Girl's Conference

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

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

It didn't start well. Other blogs have mentioned the Girls' Conference so I'm assuming you're somewhat aware of what it consists of. There were to be two. One in Mamou for the Basse Cote and Fouta volunteers in August. And one in Kankan for us Hauters in October. Unfortunately I will be in the good ole US of A during the Kankan Conference (unfortunate for Kankan, fortunate for me). So I decided to go to the one in Mamou. I took a girl from my village named Marie. She's 20 and the daughter of the pastor of the church I go to. But that's not why I picked her. In my English class in April I asked the girls to answer 3 questions: Why they wanted to go to GC? How they'd raise the 10,000GNF contribution? And what they would do with what they learned when they got back to Gbangbadou? Out of over 50 responses, she and one other girl were the only ones to answer even one of my questions. The others just stated they really wanted to go, "merci madame", "s'il vous plait, madame".
So the Conference began on the 4th, giving us the 3rd as a travel day. So we went to Kissidougou on the 2nd. That night my insomnia resurfaced. I woke up at 2AM and played solitaire until 6AM. At 6:30 I met Marie at the taxi station where we waited until 10:00 for our taxi to leave. Three hours into the trip the car decided to overheat. We're in a station wagon and I'm in the front seat where we have stuffed 4 people, the driver, a man straddling the gear shift, me and another man. I'm squeezed so tightly, one butt cheek is not on the seat and my shoulders are at such an angle that I pass the ride with my arms crossed at the elbows.  It was physically impossible to put my arms to my side or even in my lap, my shoulders were too pinched. So there I am, a smashed sardine, and the car overheats. The driver gets out, opens the hood and pours water all over the steaming engine. We carry a full bidon of water for this very purpose. The we refill it from a village on the side of the road and continue on our way. The stop took approximately 10 minutes. Thirty kilometers later we do it all over again. I'm not sure how many times we actually stopped in the 200 km after the first time we overheated but in the last 40 km we stopped 7 times. Once we even stopped at a waterfall so we could refill there. Each stop I become a little agitated, a little more irritated. I've learned a lot of patience in Guinea; you can't help it, but this would have tried the patience of a saint. By the time we arrived in Mamou I was irate and frazzled. I could hardly grab my luggage I was shaking so badly. When Marie and I arrived at ENATEF, the conference center, I was ushered to a room by Sam and Erich who stayed with me until I calmed down enough to explain why I was so annoyed. I hate public transportation in Guinea. Period.
But then all the Fouta and Basse Cote volunteers started arriving with their girls so we're all catching up and settling in. And then I realize my girl speaks Kissi and Malinke. All the other girls speak Pular and Susu. I don't think she's been farther than Kissidougou in her own region, let alone the other regions of Guinea. I watched her at dinner and through the evening and my fears were confirmed. She sat at the end of the table silently eating and staring at her plate trying to remember why she agreed to come at all.
So next day 8AM the Conference began. We had sessions on public speaking, environmental protection and female genital mutilation (which 98% of girls have had done to them in Guinea). The girls were surprisingly frank about the subject offering their own experiences as reasons to not do it. The second day first thing, Julie, Sam and I presented on female anatomy and family planning. We asked all the male volunteers to make themselves scarce because we wanted the girls to feel comfortable diagrams of the female and male bodies. Part 1 consisted of teaching the girls how we get pregnant. Part 2, which was my part, was how to avoid getting pregnant. The girls seemed really interested and receptive. They asked good questions and the girls who knew the answers explained.  If no one knew the answer, we did our best to answer. But some questions we were even stumped on. Like when a woman gets her tubes tied, do they cut open her abdomen or go in through the bottom (I don't mean her butt)? Then I had them play a game to see how much they retained. They did an excellent job. We had an hour and half and we could have used at least another hour. Then we had sessions on depigmentation, HIV/AIDS and STDs, how to give a sensitization and study skills. Other sessions given during the three days were on Women's Rights, preparing for the future, nutrition and business skills. I think it went really well.  It was really frustrating at times because the Guinean education system teaches the copy and memorize method of learning. No creativity, no ingenuity, no imagination. So to get these girls to actually think outside the box was like pulling teeth. No one has ever asked them to think about their futures so they were starting off at square one.
Then the 3rd and last day I started to feel ill. I spent a lot of the afternoon in bed and at night just when we were about to take the girls dancing I started vomiting allowing me to go to bed early.
In conclusion, I'm really happy I was able to participate in the Conference and I think the girls enjoyed it and learned a lot that they will be able to share with their villages, except maybe my girl. She constantly looked on the verge of tears and by the end she wouldn't look anyone in the eyes and she only spoke in whisper. I think it was just too overwhelming. On the plus side, I had a blast.   
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