Published: August 10th 2006August 10th 2006
Africa is awesome. When I first arrived in Conakry it was overwhelming...we got off the plane into thick humid air, gathered our tons of luggage in the tiny airport, and piled onto a bus to go to the Conakry PCV house. I looked out the window at the crowds of peoply in the busy neverending marketplace that is Conakry...old and young people selling fruits, vegetables, fabrics, soap, pots and pans, meat (freshly slaughtered), cheap flip flops, used clothing from the US, and just about everything else. A "store" could range from a mat on the ground from which a woman sells peanuts to a hut made of scrap tin to a small square building. Women walked with babies on their backs and buckets of water on thier heads, turning to stare at the bus full of "fotes" (Susu word for white people --we hear it about 100 times a day).
After a night in Conakry we took a 6 hour bus ride to Mamou, a town further inland in the mountainous region called the Fouta Djallon. We had four days of orientation at a forestry school there. We stayed in dormlike rooms, had good meals cooked for us everyday, and got some info on how not to seriously offend people or accidentally kill ourselves. There are 28 people in my training group, and we've become very close. We will all be teachers of math, physics, chemistry, or english. I was surprised when I first met the group in Philly - expecting a bunch of barefoot hippies with dreads, I actually got a bunch of intellectuals that could easily be mistaken for a group of chemical engineers. They're all very smart and generally interesting to talk to. In our four days at Mamou, a relatively safe, controlled, clean environment, I think at least three quarters of our group got sick. Diarrhea and vomiting have become perfectly normal topics of conversation. It was just kinda difficult to adjust to African food, water (even though we're drinking purified water), and the general presence of a lot more germs. Everyone recovered and has been pretty healthy since; I was lucky enough to escape the round of illness virtually unscathed.
After our four days in Mamou, we piled back on the bus and headed out of the mountains southwest, nearer the coast and not far from the border of Sierra Leone, to the town of Forecariah. We met our host families at a big adoption ceremony with traditional drumming, dancing, and dinner. I'm living with the family Toure, which includes my host mom, two of her sisters, and her three kids. Their house is large (three bedrooms, a living room, and a porch), and just behind it are two other houses where my host grandmother, uncle, and a bunch of other people live. There is also a herd of children that always hanging around, and I really have no idea who is related to who or how. Many of them speak only Susu and not French, so I can't really talk to them, but they're always down for a game of cards or listening to local music from a broken cassette player while dancing on the porch. There is electricity in Forecariah, for an average of about 2 hours a day, but you can't count on it. Water comes on maybe once a week for a few hours, and the one working tap in the household is used to fill every container available. My host mom is really cool and laid back...she gets excited for me when I'm going out at night with the other trainees, especially if we're going dancing. My 17-year old host aunt is the one who does most of the work for the family - cooking, cleaning, etc; she is also the one who shows me around town and introduces me to friends, takes me to movies and dance clubs (there are a couple good ones that have generators)
At this point I've been in Africa for four weeks, and a lot of what was overwhelming at first is now commonplace. I wouldn't say it feels completely normal yet, but you'd be surprised at how easy it is to adjust to squat latrines and bucket baths. Training is busy but going well...I've gotten a decent grasp of French (although I still have a long way to go), and I've learned a lot about French math and how to teach it.