Things are looking up...finally

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

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

I've now been in Gbangbadou two weeks shy of a year. And I finally feel like things are coming along. I'm glad Peace Corps service is two years. I've heard a lot of friends and acquaintances stateside say they'd like to do Peace Corps but two years is just too long of a commitment. Maybe if it was one year...well, I don't know if you faithful followers of my blog have realized but this last year has not been a walk in the park for me. Let's recap, shall we? Black fly attack by the river, my cat being smushed by a Peace Corps car, bed bug infestation, giardia, two of my best friends being medically separated from Peace Corps at the same time, my grandma passing away and add to all that a confusing and oftentimes painful romantic relationship. If I was sent home in two weeks I would feel cheated. I'm just learning how to cope. I still deal with sickness, loneliness and aggravation; I just deal with it better.
I also got a new kitten which I've put off doing for so long because it was really hard for me when the last one died. But Jufanin ("little pocket" in Malinké) sort of fell into my lap. I did not go looking for him but I'm so glad I have him. He is full of energy and takes it out on me, his surrogate scratching pole. This morning he thought I'd slept long enough so he swiped my face giving me a nice bloody cut down my cheek for which he was unceremoniously tossed across the hut. Undaunted he crawled back on the bed and continued to pounce on me until I got up to feed him. He's a brat. But he makes me laugh out loud several times a day; a rare phenomenon before his arrival.
In addition to Juffy cheering my life, I've been working with the youth a lot lately. I started a peer educator group of 12 middle school (7th-10th grade) students. They named themselves "Les Super Stars"and in an exercise in democracy they voted on their own leadership: a president, secretary and treasurer. We meet twice a week after school, once to learn about a health topic, the second to learn English. Each month will be a different health topic; this month it's hygiene. The English class is an incentive to come to the health class. If they don't show up for health on Monday, they cannot come to English on Wednesday. We've only had two weeks so for but everyone has shown up (though some follow "African time" which means they showed up over 30 minutes late. I made a rule that their attendance doesn't count if they do this. So according to my attendance book we have had people miss out, but not really). If they  miss more than half the meetings (or show up more than 30 minutes late) they can be voted out of the group. I've tried purposefully to make the attendance and punctuality ruled strict so that the students take it seriously and don't view it as just a ticket to learn English for free.  The ultimate goal is for them to continue giving health talks and organizing community health activities when I've left so I need to weed out the kids that aren't serious about doing that. But so far they've been engaged and dedicated. It's a really good group of kids.
I've also been working with a group of ten boys who call themselves "Funky Family" (yes, in English). They say they are a "promotion group", whatever that means. They're organizing a dance and they asked me to help me, promoting me to the "mama"of their group (which actually makes me feel old, because they're all 17-22 and I'm their mom!) I agreed to help as long as we could make it an HIV/AIDS theme. So I gave an AIDS talk to 9 of them which went really well and I invited whoever wanted to go with me to Kissidougou to get tested for HIV. Ten kids from "Funky Family" and "Les Super Stars" took me up on the offer. We biked to a health center in town where a 3rd year Peace Corps volunteer works. We were able to get them tested, get their results and get them back on the road to Gbangbadou in 2 hours. I was really surprised and pleased with how smoothly the whole thing went. And as I sat there watching these 10 kids awaiting their results I felt a surge of pride. It is really scary for anyone to get tested for HIV, even if you've never had unprotected sex or shared needles while doping up, you just never know. But for a Guinean, especially a Guinean teenager with their whole life ahead of them, it's even scarier. If a Guinean tests positive they can be ostracized from their family and community and they live with that stigma for life. It takes a lot of courage to walk into that health center and get blood taken, then wait in suspense for the results. I was just so proud of these courageous teenagers that cared enough about their futures to take the first scary step to protecting their health.
Basically that's my life at the moment. I had my house "re-mudded" two days ago. My neighbor came over with some dirt, poured water in it, mixed it around until it was a soupy concoction. Then she took a straw broom and slapped the mud onto my outside walls until they and she were covered in the light brown mud. But my hut looks much more dignified than it had as a white one had a white hut! It's just absurd.
I leave for Dakar and WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament) in a week, which I will definitely write a blog about. Feel free to write me, like, a real letter. My birthday came and went without a single card...Side note: Christmas and January 17 are not the same thing, just so everyone is on the page. 
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