West Africa Love

Peace Corps Volunteer Experience in Mali and Guinea

Jam no wodi (There is Peace)- Digesting the Results of the Election from Guinea

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I woke up the morning of November 9 at 3:30 am.  I hadn’t set an alarm clock I just woke up in the middle of the night and I decided to check in on the elections.  I whatsapped my best friend and siblings “Have they called the election yet????To which the response was “No but its really close. And I am freaking out” I had expected to wake up for 30 minutes and then go back to bed and then celebrate the first woman president in the morning.  Instead I stayed up the rest of the night.  At 5:30 AM, the call to prayer found me doing my own prayer in my bedroom.  Everytime I call my mom she tells me to pray and she had given me a couple of prayer cards before I came to Guinea but until yesterday they had never been used.

At 6 am I walked out to the spot where I have good enough data to read some articles.

As the results appear I had so many thoughts. I thought I would start crying because I felt “ok so the country I live in doesn’t want me to be there”. Then I started thinking “You know I was already thinking of moving to Mexico for awhile even before this so this isn’t so bad”.  That seemed like a good option until I found out the markets crashed and that the peso wasn’t doing so good.

Later, I walked to the intersection in my village and I found one of my work partners there. The look on his face indicated he had been following the news.  He said “J’ai entendu a la radio. Mais comment est-ce ca s’est passe?” ( I heard it on the radio. But how did this happen?).  RFI said  “Les américains ont étonné le monde” ( The Americans shocked the world.)

I went to my other work partner’s house (I have 3 work partners right now) to find Mama Djouma, (one of my work partner’s older brothers and one of my favorite people in the village) wearing his glasses and robe and reading the Koran on a goatskin rug.  It was such a sweet image.  I told him the election happened and he asked “Who won?” and I gave him a pained look. He said “le fou?” (the crazy one?) lol. We both started laughing and that lightened the mood a little.

I walked back out and greeted some more people and when they asked me how everything was going I couldn’t respond with the usual Jam Tun (Peace only) .  I said  Jam alaa  (There is no peace). They started laughing and said “woah hold up you have your health andyour family” so we agreed on Jam no wodi  (There is peace).  You can always count on Guineans to remind you of what you have to be thankful for.  When I was getting updates from other people at 4 am I wished I was in front of a TV in the States but at that moment I was feeling thankful that I was in Guinea and not in the US when receiving this news.

My work partner suggested taking a raincheck on that day’s work plans. He said “Let’s let not worry about work today. We’ll do what we planned today on Friday. I’m not feeling up to it” And I readily agreed since I hadn’t gotten very much sleep the night before.

I was probably still looking upset when I greeted another person in my village. He tried to assuage my worries by telling me “Ca va aller. (It’s going to be ok.) It has to be ok because the US is for the whole world.”

Me: That’s why we wanted someone that realized that.

Him: Les américains ne sont pas comme nous. Ils sont des intellectuelles, des philosophes. Il y a des gens qui vont contrôler.  (“The Americans aren’t like us. They are intellectuals and philosophers. There will be people that will control him”)

That comment made me feel better but it also made me sad because West Africans will often put themselves down when comparing themselves to people from other continents and especially that day I felt we didn’t deserve to be put on a pedestal.  We’re racist, unwelcoming to immigrants.. the list goes on.

I started to think ok there’s checks and balances. It’s going to be ok. Of course I was forgetting a lot of details and just trying to stay calm.  Then I got a call from a more informed volunteer that zapped my naïve optimism.

More Informed Volunteer: Trump may have the opportunity to appoint a bunch of Supreme Court judges and Obamacare is done.

Me: WTH man! Why did you just call me to bring me down in the trenches?? I was finally recovering from the stomach punch of this morning.

It was the longest morning of my life. Pretty much the whole day I was talking to other volunteers about the results. I got to a point where I wasn’t so upset anymore, I was just curious.  Curious as to what these Trump supporters care about.   What do their Facebook newsfeeds look like?  What are their day to day lives like?  Call me idealistic or naïve but I’m going to give most of these people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re not all xenophobes, homophobes, and all the other -phobes.  They felt disenfranchised and he seemed like their best/only advocate.  Just like we were willing to overlook some mistakes Hillary made, (his flaws are WAY WORSE obviously) I feel they were selective in what they chose to care about.  They chose to overlook a LOT of character flaws but I feel like they were willing to do so because they were so fed up and frustrated by their economic situation and no one was addressing their issues.  I think mostly everyone who has entered the job market can relate to how horrible it is not to have a stable or good paying job.  As Americans a lot of us, for better or worse, define ourselves by our jobs.  And when we don’t have a stable or good paying job we feel like failures.  I’ve been there and man was that a rough patch in my early 20’s that I hope I never have to experience for too long ever again.

I want to believe they don’t hate me simply because my parents are immigrants and I want to try to understand where they’re coming from before writing them off as racists and xenophobes.   If I had to boil down what I want to do with my life to one sentence it’s to understand other people and their experiences.  It’s the reason I was drawn to Economics, because I wanted to understand what drives people to make the decisions they make.  And it’s the underlying reason why I chose to do the Peace Corps.  So that if I decide to work in development afterwards I can better understand the motivations of the people I’d be working for/alongside.  So I’m not going to stop doing that even with this demagogue in power.  Peace Corps teaches you to find common ground with people that may seem completely different from you and sometimes it can be harder to do that with fellow Americans because you feel like you know their experience and how can they think or act that way?  But if I’m taking anything from this election result it’s that we have not tried to understand or care about everyone’s experience enough.

Some people asked me “So how are you feeling?” As a minority and a woman I was initially very upset but to be honest it doesn’t change that much.  As a first generation American with a significant amount of family in Mexico that I visit often I often feel like I occupy a liminal space.  I don’t feel like I fully belong in either country.  And after seeing how people voted I realized I KNOW NOTHING about a big portion of the country I was born in.  I have no idea what some of these states are like.  The place I AM familiar with and feel at home in is my home state of California and more specifically the Bay Area.  I’ve lived in California my whole life and ironically it’s when I come to West Africa and meet people from across the country (for study abroad and for PC) that I realize “Oh yeah there are a lot of white people in the rest of the United States”.  Easy to forget when you’ve grown up in a diverse bubble where your high school was composed of whites, blacks, Samoans, Indians, Afghans, Mexicans, Iranians, Poles, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc and then your university was 40% Asian American.  There is another America that I have not been privy to and I will try my best to understand them but I’m not going to let their opinions make me feel any less American than I already have felt in the past.  I consider myself a Californian first, American second.

To make myself feel better I did an inventory of all my snacks. I’ve been hoarding them like a squirrel and now I have a good size rainy day fund to prepare for whatever comes.

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Author: moniq77

Peace Corps volunteer in Mali before the program was suspended due to security concerns. Finishing my service in Guinea.

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