Monday, February 26, 2007

Out of Africa

My Last Day in W. Africa

At many times during the past year I felt like I would be in W. Africa forever, or at least the time would seem much longer than any other two years of my life. Daily household tasks, work, and being a 'good Guinean' take much more time and energy here than elsewhere. It is this fact which I feel contributes to the rate at which time passes here. Individual days pass quickly, but thinking back upon everything that has happened since moving to Guinea a year ago, it's hard to believe that it all happened in the course of just over a year.

For the past year nearly every meal (that I did not cook for myself) consisted of a version of rice and sauce…the food selection of Marrakech, Rome, Paris, and Madrid will surly be overwhelming
Yesterday I washed all of the clothes that I had evacuated with me (maybe 20 items), by hand with a washboard…the satisfaction of being an integral process of cleaning the visible dirt out of my clothes will soon be lost to the convenience of a washing machine.
Last night I went out in downtown Bamako…it was my last time dancing to the unique rhythm of African music for a while.
This morning I crawled out from under my mosquito net and woke up with a bucket bath…I think I'll take a while for me to be able to take a shower and just let the water run for even five minutes at a time.

These simple observations and memories are what I carry with me as I leave Guinea. With it are also the memories of friends that I came to know in my community and my family that I lived with during my first three months of training. It is hard to leave all of these people behind, particularily in midst of their country being torn apart by unrest.

I spent the past month, since being evacuted from Guinea, in Bamako, Mali. It was the only time during my service that every volunteer from Guinea was all in one location. The 106 of us, some of whom I'd never even met, had an incredible chance to share our varied experiences of our country and of our lives back home. Having the time to get to know everyone was a unique experience. I don't know a better word to discribe it. Some people were ready to take the first flight back to the US others had resolved to return to Guinea even without Peace Corps.

It was the in the second week of our stay in Mali that we received official news of the PC program being suspended. This brought a new wave of emotions. Most of us had assumed that we would be gone a max of 2 weeks. This is what we had said to our villages, and in our hearts, this is what we had expected. The violence that resurged throughout the country was the sign that our directors needed to make their decision, and it is still difficult to believe the downward spiral that has taken place there. I did see distruction and demonstrations, even in my small town of Timbi, but to see the city halls of all major regions of the country in ruins, it is hard to imagine.

So, I tearfully made a list of what should be done with the contents of my house in Timbi. Sad, not because of my things, but the thought of my village loosing more hope in the changes that are being made in their country because of the outside assistance that they look to for support being pulled away. Sad because my real work had just gotten started and would not be seen to conclusion. Sad because the life that I had spent a year settling into was gone in an instant. I didn't have a chance to say good-bye to so many people that I had wanted to.

In lieu of saying these good-byes I believe that we (volunteers of guinea) came together and carried each other through this past month. It was yesterday's good-byes which were the most difficult. All of us world travelers parting our separate ways to begin new lives for ourselves. While I am certain to see many of them again, circumstance will never been the same. We volunteers often claim to have 'real lives', those that we live in the Developed world, which are separate from who we are while abroad. I would have never become so close with such a diverse group of people in any other circumstance. And the idea that the next time that we meet it will be in our so called 'real lives' is both exciting and terrifying. Will our relationships prove to have been real?

After crying my way out of Bamako on a 3:30 am flight to Casablanca, Morocco with a fellow volunteer, Katherine, I resigned to leave that question it be answered by whatever happens the future. Morocco is amazing, and I think that I would have this opinion even if I wasn't coming from W. Africa. From the beautifully decorated airport to the bank where we could change money without bargining the rate, to the high-speed train that wisked us from the airport...we were overwhelmed by the complexities of the place. Also from the moment of our landing we began to realize how a change in our surroundings was altering the way we looked to ourselves and to others. The airport was a culture shock, and the longer we stood around looking at the building and at the well dressed travelers around us, the dirtier and more unkept we felt. We despertly needed a plan, a hotel, and a shower.

Our second day in Morocco and I actually felt like I could pass for a respectable American. Currenly I am happily shopping, sightseeing, and eating my concerns away in Marrekesh. I've eaten well, had my first hot shower in a few months, am wrapped in a new scarf and have on my first pair of close-toed, slightly-heeled shoes in over a year. This amazing city is complete with snake charmers, silk vendors, brightly colored scarves, shoes and purses, spice stores and carts offering fresh squeezed orange juice. It's cold here (about 75 degrees during the day and about 50 degrees at night) and we're glad to have such a wonderful selection of clothing and accesories to purchase here both as souvenirs and as cover against the elements. Our plan is to spend another full day here, then to travel to Fes, another Moroccan city known for its exquisit markets.

After Morocco we're heading to Rome for a two day extravaganza of Italian food along with more sightseeing and shopping. Katherine is on her way home after that and I will be headed up to Paris. Visiting Spain is still up in the air, but I'd like to work on my Spanish before going and travel with someone who knows the country, so Spain will probably be saved for another time. It looks like I'll be back in Madison mid-March and look forward to seeing those of you living in/near there sometime soon. As for Seattle, I'll do my best to make it there within the next month or two, especially if I am to begin working full-time. I hope this wasn't dreadfully boring, there has been a lot of change in my life these past few months.

Take care,


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Strike update

Hello All!

A lot has happened since my last blog update. Major events:
1. Christmas was spent in Conakry with around 40 other volunteers, not a very traditional holiday this year, but I did get to spend one fabulous day on the beach of one of the islands just off the coast of Conakry.
2. An old friend from HS, Derek, who I visited with my parents during his time in Accra, Ghana, came to visit just after Christmas. Derek convinced me (it wasn’t hard) to visit Sierra Leone for the New Year’s holiday. We managed to get a free ride on a world food program flight from Conakry to Freetown and spent a few days checking out the capital as well as the nearby Atlantic coast beaches.
3. Derek continued his travels and I took a bush taxi with a few other PC volunteers back to Guinea in early January. I rode as far as Forecariah, the old training site where I spent my first 3 months in Guinea. There I assisted my boss is creating a training program for this years small enterprise development volunteers. Unfortunatly, this work in Forecariah was cut short with the decision by the major unions in Guinea to begin a national, unlimited (in time) strike on Jan. 10th. Which leads to event #4…
4. Today, I arrived in Bamako, Mali along with all 105 other PC Guinea volunteers. After 14 days of trying to keep from being bored in Timbi Madina during the nation- wide strike our headquarters decided to evacuate all the volunteers here until things calmed down in the country.

The strike began back on January 10th, and called for the same changes as had been demanded in previous national strikes, namely, salary increases and a decrease in the price of oil and rice. By the second day the demands were changing, representing peoples want for a true display of revolution in the country. The country began asking for the current president, Lansana Conte to step down from his post as President. Conte has been in power since 1986 and changed the Guinean constitution in 1998 in order to extend his presidency until 2010. The reports on BBC tended to focus on his old age and ill health as primary reasons that a change of government was needed. In reality, it is the corruption in Guinea (recently ranked as #1 most corrupt country in Africa) that is debilitating any opportunities for development that favor Guinea. A majority of the strike was peaceful, although in several demonstrations that military openly fired on demonstrators, which resulted in a total of around 40 people dead at the end of the 14 days. In Timbi the only evidence of the strike was a demonstration that took place last Monday. A group of maybe a couple hundred youth in the community took to the streets and began to throw rocks, then tore the roof and doors off of the police and national military ‘gendermare’ buildings and burned them in the street.

Since then, the latest rumor circulating is that Conte has agreed to share power with a prime minister, and possible candidates for this post are being considered. Alas, we’re all just laying low in Bamako, enjoying the dry heat and the company of all the PC Guinea volunteers together in one place. Tonight we’re taking a short drive to downtown Bamako and our expectations are set pretty high for this city. (As in, we heard they might have milkshakes and cheeseburgers), maybe electricity, anything else would just be a great bonus!

I’ll keep you posted on our status, but for now. PC Guinea has blended into PC Mali and we’re all enjoying the vacation. Miss you all and hope you’re doing well.

An aside:
I did discover that SIM cards can be cheaply purchased here, so for the time being I have a phone number (that actually works). It’s so, if you’ve been frustrated trying to reach me while I’ve been in Guinea this is your best chance to get through. Back to my old Guinean number as soon as I return to Timbi.

Take care,

Friday, December 15, 2006


THE Christmas Update!

Seasons Greetings to all! I hope that the Christmas season has proven a time of joy and happiness without undo stress. Here in Guinea the season is hardly known of. Only in the largest cities is there any commercial mention of the upcoming holiday and that is limited to a few window decorations (many of which are displayed year round).

Since the end of November the Fouta region where I live has been deep into the winter months. When the temperature drops into the low 50s at night I bundle up in wool socks, fleece pants, a pull-over and seek refuge indoors. I know, 50 degrees isn’t really that cold, but it still gets up to the 90s during the day, so it’s the contrast that is hard to take. Another contrast is the lack of rain. Since it’s gotten colder the rain has also ceased. It’s back to very dusty biking conditions! It’s to the extreme that I’m considering buying a medical/dental type face mask so that I can actually breathe after a car or truck passes my bike on the dirt roads.

The changing seasons also mark the beginning of a new school year here, and with that I have become busy with activity. I teach an English class at a private, Senegalese, middle school with Dee (one of the missionaries who also live in Timbi) on Tuesday mornings. She plans the lessons for the 7th grade while I do most of the planning and teaching for the 8th graders. They’re a good group of students and eager to learn. We found it surprising that many of the students don’t understand Pular (the local language). I assume that it’s because many have moved from different parts of the country or even from neighboring countries, forcing them to rely on their common language of French.

Wednesday afternoons I have started teaching a business class to high school students. This class is taught from my own curriculum, and thus far is (I think) being well received by the students – even in my far from perfect French. Teaching entrepreneurship here really gives me a sense of purpose. In this former communist country the application and analyses of rhetoric is not seen as a necessary element to education. This means that the ‘out of the box’ entrepreneurial thinking that creates businesses in the US, i.e. non-civil jobs, is a missing component to the professional landscape here. Therefore, in teaching entrepreneurial skills I, at least in theory, am helping to provide a missing factor in their professional and industry development.

Just last week I introduced the idea of a feasibility study to my class. This being, a tool used to determine if a business idea is one that could actually succeed (be profitable). My underlying goal is that the students come up with a business plan for a service that will clean up the downtown market area. Perhaps you could tell from the pictures taken during my parents visit, but this town is dirty! And it’s not just because all the roads are dirt ones! An aside to this: I want to give a general thank you for those who have put up money for the realization of this project and I’ll keep you informed on how the plans are going.

My third ‘academic year project’ concerns younger students of the community. Relying on my good relations – frequently stopping by their homes/ schools and greeting them – with the teachers of the area, I have begun a reading program. Since elementary schools don’t have class on Thursdays, I chose Thursday afternoons as a time where interested teachers could invite interested students to come to the local library and get more practice reading. The idea of the program is simple – kids coming to the library to read – but in this society there are more hurdles to leap. 1. The library is rarely open 2. Parents are often uneducated themselves and thus don’t encourage their kids to read 3. Books are rarely personally owned by someone, so the leisure activity of reading is practiced by only a handful of educated people in the community … I am sure the list goes on, deeper than even I realize, but that is why I’m hoping that at least by showing my support for books, the library, and reading…maybe a few kids will catch on to the idea.

But don’t worry that I’ve begun a 9-5 or something crazy like that. I still enjoy a schedule of regular biking trips around the region and baking fests with my closest neighbors!

In the coming year a new group of 13 business volunteers as well as several public health and agroforestry volunteers will arrive on January 13th. There is talk of national teacher strikes beginning again along with the 2nd semester of school…so it could be an eventful introduction to the country for them. I will be back in Forecariah planning their training curriculum from the 2nd to 12th of January along with one other business volunteer and Guinean trainers. Each sector of work (health, agfo) also sends two representatives to plan their sessions and my closest neighbors, Tor & Ashley, were also selected…so a circuit party moved back to our old training site of Forecariah!

Many volunteers are packing up for vacation here. Some to meet up with family in Europe, others traveling in Africa, and still others returning back to the States. I’ll be heading to Conakry sometime soon and probably meeting up with a friend from home (Derek – who I visited in Ghana) just after Christmas. We have plans to visit the Islands just off the coast of Conakry. I’ve heard they’re beautiful, and I’m ready for some beach relaxing and ocean swimming. Not exactly a traditional white Wisconsin Christmas…but when away from home I feel its better not to pretend, and rather to take advantage of what I do have here!

That’s it! THE Christmas update! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s to everyone!!

Take care & Take some time to enjoy this festive season,


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pictures, lots of Pictures!

The above link is the album from my parent's visit. Thanks for taking all the pictures dad, and mom, thanks for organizing them all!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving a la Guinee ...

Parent’s visit
As many of you may already know, my parents come to Guinea for a visit during late October through early November. It was great to show them around my new home and I think they were very strongly impressioned by all they saw here. As a means of recording the trip and another view of my time here my dad acted as chief photographer for the week. (the pictures should be online soon and I’ll add a link to them here)

We spent the first week of the trip traveling from the capital city of Conakry, upto my site of Timbi Madina. Along the way we first stopped off to visit a waterfall, ‘the cascades’,
a few hours up the coast just past the city of Dubreka. It was the end of Ramadan festival day, so it happened that the owner was gone. We therefore only made the destination a stopping point and continued to the city of Kindia. Spending a rainy night at a small French-owned hotel, we awoke the next morning to more rain. Once it let up it made for a great viewing of our next waterfall, ‘the bridal vail’. It was just off the main national highway and you could drive up almost to the base of the falls. Water was cascading off and spraying in a maner than made the comparison to a delicate bridal vail easy to see.

That second day was a driving marathon, ending in the tiny village of Doucki just before sunset. A former PC volunteer helped to start a Guinean style bed & breakfast. There were two traditional huts that guests could stay at. Mom and dad shared the ground floor straw matterase and I took the loft above. Typical Guinean meals were provided and the entertainment offered was ones choice of hiking trails through the beautiful countryside. We spend two nights there, after which my parents were very happy to continue on to the house we were staying at in Timbi. Two days without running water, electricity, standard toilets, and the like was plenty of time for my mom to understand that there were some great differences between our lifestyles.

The next four nights were spend in Timbi, seeing where I live and work. We also made it upto the Labe regional PC house, so that my parents had a chance to meet some of the other volunteers in the area. On the way home from Labe, we visited the waterfalls closest to my house, ‘Saala’, one of the most impressive falls my I had ever seen (as also agreed by my parents). We spent some of the time working on starting up my garden. The fence that I had been working on having built for months was finally completed just a week before my parents visit. My dad practiced his skill in landscape architecture to help design where I should put my first plants and flower seeds. Thus far (three weeks in) most are still living and looking healthy!

Another long drive back down to Conakry and we were on our way to Accra, Ghana. I felt like I had left Africa, noting the great difference in the level of development from one country to the other. Paved roads with streetlights, regular electricity, sewage drains, trash bins, real toilets, soap being available in every bathroom. Ok, so it wasn’t like going back to the US, but it the difference between the countries was astonishing. An added bonus was being able to speak in English all week as well. We spent the week with our ‘tour guide’ a friend of mine from back in my lifeguarding at Seminole Pool days, who is currently working with the YMCA Go Global program in Ghana.

Highlights of the visit included visiting an amazing beach just outside of Accra, touring W. Africa’s largest former slave castle, shopping for wooden masks in a town known througout the country for their work, and of course, to keep with the trend we visited another waterfall. One that we could swim at/under. The week there was a nice break from the more difficult life in Guinea and the fact that my parents came all the way here to visit was of course the greatest reward of the trip.

Projects, My Neighbors & My Site Mate
Aside from taking fabulous vacations, I have also put into practice much of the planning work that I’d been doing this summer. My first week back to site, I had three large community meetings. The first, meeting with Tor and I’s peer educator health group to plan our first community event. They’ll be conducting an AIDS information session and information booth at the high school on Dec. 1st – world AIDS day.
Second meeting was to recruit for my business students class. The meeting was originally scheduled for a Wednesday at noon. When I showed up to school, I was told that because most teachers did not come to school that day, only two of the high school classes were still at school. Of course, I forgot to factor in that many of the students come to school each morning then end up essentially turning around and heading home when they realise that once again their teacher is absent. I decided that I’d just come by early the next morning and hold my introductory meeting before everyone had a chance to return home. I had about 40 students who were at the meeting and 25 ended up applying for the club. This past Wednesday we had our first meeting and divided up the 20 students who were present into groups, each assigned to work with a local business.
Third meeting of the week was at the library with elementary local school teachers. The plan is to have a set time every week on Thursday afternoons, when elementary teachers don’t teach, during which the teachers can be available at the library to help read to/with interested kids. There were seven teachers who came to the meeting, and the librarian, all seemed motivated about this simple project that will hopefully motivate kids to use the library more frequently.
My new hobbie of gardening is quickly becoming a favorite activity. It’s the dry season now, so the daily rainstoms has completely ceased. I haven’t actually seen it rain sice my parents left the country, nearing a month. The contrast in seasons couldn’t be greater, and now the muddy pathways have given way to beach-like biking conditions on many of the unpaved roads. The days are still warm, but at night it’s been getting down to the low 60s...and the contrast to the day-time highs of low 90s and it feels so cold! Good thing my parents brought warm clothes!
There is also a recent addition to Timbi. I have a new site-mate Trey. He moved to Timbi at the beginning of the school year and is teaching English at the high school level. He lives about a 15min. walk from my house, on the road towards the school. It’s nice to have another volunteer close by to pass some of the free time that we have here. Cooking is also much more worthwhile when it’s not for just for one, especially since I don’t have a fridge.
My parents also surprised me with a DVD player, along with some new movies and 2nd season of Grey’s anatomy. It worked out perfectly well that I happened to be sick this past weekend, as was my neighbor Ashley, so we had a weekend ‘Grey’s anatomy party’ along with my other neighbor Tor. It was a nice change from the typical soution to being sick, reading all day!

Christmas Packages & Contacting Me

If you were feeling in the Christmas season, and wanted to send a little of this holiday spirit over to a part of the world where the idea of having a non-commercialized and relatively unannounced Christmas is a reality, well...some ideas below. First, I must say that honestly just getting news from home is very exciting in itself. But if your motivation goes beyond this padded envelope packages are cheaper than boxes, and both boxes and packages have been getting through customs well lately (whereas letters nearly are always lost or long delayed).

~DVDs – burned work well (and are cheap)
~Music MP3s/ CDs
~Cassette tapes – ancient technology I know, but recording radio stations music!...spices up life a little around here
~Magazines – The Economist, popular mag.s, or clothing know it’s better to re-use old J.Crew or Anthorology cataloges than to recycle them
~Holiday candy
~Any sort of packaged food
~Surprises welcome!

Address...using a red pen and drawing a few crosses along with the title sister – no I haven’t joined a convent, just like to receive my packages- on the box tends to expidite its delivery...

Sister Amy Porter
Corps de la Paix Americain
BP 1927
Conakry, Guinee

This Friday, one day after the ‘real thanksgiving’ we had our celebration at our regional capital in Labe. After a full day of cooking we did a pretty amazing job of creating traditional American dishes...all completely from scratch. The US Embassy also provided us with turkey, since it’s impossible to find here, first taste of turkey in 11 delicious! Only missing was green beans and cranberry sauce, and family. But, my volunteer friends were here, and it was still a nice holiday.
I hope that all of you had a great day of eating and enjoying one another’s company. I imagine that the holiday season is begining to show signs of the coming christmas season. I hope this update wasn’t too long, boring, or late in being posted. I miss you all and hope you’re doing well!
Take care,

Thursday, September 21, 2006

End of Summer

Change and progress happen slowly here and with that in mind I am pleased to be able to write that after a short 8 2/3 months in country and 5 2/3 months at site I feel like I am finally beginning to get some work started in the community. Last week, along with my doctor friend in the village and Tor, my nearest public health volunteer, we held a week long training of trainers style health education conference. We had 11 high school students that we trained first in how to plan and present to thier peers and accurate information (which is severly lacking here) about AIDS/HIV, unwanted pregnancy, and STDs prevention. The first 'board' meeting will be at the end of the month, to establish the mission statement, and to set guidelines for the group. Followed by the first all group meeting at the beginning of october.

Next on the agenda is starting a business class and getting a library program started. But before parents are comming in just over a month! Their plans put them into conakry on the 22nd of oct. and then we'll be leaving for ghana after spending a week exploring guinea. If anyone has a letter or anything that they'd like to send to me (and be assured that it'll make it) just send it to my parents house before their departure date. (if you don't know the address i can email it to you individually). I also am having them bring a walkman and would love to receive a few tapes of radio boadcasts with new music from seattle or madison.

On my way out of mamou this afternoon, so it's time to pack up here. I anticipate being in cell range until next tuesday. After that I plan to be at site for a few weeks. Sunday marks the start of ramadan, a month long daytime fast from food and water that is observed by muslims (i.e. everyone here), so I'm interested to see how society will funtion during this time. Fortunatly, I cook for myself so I will be alright food-wise :)...but it will be an impressioning experience.

Take care, until the next time,

PS If you haven't downloaded skype yet, you should look into it...its amazing!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Still Raining here in Guinea

Hi all,
Just another rainy day in Guinea...I was a little nostolgic for seattle when I got up this morning to the sound of light rain on the tin roof. I still have plans to make the 12 km bike ride to my neighbor volunteer Ashley's house, I just have to go with the anticipation that i'll get rained on during at least some part of the trip.

I'm trying to finalize plans for the peer educator training in health (AIDS/HIV, unwanted pregnancy, and STD prevention being the main topics of the week-long evet). I'm also beginning to work on a project to get the library to be actually opened at least once a week and used as a place where hopefully some of the older members of a school group can come and read with elementary school kids.

There is a doctor, Dr. Barry, whith whom I am assisting at pricing out a plan to take new non-insured patients in addition to the insured ones who he currently sees exclusively at a profit loss to the the clinic. As well as to plan a budget for the addition of a nurse and a laboratory at the clinic.

Other than this, just meeting new members of the community and spending time visiting my friends around town. (which takes up more time than you can imagine)! I've been asking around town to find someone who can build a fence around my yard so that I can start a garden. Since getting anything done here is about first having a good relationship with's taking a little while to find someone who'll do a good job and a reasonable price.

Finally, I plan to travel to labe this friday, sept 1st, then to conakry on the 2nd, and I'll be there through thurs/friday of next week. I'll try to get the skype system up and running, as well as instant messanger...yeah conakry! so, hopefully I'll have a chance to talk with some of you soon.
Take care.
miss ya & love ya,