Thursday, May 28, 2009

Finally, another entry!

Hi all! I'm sorry that I haven't been online in awhile, but now the good thing is I've got lots to talk about. We just went to Doucki for three days of hiking with Andrew and friends, and Federico and Tim. I will get pictures up in a couple of weeks when we are in Conakry, but it was the most beautiful place I've seen so far in Guinea. All the carrying buckets of water and what-not has apparently done wonders for my upper body strength because I could hoist myself up vines and rock walls no problem! You would have all been impressed. Doucki was incredible; we stayed with Hassan, who runs the show, in huts and were provided meals and excellent company on the hikes. It was absolutely amazing and I can't wait to get pictures up for you!

Now I'll brief you on life since our last stay in Conakry. My girls' club did their theatre night at the end of April, and that was an experience. What I had in mind and what the girls had in mind were apparently two completely different things. I pictured everyone arriving, the girls performing their two theatres and then everyone leaving. The girls pictured 7 hours of dancing, with performances by high school and university dance groups with a little theatre on the side. Apparently, the girls version is quite typical for a night of theatre in Guinea, but it did through me off a little bit. It was supposed to start at 7. The girls all were there by 7:45. They walked by me dressed in nice clothing and two minutes later walked by me again having taken off the nice clothing to reveal a group of very skantily clad teenagers. I didn't even know they made skirts that short or shirts that revealing in Guinea. I had to laugh, because it reminded me of myself a little bit, "Oh yeah Mom and Dad, this is what I'm wearing tonight" until getting to the dance and changing. (Not that I'd do that.) But now I've moved to the other side of the situation, where I felt like their mom. I caught myself saying, "You absolutely cannot wear that when you do the theatre" and I had to smile a little to myself because that sounds exactly something Mom would have said to me. But needless to say they did NOT wear that for the theatre. All in all, it was a success. Lots of people (~200) showed up to support the girls and they very obviously felt a huge sense of accomplishment because they pulled it off.

I have to write a small memorial to our wonderful dog. You've all seen pictures of Sophie from facebook by now, and I've got to say that we probably got more attached to her in seven months then I've ever been to a dog before. We got her a month after we had been at site. We had some friends, but I wouldn't have called us inegrated into the community by any stretch of the imagination. We had a wonderful three week old puppy to keep us occupied and make the bad days seem not so bad. At the beginning of May we decided to get her spayed, since the only veteranary school in Guinea is in our area. I talked extensively with the deans of the university about how the procedure would go, how they would use anestesia and disenfect instruments. Both doctors had done the same surgery at least 20 times and to me it seemed not that much different from doing it at home. Also, the older students would get to watch, which was a big plus for me since they don't often have demonstrations. I will spare you details of the surgery, but it did not go well. She lived for three days afterward and finally passed away. Its been incredibly difficult, both losing one of our best friends and trying to mourn her loss in a country where dogs are pretty much on par with rats for us at home. I had some students laugh at me, to which I responded with several lectures on the importance of cultural acceptance. For the most part, I do have to say that people did really try to understand. They couldn't, but they tried to empathize. Our neighbors helped us bury her and I had a lot of students (especially all of my girls' club that got to know Sophie) come up to me and tell me that they were sorry. That's defintely been the lowest point of our service and (knock on wood) it will be. But since she will defintely not be remembered by most Guineans, I wanted to write a small tribute to her on here. She made adjusting to site exponentially easier and she will always have a very special place in my heart.

In happier news, we have finished teaching and when we get back we will be giving compositions (final exams). We will finish up with those with just enough time to head off to Conakry and go to South Africa with Tom and Susan! I'm getting so excited for that trip, I can't believe its been almost 11 months since I've seen you all. Plans are starting to come together for our teachers' conference in November. Emily and I met with an NGO we will be working with in Mamou and they are pretty incredible. It is completely Guinean started and run, and they do work with trying to incorporate demonstrations and experiments into science classes and have developed lesson plans with commentary and practice problems for all other classes. The main obstacle right now is that they have no money to work with (which is almost always the main obstacle.) I'm hoping that we can do some work with them next year too and work on getting them the means to share their materials with other middle schools in Guinea.

I already have to wrap this up because I'm finishing up budget proposals, but I will get another blog up in two weeks when I go to Conakry. Until then, take care and I'll talk to you all soon!!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sorry for the delay

December 30th

We came back to our site yesterday after our week in Labe. Now that I’ve calmed down from the excitement/frustration/general ridiculousness of the situation, I want to write about it. Basically, everyone was waiting for the 24 year “presidency” of Lansana Conte’s “democracy” to end. He’s been a dying diabetic chain smoker for the past ten or so years – diabetic and chain smoking for more, but dying for the past 10 that is. The list of positive things he did for Guinea would be pretty short and would definitely be vastly outnumbered by the negative. The attempted military coup gave all you guys an idea of what it would be like to live here. For you, the news changed by the hour, the first couple of days. The military’s got power. The national assembly’s got power. The military’s got power. Oh, it changed again. Basically, no one knew what was going on. Conte was in a coma for days before his death, but no one was aware that there didn’t appear to be anyone running the country. At this point, the head honcho of the national assembly should have stood up and taken charge; however, apparently Conte was completely capable of running a country while unconscious. Although, truth be told, it probably didn’t make a difference one way or another. I probably shouldn’t be saying that on here, but I’m confident that most Guineans would completely agree with me. So I’ll say it.

NOW everyone seems satisfied with the new president Moussa Camara and everyone is most people seem confident that he’s really going to stand for change and help to get Guinea going. All I can say is I hope so. I don’t know why this system is labeled as a “democracy” when the last time I checked, stepping up and claiming to be the new president regardless of the constitution OR support from the people generally went against democratic requirements. Although, at the time, the easy options were either Moussa Camara OR the president of the National Assembly. It was either bad with a chance of good or just bad. I just hope it will not be another 24 years of another Conte. We shall see.

We actually got to see 5 of the people in the rest of our group: Rachel, Conor, Isy, Erich and Valentin came through on their way back to sites last night so we got to have dinner together. It was so nice to see them and I cannot wait for another month until IST when we will actually see everyone else! Since being back, everything is back to normal. We made tea. We saluer-ed all of our friends. We met a woman this morning who just came back from Mecca and now has the name “Haddja” added to her name in recognition. “Elhadj” and “Haddja” are amusing to me. They are supposed to be saved for people returning from Mecca and is a title of distinction and honor. HOWEVER, when kids are named after someone who is an “Elhadj” or “Haddja” he/she gets to add that to their name too. My two year old neighbor is named “Haddja” and I have some real pieces of work in my classes named “Elhadj”. It takes away from the real importance of it just A LITTLE.

I’ve got to give some special shout outs in this entry: we got some of our Christmas packages!

Mom-Thanks for all the candy,movies,clothes, etc. I’m so excited to have a real pair of pajamas!! (I’m really easily impressed).
Jackie/Sue/Steve/Bonnie – Thanks so much for all the food and goodies. I can’t believe that you wrapped every single one, but it made it feel more like Christmas to be able to open everything! We already made the mac and cheese today.
Craig and Bible Study crew – All of the school supplies are much appreciated!! I can’t believe how much stuff fit into that one box! We ended up sharing the Clif Bars with a mouse that lives in the Peace Corps house in Conakry, but he was nice enough to leave two for me and for John. AND he didn’t get into the cashews.

We should be getting the rest in a couple of weeks with the mail run, so I’m sure I’ll have more to put in here. Right now we have the rest of the week to relax, so I’ll be trying to get ahead of lesson plans and grading the 500 homeworks I collected last week. For New Year’s Day we are going to a “beach” near here, so I’m excited for that. At least I’ll get to see something resembling a beach over vacation, although I’m pretty sure it’s a reservoir with sand. BUT, I will take what I can get.

January 3rd
Well, Happy 2009! I’ve got to say, it wasn’t the worst New Year’s ever. New Year’s Eve, we went to a boit – dance club. I was fairly unexcited for this since going to the boit in Forecariah during training makes my list of the top ten most awkward things I’ve ever done. Well, I mean if I had that kind of list, it would have been on it. BUT, it really wasn’t that bad. We helped bring in the new year with a couple of our friends and we actually stayed out until about 1:30, which is the latest I’ve been awake here yet. That counts for something, right? New Year’s Day we rode our bikes out to a “beach” – aka a reservoir that allows swimming. There were so many people that went out there and John and I decided we are going to make going out there a weekend activity. It’s only a five mile bike ride and it was so nice to swim. I’ve got to share with you all the story of our day. Most Guineans can’t swim. It’s not quite like home where there’s a pool every 10 feet, so most people never learn. Everyone went to the “beach” to hang out, listen to music (some people actually brought tvs and generators) and look at the water. So out of nowhere, two portos come in, strip down to bathing suits (and wow are my legs white because they are never showing) and jump in the water; kids did not know what to do with themselves. Within about a minute we had an audience of at least 30 kids lined up at the water’s edge. Some of our students were there and a couple could swim, so they clearly thought it was the coolest thing they’d done in awhile to be swimming with their porto teachers. We are hoping that when we generally go up for a relaxing swim it won’t be quite so crowded. There’s just something about all of your town watching you swim that makes it a little bit less relaxing (I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.)

In other news, school should be starting up again on Monday. Although, we found out there is another holiday coming up this week, so we won’t have school Thursday (or probably Friday.) I swear, the school seeks out reasons to take off. Our friend was over last night for dinner (followed by a terrible movie at the video club) and he said, quite excitedly, that Thursday is a holiday. I of course asked the ridiculous question, “What holiday is it?” He thought a minute and said he didn’t know the name, but everyone walks door to door singing and asking for money. It sounds like my interaction with children here most days plus singing. But then he said we could go up to this reservoir again Thursday, to which John replied that we had to teach. He said that they in fact cancel school so people can go door to door asking for money. Of course. Why not?

This afternoon I had my 194th glass of ataya (sweet strong tea) since being here (if I were actually counting, it would actually be about that high I think.) Some of our friends make it at least a few times a week. This productive use of an afternoon is generally considered a “man’s” activity – because here, men’s activities do not include cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, getting water, washing clothes, or being generally useful, so instead they make tea. But being white and educated, I’m not really looked at as a “woman”, so I’m free to join. Someone here pointed out that women who are volunteers are kind of like a third gender. We aren’t women, but we definitely aren’t looked at as men either. This is just a general statement though. I do have people who respect me as much as they would a man (I hate that I have to put it that way), but then we know people like our drumming teacher who asked me to get him water AND wash his hands the last time he was here. I kind of glanced at John, who then offered to wash the man’s hands. Needless to say, he did it himself. But bit by bit, I think I am earning the respect of the other teachers at the school AND finally, the director is treating me like everyone else.

This week, our workload is about to double. We are starting review sessions and a computer class for the university. I’m starting English lessons with my kids, and we are finally starting up drum lessons. We are going to be legitimately busy, which will be awesome! I’m also going to throw around the idea of having a girl’s club, so hopefully that will go well and I’ll have some positive things to tell you about that! Also, compliments of Mr. Belokur, we can get some pen-pal exchanges going between his students and mine, which I am VERY excited about!! Now I just have to figure out a way around the postal system being awful at best!

January 20th
As you can see, its been awhile since I’ve blogged. I’ll give you two possible scenarios: 1.) I’ve been so busy that I just haven’t found the time OR 2.) Our electricity crapped out again. Take your pick.

I got to watch the inauguration today and that had so much potential until the French dubbing didn’t quite block out the English. It sounded something like this: “Today is a blglghadfdkjahfkjelkajehkl. This is an important aekranewblkmnjdkljdnekjd.” Andrew was up and of course Katy and the Campbell’s and Brenda (the awesome missionaries here.) I also brought a few of my favorite girls from class and they were excited about it. With these girls, I’ve been talking about starting up a girls’ club, to talk about whatever they want. One of them came up to me the other day with a list of things she wants to change in Guinea, so how could I possibly say no to that. She wants to end excision and arranged marriages singlehandedly and I’ve got to say, she has got the energy to do it. She was telling me that when her friend was 10 she was sent away to be married. When she was 13 she was pregnant and then she died during childbirth. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would feel like. But they want to talk about issues from teachers dating students to men doing not a whole lot (by that I mean nothing) around the house to HIV/AIDS. They also want to start up a basketball league on the weekends. I did a lot of listening to them today and its amazing how quickly they opened up while boys weren’t around. Although since I had our first impromptu meeting at the school, boys kept coming in the classroom. My patience quickly dwindled to comments such as, “This is a girls’ club, are you a girl?” Although I’ve got to say, those comments do the job.

I have to share a frustration with all of you. Craig and friends were amazing enough to put together a box of student supplies for the kids here. We’ve been keeping the box in the school director’s office until we have a lock for our classroom cabinet. WELL this past week I was giving exams so I went to take the supplies. I found out that someone had taken almost all of my compasses and protractors. NOW no student has access to these things so that means that we have teachers that are stealing supplies from the students. For me, that was a new level of angry that I hadn’t quite experienced since being here. I doubt I’ll see them again.

On a more positive note, I found out today that the school is hiring another physics teacher (yay!) This means I’ll only have 400 students instead of 700 and I’ll get to teach the full classtime that I’m supposed to. I told some of the kids today and they were a little less than happy about it. I felt bad because I had to convince them it wasn’t actually because they were being bad in class that I wasn’t going to be teaching them anymore. But I mean they are losing the crazy white woman that brings fun stuff in for them to play with and they are more than likely gaining another teacher that will just write stuff on the board and call it a day. But we will see.

February 8th
Wow, I can’t believe that it’s February already. You guys won’t be reading this until sometime in March because we are getting pretty lazy with going to Labe, so I’m sorry for that. I have got to say I consider it a good thing that I can stay longer in at site without needing to leave! I have quite a bit to update you all on. We’ve gotten the go-ahead on a teachers’ conference that we are planning for October. We are trying to have each volunteer bring at least one teacher and we are going to be putting together science labs for experiments and demos, talking about teaching techniques and addressing a plethora of other issues that we have all deemed necessary to talk about. Soon I’ll probably be harassing you all to make some donations to make that possible, but I’ll update you all on that later! We will be putting together a budget in April.

Other goings on: I’m starting up a girl’s club for some of the girl’s at our school. A few weeks ago, some of my girls came up to me and asked me if I could help them fix all the problems in Guinea….so of course I couldn’t say no to that enthusiasm. We are in the process of putting together a play that they are going to perform for an elementary school to talk out about the importance of education for girls and against arranged marriages. We also started a basketball league on Sundays. Today was our first game and I ended it by spraining my ankle. Most of you may remember that I sprained my ankle a couple summers ago during a treacherous hiking accident in Maine. (By that I mean I was walking back to the car AFTER hiking and I sprained my ankle in two places in the parking lot.) Anyway, my right ankle is always incredibly weak and I fell over today coming down from jumping. All of my girls rushed over to help and one grabbed my ankle to make sure she could still rotate it and after my sharp cries of “NE TOUCHE PAS” I think she realized that is NOT how you check for an injury.

We had our IST training a couple weeks ago in Mamou. It was SO nice to get to see everyone from our group!! The training was okay too, but the highlight was definitely seeing all of the other G-16ers, some of whom we hadn’t seen since the end of September. We also gave our compositions (which are like mid-terms) at school last week. We had a meeting for them beforehand and in true Guinean fashion, the meeting started an hour late and lasted for three hours to cover 10 minutes worth of material. We had to talk about which class would take exams which days – relevant, which teachers would proctor – relevant, and how one teacher had his blue belt to defend himself from students that get physically aggressive during exams – not relevant, and how one teacher had students that disliked him so much that they don’t say hello to him in the market – also not relevant. We discussed at length if the monthly teacher contribution should be 3 mille or 5 mille a month – not relevant.

March 2nd
I kind of awkwardly cut off in the middle of that last entry. I’m sorry for the lack of blog entries that you will be getting this time, but we only have electricity 1-2 times per week and I’ve got really important things to be doing. (Thanks for sending those seasons of The Office on DVD Dad!) I have an amazingly terrible story for you all though. SO, my girls club planned a theatre for this past weekend. They organized the place, the equipment, they wrote the play and I’m pretty much just advising, which is how it should be. Anywho, they get everything set up and music is playing, kids are coming to check it out, it’s perfect. EXCEPT: the microphone jacks do not work. At home, this would not be a problem, right. Just speak more loudly. They look for another thing to plug in a microphone for over an hour, while I man the fort and smile at all the kids checking out the porto. They finally decide they are going to try it without a microphone. They gather all the kids (and there are about 100) and attempt to start. No one will shut up. They are yelling at the kids to be quiet and everyone’s making a ton of noise. Me, being the problem solver that I am, stand on a chair in the middle of the circle and try to get everyone’s attention by clapping my hands. So now I’m just a strange white woman clapping my hands while standing on a chair while everyone talks. They decide to start the play and kids will quiet down. No one heard a word of the play. After they finished, a mass fight broke out with these 100 kids and me the only adult in sight. I yell for neighbors and men come over waving huge sticks trying to break it up. I look over and there’s my neighbor, in the center of the action. Someone has completely ripped off her shirt, but she’s still going at it. My other neighbor has a bloody nose. One of my favorite girls comes up to me and goes, “Madame, in Guinea, it’s like this.” Finally the mob of children took it to the streets and started terrorizing the people down by the market. So in short, I helped cause the Civil War of 2009 here. BUT I talked to the girls afterward about what we need to do differently again next time so no blood is shed over a play for elementary school kids. I’ll keep you all posted.

This coming month we will be working on painting a big world map on our school building (its right next to the water pump that a ton of people use, so we are hoping they will at least look at it while they are there.) We are hoping to dispel the myth that there are 52 states – 53 if you count Canada, and five continents. They actually learn that in school here – sorry all you Canadians out there. This is one of the things I wanted to do while here though, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been learning to make a lot of Guinean food lately, so you should all be excited to eat rice and sauce when I get home. We will be serving it at the wedding – don’t even think I’m kidding. I’m going to make you all fish meat balls full of bones so you can appreciate what we’ve been eating. I bet your mouths are watering just thinking about it. I can now make peanut sauce and leaf sauce and soon I’ll be rounding out the main sauce category with soup sauce. I can do corn rice with spoiled milk (which is actually pretty good) and this weekend I’ll be making fonio. That sounds good for a wedding menu, right? Fish meatballs and spoiled milk? Mmmm….

I guess that’s about all I’ve got for now. We’ve taken some interesting bike trips lately, teaching’s been good, I started up a basketball team, we are teaching a club at the university, and if you call me on Skype, I’ll tell you about it first hand!

March 18th
Hey all! We will be going to Labe now in 2 days, so you’ll all get to read our (few and far between) updates. We still don’t have electricity on our side of town so its been hard to keep up with this blog. I have to write about a very strange couple of weeks that we have had. Almost two weeks ago now, two girls started screaming and muscle spasming and passed out in the middle of class. Only one other teacher and myself actually stopped class to see what was going on. I had no idea what it was, so I’m doing what I consider reasonable: checking vitals and making sure people are supporting the girls’ heads so they don’t hit the concrete. I look over at the other teacher and he is blessing their hands and face – a different approach, I thought. Eventually kids carried these two girls into our director’s office and I called our Peace Corps doctor to see what he thought. He said it might be a case of meningitis, so to keep a heads up. SO about an hour after this (teaching continued as normal) the same thing happened to another 8 girls – 10 girls in total – screaming, convulsing, passing out – and at this point, I don’t know what to think. It ended up being a HUGE cultural lesson. Our principal, fellow teachers, the prefet, the mayor – some of the most educated people I’ve met here – explained to me that it was caused by evil spirits and the devil because the school did not have the required sacrifice upon the completion of the buildings this year. I, being one to look for a scientific explanation above all else, finds this to be a hard pill to swallow. My theory was (is) that there was something actually wrong with the first two girls, however you want to label that “something”. Personally, I believe in the devil, but all this was a little much. I think the rest of the girls so strongly believe in all this that they convinced themselves that the same thing was wrong with them. I think the rest was mass hysteria. Anyway, the next day it happened to 20 girls, another 10 after that and after almost a week of this, the school had a sacrifice to ward off evil spirits. We killed a cow and a sheep and sat in a classroom-turned-mosque while all the elders/important people here (myself and John included in case that wasn’t obviously included under “important people”) read from the Koran and recited incantations. HOWEVER, after all this was said and done, the “crise” as they call it, which just means attack in French, continues at school.

I also have been thinking about things that have become normal in Guinea that I can never do at home (but probably will). For your reading pleasure:

Habits I Have to (Should) Leave in Guinea
1.)Grabbing random children on the streets – Whether it be for a high five, a hug, or just to hold the portos hand, I don’t think parents at home will share the same appreciation for their children getting so attached (literally) to a complete stranger.
2.)Shouting “Black Person” when someone shouts “White Person” at me – Although shouting Baleejo as a response to Porto works here, I have a feeling it won’t make me friends back in the US
3.)Calling strangers that happen to be elderly “Mom” and “Dad” – “Neene” and “Baaba” are encouraged here and the market ladies always respond by calling me their daughter or girl or sometimes baby, but I don’t think I’ll try the same thing with older women and men at home.
4.)Inviting the person next to me at a restaurant to eat out of my bowl – “Invitations” is something you always say to the person next to you and they (almost) never take you up on it. It’s looked at as polite to offer. Maybe I’ll try that one out the next time I’m at Red Lobster.
5.)Picking nose in public – I don’t think I need to elaborate
6.)Spitting out food – when you find a bone, rock, piece of dirt, etc. in your food here, people just spit it out. I have become so used to doing this that I am completely confident I will embarrass myself at home by spitting out food in a restaurant or at someone’s house.
7.)Going to the bathroom on the side of the road – again, no need to elaborate.
8.)Assuming people will be late for a meeting – I’ve started leaving so I will arrive at school 10 minutes late. I also tell my students that the review class is earlier than I actually intend to start, so that by the time I’m ready, they are there. BUT I don’t think I can show up at job interviews when I get back with that same lax attitude about what “on time” means.
9.) Swearing audibly at my cell phone in English when my service cuts out – although I have come up with some good names to call our cell phone.

I'm going to end my list there. I'll add as I go! OH also, I think we will be coming home the first couple of weeks in August, so I'll keep you all posted on that! Love and miss you all!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December (pre-attempted coup)

December 6th
I can write this in our house again because we (for now) have electricity! Yay! The three weeks without it was fine, but I do enjoy using the laptop as more than a bookend. The getting electricity has been quite an issue though. I’m pretty sure our neighbor arranged to have this all fixed, which I am thankful for, but it ended up being an expense that everyone on our street has to split. When it first broke, I was under the impression that the government was paying for it, but that didn’t happen. After three weeks, I guess people started to get very fed up, BUT now each family has to pay 37,000 francs to have the electricity. For John and me, this is not a big deal, nor is it a big deal for the more well-off families in our neighborhood. HOWEVER, 37,000 francs (or about 8 dollars I think) is a very considerable amount of money for many people. I’m not sure what is going to happen with that, but I really hope that everyone gets to keep their electricity. But now I’m back and able to e-mail all of you and I get to play the super-fun game with the puppy where she thinks its great to chew on the computer cord and I disagree. When I move this just means I want her to find me in my new location with the cord so she can chew on it again. Great time for all!

I need to pause in this blog to send out a big congrats to Amy and Chris! I’m so sorry that I couldn’t be there (and that I never did get that big life-size cardboard cut-out of me made) but I heard from my dad that you looked beautiful at your wedding, so I am excited to see pictures. Jess and Katie, I heard that you guys looked great too. Everyone else, I’m guessing my dad didn’t recognize you or you didn’t really look that special. (Kidding.)

Other news: Thanksgiving was amazing! It was great getting to see everyone and the getting to eat turkey part was alright too! We ended up leaving a day early, but it is always nice to be in the town of pizza, hot showers, and other Peace Corps Volunteers! This past week here we had a seminar put on by a French NGO centered on doing experiments with locally available materials. I think this is a great start and when I told my director about it, he’s all for supporting it as my summer project for next year! Hopefully (fingers crossed) this will all pan out, but I will have updates for you all soon. Basically, this past week, I was with 4 other physics teachers and 3 chemistry teachers and we did some work building circuits, making balances and barometers, and doing smaller scale experiments for the different topics in 7th-10th grades. I think this definitely needs to be extended to high school too, but everyone at the seminar seemed very willing to learn and excited to try. This was very encouraging because this seminar was the only time I’ve ever seen a science demo done in Guinea (besides by those crazy portos that are teaching throughout Guinea) and I really hope that with some work, it will really take off. It’s impossible to believe that kids can really learn chem./physics/bio without some hands on stuff to go along with it. But the potential of this seminar was very promising and I really hope I’ll be able to put together something for next summer. The bad news was I didn’t get to teach all week (really the bad news is that my kids didn’t have class all week because there’s no substitute teacher set-up to accommodate events like this.) But I’m excited to get back to it this coming week!

December 14th
Shockingly, our electricity has run into some problems again in the past week, so I haven’t been able to do much with this. But I hope everyone at home is getting in the Christmas spirit and is having a great time celebrating the holidays! It’s been a little difficult here, without the snow, carols, decorations, or people celebrating Christmas. HOWEVER, I just watched Elf and that has awakened my Christmas spirit a bit. We are also going to Conakry in a week to see everyone (including all of the other amazing G-16ers that I haven’t seen since we swore in at the end of September.)

I’ve got to update you all on what’s going on with us because I’m very excited about it. Our spring is starting to look like its going to be pretty busy. A couple weeks ago I was fortunate to run into a Cameroonian university student. We talked about what he’s studying and what we are doing here and he mentioned he was interested in starting a “science club.” I said we’d love to help. With the idea of starting some sort of club, we went to the first meeting and found out that this student is incredibly motivated and has big goals for this club. From January to the end of May, John and I will be teaching Word, Excel, and Powerpoint AND I’ll be doing a basic statistics class and diving into research methods a bit because this club wants to do RESEARCH! This is the first time I’ve heard anyone say this word here and I’m so glad to help out. Phase I is going to be mainly computer and English classes and next year we are really going to work on starting the research. Right now there are about 40 people in the club and these are just the people our friend hand picked to start it. We are opening it up to the rest of the university in January and I have no idea how many people we will end up with!

We are also starting with drum lessons this coming week. Katy and I are taking lessons together, and after we embarrass ourselves, John will go by himself since he’s already amazing on the drums. He’s already playing with our teacher and learning rhythms, while I’m still in the “So this is a drum” phase of learning. Fortunately, a porto playing drums doesn’t attract any attention, so I won’t have to worry about playing in front of everyone we know. I’ve labeled drum lessons as “public humiliation @ 1 p.m.” on my calendar. But I’m very excited and John’s much more excited than I am, so I think it will be awesome. Now I just have to find a place to get dance lessons and I will be all set. Unfortunately, we live in the most conservative region of Guinea and music and dance are not really practiced much. We were fortunate in that our friend knew this guy that is giving us lessons; otherwise, it would have been much more difficult to start.

Since my last entry, we had the Fete du Tabaski here. I still am not really sure what the fete is about, but I think its mainly a holiday to give thanks. Everyone that has the money to kills a sheep and makes a ton of food. Everyone gets in their finest attire and walks around saying hello to people. Little kids get dressed up and walk around asking for money to buy treats. My goal for the day was simple: walk around and see how many meals I could squeeze into one day. I had four lunches: four delicious lunches at that. I dressed up in one of my two African outfits that I hardly ever wear (I’ve adopted locally made skirts and polo shirts as my usual attire) and John wore his and we walked around saying hello and chatting with people.

School is going about the same. I butt heads with the director of the students on a fairly regular basis. It’s not really my fault and I personally believe that “women” are on the top of his list of dislikes. Everything that I’d like to do ends up being an issue. He actually said no to me having review sessions in a classroom. I had a huge issue with this because he was only hurting the kids in his attempt to be able to say “no” to me. My response: I held my review sessions on the steps of the school. My goal is to have him respect me by the end of our time here. I honestly don’t care if he likes me. My purpose here is not really to impress him, but if I could change his opinion on women even a tiny bit, I would consider that an accomplishment.

The Pulaar is coming along and I impressed myself the other day by carrying on a conversation with a three year old child. She had some pretty tough questions for me, but I nailed them all. I’ve found that I can understand a lot of what people say, but as far as coming up with a response, it usually comes out in awkward phrases, such as, “You hungry, I make food?” I’m trying to learn to insult people in Pulaar too. This sounds mean, BUT it goes like this. There are last names in Guinea that just pick on each other. They are “cousins” and life revolves around jokingly putting the other down. For example, here John and I are Bahs. Our “cousins” are the Diallos. Every day when I walk into school I’m greeted with something to the effect of, “Have you stolen anything yet?” to which I reply, “Did you cast any spells today?” or my personal favorite, “I may steal, but at least I’m not a Diallo, they eat monkeys”. This is so engrained in the culture and sometimes its not taken as a joke. Katy told me that this Chinese company was building here and were hiring Guineans to do the work. A Guinean said, “Don’t hire any Camaras, they steal!” He was of course, completely joking, but the company took him seriously and turned away any Camara who apply. BUT, at least they don’t eat monkeys.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

...and November is almost over already

Happy Thanksgiving from your favorite portos! Tomorrow we will be going up to Labe to celebrate with the rest of the volunteers. The Peace Corps is even sending turkeys to each regional capital, which will probably double my meat consumption in the past couple of months! Yay! I hope that all of you are doing well back at home and are as excited for Thanksgiving as I am. I want to say that November has FLOWN by as compared to October. Being busy (i.e. having a job) actually makes the time fly by! I feel like the first month that I was here, my feelings about being here fluctuated by the day (or hour or minute) but now I’m really starting to feel like I live here and I am happy about it (which is good news!)

Here’s a recap from the month of November:

November 2nd
We have returned from our amazing weekend with all of our amazing other PCVs. Thanks to everyone that e-mailed me back and I will be working on those for all of this month. I decided I had to share this story with everyone. I get back and my yard smells like poop. First I am confused as to why, then I am confused to find a rather large pile of cow manure in my yard. This confuses me because we have a walled-in compound and the last time I checked, cows weren’t very good at using padlocks. I also notice a couple of my plants are totally missing – as in perhaps a cow ate them (I’m noticing that I will have many problems maintaining a garden.) So when my neighbor comes over, I ask casually if a cow was in our yard while we were gone. At first he looks at me confused, then asks me why I think that. I point to the pile of manure. What I want to say is something like this: “Unless one of your kids did this – in which case they need to see a doctor – I know that for some reason a cow was in my yard.” He then replies with, “oh yeah, we had a sacrifice yesterday.” Again, I’m puzzled because they have their own yard, but he continues with, “Do you have anything there?” (Meaning where there’s a giant pile of cow crap suffocating my baby plants.) I just nonchalantly said yes and he took care of the problem. But lesson hopefully learned: if you want to slaughter a cow in your neighbor’s yard without them finding out about it, don’t let the cow crap in their garden. Valuable life advice right there…write that down.

We also picked up our new puppy today. She is adorable. We were supposed to get a boy of the litter, but while we were gone for the weekend, someone stole all the males and left the female. So now we have the luckiest little doggie in the world because we have saved her from being adopted by a family that would throw rocks at her and kick her. When we picked her up she was covered in dirt and bugs. I think that she’s about four weeks old. The first thing she got was a good scrub down, but we’ve got some fleas to take care of yet. Eventually I’ll get to send pictures. Our little neighbors love her and we were teaching them today how to hold a puppy and pet her and be affectionate and not abusive. They watched (perplexed) as we gave her a bath and put her in the hammock with us. When she’s older, I’m going to show them how you can teach dogs tricks and how they are smart animals that shouldn’t be mistreated. Our neighbors are already very nice to the dogs here, but I’m hoping that they can spread the knowledge on to others.

My mom gets a special shout-out mid entry because I’m currently eating the Double Stuf Oreos that she sent and they are DELICIOUS. Thanks Mom!! My little neighbor also helped me make soup tonight. She is about 8 years old and my new hip attachment. Every time I come home she holds my hand, she follows me around the yard/in the house, and wants to do everything that I do. (But who wouldn’t?) In other news, I think I realized today that I’ve gotten more comfortable here so slowly that I didn’t even notice it was happening. It doesn’t even feel awkward any more for me to say hello and exchange greetings in Pulaar at the market or in the street. And the constant staring is something that I don’t even notice (most of the time.) I got a good line from Rachel that I now use in response to “HEY PORTO!” I say, “Ko honto Porto?” – Where’s a porto? At first the kids think I’m thoroughly confused, but then they laugh.

That’s all the news I’ve got for now. You won’t even get it for almost a month…
November 10th
We have officially been in Guinea for 4 months today! I can almost say it doesn’t feel like that long. I CAN say, however, that our over a month at site now has been flying by, seemingly much quicker than training. As another update: John has still not started teaching. The building was supposed to be done today, but the school pushed it back (again) until Wednesday. We did run into our principal today though and he told us that we would both be teaching 16 hours a week instead of 12 because they are having some problems with other teachers. So in the span of a day, my schedule is going from four hours a week to 16 hours a week.

Other exciting news: this past weekend John and I ventured into the library to check it out. There was a room full of covered up, turned off, collecting dust COMPUTERS! We asked if they worked and were told no one really knew. So today, John and I tried them all out and we’ve got three perfectly fine computers and another 3 or 4 that we need to play around with. There’s potential to have 7 working computers at our library and we can start having technology classes for all of the students! There’s the possibility for internet, but its outrageously expensive to get it set up and then a little less than outrageously expensive per month, so it would be difficult to get that started up AND now we will be able to focus on getting people familiar with the computer in general and using different programs. The librarian is VERY excited about this potential endeavor. (As am I, in case you can’t tell.)

In other positive news: another volunteer in G-15, Liz, and her dad were in our town yesterday, so we walked around with them and Katy. THEN, we tried out the best restaurant in all of Guinea as far as I am concerned. It’s owned by a Guinean woman and her French husband and I got to eat steak and herb-seasoned potatoes with a cold Heineken and crème caramel for dessert. It was by far the best food I’ve had since being in Guinea. Unfortunately it’s far out of our Peace Corps budget for eating there often, but I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy incredibly delicious food. And thanks so much to Dave for dinner!!

Our puppy is doing well after a couple of mishaps this week. First we went to find flea meds for her and she had a not-so-positive reaction. As in she was crying in pain for the entire night with burning skin after having two baths with a scrub brush. When we told the vet who doubles as a math teacher about this he seemed less than concerned and after three days it was better. We took her for a walk yesterday and she walked up to an adult goat just checking him out. In response, he gave her a head butt and she went tumbling across the road crying and crying. Before that we looked ridiculous taking her for a walk. No one does that here. I’m really worried about when she is older and will get out of the compound when we aren’t here because people will kick her and throw rocks at her. She will learn pretty quickly who she can and can’t trust. She already freaks people out because she’s not afraid of them yet because John and I don’t really make a habit out of hitting her.

The math class that I’m teaching is going well and soon I should be able to get started on my English classes for the 50+ students that I’ve got interested in learning English. A lot of people seem to be a bit misguided in believing that learning English is their ticket to a good job and being able to get themselves out of Guinea. I want to open by emphasizing that this is not entirely true, but I do admire the enthusiasm. Basically it appears that I will go from having practically nothing to do to lots to do. But that is why I am here and I am very excited for the potential change.

In really exciting news, we got to watch the election last week! Katy’s neighbors have a satellite dish that gets CNN so Andrew came up and two of the missionaries here and it was an exciting porto party! I do have to say that after four months sans lots of technology, the magic map and the touch screen exit polls were a little overwhelming to take in. But EVERYONE here is very excited that Obama won and I’ve seen people walking around with Obama pins and writing “Obama’s family” on their gates. I believe and sincerely hope that his win will be a turning point for us and will change how we are viewed throughout the world. It’s about time.

A special thanks goes out this month to Mom (white shirts were great!), Dad, Uncle Bill and Aunt Gail and Gillian and Mike (Thai noodles with peanut sauce was amazing and we are having taco night soon!) for the care packages and Jen and Tom McGarrity for the letters! Much appreciated!!

November 18th
Hello all! John finally started teaching today (hold your applause because 7th grade has still not started.) We had to call our director of education to let him know we were going for an overnight bike trip – more on that later – and he asked how the teaching was going. I casually mentioned that I was teaching some and John had not yet started. He was furious and told us that he was calling our principal as soon as we were off the phone. So he did. Coincidentally, school started the next day.

On to the bike ride. We thought it would be fun to ride out and visit with Bryan and Emily for the weekend. It was 45 km of hills each way, which wasn’t so bad until the very final stretch of the way back. But we picked a great day to visit his village. We went to a sacrifice, where we were fed excellent riz gras (this was after Bryan’s host family had fed us rice and sauce) and then the maison de jeunesse put on a little Pulaar theater. It was like a middle school/high school drama club production. But oh you should have seen the excitement that 4 white people can cause. We walked in and they wouldn’t let us pay and then they kicked people out of chairs so we could sit down – in the front row. When we went to leave, they brought us drinks and cookies for coming and not paying. I swear Guineans are the friendliest group of people that I have ever met.

November seems to be flying by as compared to October, which I would say is good. Soon, I’ll have 600 homeworks to correct each week, which will keep me busy for a few hours a day I’d say. I’m really going to make an effort to give the kids as much attention as they’d get in a small village school, but its going to be a challenge. I’ve given up the idea of learning names without making nametags, so that will be going into effect next week. This year is going to be a challenge because (especially with the 8th grade) we’ve both got much less time to get through the same amount of material.

I also finally have some good news on our garden. One brave cucumber plant, two peas and a few greenbeans have survived the chicken/cow/puppy attacks and have beaten the odds. I’m sure none of you care about this, but after all the bad news I wanted to put in a happy update on the garden. The puppy is also doing well. HOPEFULLY (I seem to say this all the time) I’ll be able to attach pictures. Don’t count on it though.

So far teaching has been pretty interesting. It’s been about as big of a challenge as I anticipated keeping 80 kids in line at a time. I think my tolerance for crap is a little bit lower than a lot of the other teachers here and kids think it’s outrageous that I’d kick them out of class for minor things like answering their cell phone in class or going over to the window to shout at their friends. I know, I’m just so mean. Now I have a rule that I subtract 5 points from their grade if I have to kick them out of class, so that’s cut down on the stupidity by a pretty good amount. Little by little, its coming along.

November 24th
I’m sorry to everyone I wasn’t able to e-mail back this month! We’ve been out electricity for about a week and a half and I’m using our friend’s house with electricity to do this. Instead, I’ll get letters or e-mails out to you all in December! The past week has been getting busier. I’ve started doing review sessions which are going well and after the first exam, I’m going to start English classes. Today, our principal called me into his office (so I’m thinking, crap what’d I do?) and he said he had a question for me. Now I’m really thinking crap, what’d I do? But word has gotten around that I’m going to have English classes, and he wants his kids to come to them.

I was supposed to be a part of a seminar this week run by a French NGO. We got there, waited over an hour and then were told that we could return the following week because there were too many people at the seminar. Besides that, the people running the seminar were over an hour late to begin. I actually felt like they didn’t really care very much about this, which made me very sad because seminars like this have the potential to be very beneficial. I’ll let you know how that goes next week.

In other news, I’ve decided that there must be a point in every Peace Corps Volunteers service when he/she realizes that he/she is but a shadow of a former self. Mine happened last week. For a couple of nights, I went into our bathroom and saw a single cockroach. Rather than doing what I would have done without hesitation a couple months ago (squishing it), I named him Fred. It gets worse. I went into the bathroom the other night and he wasn’t there. I actually went inside and said to John, “Did you kill that cockroach that was in the bathroom?” He looked at me with a confused expression on his face and said no. He of course wanted to know why I’d ask and I told him that I had named him Fred and he was less of a nuisance and more of a pet to me. All I really got was a blank stare from John and looking back, I can’t really say that I blame him!

The Pulaar is starting to come along too. I’ve found that I can understand a lot more now, but as far as RESPONDING in Pulaar, that still doesn’t really happen in more than in a few-words-put-together-that-sometimes-make-sense kind of way. But I’m hoping that by the time we leave we will have it down. We are also thinking of coming home next September-ish so mark your calendars now (for September-ish, that’s right) because all I will want to do is eat for two solid weeks, so I’ll be needing people to do that with. A lot of G-15 are going home for Christmas and its making me miss you all more than I do already. And of course, you can all come visit us!

This is all for November. But enjoy December and I’ll talk to you all again next month!

Love and miss you all!

Friday, October 31, 2008

I am the anion

October 3
So, I am going to be updating my blog via our laptop and copying and pasting once a month. So you’ll still only here from me once a month, but now it will be much longer. We are officially moved into our house! We’ve been here since Monday and since then we’ve painted both rooms (it looks awesome!) and finally unpacked our bags. It felt GREAT to do that. We’ve been living out of suitcases since July. We’ve been spending a lot of time with some of Caron and Eldon’s friends here. They’ve showed us around and today took us to the carpenter to get some shelves made. We did this specifically to avoid the “porto price” but as it turned out just having John and me present gave us the porto price. We discuteed it down to a reasonable amount, but our friend said that next time he’s going to ask about the price and get it set and then we can walk over and join him.

Tomorrow we are going to meet the chef de cartier – we have to present him kola nuts as a sign of respect. Let me just say, that kola nuts are the nastiest tasting things I’ve ever tried and if someone gave them to me as a present, I would not welcome them to my neighborhood. But basically, they have the effect of caffeine without the pleasantness of drinking a cup of coffee. You suck the juice out of these and it gives you energy. Personally I’d rather fall asleep on the job than subject myself to knawing on kola nuts, but it’s a sign of respect to give them, so we’ve got to.

I definitely got a false sense of shyness from here the first time we visited. I thought, “Wow, what a nice change from Forecariah, no one is screaming FOTE at me.” But no, I was wrong. It’s like all the parents told their kids, “Don’t scare off the portos on their first visit.” I got porto-ed at least 20 times while I was walking to and from the market today. They know we aren’t going anywhere. It’s now safe to yell at the white people.

I had an experience today that I feel compelled to share (not for weak stomachs.) I went with John and a friend to the market to buy meat. We had to wait because they were in the process of killing the cows when we got there. But as soon as they brought them in, people just swarmed into the butcher’s shop. They apparently only bring meat once a day, so you have to be there as soon as it’s killed. So there’s everyone crammed up against the counter while a few butchers are hacking away at the cow. Rather than having separate cuts of meat here, they just hack it up into little pieces. And lucky me, I got a front row seat to the show, which was definitely in the splatter zone. They even threw in some stomach for me to eat. I don’t think I’ll be cooking with cow that often. But I do have to say, I understand why most people here eat ALL of the animal. After cutting up the meat that I considered acceptable, I was left with less than a pound out of the kilogram that I paid for. I gave away the stomach.

For a random change of topic, it’s very weird to not see my other 23 G-16ers all the time (23 because John is with me, I see enough of him…:o)) I’m already looking forward to when everyone will be together for Christmas. Until then, we’ve got a couple of Labe trips and Rachel’s birthday! coming up. And speaking of Christmas, all of you are going to want to get my cards and gifts out by mid-November, so I’ll get them in time. Mark your calendars now.

October 15th
We have survived our first two weeks at site (yay!) We’ve actually been pretty busy. Let me qualify “busy”. At home, when I say busy, I mean doing things. In this sense of the word, “busy” refers to sitting on lots of porches, saluer-ing lots of people and making lots of besap, ginger juice and tea with the neighbors. All of these are good, although I fear a diabetic coma will soon result from consuming the massive amounts of sugar they can squeeze into drinks. But it has been fun so far! We had a grand tour of the town and surroundings that ended up lasting more than 6 hours! We met with the missionary who lives here. She is very nice and has been living here for 18 years now and has pretty much raised several boys from childhood.

Funny story: our neighbor was talking to us about what we’d be teaching and has been insisting that I should teach biology at the high school because the teacher is “really terrible” and apparently only about 3 kids out of 50 passed the national exam for bio. So we got into a discussion about how I would like to do that my 2nd year. But it turns out that I know the bio teacher very well: he is the neighbor that shares a compound with us. Basically I can’t leave my house without walking through his yard, and my neighbor wants me to replace him. I can see that going well. School was supposed to start today, but did not because the ministry of education in Conakry “was not ready”. I’m hoping that it starts on Monday, but when I asked my neighbor if he thought it would he just started laughing at me. I’m going to interpret that as a “no”.

A few of the other volunteers and John and I went to Ditin the other day, which is a waterfall semi-close to us. We took a taxi there, so first of all we were a taxi full of portos. Second of all, the driver seemed to know everyone in between us and Ditin, so every 5 minutes we stopped to saluer. I think part of the reason for stopping was to say, “Hey check out my car full of portos.” We finally got there and hiked up to the waterfall and it was beautiful – and a ton of water. We went swimming and I imagine that if you went swimming under Niagara Falls, it would be a similar experience. We had to stand backwards because spray from the water was blinding us and the force of the spray was painful. Needless to say it was a short swim, but as soon as we got out of the water it started to downpour, so we got to walk a mile back to the car in the pouring rain. We then piled back into the taxi (SOAKED) and had a pretty cold ride back. All in all it was definitely an experience – but fun.

Hopefully we are able to attach pictures. We’ve done a lot of work to our little house in the past couple of weeks so it should make for some good before and after shots. This will rely on our internet connection in a couple weeks not completely sucking though, so I’m a bit skeptical.

October 19th
I will never complain about travel delays in the US again. Ever. What, you want me to sit in this air conditioned terminal in my own comfy chair for another hour? Avec plaisir. Let me tell you all about our first real Guinean traveling experience. We went to visit Rachel for her birthday. Between here and there, its 82 km…50 miles. It took us 8…yes that’s 8 and not a type-O…..hours to get there by CAR. We figured out we could have biked faster. Or jogged at a slow pace. Or crawled at a fast pace. This is what happened. There were about 20 people in a minibus with approximately 10,000 pounds of bags, things to sell, and live animals (yes, live animals) attached to the top of the car. That was problem #1. Problem number 2: The engine cut out about 20 minutes into the trip. Problem 3: after that problem was fixed, smoke starting billowing out of the ignition. Problem 4: flat tire. Problem 5: some screws that were holding what I will assume are important parts of the car fell out. Problem 6, 7, and 8: repeat of problem 5. But at the end of the day I got to see Rachel and Erich (and unfortunately just missed Conor) and we had an excellent weekend. Getting back took less time (4 hours) but there were so many people in the taxi that I was bordering between extreme discomfort and moderate pain for the entirety of the trip. Welcome to Guinea. I feel like from this point on my stories will become more and more interesting. Stay tuned.

October 21st
Yay, school started (sort of). We went yesterday and were introduced to all the other teachers (there is one other female teacher and 33 other male teachers, as a side note). I’ll be teaching 9th grade and John will be teaching 8th. I get to start tomorrow. John gets to start sometime in the not-too-far-off-in-theory future when the building for the 7th and 8th graders is finished. I really hope its done in the next week, although I’m worried because its going to be done “tout suite” which translated from French means “right away” but translated from Guinea means “this may be done next month or never”. That is just a rough translation of course. But tomorrow I’m going to give a review of 8th grade material to see what they know (this is mostly because I don’t have a 9th grade program, so I’m not exactly sure what to teach – of course). But don’t worry, I’m going to have one tout suite.

I decided to come up with an “ultimate care package” list for all of you at home that are thinking about sending us goodies. ALSO: for those of you that are confused because your letters are return addressed from Pennsylvania. It isn’t a façade, I am actually in Africa. HOWEVER…there is a mining town here (Kamsar) where I send my letters from that accepts US postage and sends mail every week to PA to be sent out everywhere else in the US. Mystery solved! But onto the care package list:


-PICTURES! Of you, other people I know, people I don’t know if you want…
-Magazines and newspapers (I will shamelessly admit that I love celebrity gossip here. I think this is because at home, it’s so in your face all the time and now I feel out of the loop. That being said, send me some legitimate news that I’d care about too!)
-CHOCOLATE! (M & M’s seem to mail really well, but send some other stuff too!)
-Things for smores: this is an American food I would LOVE to share with our new friends!
-Candy (Fruit snacks, Werther’s are my favorite, cinnamon candies are John’s)
-Stamps so I can write all you crazy fools and if you see any stationary that screams MARG, send that too!
-Anything Penn State for when I’m feeling nostalgic
-Joe Paterno
-Granola Bars (Nature Valley are my favorite)
-Beef Jerky and other things with protein because finding good meat here is a crap shoot, as you’ve read by now in our blog – along those lines, John says pepperoni
-Good shampoo, lotion, and soap to make me feel girly (this probably isn’t as high on John’s priority list)
-Crystal Light drink mixes
-Coffee mixes (I think its made by General Foods, but there are a bunch of different flavors and I like ‘em all)
-Cookies (I love Oreos and Chips Ahoy!)
-Good tea (herbal, flavored, my favorite brands are Barry’s and Tazo, but I’m not picky since my options here are mediocre and less than mediocre)
-Mixed CDs (or bought CDs, but mixes are cheaper and more fun!)
-Little hand sanitizers
-Sauce packets! (I like just about anything)
-Movies (we can actually watch them on our computer here!)
-Chex Mix (or others)
-Cereal (Lucky Charms!)
-Well thought out and wonderfully written poems about how much you miss me
-Ice cream
-Toys – soon John and I will be making an addition to our happy little family (we’re getting a dog, but I bet I scared some of you – so that’s dog toys)
-Mixed nuts (anything EXCEPT peanuts, we can find those here)
-Games (we have cards, UNO, and my dad just send checkers/backgammon/Chinese checkers, but other than that, have at it)

This is clearly something I’ve had some time to think about. Those are in no particular order (except the pictures, I’m making a giant collage on the wall for when I’m feeling homesick) and I won’t be upset if I don’t get some of the things – i.e. JoePa and ice cream. However, I’m serious about the poem.

Packages are expensive, so I’ll totally understand if you want to write letters. I like getting them just as much. What I don’t like is a lack of communication, so some of you need to pick up the pace a bit. I don’t want to make you feel guilty (that’s a bit of a lie), but I’m keeping a box of all the mail I get. I know all of you want to be in that box. I’m also able to get back to e-mails once a month now by saving them on my flashdrive (*hint*) so feel free to e-mail too (*hint*).

Beyond that, when anyone sends a package, if you could throw in a ruler (make sure there’s metric on it) and some crayons or colored pencils and a little plastic protractor, I’m trying to eventually have enough school supplies for my classes. I learned from teaching at practice school that only a couple of kids end up with rulers and supplies and everyone else shares them and it’s a huge distraction that ends up lasting for most of the class. I eventually want to have basically a makeshift physics lab, so I’m going to need a lot. I guess if you could throw in a small calculator, that would be nice too, but I don’ want to get too expensive. John’s going to need protractors and compasses for his math classes too. The crayons and rulers and such could fit in an envelope too, so you don’t even have to send me a care package, just the school supplies would be fine if you can. I can find most of the stuff here, but with the money we make, its not really possible to buy a large amount of school supplies for the 100+ kids we have in each class. If you ever happen to see anything that you think, “Gee, that would be great for a physics class”, pick it up. I don’t really have much to work with here. Once I find out the library situation, I’ll probably be asking for book donations too, so be on the lookout and excited for that! Thanks so much in advance for anyone that can send things! Its much appreciated!

You all are really going to have to pace yourselves on my blogs from now on. Its going from, “Doesn’t she ever update this?” to “Doesn’t she ever shut up?” I hope you all enjoy the change of pace! I might have to start writing in chapters.

October 29th
I’ve been teaching in Guinea now for about a week. It’s interesting. You’re probably wondering if I’m ever going to talk more about my title of “I am the anion.” Or you’ve forgotten that I named it that. Or if you’ve forgotten your high school chemistry, you’re probably like, “What’s an anion? Did she mean onion?” Well here comes a story…

John hasn’t gotten to teach yet (still) because the building isn’t done (still.) But he watched a chemistry teacher give a class the other day. This teacher was talking about anions and cations and explaining the difference. I would have gone with this if I were teaching: The anion has a negative charge. The cation has a positive charge. He took a slightly different approach and said this: “It’s like a man and a women. The man is in front and the woman is in back.” Then he realized John was in the room and goes, “But in some other countries, the woman is in front.” At this point, all the girls in the class nodded their heads in understanding. First of all, let me just say that sentence has nothing to do with cations and anions and was completely unnecessary. Second of all, the comparison doesn’t make sense. Third of all, what about walking side by side? I said it was a good thing it wasn’t me sitting in that class!

On to my teaching: its been going alright. I’ve got classes of between 60-100 and they are still trying to see what they can get away with. Example: Yesterday, I had a 9th grader think that it was completely acceptable to take a picture of me in class. I turned around from writing on the chalkboard and this kid’s got his cell phone pointed right at me. He’s also got a “Crap-she-caught-me deer in the headlights” look on his face. I started yelling and went to walk him to the student director’s office at which point, he bolts out the door. Another man, whose job appears to be sitting by the door and watching the students, saw him leave and I told the director who promptly jumped on his motorcycle and chased down the offending student. I watched after class as he was yelled at by several other teachers, the principal and the director and was basically told he was a disgrace to Guinea. I thought that was a bit harsh, I just didn’t want him taking pictures of me in class. But basically, there are still no organized classes and I just walk in and teach something that has a physics ring to it. But that will be fixed “tout suite.” Mmmhmmm.

We aren’t really allowed to undertake any big secondary projects until after December, so right now this is what we have going on: John took over Eldon’s English classes, so he’s teaching to a group of 4 students two days a week. He’s also showing our neighbor how to use things like Word on the computer. Yesterday I started teaching a math class with Katy for women that sell things in the market. Although, I worked with a girl for over an hour that seemed to know basic math. At the end, I said that, and she said, “Yeah, I’m okay at the math, but I was wondering if you could teach me how to read.” After telling her she could have just opened with that, I said that we could start reading classes next week. Also, at the request of our principal, we are planting flowers around the school flag pole next week. He’s excited about that. Makes one of us.

I guess that’s all….all 6 pages of my blog for this month. I hope you all are doing well and thinking about me every day. I miss you all like crazy, but you could solve that problem by coming to visit us! I also hope that sending pictures works out with this blog. If it does, you will notice that our town (which I can’t say on here, but you all know where I am) and its surroundings are beautiful! I hope you enjoy and the pictures will entice you to visit a little more than my taxi story!

Love and miss you all! Until next month,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Finally, an update!

For a couple days, we are back in the land of internet access. Yay! I don’t know how to begin to update all of you in a single blog on the last five or so weeks of our lives. It’s been energy draining, tedious, and sometimes there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. But that being said, so far its been pretty awesome.

Our family that we are living with is awesome. We have 7 brothers and sisters and a mom who can’t give us enough food to eat. We finally met our dad a few nights ago. He is in the navy here and lives in Conakry most of the time with his other family. It was nice to finally get to talk to him and get to know him a bit.

In two more days, John and I get to see the house that we will be living in for the next two years. I am so excited!! Its been great to live with a family to help us try and integrate into the community, but at the same time its been frustrating because we have a total lack of privacy or time to ourselves. We play A LOT of cards with the kids. We finally broke down and taught them some games because they play one game, which is sort of a version of crazy 8’s. You would think that multiple hours of this each day would get old. But you would be wrong.

I’ll talk a bit about our life here. It’s been much easier than I thought it would be to say good-bye to electricity and a bathroom and other things I considered necessary at home. My biggest issues so far have been getting sick and missing home. You all could help out with this by sending letters! Whenever we’ve gotten mail so far, my happiness level is comparable to Christmas morning as a seven year old. A special thanks goes out to Jackie, Sue and Steve, Rami, and Tom and Susan McGarrity for the letters and care packages. Awesome. As for the rest of you…pick up the pace…J

I miss the variety of food from home. Every night, our mom has our dinner ready for us when we get home from class. Every night she covers it with a piece of cloth like it’s going to be a surprise when I uncover it and find rice and sauce waiting for me. Don’t get me wrong, the rice and sauce is good. In a couple of months I’ll get to start cooking for myself, which will be nice.

Our French is really coming along. I’m pretty much able to have conversations with people about anything now, it just took a few weeks of remembering. John is doing much better too. When we get back, we will start to learn Pulaar, the local language. We had a basic lesson before we came here, so I know how to say hello and what my husband’s name is. In class, I was actually asked to answer that question before I was asked what my name is. That’s good practice for real life here though because whenever I am walking home without John, everyone greets me and asks how he’s doing. That is taking some getting used to.

We have electricity a few nights a week for a few hours and our house has a TV and a DVD player. Which means two things: 1. I have officially seen many of the WORST American movies ever made. I have never even heard of these movies at home, but the kids here love Chuck Norris…seriously. Or I see bad Guinean soap operas or Bollywood films. 2.) Watching TV here is much more of a social experience here than at home. When the electricity comes on, we have at least 15 neighborhood children sitting on our floor also watching movies. Every time it comes on, you can hear the cheers from any child within a yelling radius scream with joy.

I have a Guinean name now, as does John. Mine is Den-Den and John’s is Moussa. We were named after our brothers and sisters, which is really confusing when we are both in the room. My sister always seems to know when someone is talking to her and when they are not, but I have not yet gotten the hang of it. It’s also fun to tell all the kids our Guinean names and they love to come out and give us hugs and high fives on our way to school, from school, to the market, anywhere. John started doing this thing where he lifts kids up in the air and spins them around, which is nice, except now we can’t NOT do it. I had a little girl chase me in the rain while I was riding my bike just to do that the other day.

I’m trying to squeeze in so much really quickly, so sorry if this journal entry is a little all over the place. We’ve gone to a couple of social meetings with our mom. She is in a bunch of societies and on Sundays they have a music and dance party. Of course, they make John and I get up and dance. Everyone laughs and cheers at the crazy fotés. I feel worse for John because these societies are for women. So usually there have been about 30 Guinean women, me…and John.

I have to get going for now, but hopefully I can post again before we leave! Love and miss you all!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Your favorite foté here

Hi all. I wanted to put up a post because we leave for pre-service training tomorrow and won't have internet access for three weeks or so. But I'd really love to have some letters to read when we get back to Conakry later on...hint, hint. I'm going to do my best to get letters out in the next few weeks; it seems like we will have some free time.

I'll give you all a quick update on our last couple of days. We've had so much orientation and so much information thrown at us, but for the most part it's been really helpful. There are also a lot of current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs for future notice) and they have been awesome with answering the approximately 37 million questions that we have thrown at them. We've found out that we have some extra incentive to stay for whenever we get down: Soon we will be the extent of the education program in Guinea. In early 2007, they had to evacuate all the PCVs from Guinea and as a consequence, no new volunteers were sent that summer. Now, there are about 10 education volunteers that are all pretty much done teaching and are sticking around for training. They are trying to rebuild the program over the next two years, so apparently we are going to be a really important part of that.

We had some free time yesterday afternoon so a bunch of us headed down to the beach and played 2 hours or so of football/frisbee/soccer with several Guinean children. That was a GOOD time! Only a couple of people speak French very well and no one really knows the local language, but when you are playing with kids, it really doesn't matter. We've all joined in on the funniness of "foté" - which means "white person" in case you missed my e-mail. We now shout foté at each other whenever we are outside. It's good fun.

Unfortunately, I haven't really been able to take any pictures in Conakry - it's sort of frowned upon unless you enjoy being targetted by local police for taking pictures without a permit and issued a fine. Today, everyone seems to be coming down from the natural high that we've all been experiencing for the past few days. I'm tired and not feeling well and I'm just waiting for all the stomach problems I've heard so much about in the past few days to start up.

Tomorrow we will meet our host families for the next 11 weeks. I've heard that tomorrow was the most awkward day for every single volunteer that I have talked to, so I'm pretty excited for that. I'm positive that in three weeks I'm going to have lots of awkward moments to tell you all about. We have learned some "survival SoSo", which is the local language of the area we are going to. I know how to say the essentials: Hello, I'm American (as if that weren't obvious) and I'm married. Every single volunteer here is "married", even if they aren't. I've learned about imaginary husbands and fiancés back at home because it is an instant way to gain respect and apparently single females receive lots of marriage invitations from locals. The same works for the single male volunteers actually.

But tomorrow I will say good-bye to reliable electricity and plumbing and John and I will really kick off our Peace Corps Training. I hope everyone at home is doing well and we both miss all of you already! I'll post again when I can.

To awkward experiences,