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Published: October 24th 2012
Last Sunday, my friend, Saliou, invited me to meet some of his family and his Imam. Saliou is a Day Worker in the Dining Room. We took a cab from the port and then walked about a half mile. This was followed by another short cab ride and more walking. Saliou knows I do not like to ride on motor scooters so fortunately he did not suggest that mode of transport. Cabs here are collectives. Find one that is going your way using the correct hand signal and pay a set fee. It is shared along the way with others who are going in the same direction.
Saliou knows French and English well and acted as my translator. I met his sister, husband, and young son. They share a house with other people. We were invited into their bedroom, which in addition to a bed, had a couch and also functioned as a storage place for food and kitchen items. That may have been the only private room they had with the others being shared. It was neat and organized and cleaner looking than the space we walked through which was dirty, bare and empty. It appeared that they cooked outside. They were quiet but clearly pleased that we came. Saliou told me that the husband had a small restaurant. Here, that could mean selling rice under a tarp or something nicer. They clearly had little money. After about 10 minutes, we said out goodbyes and went to his aunt’s house.
The aunt was a beautiful woman. She wore black and had her head covered. All the women I met had their heads covered if over 16 years old, but they did not all wear black. One of her daughters was there also. We sat on plastic chairs on the porch and were offered can of fruit juice. The area was enclosed with a mango tree providing shade in the small grassless front yard. From the outside, it looked like a nice house.
The aunt asked many questions. The first one was about 9/11. I am not sure exactly what she wanted to know exactly, but I spoke about it briefly and said that I did not see any of it because I live in another area. We spent most of the time talking about gardening and farming which she used to do before she developed health problem. After about 30 minutes, we left and went to the house of an uncle. All these people live in the same neighborhood.
His uncle wasn’t there but his two wives were. We mostly had small talk with the first wife. She had gone to France recently with the plan of establishing residency but missed her children too much to stick it out until they could join her. The young girls are learning English so wanted to practice with me. After about 15 minutes, we went to Saliou’s place.
Saliou rents a room on the second floor of a house. I was introduced to the neighbors downstairs then to the Imam who has an apartment on the second floor with his wife (She was not there at the time.). An Imam is a religious teacher of Islam. We were invited into the living room which was spacious and furnished with well-worn old couches and a coffee table that was damaged on one corner. The walls and floor were not decorated. The two story building was made of cement and enclosed. The small yard had clothes drying on the ground.
The Iman was ready to engage me in conversation which was mostly one sided. I let him talk. He spoke excellent English and knew the words the Bible well. His interpretation of much of it was quite different from my understanding. He was convinced that he could convert me to Islam and wanted my phone number so we could continue talking. Well, fortunately for me, I have no phone here or in Vermont at the moment.
Salious has a room with a mattress on the floor. His clothes were on hooks or in a box. He had about two dozen books stacked neatly against a wall. We sat on the large plastic rug. He showed me a French to English translation he was working on for the Mercy Ship Agricultural Program. I read it while he went out to pray. It is not an easy thing to translate because of the technical jargon. He has had challenges getting it done. Though there is a lock on the door, he told me someone came in and stole his computer and some money. The computer he is now using for his translation work was borrowed and had to be return that night. Saliou recently had to use the little money he had left to pay for his father’s medical bills and related expenses while in Conakry. (He comes from Kindia) He had malaria but is now well. I asked if his father had money. Saliou said it was his obligation as a son to pay the costs.
After a while the Imam came to the room with two insulated containers, one with rice, and one with a spicy red sauce. The pepper sauce had very small bits of meat (very tough) and an orange vegetable. It could have been pumpkin. Some rice was put on a large plate. We each had a spoon and ate from the same plate while sitting on the floor. At first I didn’t put much sauce on the rice nearest me until I tasted it. It was delicious and not too spicy. I have seen some Africans on ship spoon on the red pepper!
It came out in the conversation that his wife went back to her family after a disagreement with him. He didn’t want his wife’s younger sister living with them because of her behavior which didn’t follow their cultural norms. He said he wouldn’t take his wife back unless she begged him. I asked him if he knew about unconditional love. This was a new concept to him. He actually seemed to be listening as I explained it.
Saliou and I ended the day by going to the stadium to watch a soccer game between the crew of Africa Mercy and the Day Workers. They have been practicing since we arrive. They had uniforms - blue for the crew and red for the Day Workers. It was a nice well-cared grassy field. It was the most grass I have seen in Conaky. The score was 6 to 5 in favor of the Crew.
Saliou told me later that they would like for me to visit again, but I am returning to Vermont on Saturday. I would like to return to Africa some day if I can save up the money.
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