Today is my last day in Guinea. The end of my stay in Africa has arrived.
Ramadan marked the end of my professional duties and the closing of another chapter. I then spent two wonderful weeks in the eastern region of Africa: Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia.
Kenya highlights: modernity, amazing wildlife, the famous Maasai people.
Nairobi City Tour
Amboseli National Park and Maasai Village
Nairobi National Park, David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Center, the Bomas of Kenya
Djibouti highlights: Gulf state ambiance, beautiful island and coral reefs, Lac Assal (the second-lowest place on earth!).
Sable Blanc (island)
Ethiopia highlights: Fascinating history, seeing Lucy, delicious food.
Addis Ababa City Tour
Eating authentic Ethiopian food (every day!)
When I returned to Guinea, I had just one week before packing up to go home. It went by too quickly. Monday, I attended (another) official farewell ceremony at Barack Obama University, my host institution, this time with the founder and other university officials, plus many of the professors and even some students from the English department.
Almost everyone gave a speech. Even staff members who I don’t know at all (I’m sure I had met them at some point, but could not recognize them nonetheless) gave speeches in which they described their impressions of me and expressed their gratitude to me for my work at the university, to the American Embassy for providing them with an English Language Fellow, and to Glenn (my partner) for bringing me to Guinea and for supporting me in my work, because without him, I could not have come to Guinea on my own or done a good job in my professional duties. Glenn (who was not even present at this event) was thanked first in every speech, awarded credit for my good work and work ethic, and was even graced with the expression, “Behind every successful woman is a man who made her success possible.” That’s right, I worked 60 hours a week, not because I am competent and able, but because Glenn made it possible. I am just a woman, after all!
I gave a speech as well. I had prepared it in advance to make sure I would mention every university administrator, and mention them all in the correct order according to their hierarchy of importance (as Guinean etiquette dictates). I was glad that I had prepared the speech beforehand considering the press was invited to the ceremony and filmed the entire thing. And when I say the press filmed the entire thing, I mean they had the camera (and microphone) on me throughout the entire two-hour ceremony – even when I was just sitting there, watching.
After the speeches, I was presented with two full Guinean outfits: one for Glenn, and one for myself. They were beautiful. I was also given a sculpture bearing the name of the university, which took up half of one of my suitcases. It’s beautiful and I look forward to displaying it in my next home.
After the presents came the photos. Oh, yes, every single one of them needed a photo with the fote (white person). That part took almost as long as all the speeches, and by the end of the event, my face hurt from smiling so much.
I was sentimental when it was over, because I am truly going to miss my students and colleagues of Barack Obama University. But then – because Guinea always wins – the founder of the university asked me to come back and redo the entire ceremony again. He was horrified to find out that nobody from the American Embassy had been invited to the ceremony, and so he was insistent that we invite them, redo the ceremony, and even asked me to return the gifts so that they could be presented to me again. I told him that Embassy staff were busy preparing for the Independence Day event at the Embassy (which was true), and that I was leaving and was going to be busy packing (also true). I didn’t have the heart to tell him that they would not care at all about not being invited, but I suggested he write a letter to them expressing his gratitude for providing his institution with an English Language Fellow. When he called the Embassy to invite them to the (second) ceremony, they repeated what I had told him and he was resigned to writing a letter. Phew!
Wednesday was the Independence Day event at the Embassy (it is never done on the 4th of July itself). It was a nice event, and the band they hired was fantastic! They are called AfroGroove, and they’re a jazz band that also plays funk, Latin jazz, and African music. The most exciting part, however, was that Glenn sang the American national anthem. The Ambassador himself had asked Glenn to sing it back when the Conakry Chorale performed at the Embassy’s Christmas party, and when the Ambassador asks you a favor, you say YES! The irony is that the Ambassador was not actually present at the Independence Day event because he had been called away on an emergency visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who has no American Ambassador. Apparently, positions are hard to fill in the State Department these days. I can’t imagine why….
So, Glenn sang beautifully and spent the rest of the evening being congratulated and fawned over by all the guests. It was a lovely way to send us off and to see all of our Embassy friends before leaving Guinea for good. I was also pleasantly surprised to see some of the Mandela Washington Fellow Alumni there, who I had worked with on a project earlier this year.
I have to admit that Conakry is not a great place to live. In fact, it ranks as the 10th worst place in the world to live, with war zones in places 1-9. But outside of Conakry is the Africa that will stay with me forever: a land rich with a diversity of beauty, history, culture, and tradition. One can’t help but feel a connection to this land and these people. No matter your race, ethnicity, or ancestry, our very own species originated in Africa. It’s something that, being here, I can feel deep in my bones. Inside, I am African. Inside, we are all African.
Guinea, you stole my heart! You are beautiful, inspiring, frustrating, and wonderful. This is the Guinea I will always have in me.
This is Guinea.
This is Africa.