Gbangbadou and me
Trip Start Dec 01, 2007
37Trip End Mar 27, 2010
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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
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
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
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.