Guinea, West Africa


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Africa » Guinea » Conakry
February 20th 2009
Published: February 20th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

AFRICA



I am having difficulty paring down my emotions, thoughts and experiences from Guinea into a single blog entry, which may undoubtedly become more of a novel than a light read on an experience of only 4 weeks…
Therefore, I’ve decided to start at the end of the trip and remember that less is more…I hope this short read does justice to the intensity of this journey…

For Photos, Please see the following links until I have time to upload them here:



Final Thoughts

Jan 7th, airplane, Conakry to Brussels

Distance to destination: 2784 miles, 4479 kms…
Air Brussels en route from Conakry to Brussels…the TV shows random facts in English, French and Flemish…Ken is asleep beside me…
This morning we all awoke with crazy energy…most likely due to the thrill of having survived our adventure physically, mentally and emotionally, and the sadness of our inevitable departure…we went to get an espresso, then for a walk…6 of us lone fote women, through the neighbourhood, purchasing fried manioc balls with hot sauce and kansi gateau (a mix not far from the interior of a reese’s peanut butter cup), along the way…we delighted everyone we passed with our knowledge of susu, timid Arabic greetings, big smiles and French, bien sur (of course)…

Today as we were handing out presents and gifts for our family and friends, Gigla made a speech…”We have the same blood, we have nothing to give you in return but the love in our hearts. we will think of you every morning, noon and night, and we will miss you always…”

Being in Africa has had an interesting effect on me…I’m having trouble eating meat, hiding emotions, consuming chocolate or coffee that is not fair trade…we live in a luxurious society, have far too much, take far too much for granted and often forget the meaning of the word ‘community‘…

I will miss dance…the dancing is full on, jaw dropping, magnificently strong and powerful, hot and fierce, full of passion and emotion like nothing I’ve ever seen…I find myself desperately missing the freedom of dancing, the way you lose yourself in the rhythm of the djembe, and the tenacity displayed by our talented teachers…

In Africa, it’s Gigla who helps out so many…our passion and interest in the culture and people of this country is contagious and genuine…it is us who are responsible for passing on the lessons we have learned in Guinea to family, friends, students in more developed areas of the world…it’s not about what, it’s about who…finding love, passion, personal satisfaction…having respect for yourself and others…acting from your heart and thinking of others first…

We have seen and heard of everyday tragedies, unfortunate realities of this country; met its people who live through such realities everyday, who find passion, strength and inspiration through music and the power of traditional rhythms passed down through generations, unique and unbeatable…
the spirit of a nation brought together by music…


Throughout our time together, we have questioned our 2 different cultures and societies…which one is right side up, upside down, the points of each that work and those that suffer…we’ve pondered how to actually make a difference in such a short time. The emotions, strong; the connections and the memories, deep…

Guinea, it has been a pleasure… ‘till we meet again…

Christmas Day - Trip from Kubian to Conakry - Military Coup

Day 13, Dec 25, Thursday

We hug and smile, Merry Christmas!! We tidy our place in the village and look on in horror as our friend/assistant chucks 3 bags of garbage we have been meticiously salvaging from the village terrain, absent mindedly into the luscious green backyard. The African way…
Village elders and favourite friends sit around us as we prepare our bags, piling them high atop the wagon and shoving them into the boot of the sedan. Our bodyguard, Kindie, gets into the sedan with his machine gun and 6 others smushed in the front and back seats, and the rest of us get into the wagon with Gigla, in military garb, at the wheel. I fight back tears as I think of those I said goodbye to…kissing and hugging the mothers relentlessly and showering the children with little seen affections…hoping our continued support from Canada, our meager gifts and our presence will be enough to show them how much we really do care about their future…

Our car bottoms out numerous times on the road from the village to the highway…the faces of kids are pressed into our minds, little hand prints are on our clothes, their smells of campfire, sweat, dirt, food and childhood memories remain strong…we worry about the status of Conakry after one day of a military coup, about the gas lockdown affecting a community of 2 million people, of the roadblocks we will go through…being with Gigla makes us safe, but we all know there are different facades and sides to this military, gruesome truths powering a corrupt system…we hit 2 roadblocks on our way home, passing cars on the highway crammed much more full that ours, cars broken down on the side of the road, and ones powering dangerously by us…we see 2 flipped or overturned semi trucks, people on the streets walking alone or in groups, heads piled high with belongings/buckets/sacs of food…I have mixed feelings about heading home to Conakry…the safety of it all is the ultimate reason but my heart and thoughts remain in the village with its cochroaches, tarantulas, dirty feet, outdoor shower, tiny babies, and beautiful language…

Dictator President Dead after 24 year reign

Day 11, Dec 23, Tuesday

I awake to Lynn at our door, “the President has died.” From my readings, I know this can’t be a good thing. No music on such a day, so we dance to clapping from Karamoko, Mendez, Alas and Terez…not sure what to expect, radios blare world news all day in French and Susu…we have lunch and a nap, watch the kids climb grapefruit trees for us…I ask a few people what they feel about the situation and no one seems nervous, yet. Gigla tells us Conakry is calm, “un peu,” Karamoko tells me it’s fine as long as the military, who is currently in charge, stay all on the same side and avoid corruption…”So many moving parts to this situation,” says Rebecca as we try and find a cell phone to call the embassy…


The Village of Kubian

Day 10, Dec 22, Monday, Village of Kubian

We dance in the sand in the middle of the village, picking rocks out of our feet at each break…all the children of the village sat around to watch. Gigla, our teacher, mentor, guru, in his infinite wisdom and bluntness, tells us “c’est pas bon…” “No good…” Again, again, encore, encore…we have a short break and begin our drum lesson to another gaggle of children who stand as close to us as they possibly can…our djembe icon, ‘djembefola,‘ teacher and friend, Karamoko, shoo’s away the kids when they get close enough to us to actually impede our drumming…they smile at me as I make faces at them to encourage their skilled and rhythmic dancing to our inferior and inexperienced beats…

After a lunch of fruit, crab, fish, rice and sauce, we have time to relax…I sit with Mamma Sita, the wise, oldest and most hilarious old b ird I’ve met so far, who lets me hold the new addition to the village, 3 week old Mohammed…she talks in Susu and her grandaughter translates in French for me…”You married? Want the baby? You like dancing? You have nice calves…” I make her laugh and she grabs my legs, my arms, my hands, my face during and between bouts of laughter…although our words are short, our expressions and actions tell the tales of our feelings of curiosity, admiration, gratitude…

We have brought gifts and a sun oven to donate to the village which was purchased through fundraising back in Victoria…we change into our traditional outfits and hand out our donations…tears are shed as we are thanked over and over again for our support. In addition to our gifts, we have donated money to establish a school in the village of which the foundations have been laid and as we are in the village there are men working each day on the construction of the school. Gigla’s brother upon reception of our gifts, made a comment which really stuck…and despite our entourage and the children of the village constantly asking me for gifts, for my camera, my belongings, I hope it stands true for all…”It’s not the gifts we really appreciate,” he says, “but the fact that you are here…that our village has been graced with foreigners and that we are all, truly, one family all together…Wontanara.” It’s the resounding word that almost brought me to tears on one of our very first days in Guinea, dancing at the house in Conakry…when I had cramps, blisters, heat rash, a headache…Alas asked me if I was doing okay…”Wontanara,” he said, rubbing my back. “All together…” Bex said when I gave her a look of confusion…it’s the one thing none of us will forget about being here…the way people take care and respect each other amidst chaos, confusion, poverty, political turmoil and hardship…if you’re hurting, I’m hurting, and we’ll get through it together…


Dundunba, Conakry


Evening Muse, Conakry

Day 8, Dec 20, 2008
Conakry, Guinea
It’s super late, Saturday night. There is pumping music blaring somewhere that seems closer than it probably is…dogs barking, people laughing, horns blaring and the sound of our tailor in the courtyard working on an old fashioned sewing machine outside who has been given one day to make our 10 traditional outfits for our trip to the village…our entourage splay out on old mattresses, sans blankets or mosquito nets in the cool night air, under the clothesline, beneath the African sky…

Day 2, Dec 15

Today we went to a dundunba… the name of a celebration, be it marriage, birthday, or any celebratory event…everyone stands around in a massive circle and people dance in the middle, usually on the uneven dirt ground…basically everyone wants to dance but it’s only a few at a time…when you get a hold of the towel, you are allowed to dance…to get the towel you hop up and let the organizer know and then he tosses it at you when it’s your turn. Whereas in Canada, everyone would typically be shy in such a situation, in Guinea they fight to get in the spotlight, run through while others are dancing to fits of laughter from the crowd…

Today’s dundunba was to celebrate the marriage between Pepe, a dancer in Ballet Saamato, and her American partner, Jonathan, who is a fantastic djembe player. Everyone sat or mostly stood a few rows deep, hundreds of people on a small piece of land surrounded by highways…cars honking at the people dancing and watching, dust everywhere, and all eyes on the amazing dancers and musicians…Being 10 of the 15 or so fotes in the crowd, we were all forced to dance, one by one, in the middle of the circle…I tried to refuse my turn to dance, terrified at the numbers of eyes that would be watching…some boys behind me who encouraged me to go for it congratulated me when I returned…“C’est bien!“…At my turn I grabbed Amalia by the hand and dragged her up with me and we danced to whoops and hollers from the crowd of around 500 people, all smiling…exhilarating…


Arrival

December 13/2008 Brussels, Belgium to Conakry, Guinea

I meet Ken at the airport. I enter after Audrey drops me, stopping the car awkwardly before the departure gates, people in the cars behind us honking as we “kiss and drive,” as the signs state is the appropriate action…I rush out and forget to drop my huge puffy winter coat in the process which ended up being a great pillow for 4 weeks…the airport is massive, the clicking departure/arrival board says nothing about Guinea or Africa. I ask someone about this and I’m directed to gate 12, down a small corridor into an even smaller dark space with a few gates and a zillion Africans standing around. I spot Ken right away. We check our bags and head through to meet the rest of the gang from home who had no layover in Belgium as Ken and I did…we meet them at our gate and I am reunited with the Moondance crew from Victoria…

My first experience stepping off the plane in Africa is one of a small man in a military uniform on the dark tarmac waving at us with a massive smile…when I think of this moment, I also think of the same spot 4 weeks later, and same man, this time with his eyes ablaze with tears of pride, of admiration, of love…his goodbye showed a more serious face; a deep and emotional man…I like to think Gigla has shown me the true spirit the Guinean people…they wear their hearts on their sleeves, nothing hidden, no bullshit…

It was evening and smoking hot out the night we landed…the airport was crazy, as we expected, “…hold onto your bags, get your passport and yellow fever vaccination, follow Gigla, stay together!!!” Gigla chats/yells, with the baggage claim person forever until we are allowed out with all our goods (most dramatic events are extremely loud here). In the back of a truck we go with all our gear, hightailing down the streets, past people jogging, cooking, hanging out in the dark…we are SO hot, sweating through our clothes, throats dry from the constant dust in the air mixed with the smoke from the open coal fires everywhere, and pollution from the old, ill maintained automobiles and motorcycles that honk and swerve all over the place…

We arrive and sit around on plastic chairs in the dark in the front courtyard of a massive French Colonial house we have rented for 2 weeks which is to house our group of 10 Canadians along with our entourage of dance teachers, bodyguards (members of the military), family members, cooks drivers and drum instructors…we are, in total, 10 fotés (whites), and at any given time, at least about 12 forés (Africans)…there are people shuffling around in the dark speaking in Susu and French, moving mattresses, lighting candles, borrowing our headlamps and cooking…

After meeting Gigla’s wife, Mariama, his 2 children Anne Marie (8) and Tantou (10), and a zillion other friends, we enter our house and find an extremely large, old and random home ill maintained with marble staircases, a massive empty room on the top floor which will be our dance studio, 3 large bedrooms and fancy furniture…once owned by some pretty classy French before Guinea became independant in 1958 and the French left, destroying all they had created in the process…now, with no electricity or plumbing, the house is now not quite the home it once was…however, it is a massive structure compared to the shacks and other interesting residences in our neighbourhood…

We are fed a lovely meal of spaghetti with French bread and coated in palm oil and sit in the dining room at a massive table and eat out of 2 large bowls, sharing amongst ourselves, our first meal of many such shared plates of spaghetti…

In the heat of the night (literally), I head to sleep next to Bex, Amalia and Rowena under our new mosquito nets in the big living room on the 2nd floor on comfy mattresses apparently borrowed from friends and family, and I wonder what the owner of my mattress is sleeping on tonight…

Introductions

Gigla…Alya Gigla Sylla…the man, the myth, the legend…Gigla is the director of Ballet Saamato in
Conakry, an African dance ballet company which he created in 1990 along with a studio in the rather impoverished neighbourhood of Gbessia. It started as a ballet to teach local children ages 8-14 to dance, and now, many of these same kids are adults and professional dancers and musicians with Ballet Saamato. In addition to directing Saamato, Gigla ranks high in the Guinean military and has 4 amazing children, one of whom currently teaches African dance in France…We were taken very good care of by him and his ballet who became our family as well as our teachers, cooks, housekeepers, drivers, mentors, and friends….

Lynn Weaver, the owner of Moondance, my African dance teacher/idol who runs the Victoria based company with her djembe genius husband, Byron, travelled together to study djembe and dance and live with Gigla and his family 3 years ago. She has since told us many stories of Gigla’s power in the military, how he has the ability to meet us next to the plane on the tarmac without going through any security, how he is a godfather in the eyes of so many Guineans, and how we are now in safe and capable hands in this country due to his influence in the military and status in the community…

This is how I was allowed into Guinea in the first place…a country where you need an official invite to be granted a visa…a privilege I will never forget…












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21st February 2009

Interesting...
I really enjoyed reading your entries...I too have a son and daughter-in-law with the pc that were in the capital during the Christmas holiday...but sadly had to be escoted back to their site...really enjoyed the photos

Tot: 0.265s; Tpl: 0.016s; cc: 8; qc: 53; dbt: 0.0804s; 53; m:apollo w:www (50.28.60.10); sld: 3; ; mem: 6.6mb