In May I spent a week away from my site to attend the biggest fish fete in Haute Guinea (Upper Guinea aka eastern Guinea). Fish fetes are basically big fishing events held once a year along the river. This is an animist holiday that dates back to before Islam came to West Africa. There are various fish fetes in April and May right before the start of the rainy season because this is when the water level is at its lowest.
Getting to Haute Guinea was quite a journey. In order to go east I first have to go south to the city of Mamou. I left my site at 7 am to bike into my nearest town where I would be getting a car to go to Mamou and then Kankan. It takes me about 40 minutes to get in because it is hilly. We left for Mamou around 9 and got there around 11:30 am. Then there was a 2 hour wait which wasn’t so bad before I got a car going to Kankan. This next leg of the trip was pretty tiring and the second half of it is was on a dirt road. Don’t ask me why a large highway in Guinea is unpaved. I brought a scarf but not too much dust was getting in the car. I pretended the dust clouds that formed from the vehicle in front of us were like fog in San Francisco. Thankfully it didn’t rain. It really wasn’t that bad except for the fact that I got sick from a chicken sandwich I ate when we stopped midway. I had to ask the car to stop because I had to throw up. Felt much better after that and made it to Kankan by nightfall.
The next day some fellow volunteers and I headed to Baro where the fish fete would be held. There was already some dance performances going on that night but the big party would be the next day.
The next morning we went to a cluster of tree known as the Sacred Forest. People hand out crowns made from the leaves of these trees. Before the fishing starts everyone dances there. It is said that if you dance in the sacred forest with a crown you will have good luck and health all year.
There were also traditional dances in the morning performed all around a large baobob tree.
Around 1 pm people starts heading down to the river.
We were one of two groups of non-black foreigners there so we were asked to give an interview. We learned later that we appeared on TV and that they said we were “Special Guests” lol.. only in Africa can you become an instant VIP/celebrity by simply attending cultural events. Sometimes it’s nice and sometimes it can be a little annoying. We were trying to take a group picture in the Sacred Forest and once people saw us posing they started coming over to take pictures of us for themselves or lining up to pose with us.
There were easily 2000 people or more at this one river. A whistle blew and they all started running towards the river to start fishing. There were various forms of fishing: hula hoops with nets, cages, and pitch forks.
Next stop was Kissidougou. Kissidougou is in the forest region where there are more languages and more Christians so it’s a different vibe than the rest of Guinea which is primarily Muslim. The ride there was SUPER dusty. Check out what one of us looked like after the ride. She was sitting by the window so she got dustier than the rest of us.
Aside from wanting to experience a little bit of the Forest region culture we were accompanying a past volunteer who wanted to visit her old site. Some of the volunteers who were evacuated from Guinea when Ebola hit came back through Peace Corps Response positions (shorter term PC assignments) once the program was reopened. My friend Cappy was one of these evacuees who came back. Another volunteer and I joined Cappy in visiting her village just outside of Kissidougou. Her name in the village was Finda which I loved. It sounds like the name of a new Disney princess. Her host family offered us fried plantains and palm wine. We were taken on a tour of her host dad’s fields and to see where the village processes palm oil. There were palm trees lining the dirt path we took to go to see his coffee and rice fields. It was super beautiful. I was regretting not bringing my phone along on the tour of the fields but then we got caught in the rain. Had I taken my phone it would have been soaked. As nice as it is to be able to take pictures, sometimes it’s even nicer when you can’t take pictures. It makes you savor the experience just that much more.
In Kissidougou I bought beautiful forest fabric (shown left) and we just wandered around and shopped. They make this really yummy snack with fried plantains and onions and spicy sauce. It’s been interesting to see people make foods we classify as “sweet” into savory dishes and vice versa. In Middle Guinea they will mash up avocados, add milk powder and sugar and eat it with bread. Not a big fan of that dish. I would prefer guacamole to that.
On my return, I arrived at the gare (taxi station) in the morning but ended up waiting around 5 hours at the gare for the car to leave. There are no buses here and no schedules for when cars will leave so if you don’t get there super early then you’re just going to be waiting for who knows how long for the car to fill up. [Transportation in Guinea is worth dedicating another blog post entirely to that subject]
Once we finally started moving, the road wasn’t bad but the driver kept on making random stops the last part of the trip. I have a hunch he was stopping to catch bits of the soccer match that was on at the time but I can’t be sure.
Here is a map of all the traveling I did. All in all, I spent about 27 hours traveling and covered 1137 kilometers which is 706 miles! I can’t believe I did that in the span of a week but I’m glad I got to see more of the country.
If you want to see more Fish Fete pictures follow this link: Fish Fete at Baro