Kouran fa! (Translation from Susu: “Power’s back!”)
I’m used to not having power all the time, and it’s only gotten worse now that we’re deep into the dry season. Since electricity here is hydro-powered, and it hasn’t rained since November, water levels are extremely low, and we get only 2-6 hours of power a day. When the power’s off for a long time, we lose water as well. The worst experience so far was the beginning of 2017, when for 11 days straight, we had no power at all. For 5 of those days, we had no water, and even no Internet for a couple of days. I would insert the old adage, “When it rains, it pours!” …but it seems an inappropriate idiom to use during the dry season.
After the excitement of the holidays, my colleague’s visit from Senegal, and an overnight on Roume Island, it was immediately back to the routine the first week of January. By “routine,” I mean that I had to go back to work, but as we have seen, even work here is predictably unpredictable.
Take last Friday, for instance: I was giving a test in one of my General English classes. The students were working while I was monitoring them, when all of a sudden, one of the girls dropped onto the floor, and started kicking and flailing around and screaming bloody murder. Naturally, every single one of the 100+ students in that class got up and ran over to her, trying to calm her or just watching nonchalantly. She continued this behavior as several of the boys in the class picked her up by her limbs and carried her to the back of the classroom, where she was violently trying to smack or kick them away as she continued screaming her head off with her eyes completely rolled back in her head. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. With no hope for regaining control of the class, I went around and picked up all of the test papers, and then got the heck out of there. I went downstairs and informed one of the deans of what happened, and without even batting an eye, he responded: “Oh, she’s just possessed by an evil spirit. That happens all the time, especially to women and especially on Fridays,” as if it were a completely normal sentence for someone to utter. Others I talked to about it agreed that it was a normal occurrence among women in particular, and in fact, the week before, no less than 8 girls had been carried out of their classes exhibiting the same behavior. I had read about animist beliefs in magic and possessions by spirits in African cultures, but it’s one thing to read about it in a book and a completely different thing to witness it with one’s own eyes. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the weekend processing that whole experience.
As if that were not enough for one weekend, one of my colleagues died on Sunday. He was Dean of the Legal Department at my university and someone I really enjoyed working with (I teach General English to his first-year students). It came as a shock since I had no idea that he had been sick (Diabetes, apparently), and it only fueled the grief and anger welling up inside me ever since one of my students passed away a month ago. In both cases, they had fallen ill and were not able to recover. I feel grief at having lost a wonderful student and a respected colleague. I feel anger at life being so cruel and unfair. Had these two individuals been born in countries that actually provide legitimate healthcare, they would have been treated and survived their illnesses. But this is Guinea. I’m still worlds away from everything I’ve ever known.
Classes were cancelled today due to my colleague’s death over the weekend. Of course, I (and everyone else) found out that classes were cancelled in the middle of teaching my first class this morning. A couple of months ago, this would have annoyed and frustrated me that they didn’t inform us sooner. But today, it just felt like a regular Monday morning.
With regards to teaching, I feel that I have finally found my stride, and have worked out a way to utilize my assistant without creating more work for myself. It has taken me half of my entire Fellowship to feel comfortable with my job here. Can you believe it? I’ve been in Guinea for 5 months, which means I have only 5 months left here. I’m at the halfway point now. In some ways, it’s a relief, but in other ways, it doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to do everything I want to accomplish before leaving.
Just as I have found my stride, my “routine” is being interrupted in a couple of weeks with a trip to Senegal for the English Language Fellow program’s mid-year conference in Dakar. At first, it sounded like a nice excuse to travel to another country and to spend some time with my colleagues for a few days. Now that I’ve seen our itinerary and all of the presentations and other work they’re imposing on us, I’m less excited about going. My colleagues feel the same as I do, but unfortunately, we don’t have a choice in the matter.
Another upcoming trip will be the last week of March (Inshallah), and I’ll be going to two different prefectures in Guinea, Kankan and Labé, to conduct teacher training workshops for public school English teachers as well as any teachers interested in becoming certified to teach American Studies. Then, in April, the English Department at my school is planning a two-week trip to Sierra Leone, a neighboring English-speaking country, where students will practice their English in an immersion environment. For me, it will be an excuse to travel to yet another African country. For Sierra Leoneans, it will be an opportunity to hike up their prices when the fote (white foreigner) needs to buy something. (Story of my life!)
To sum up January 2017, it would be the following: no power, Devil possession, death. (I am purposely leaving out any mention of American politics as well as my feelings concerning the new American “President.”)
Another thing that happened this month was me succumbing to heat exhaustion after a 5-hour vertical hike up and down a mountain. But the view at the top? Totally worth it!
2017 has indeed been a strange year so far, but I have a lot to look forward to, and I’m determined to remain optimistic about the rest of the year – no matter what!
I’ve been accumulating a range of observations and insights into Guinean people and culture, which I will share with you in my next post. Until then, take a look at my new photos, not only because I think they’re kind of neat, but because it took me an entire day to upload all of them. (Hey – this is Guinea!)