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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting Dirty

Agroforestry work is officially underway! Ground has been broken and beds created, seeds planted and a tree nursery established.  My bed hopes to someday bear fava beans, bush beans, corn, and the magical moringa tree. Fingers crossed that I’ll get to enjoy some of the harvest before training is through. Our most recent initiatives have been fence construction and creating our three-bin compost system. It’s been hard work, in the hot sun and after school, but it’s worth it to feel like I am finally making progress on what I came here to do and getting my hands (and feet and clothes and face) dirty in the process.

It’s been strange to have to relearn gardening fundamentals without the tools and amenities that are easily accessible in America. For example, instead of buying pre-made mesh for our fence we’ve been lashing and weaving together palm fronds in between the branches we’re using as posts.  Or to water the garden we can’t just set an automated watering system or even turn on the hose, we’ve been hauling the water by bucket from across the compound. Many of the plants we sowed in the garden beds are familiar to me: green beans, corn, okra, carrots, etc. but that’s about where it stops. The native flora and trees we’re using are all foreign. My garden homework this past weekend was starting my own tree ID notebook and seed collections.  I’ve never wanted a well-organized dichotomous key so badly before!
*Shout out to all my BLM-ers for their fabulous herbarium & seed collection skills*

Yesterday we took a break from the hard work to visit some nearby cascades—complete with swimming hole! It felt wonderful to relax and be completely immersed in water after living in this relentless heat and humidity. We swam, played Frisbee, ate hummus, and tried (unsuccessfully) to tan our pale knees and stomachs--truly a world apart from daily life in Dubreka. 

Bonjour Fatimata


Today I find myself in the village of Dubreka here in Guinea.  It’s a home to a few ten thousand in the Basse Cote not far from Conakry and the Atlantic. What a tropical paradise it is! (Meaning it’s absurdly humid most days) Most morning I’ve been running through the village and out along a dirt road through the rice paddies and then up to a fishing port along the river—all while watching the sun rise through the mist and palm trees. Jealous yet?

Life here is truly a different world from my Cleveland life. Our first days in Guinea were spent getting oriented at the Peace Corps office and volunteer house in Conakry, the capital city.  Conakry is home to ~3 million people and is a bustling and lively city. The Peace Corps office is right on the Atlantic Ocean; the view of the beach from the volunteer house’s open-air top floor is incredible! Needless to say, I spent many hours up there watching the sunset, writing letters, napping, and ceaselessly trying to improve my hacky sack skills (no such luck yet).

Last we departed Conakry and moved to our current home here in Dubreka. At our adoption ceremony we were formally welcomed into the community, thanked for our upcoming work, and met our host families. It was an exciting but nerve-wracking affair consisting of a few speeches and beaucoup dancing followed by our first meal together as a family. If this ceremony was so much fun, I can’t imagine how great a wedding will be! With much anticipation Barbara and I headed home to our new home.  The first few days were challenging, but this once foreign place is slowly, but surely starting to feel like home.

I live with my host mother, father, and many brothers, sisters, and cousins. On one of my first days in Dubreka I officially became Guinean and was christened with local name: Fatimata Camara.  Everyone gets so excited when I introduce myself as a local. My language skills leave something to be desired, but I’ve been having a great time getting to know my host family and Dubreka—lots of saluating and laughter is essential!

School has started, and days are crammed full with intensive French, cross cultural training, agroforestry info sessions, and gardening. By the time I get home in the evenings its time to eat, take my bucket bath, do homework, and hopefully relax briefly before going to sleep. They weren’t kidding when they said I’d be super busy during pre-service training! Sorry if the letters are few and far between for now, it’s only because I’m trying to be a responsible student.

Other exciting side notes:
-Oranges and bananas here are incredible! So sweet and juicy!
-Peanut sauce & rice= happy belly
-Carrying water on your head isn’t as hard as you might think, it’s the getting it off your heads that’s the real challenge!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Greetings from Guinee!

Checking in today from the beautiful town of Dubreka in Guinee, not too far from the capital city of Conakry. After many many long hours of traveling we arrived in Guinee last Wednesday in the evening. The next three days were a blur of orientations, vaccinations, humidity, and Francais in Conakry.

On Saturday we had our adoption ceremony. I now live with a family here in Dubreka and have been christened with the Guinean name Fatimata Camara.

Time and light are running short.

Au Revoir.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A New Friend!

Barbara and I are excited to report that a new friend will be joining us throughout our Peace Corps travels.  Our new arctic buddy Bowdoin came down to join us all the way from Brunswick, ME. Can't wait to hit the road together bright and early Monday morning!

Two arctic buddies getting ready for an African adventure
As soon as I manage to organize the mass chaos that my room has become and get things packed up and ready to go the obligatory packing list post will be coming your way!
The chaos. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mega Time on the Mega Bus

What started out as a short 4 day jaunt to meet up with my frogolist field partner Night Ox aka Marissa quickly snowballed into a weeklong bus trek across the midwest. I figured I was closer to Minneapolis and Madison then than I will be for the next 27 months, and it would be foolish to let such a magical bus-travelling adventure pass me by!

So Barbara and I packed some bags and headed out on our maiden Mega Bus voyage. The Mega Bus is the double-decker big brother of Greyhound, complete with WIFI, outlets, and wonderfully reclining seats. What a luxury to enjoy the miles without paying tolls or worrying about falling asleep at the wheel. So we headed off to spend three glorious days exploring the windy city: visiting the Shedd Aquarium and Lincoln Park Zoo, indulging in incredible veggie fare at the Chicago Diner (they have the most delicious meat-free hot wings!!), and carving masterful jack-o-lanterns.

It was wonderful to relive my favorite frog-catching, toad-licking memories from the summer and create new ones during our big city adventure-- a round of "Warm Kitty, Soft Kitty" anyone? What a huge difference from the days of Camp Skanks where we lived and worked from our beloved Dodge Durango named Dylan for 3 1/2 months. But alas, 325 Ryan Gosling movies, 453 bottles of wine, and endless amounts of laughter later my time in Chicago came to an end, and it was back to the bus with me.

The best pumpkin I've ever carved (right). Seriously!
Barbara made some new friends at the Shedd

After seemingly endless miles, minutes, and cornfields of bus sitting later, we found ourselves in the best parking lot Minneapolis has to offer. That's the thing about Mega Bus, the stops are pretty random and often inconspicuous, denoted only by a small street pole sign. But I digress. . .

Despite the short notice we managed to snag ourselves a native Minnesotan tour guide to show us around. (Thanks Sam!). With more than 10,000 lakes to choose from, it's hard to know where to start but we went for the classic: Superior. As it was my first trip to Duluth and the north shore, we went on the whirlwind tour: hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, visiting the lift bridge, checking out the acoustics at the UMD library, and topping the day off with delicious food and brews at Fitgers Brewery. While I'd never concede that it's the greatest Great Lake, it was spectacular enough that I'll call it a close second--to Erie of course.  ;)

Duluth's famous lift bridge 

Not 48 hours after arriving in Minnesota, I once again found myself on the Mega Bus-- this time going to visit my brother in Madison, WI. I'm grateful we had time to catch up now before the Thanksgiving and pre-Peace Corps stress avalanche comes calling. Although the visit was painfully short we managed to squeeze in plenty of sib bonding time.  For all the great things we did, the cherry on top had to be visiting his office. The halls and grounds are filled with countless works of beautiful artwork, culminating in a visit to the ever popular rideable banana. I don't get it, but I do love it! 

After 30+ hours of Mega Bus travel time, I'm happy to be back home in Ohio until I ship out for Guinea. These days it's back to reality as I prep for my going away/ holiday palooza party, work on fine tuning my packing list, and get ready for Thanksgiving. Time is flying! 

Signing out for now, but the obligatory packing list post will be coming soon (as soon as I know what I'm bringing myself)!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

28 Days: Hokey Smoke!!

Hard to believe it’s just four short weeks until we head to Guinea! Lately Barbara and I have been working hard to squeeze as much Midwestern magic into our days as possible in between manic bouts of packing and studying French, not to mention the obligatory life crises.

We’ve been slowing down and enjoying the gorgeous fall colors. A few weeks ago mom and I headed down to southern Ohio to escape for a week and squeeze in some camping before the weather took a turn for the worse (which happened TODAY: FRANKENSTORM is on her way!). Spent two nights at the yurt at Heuston Woods State Park. For anyone who doesn’t know what a yurt is you can just imagine “a short grain bin made from canvas”, as aptly described by my Uncle Dave. Despite it’s rustic exterior, we camped in luxury with a mini fridge, microwave, TV, and electric heater. Nothing like watching Bridesmaids and eating chocolate while “roughing it”.

Mom and our beloved yurt
Later we opted for more conventional camping at Hocking Hills State Park-- proudly setting up our compact 3-person, 4-season backpacking tent amid a sea of RV’s and garage-sized car camping shelters. Despite a sprained foot, challenging campground neighbors, and seemingly endless rain, nothing could dampen our spirits. Though the namesake hills are splendid the real show stoppers are the fern-covered limestone cliffs and caves. Such a treat to see a side of Ohio that wasn't bulldozed by glaciers. It's a whole new world down south. If you’ve never gone, you really should!

Barbara enjoying the Cleveland Metroparks

Ferns at Rock House
Last weekend SnakeRat joined us in enjoying the very best of Cleveland one last time. We visited all our favorites: West Side Market, The Melt, Edgewater, Museum of Art, metroparks, Free Stamp, and last but definitely not least the statue of our namesake, Moses Clevealand. Hopefully Barb and I managed to convert this Ohio skeptic of just how wonderful our hometown truly is!

Yesterday Barb and I hit the road and are currently kicking it in Chicago-- carving pumpkins and chowing down at the Chicago Diner with our favorite frogolist!

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View from inside Old Man's Cave, Hocking Hills

Saturday, September 29, 2012

8 Weeks and Counting!

For those of you who haven't met yet, I'm pleased to introduce my dearest travel companion, Barbara.  We met at the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run 25-miler I competed in last September and have been traveling together ever since.  She's nervous about her first trip overseas but wouldn't dream of letting me go on my own!

Barbara at MedBow Peak, WY

It's hard to believe that after months of phone calls, paper work, waiting, doctor's appointments, and uncertainty our Peace Corps adventure begins in just over 8 weeks! Returned from a trip to the west coast last week where I had the opportunity to catch up with and say goodbye to my Sacramento life. Wonderful to return after being away for several months and still feel incredibly at home! We started out in Sacramento and headed all the way up to Mt. Rainier NP.  Stops included: Lassen NP, Crater Lake NP, Mt. Rainier NP, Portland, and the Lost Coast Trail.  Mind boggling how many beautiful places and good friends we were able to see along the way!

The scamps at Mt. Rainier
But now I'm back in the midwest enjoying a beautiful Ohio autumn-- my favorite season-- and my upcoming travels are becoming more real by the minute! Those of you who thought the paperwork ended once medical clearance had been issued are in for a big surprise. With vaccinations, loan deferment, and paperwork to take care of it hardly even feels like I'm unemployed, for better or worse. And don't even get me started on the daunting task of packing! I've given myself the next week off before I need to start getting serious about it. Eeeeek!

For more information on Peace Corps Guinea check out this site: