lungs, too, so you (and everyone else) develop a nasty cough.

Yep. It was a foggy New Year.

Harmattan was especially bad last week to the point that my chauffeur had to drive very slowly because we could not see in front of us on the road. The classrooms at my university get so disgusting that the white floor tiles become brown, and every day, you have to clean off all the desks and chairs. To add to that, there is no running water at the university, so I can’t wash my hands at any point. In my apartment, the water was off all week and I couldn’t come home and take a shower. Rinsing off my hands in a bucket of soapy water somehow just isn’t as satisfying.

To start off the new year, we didn’t have water for 4 days, no Internet for 2 days, and the power has been off since Tuesday (it came on for 3 minutes – yes, we timed it – but has been off since then). We bought more diesel for the generator on Friday, but it wasn’t working until my partner messed with it and somehow fixed it yesterday afternoon. Needless to say, it has been a frustrating and unproductive start to the new year.

Will it get better? I don’t know. The outlook is foggy.

However, looking backwards, there have been some positive things:

  • My colleague, the ELF in Senegal, came to visit for a week. We were able to spend time collaborating in person on a joint project.
  • I got a private tour at the National Museum of Guinea, where my friend, an archaeologist and current Fulbright Scholar, works and is conducting research. I got to see her workshop, all the artifacts she and her team have uncovered in Boffa (a few hours’ drive from Conakry), and even got to touch and hold some of them. As a history buff and archaeologist wannabe, this was an awesome experience! (She has also invited me to the dig site in Boffa, which I’m hoping to be able to do very soon!)

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  • I spent Christmas Eve with friends from the American Embassy, which was fun and a much-needed morale booster.

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  • I spent New Year’s Eve and Day on Roume Island, one of the islands that make up the Îles de Los, with my partner, ELF colleague, and friends from the Embassy. We stayed at a small resort owned and run by an American man and his Guinean wife. Besides us, there was a group of Russian tourists staying at the resort, and we ended up mingling with them to celebrate the New Year. It was an unusual way to spend the New Year in Guinea.

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  • I bought my ticket to Senegal, where the ELF program is having its mid-year conference in February. It will be a nice break from the routine – and from Conakry.

There isn’t much else to write about at the moment. I do have some interesting side projects I’m working on, but now is not the right time to describe them. Soon, though – inshallah.

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