Gbangbadou and me

Trip Start Dec 01, 2007
Trip End Mar 27, 2010

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Week 3. Welcome to my life.  This is going to be long one so prepare yourself.  I would walk you through a typical day in my life but as that does not exist, I cannot.  Currently I'm sitting in my mud hut, known as a case (pronounced cause) rond. It's starting to get light outside but I have no windows so it is quite dark inside.  I'm using my headlamp to write this and listening to my i-pod REM "Everybody Hurts". My case is small; I can walk across it in 8 steps.  My bed which is about a full size takes up half the space.  The mattress is made of straw and feels like concrete.  The straw pokes me through the sheet.  My mosquito net hangs over the bed.  It is my protection and my make believe palace.  I feel like the princess in "The Princess and the Pea".  I have placed to mats on my mosquito net to protect me from the rain.  It has rained 3 times in the past 3 days.  A torrential downpour.  Guinean skies don't mess around.  And my straw roof leaks onto my straw mattress and consequently me.  But thanks to my ingeniousness, the rain harmlessly drips to the ground.  My floor is concrete.  I have to sweep it at least twice a day with a short straw broom (seeing a straw pattern here?) because my straw roof sheds.
             Now walk in the front door under the "curtain" I fabricated out of a skirt to keep out inquiring eyes, and take 6 steps.  You will have gone out the back door and into my bathroom/kitchen.  When I arrived it was just a bricked in concrete room with a hole in the ground they have been known to call a toilet.  But I have transformed it into a 5 star restaurant, if any 5 star restaurants had their restrooms in the kitchen.  I have a large bag of charcoal in one corner with various mismatched dishes: 4 plates, 4 cups, 3 pots, a pan, etc.  To cook I put charcoal in a metal mid shin high "stove".  It's really just an open piece of metal to keep the charcoal off the ground.  I've only cried twice since I've been at site.  Once was last night when I finished "The Time Traveler's Wife" (really good book) and the other was my first day at site when I couldn't get the charcoal lit and I hadn't eaten in over 24 hours and all I wanted was a bowl of oatmeal.  I tried for an hour and half, lighting pieces of paper and putting it under the charcoal or holding pieces of charcoal over a candle.  Finally I just broke down.  So now I use gasoline.  I pour it on the charcoal; throw in a match and voila! FIRE! It's amazing.  I still have to fan it before putting anything on it and then it takes at least 30 minutes for water to boil.  It's a process and really teaching this microwave and fast food girl patience.
             I keep my water in large yellow vegetable oil containers called bidons.  They are very heavy so I don't like to get my own water.  Children sometimes flock to my door when it's open, always curious as to what the strange "toubabou" is up to.  So I recruit them to pump and carry water for me.  Not as many children come anymore.  They've either gotten bored with me or don't want to do work.  There are a lot of kids here.  And more come everyday.  My sous prefecture (it's like a county) has on average 2 births a day.  A week ago I was at my first birth.  The girl was 22 and this was her first child. I sat through a couple hours of labor telling her to breathe, in English, because I couldn't think of the word in French.  But I imitated the deep breathing and I think she got it. Then I waited in the main area of the Health Center when the screaming got to be too much, and ate a sardine sandwich with Therese until she told me to go to bed.  The baby, a little girl, was born that night.  At church the next day I found out she was a member. In the middle of the service her mother got up and started dancing around and singing, thanking God for the safe delivery.   All the women joined in and were dancing all around, shaking hands and beating drums.  I just sat there bewildered.  They forgot to tell me what was going on. After the service, all the women dragged me along to this poor girl's house to see the baby.  They sang the whole way to the house and then danced around the outside singing to drums and gourds with beads.  The President of Women told my in no uncertain terms, though it was in Kissi, that I needed to dance in the circle of women,  Well, you don't just say no to the President of Women. So I dance. Then the singing and instruments stopped and I head my name spoken several times. One of the women who can speak French said, "You must sing". "In English?" I asked. "Yes, of course." So surrounded by about 50 women I clear my throat and sing "Jesus loves me' while they clap along.  Then they gave me 1,000 GF (Guinean francs) for my performance.  It was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. "I'm in Africa" kept flashing through my brain.  It's a hard concept to grasp sometimes.  Everything here is different so I am reminded constantly but I'm still the same Mid-Western girl next door.
             Just being myself has gotten me in a few pickles. For example, I'm not generally very patient with other people.  Also when I decide to do something I just do it without thinking ahead.  So two weeks ago I wanted to go to Kissidougou to visit Zach.  I had met a driver the night before who said he was going o Kissidougou the next day at 8AM. So I was there and ready at 7:55 AM.  He was there and told me to sit and wait for a few minutes.  I said ok but I want to leave in 5 minutes.  I take out "Les Mis" and read for over an hour and still the driver has not returned.  So I stand p and start walking to Kissidougou in my UD flip flops and no sunscreen.  A friend of mine, a boy of 13, asked where I was going and said he would walk some of the way with me.  Kissidougou is 15 k away.  I left at 9:15 and the first 2 hours were rather pleasant.  I sang to myself, greeted everyone I passed in 3 different languages, none of which were my own and admired the jungle.  It is absolutely beautiful here, like the Jungle Book, without Balou and ShereKan. But then it started getting hot and my backpack started getting heavy. Moto after moto stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. People are super friendly here. And yes, I did want a ride. But I'm not allowed to ride a moto so I had to say no, I prefer my feet but thanks anyways.  And then I would see them drive down the dirt road and disappear over the horizon as I continued to plod along.  Four hours after I began I dragged myself to the bank where Zach was waiting for me and plopped down.  After not seeing an American for over a week the first thing I said was, "I really need to sit down for a minute' and he told me how foolish I was.  I had to agree, but of course, he will never know that.  I stuck by my decision saying it was good exercise and free.  Both of which are true, but really the agony that my feet and shoulders endured was not worth the calories burned or the money saved.
             Another unfortunate occurrence happened my first week at site.  I had nothing to eat. Which is unfortunate in and of itself. But I decided to buy some eggs.  Even though you cannot walk out the door without tripping over 5 chickens, it is impossible to find eggs anywhere.  So I was obliged to jump on my bike and ride 4 hilly kilometers to the village of Kabaya which boasts a chicken farm.  There I was able to purchase 15 eggs for 10,000GF. Eggs are expensive.  I had passed over a river on my way so on my return I decided to relax on the banks.  I found a shady area where no one from the bridge above would notice me.  I started writing a letter, enjoying my anonymity for once, observing Guineans without being observed.  I was happy.  Then an old woman walked down the path to wash her dished in the river.  It was my 3rd day here and she already knew of me.  She called me doctor, showed me her stomach and talked about the moon. I explained all this to Therese and apparently the woman had gone through menopause but was worried that her period had stopped. Women are not told that their periods will stop eventually.  Unfortunately not many live to see that happen.  Then she left and I resumed my reveries.  Until I was disturbed by an old man who also called me doctor and told me his vision was becoming cloudy. There is a disease in Africa called river blindness.  Small black flies that breed in fertile river beds bite and lay eggs under the skin.  After repeated infections the larvae gather in the eyes and the person goes blind.  Once it reaches this stage there is no treatment but before actually going blind there is a medicine that stops the larvae from reproducing.  I asked the old man if it was the flies that were making his eyes cloudy and he said exactly.  I told him to go get the medicine at the hospital.  That's when I started to notice small black flies that were joyfully munching on my exposed calves.  Being bit didn't hurt, I hadn't noticed for the hour and half that I was sitting there. But I biked home, took out my Lonely Planet "Healthy Travel Africa" and looked up river blindness.  This is what I read, "The black flies larvae spread under the skin and cause an intensely itchy reaction-so much so that it has been known to lead to suicide." I was bit over 50 times on my calves.  Although suicide did not enter my mind, I did consider taking my butcher knife to the aforementioned area and skinning it.  I was miserable for a week.  My legs like a minefield.  It's really quite disgusting.  Guineans think it's hilarious.  I kind of do, too.
             Well, those are my most memorable adventures thus far.  I bought my first rooster and named him George. He crowed too much so I plucked him and poured BBQ sauce on him and ate him.  I made tuna noodle casserole last night and an improvised version of fettuccini alfredo couple of nights ago.  I play cards like a fiend.  I play at the ea shop with boys 18-25.  Girls don't play cards because they are too busy working.  They always ask me if I have work to do.  I say no, I'm an American woman, not Guinean.  The owner of the shop plays sometimes and he always makes me shuffle.  He says it's the woman's job to prepare, so I have to prepare the cards.  I allow that but when he wants me to pass out the cards too and it's his turn, I put my foot down.  He refuses, I refuse so I put the cards on the table and we each take one off the pile until we have enough.  The compromise seems to work for his need of superiority and allows me to maintain my dignity.
             Basically, I love it here.  I've never felt so alive.  Each day is new and exciting.  I get nervous and feel a flutter in my chest every morning when I open the door.  Not a day goes by that I don't feel the rush of adrenaline.  This is what I've always wanted.  It is so scary yet exhilarating.  It's the same feeling I had when I was little getting on a new rollercoaster that I was just tall enough for.  I never wanted to go on it.  My dad usually had to force me.  While I was on it I loved it.  I dreaded and looked forward to the freefalls when my stomach was in my throat.  Leaving my case in the morning gives me the same sensation.  Except now I don't have my dad behind me urging me on.  I have only myself and I have to do it on my own.  That might be the hardest thing.  I love when I'm out, it's just getting out that causes the problem.  So I'm going to stop writing which I've been doing for 3 hours, avoiding leaving my case and go out into the world.
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