I’ve been in Guinea for a month now but I’m still not out at my site. That is FINALLY happening this week. Before I launch into my post let me tell you a little bit of what I’ve learned about Guinea so far. There are 4 geographic regions in Guinea: Basse Cote/Guinea Maritime which consists of the the coastal region, Moyenne Guinea (Middle Region) which contains the Fouta Djallon highlands, Haute Guinea (Upper Guinea) which is savannah and would have been most similar to Mali, and Guinea Forestière (Forest region) which is rainforest.
In Mali, Bambara was the lingua franca (at least for the southern region). While I was still able to use my French pretty often, people could get by only knowing Bambara. Some volunteers went to villages with a different local language but they could still expect people to know and understand Bambara. Here it’s completely different. Each region has a different local language which means French is pretty important to be able to communicate across the country. In Basse Cote they speak Susu, in Fouta Djallon they speak Pular, and in Haute Guinea they speak Malinke. There are many languages spoken in the Forest region.
We spent about 3 weeks with host families in Dubreka, a suburb outside of Conakry, to work on French and/or local languages. This place was much less conservative than anything I saw in Mali. I saw bare knees, lots of girls playing sports and men doing laundry! (very surprising to see this). There was also a fair amount of clubs/bars plus a volleyball court. It was a pretty awesome place.
If you’ve been following my many Facebook/Instagram posts you may remember that I said I was going to Kankan (pronounced ConCon). It is the third largest city in Guinea and it located in eastern Guinea. They speak Maninka/Malinke in this area which is relatively close to Bambara. I would compare it to Spanish and Portuguese. We were told that if you speak Bambara people will mostly understand what you are trying to say and a large part of the vocabulary is the same or very similar. While I was hoping to be in a Pular speaking region*, I was happy to learn that a lot of the work I had put into Bambara would not be completely lost. I reasoned that with the headstart I was getting in Malinke I would be able to start Pular within the first year.
When I first heard I’d be going to a big city I was actually a little disappointed. A city volunteer experience was not at all how I pictured my Peace Corps service. I didn’t picture getting evacuated either but that’s a whole other story. However, I understood that part of being a volunteer is being flexible so I adjusted my expectations and started imagining all the awesome food and entertainment I would enjoy in the city. I reached out to the past volunteer and he sent me loads of helpful information. I was all set to go with a list of contacts/organizations, a map of Kankan, recommendations on where to eat, etc. I imagined being busy and having TOO many projects to work on and people to work with. For a second I seriously thought I would barely be watching any of the media I brought. I was super excited and ready to hit the ground running when (thun thun thun)….plans changed. At this point nothing should phase me right? I mean I’ve already changed countries, but when I got the news all I could think was “Are you kidding me?”
I’m still somewhat unclear with what exactly happened with the Kankan site and how it all played out but from what I pieced together it was a combination of my counterpart being too busy and housing not being ready. Somehow the furniture that was supposed to be provided for the volunteer ( a bed, a table and two chairs) had been taken out without the host mom being aware of it.
So anywho now I’ll be going to a 200 person village named Sintaly, near the town of Pita in the Fouta Djallon region and I’ll be learning Pular. Sounds like an Italian city right?
This is actually closer to I was hoping for in the beginning but then I got SOO excited about Kankan that anything but that seemed like a step down. Plus I had already mentally prepared myself for a city so it was a little hard hearing that instead of a huge city I’d be going to a super small village. It’s one thing going in not knowing what to expect but when you’ve already experienced some of the challenges of small village life it can be hard not to be at least a little hesitant to jump into that again. My friends in the village were generally older women or children so I was really looking forward to having friends my age in the city. Even though I really had my heart set on Kankan, I got really lucky that I was able to get some input into where I’d go next. Also, it’ll be much easier to learn Pular at my new site AND AND I’ll be doing beekeeping!!! I heard they have around 145 top bar Kenyan hives so I’ll be able to learn from the experts. I’m one step closer to realizing my dream of being a beekeeping grandma!!
*I first heard Pular during my semester abroad in Senegal when I was visiting the southeastern part of the country. It was a such contrast to the harsher guttural sounds of Wolof and I remember thinking it almost sounded like people were singing. I instantly loved it. I had plans to start studying Pular in Mali once I had a handle on Bambara but it would have been much harder to find someone over there.