By now the idea has landed that things are different in Africa: the roads are less paved, the food is bizarre by American standards but still tasty, copyright laws are ignored as are traffic laws (if there are any). But some things bridge the cultural gap, independently evolving in both places: twins are dressed the same, kids fake-cry to get attention, women’s sports are just as boring to watch. I’ll explain.
On the way into town I pass a house that is a favorite of mine. There’s the fat dog flopped on the porch breathing heavily and seeming to smile. There’s the dad that speaks “small, small English” like every Guinean who took the language in high school and remembers that and “how are you.” And there are the twin girls, no more than four-years-old, always dressed in matching outfits. I imagine this is because you can only buy fabric in bulk. They are adorable and always excited to see me. One is a little shyer than the other and so I only just recently shook her hand. I stopped to chat with the dad and as we talked the less shy one rubbed the hair on my arm. Guineans aren’t used to seeing hair like ours and the kids like to touch it. The dad told her to stop and she did. A minute later she was lifting my pant leg to see if the hair was the same there. It is.
Kids hate baths here. They scream death when their mothers wash them. Naturally, they also cry when they fall and scrap their knee or when another kid hits them. Today I ate lunch at one of my favorite places that serves rice and soup. As I was eating a young child tripped and fell and began shrieking. Everyone did a fantastic job ignoring him. Then he looked at me. I waved and he stopped crying to consider me. When he remembered he was supposed to be hurt he started his screaming again. You see that in the States all the time, hell, I did that when I was this kid’s age.
Last week I went to the stadium in Dabola with Sekouba to watch a soccer match between the prefectural team and the military team. The prefectural team won 3-0, scoring all three goals in the second half. It was a good time and so I decided to go again the next day. This time the match was between the women’s teams from the two high schools in town, the private versus the public. I haven’t been so bored since Lexi and Ben dragged me to watch the UC Davis women’s basketball team play. At least the UCD team had the fundamentals down. Ok, it wasn’t that bad. It was partially entertaining during the first half to watch the nearly six-foot girl dominate and score three goals (one from near midfield). After 45 minutes of watching the girls (except the tall one) fumble over the ball and anticipating another 45 minutes of that, I wasn’t too disappointed when Sekouba said he was hunger and wanted to go eat.
This hints at a different issue. Really, the problem lies with the difference in the allocation of time between the genders. Men sit around most the day making tea, chatting, and playing soccer at least once a day when it’s not too hot. Women, when they aren’t cleaning or making food or taking care of the children, are usually studying. I’ve noticed that women value time much more than men. I think it has to do with them having less free time and so when they get some they use it doing useful things like studying and not playing soccer for hours each day. I don’t doubt that if these girls practiced as much as the guys they would be damn good (especially that tall one).
It’s Sunday morning and I had plans to enjoy another lovely hike with Betsy and Momo. I had to cancel because CAFODEC in Dabola was supposed to have a meeting this morning to discuss some of the changes the organization is going through. It was planned for nine. It’s now past noon and only one person has shown up and then he left. I’ve been passing the time reading, watching How I Met Your Mother, and organizing my photos in Picassa 3. Time not wasted. The meeting ended up happening at 4pm; not too late by Guinean norms.
Last night Betsy and Momo stayed with me and we made a Mexican feast! We had fish, tortillas, beans, rice, and guacamole. You guessed it: fish tacos! We bought the beans and rice in town. I had my first attempt at fileting a fish and with a Swiss Army knife. Not easy, and quite messy. Betsy cut up the tomatoes, lettuce, and onions to put on the tacos. Momo made the tortillas and they were almost as good as the ones Matt and I would buy from Nugget. But what really made the meal perfect was the taco seasoning that Jill sent me (thanks Jill).
We listened to some salsa music to set the atmosphere for this wonderful dining experience. We invited Sekouba (my counterpart) and the guard and his wife. We sat around the table, sharing plates because we didn’t have enough, and enjoyed the food. The Guineans loved it and were surprised to find out that none of us were Mexican. It was a lovely evening.
Good food was just the thing I needed to brighten my mood. The Community Economic Development (CED, my sector) APCD (boss lady) called me to let me know some disappointing news. Peace Corps/Washington, in an effort to save money, told Peace Corps/Guinea that we would have to cut one of our four sectors (Education, Public Health, Agroforestry, and CED). CED is the newest and least established in Guinea and so the axe fell on us.
This doesn’t mean fewer volunteers for Guinea; the future volunteers that would have been CED will be redistributed among the other three sectors. Since they aren’t cutting back on the number of volunteers the Peace Corps will only be saving on costs associated with CED-specific training and support. These costs include the pay (during nine weeks of training) of the two CED technical trainers and the yearly salary of the APCD. Those are the three CED-specific employees. Peace Corps won’t be helping the budget much by axing a single sector in Guinea, but other countries will be losing sectors as well and the aggregate savings are likely to be substantial.
The fifteen of us CED volunteers already in country will finish our time in Guinea continuing to work within the CED framework, but there will be no one replacing us when we leave. We are the first and last CED volunteers in Guinea. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what this means. As a sector, we’ll continue to discuss the impact this will have our service and I’ll keep you all posted.