First off I want to say I ABSOLUTELY love my site. The people are amazing and I am flanked by rivers on either side- its actually the same river but it winds around my village. Beekeeping doesn’t start until mid March or April so for now I’ve just been checking out the gardening groups known as “groupements” in some of the nearby districts.
Before I arrived in village, I was hoping to keep the name my Malian homestay family had given which was “Mah”. I had held off on choosing a last name because I was planning to take my counterpart’s or my host family’s last name. I learned that their last name is “Bah” so the first day I arrived I was introducing myself as “Mah Bah”. I had a teenage girl tell me that that name was not pretty and that I needed to change it. She suggested changing it to Fatoumata Binta. While I had appreciated her honesty, I wasn’t down for being called Fatoumata Binta for the next 2 years so I settled on “Umu” pronounced “Oomoo”. I had heard this name in Mali as well and I had always liked it. This same girl also told me that white people (they consider me white here) don’t look good when they braid their hair lol.
I have a different set up than what I had in Mali. Over there I had my own house with an enclosed outdoor area. Here I live inside my host family’s compound and I don’t have any private outdoor space. It may seem like I’ve been downgraded but having your own house doesn’t necessarily guarantee privacy. In Mali, I’d have kids knocking on my door a lot and peeking through the slit under my door. Sometimes they would even stand on things and peek over my fence so even though I had my own house I couldn’t fully check out and relax there either. I hoped that living inside a host family’s compound would help keep the number of kids coming by in check. I still have kids and teenagers randomly coming over but it is not excessive at this point.
My site is located in the Fouta Djallon highlands so it is a drier and more temperate climate. There are pine trees here! That was so crazy to me when I first saw it; I had been used to palm trees in the coastal region.
My first few days I didn’t know if I was getting sick or if I had suddenly started getting allergies because I was really congested. I think it was just me adjusting to the drier, dustier climate. In Mali when it was “cold” I slept with a sheet and that was enough. Here I use a sheet and a thin blanket and sometimes that’s still not enough. I barely got to enjoy the colder climate though because its heating up again.
Schools, French and young people!
Even though I thought I was going to a small village it is the center of a sous prefecture (sortof the equivalent of a county) so it has a primary school and a middle school. This means that pretty much everyone speaks French. Pular is definitely going to be helpful in communicating with the older women but even they still seem to understand some French. There are also many more young people in this village and you will see them hanging out alot. I think in my Malian village the girls in their older teens were married off and had moved to different villages or already had kids so I never saw many young people hanging out.
In Mali, I would have dinner with my counterpart and then we would go have tea at his friend’s house. I would practice my Bambara with the women there while he played cards with the men. Needless to say that wasn’t very much fun for me. I couldn’t understand what people were saying and sometimes I would end up falling asleep in my chair. Once they saw that I was falling asleep they would offer to walk me home. Here, I get invited to drink tea with hilarious teenagers. Sometimes I’m out of the loop because they are joking in Pular but I’m really looking forward to the day that I can follow what they’re saying =) Very good motivation for me if I know I have laughs to look forward to.
People seem much more open and playful here than in Mali. In Mali people loved to joke but it would come as a surprise to me if they were physically playful because there seemed to be so many rules in their culture regarding interactions between men and women and how younger people should act towards their elders.
Electricity Coming Soon?
Solar panels are not a thing here unfortunately but I was told we should be getting electricity in about a month or two. They have been digging holes, cutting down trees and raising poles. The wiring in the houses is already in place too so there are definitely signs of things moving along but I wouldn’t be surprised if one month actually turned out to mean 2-3 months. It’s already been a month and its not done. For now, I’m using a flashlight and candles. When I need to charge my laptop and/or external battery I send them to the nearest town, Pita which is about 5 km away. One of my work partners works in Sintaly but lives in Pita so I entrust my electronic devices to him. This just means I have to be efficient with my computer time.
I arrived already equipped with a sticky trap to fend off future pests I was certain I would run into but I may not need it because there’s a tight seal under my door. I had a run in with some cockroaches my first night but I have not had any trouble since. The real pest right now is a cat that keeps coming around and thinks I’m the past volunteer. Aicha if you’re reading this I’m sorry but I’m not a cat person =/ . I’m not trying to be mean to the cat but I also don’t want to give it a reason to keep coming back. It has no hesitation coming into my room and it likes to rub up against me all the time. One night I came into my room to find some things I had left on a chair strew on the floor. I wasn’t sure if maybe I had left in a hurry and those things had fallen. I looked around with my flashlight to find that the cat had come in without me realizing.
Highlights from my first 2 weeks were attending a denabo (baptism) where I tasted cassava toh. I also ate cous cous with a milky yogurt. I saw gardening next to the river and visited groupements (gardening cooperatives) in the nearby districts. I also got up early one day to go help milk the cows. Milking a cow is such a weird sensation! I was pretty bad at it but I got a little squirt of milk. I also discovered Saturday is “wash laundry at the river and then shower there” day.
As much as I love this new village, I still think about the kids in my Malian village and my Malian homestay family. It’s strange because while I am having more fun in this Guinean village I still have this sentiment for Mali as a country that I have not yet developed for Guinea. It may be because travel in Guinea is pretty difficult and you can’t use one language for the whole country. Also, the incessant marriage proposals when you meet complete strangers is starting to get old. It is a joke but just like the “you eat beans” jokes in Mali got old these are starting to wear on me. I’ve started telling people I already have 4 husbands and they will say “Well then you can take a 5th right?”. They are not easily deterred.