To those of you who celebrate Ramadan and are currently fasting, Ramadan Mubarak!
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan started May 26th, and with Guinea being a majority Muslim country (85% of the population is Muslim), the country seems to have shut down. People go from the city back to their home village to be with family, and everyone fasts during daylight hours – which, in Guinea, means they wake up at 4:30 am to eat, then can’t drink water or eat anything again until after the evening prayer, about 7:30ish. Because it’s hot, and everyone is weak from fasting, many people just don’t work during the 29 days of Ramadan; they tend to nap a lot during the day and party at night, when they can actually eat and drink. At times, it has been difficult for us to buy diesel for our generator since nobody is bringing gas to the gas stations. Last weekend, we had to endure three full days without power, water, and Internet (which was actually working, but without being able to charge our devices, we couldn’t go online for work or entertainment).
Ramadan’s timing is impeccable; I have four weeks left in Guinea, and things are really winding down. Businesses and institutions tend to plan their activities around Ramadan, because it also currently coincides with the start of the rainy season (no more dust!). I have completely finished all of my professional duties, and my partner and I are just waiting around for our epic trip to East Africa next Saturday: Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
My previous post came after my workshops in Kankan and Mamou, and I was in the last couple of weeks of school then. Since then, here is what I’ve done:
Met with Mandela Washington Fellow Alumni of the YALI Alumni Network in Guinea to train them in a curriculum that my colleague in Senegal and I created to teach time management, writing skills, and presentation skills for future YALI applicants:
Organized and emceed a ceremony to present certificates to the teachers who participated in my 5-month, 10-course program in pedagogical training for English teachers in Conakry:
Wrapped up the second semester at Barack Obama University:
Went to Kamsar in the mining region (a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Conakry) to conduct the third and final series of workshops for English teachers in Guinea:
Attended my colleague’s wedding:
And went to a going-away party that was organized by my colleagues and students of the English department at Barack Obama University:
Living in Guinea has certainly been an emotional roller-coaster. One minute, I’m soaking up the sights and sounds of Guinean culture (definitely an “up”), but the next minute, I’m frustrated by the lack of organization and planning here (a “down”).
My trips to Kankan, Mamou, and Kamsar were ups: seeing the gorgeous Guinean countryside and traditional villages, working with teachers all over the country, and discovering new music, food, and languages of Guinea’s interior. Coming back to Conakry was a down: poorly built/maintained roads, the overwhelming number of people, the burning piles of trash as far as the eye can see (and associated smells), and the misery of seeming to never have working electricity or running water.
Experiencing a Guinean wedding and spending time with my students and colleagues at school: UP! Not being able to leave the apartment because protestors are demonstrating on the street in front of my building: DOWN.
Fixing my computer just by buying a new charger for it: UP!
Needing two whole days to update my blog because it took 7 hours to upload all my photos one day, and the next day I had to wait for electricity to be able to write my post: DOWN.
Every place has its ups and downs, but living in the US and other developed countries is like those dinky roller-coasters for kids you see at town fairs, which have so few ups and downs that it is basically a flat ride on a tiny loop. Living in Guinea is like those terrifying roller-coasters at major amusement parks that have massively sharp inclines, and downs which go upside-down with multiple loops, and leave you with tears in your eyes, your heart in your throat, and your hair a tangled, nightmarish mess.
So, how does one cope with the ups and downs of living in Guinea?
There is only one way: with a sense of humor!
As an example, here is a public Facebook conversation I had with an American friend of mine who owns a resort on Roume Island:
ME: When the power comes on for once and you don’t have to take your bucket shower in the dark! #winning
FRIEND: Living without electricity for sometimes, long stretches.
ME: We’re lucky if we get any power at all. We’re also lucky if our water is turned on. But power AND water in the same day? Ha!
FRIEND: Going to the gas station to buy gas and being told “pas d’essence” (“no gas”).
ME: Or paying for gas and driving away to see that the gauge didn’t move, going back to the station and arguing with the station manager for 20 minutes, commanding them to take out what was in the gas tank and refill it to prove they tried to rip you off. Another classic Guinean move!
FRIEND: Sitting in traffic for two hours to go six miles.
ME: Finding out traffic was slow because cops were stopping people for bribes.
FRIEND: Watching the cars ahead of you weave across the road to avoid the 1-inch drops and uneven pavement, only to avoid an accident with a car weaving across the road….
ME: And all those cars have bags, furniture, and live chickens tied to the roofs.
FRIEND: I always feel sorry for those chickens.
ME: Going in to work just to find out there’s a teacher’s strike and nobody told you. And this is the 4th time it’s happened.
(8 hours later…) FRIEND: Intermittent internet connection.
Like an intense roller-coaster ride, unknown ups and downs can evoke fear, thrill, excitement, and dread all simultaneously. But at the end of the ride, you can laugh about it and admit that you had a pretty good time after all.