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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back in Action

I feel like I need to start out with a big ol' apology to all of my previously-faithful blog following family and friends for falling off the bandwagon. The past few months haven't been easy ones for me at site and my access to technology minimal. Ergo, I had neither the motivation nor means to write.

I am delighted to say that is all behind me now. Things are finally picking up work-wise for me, and I couldn't be more excited about it. It's true what they say, that the days will seem to drag-on, but that suddenly you look at the calendar only to realize weeks and even months have flown by. Hard to believe I'm already over 1/3 done with my time here in Guinea, especially since it feels like my work has only just begun.
Horray for beesuits!
A traditional beekeeper w/ hive
I've been away from dear Timbi Tounni, and my beloved kitty, a lot lately, but it's been in the name of improving my skillset as a volunteer. I recently attended two Peace Corps trainings back-to-back. The first topic was Nutrition. It wasn't what I had expected as we spent most of our time discussing proper nutrition for pregant/ nursing women and small children. We had the opportunity to practice our skills by talking with mothers at the health center in Mamou about proper weaning and nutrition, and now my counterpart couldn't be more stoked about conducting sensibilizations at the Pita Centre du Sante as soon as I'm back in town.

The second training covered apiculture aka beekeeping and was more in line with my current project goals at site. I am working with the Timbi Tounni garden co-operative coordinator to form a beekeeping co-operative in Timbi Tounni and couldn't be more excited about it. Though I'll admit to being more than a little nervous about working with these popular pollinators when I signed up for the training. However, once the beesuit was on and the hive opened my anxieties seemed to dissipate. It's a pretty incredible feeling to be standing in the middle of so many bees and feel secure, akin to scuba diving except with bees instead of water.

Hopefully once I get back to site I'll be able to put this training to good use right away. My counterpart and I have already identified ten local beekeepers who are interested in joining the co-operative. You may be wondering why bother to start a co-operative if everyone is already keeping on their own. Valid question. Working together in a co-operative would enable them to try new techniques that can improve profits & harvest and be more environmentally friendly by spreading the risk across all members of the co-operative. It will also decrease costs by allowing them to share equipment like smokers and bee suits. Here's hoping that I'll be able to make these dreams into a reality in the not-so-distant future!

My other recent project ideas include refurbishing our local basketball court and hosting sports camps for the youth, starting an environmental club at the local middle school, conducting local biological surveys of flora and fauna (esp. frogs & toads!), and helping a local NGO get off the ground. Over and out for now, but keeping my fingers crossed that I'll have exciting news to share next time I see a keyboard.

Kamsar port

Inside the hive

Monday, April 22, 2013

A nalle e jam? (How's your day going?)

Being a Peace Corps volunteer, what in the world does that actually entail? Are you having fun in Guinea? What are you going to do for two years? I'll admit that many days I don't seem to know the answers to those questions myself.
I thought that today I could give you a brief glimpse into what a typical day for me might look like. Let's go for a ride, shall we? 
Baby chickens!

Most mornings I get up around 7:00 or 7:30. No need for alarm clocks since I have a remarkably playful kitten and an eastern-facing window-- not to mention a four-year old brother who's favorite morning activity is usually yelling.  As I pull back my mosquito net and search for where Bobo (that's my new kitty) has hidden my flip-flops I can hear roosters greeting the morning, the rhythmic bom-bom bom-bom of women all round Timbi Tounni pounding rice, hot peppers, leafs, anything really in their piles. If I get up early enough I can hear the call to prayer from the grande mosque on the other side of the main road. Though admittedly that's not usually a happy day since the first call comes at 6:00 or earlier.

Lil' sister and Bobo

For the next few hours I embrace a spending a little time on my lonesome. After putting on water to boil for my tasty pot-o-oatmeal and mug of tea I take a mental break from being in Guinea to do some yoga. (An absolute necessity with a lumpy bed and tiny milking stools for chairs. No ergonomics here!)  A major benefit of living in a one-room house is that it's easy to watch things bubbling on the stove while I'm in the bedroom! Once I'm all stretched out and in good working order for the day, I settle in for breakfast and some letter writing or book reading. Then there's the fun of washing dishes, always battling the chickens to get my job done and keep the dishes clean. It's become so important for me to follow a routine each morning, to slowly but surely create something reassuring and regular in this often unfamiliar place.

After my morning ritual is when the really fun starts. So many options, so little time. For being a place without many American amenities, it might seem strange that I'm not bored and feel I don't have enough time, but truly I do. Some mornings I head off to the weekly market to stock up on fresh produce for the coming days-- mangoes, avocados, and peanut butter galore.  Others I meet with local gardening groupements to discuss their current practices & challenges and garner insight into how I can best aid my community, bicycle through town and salue everyone I know (a BIG part of the first 3 months in Peace Corps), attend random trainings and community events (literacy training, glasses distribution, etc.), or undertake the ever challenging tast of washing my laundry. As a fun side note: running water is what I miss most in Guinea. Not showers, but the simple luxury of not having to tote all my water in jugs across the town or walk to the stream on the edge of town to do my laundry.

Anyways. I digress. After all of those morning delights comes lunch! Always a reason to rejoice. Often I cook for myself in my lil' kitchen. Common meals include spaghetti, stir fry, egg sandwiches, or pancakes. But the possibilities are pretty wide. Made some pretty tasty peanut brittle and tomato soup the other day. Though I'll admit that my cooking space is a bit more cramped than I'm used to (see above). When I don't feel like cooking there's always somebody who's more than happy to invite me over for rice and sauce or I can buy keke, rice and sauce, and other tasty treats in town.

By this time. The sun is HOT! It's generally accepted to be the hours of repose here between 2 and 5 or so. During those hours you can usually find me chilling out at my house: writing letters, reading, playing with Bobo, doing projects around the house or garden, hanging out with petities, or napping. All activities always accompanied by glorious music, BBC, or This American Life (and the roosters and sheep bleating).  Some afternoons I pass the time visiting my friends & family, teaching an after-school English course, or exploring the wild lands and forests surrounding Timbi Tounni. Then again there's always the fun of getting pump water.

At 5:00 comes another call for prayer. And as many people head to the grande mosque for prayer I often go to the trails and forest not far from my house to find some mental solace of my own. Going up and down those hills, like so so many before them, brings such peace to my soul-- even if it's followed by five petites who decided to join.

In the final hours of daylight, it's dish washed, bathing, and maybe a little frisbee playing before the cockroaches and ants come out for the evening. Another day in Guinea comes to a close with some more BBC, journaling, and phone chatting. And, of course, there's always the pure joy of collapsing back into my bed for some well deserved rest and sweet dreams.

Thanks for joining me for the atypical that has become my new normal here in Guinea. It never fails to amaze me just how quickly that definition can change!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

No Butti Seeda? (Are you better?)

Local butcherie
 ** Disclaimer: Some contents are not for the weak of stomach**

Some days the hilarity of the universe is hard to believe. Yet every morning I continue to wake up and find myself living in West Africa. I’ve finally moved into a new place—a cozy one-room house with a porch in a compound with a family. It’s been a shift from my old too-big for me mansion. I’ve got a nice outside pit latrine and then a separate outside room for showering—a good way to keep all the bugs and smells far away from me.

Bathroom on the left, home on the right
Now that I’m no longer homeless and am back in action Timbi Tounni is slowly but surely becoming my home. It’s a great feeling to be on a first name basis with the woman I buy oranges from and to have running jokes with the local chauffer.  I never cease to be amazed that I can effectively communicate with people in not only my second but also third language, some times anyway. By making a public spectacle of myself running through Timbi, I’ve developed a following of petites that join me on my nightly rendezvous. All of us do the four-mile loop through the community forest and back down the main road in town. Everyone thinks it’s a ridiculous site; I’m inclined to agree.

However, it hasn’t all been roses this month. After visiting the doctor in Labe and taking a round of treatment, I still continued to see worms.  Days of denial later I finally picked up the phone and called the Peace Corps medical staff.  To my dismay, they said before they’d send me more meds I needed to send them photos. So, like it or not, I took photos of my intestinal worms for the Peace Corps and e-mailed them away.  The next day staff confirmed my fears; I had a tapeworm.  I took additional meds and thought my troubles were finally over, but sure enough a week later the worms persisted. Calling the medical staff near tears we agreed I needed to visit Conakry for further testing.

After ten hours in a taxi the last thing I wanted to talk about was intestinal worms, but sometimes life doesn’t give you a choice.  The next morning I handed over stool and blood for testing to finally identify my bodymates and make sure I’m not anemic or infected with other random parasites. The whole ordeal was pretty ridiculous. Only in Peace Corps Guinea are parasites dinner conversation.

The guilty party
The next day the results came in. The culprit you ask? Who are those demons living within my bowels?

In short, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with me. None of the above. It turns out that after that long, long ordeal of battling worms, they were never there to begin with (or got wiped out in the first two rounds of meds). The mysterious worms I’ve been seeing for weeks are in fact undigested potato peels! What?! If that’s not a hilarious Peace Corps story, I don’t know what is.

One more month to go until another major Peace Corps milestone: In-service Training. Two weeks of reconnecting with other G23 volunteers, sharing project ideas, and learning new skills. Should be a blast. In the meantime I’ll stay busy meeting gardening groupments, studying Pular (the local language), trying new recipes, and transforming my house into a home.
Moringa ollifera. The miracle tree (look it up)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Seeda Seeda (Petite a Petite)

On jaaraama! Greetings from the Labe (largest city of the Fouta Djallon)! I find myself here today for a variety of reasons: housing issues at site, possible intestinal parasites, and the much more pleasant goal of getting a brief snippet of American culture: pizza, movies, and fellow PCV’s.  It’s weird to leave site after living as the only English speaker and porto (white person).  You’ll never know just how delicious a or orange Capri Sun and chocolate chip cookies truly are until you live somewhere where you haven’t truly eaten unless you consumed beaucoup rice.
Swearing-in day

Life au village has been slowly but surely been getting better. I know have actual destinations when I make my daily rounds promenading about town. Folks know my name, and love that I too have the last name of Bah-- making me a sister, daughter, or aunt to 99% of Timbi Touni.  At our weekly market I’ve been able to get vegetables and am cooking for the first time in almost three months. It’s wonderful to have that freedom once more. Can’t wait to make breakfast burritos, pancakes, and maybe even try a little bit of baking.

Most evenings recently I’ve found myself tearing it up on the local basketball court (shocking I know). Don’t think I’ve touched a basketball since middle school, but it’s been a great way to hang out with the local teenage boys. Not to mention, as the only female out on the court it’s been a great way to be more visible in the community and meet new people.

Though my time in Timbi Tounni has been short, it already feels more like home than I ever would have imagined just a few short months ago when I got on that airplane.  Some things about Guinea seem so obvious now it’s hard to believe I ever didn’t know. But for those of you interested in making your own voyage across the pond here’s some quick insight:

-The plates and jars of tennis ball-sized white balls are in fact just peeled oranges. Eating is as simple as biting off the top and sucking out the juice. Voila, instant juicebox! (Unless of course it’s actually laundry soap, hopefully you can tell before taking a bite).

-Unlike America where you rely on gas stations solely for roller foods, slushies, and lottery tickets, gas stations in Guinea are an oasis. Most are complete with air conditioning, yogurt, imported snacks like Pringles and Snickers, and, if your lucky, cold beer! Never discount the magic that could lie behind those glass doors. Be bold in trying unknown snacks, sometimes the blind squirrel that you are may find a nut. Tried and true standby include Biskrems & Glucose cookies.
New friends at Timbi Tounni

-Everyone love love loves it when you speak local language—especially the market ladies.  Say hello, ask how the babies are, find out if there’s evil about before demanding the price or placing an order. It just might make a big difference in how much that price is.  As my own Pulaar improves over time I’ll try to share an important phrase in each post (this is for you MOM and DAD, French may get a taxi, but Pulaar will make you friends).

            On jaaraama                                   I greet you
            Tann alaa ton?                                Is there no evil there?
            Beyngure nden no e jam?               Is the family well?
            Paykoy koy?                                   Are the kids well?

The response, you ask?

            Jam tun.                                          Peace only. (always, even if not)
            Onon le?                                         And you?

Hard to believe today marks my three-month point into Peace Corps, that’s what, 1/9 of the way through?  I’m excited though undoubtedly anxious to see where the next three and twenty-four months bring me.

Oo-o! En ontuma!  (Bye! See you later!)


Hiking along the coastal mountains

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Stagairs No More

Training is over and all of G23 has made it to official volunteer status here in Guinea! (a remarkable feat to be sure). Checking in today from limbo here in the hot and humid capital city of Conkary. We've packed bags, said goodbyes, and left our homes and host families in Dubreka to move on to new adventures. Now the real Peace Corps experience is about to begin. Tomorrow morning I'll hit the road bright and early for installation at site.
Since last posting I had the opportunity to meet my community counterpart and then spend five days visiting Timbi Tounni-- the village I will soon call home. Those days were a crazy blur of meeting local officials, touring the local community forests (of which there are fifteen), attepting to utilize my meager knowledge of Pulaar (the local language spoken at my site), eating new foods, and doing my best to not get overwhelmed by it all. I am happy to report that my visit was great. Although nothing is finalized yet it looks like I'll be spending time working on expanding the community forest program, sharing the wonders of moringa olifera, the "miracle tree", assisting with the national mosquitoe net distribution locally, and hopefully many more things to come.
Home in Timbi Tounni
 Despite all the uncertaintity that comes with moving to a new place, regardless of whether or not you speak the language or know anyone in the area, I am excited and optimistic about moving forward. My counterpart and community are incredibly excited to have me-- I'll be the fifth volunteer to date, but the first working in AgroForestry.
Making mud stoves at training.

My host family