Last year I was reminded that Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers, it’s also for friends! So this Valentine’s day I wanted to recognize someone who I consider to be one of my closest friends here in Guinea and someone who has greatly impacted my service for the better.
That person is my work partner/counterpart Yagouba. Yagouba is a farmer. That in itself makes him an anomaly here in my village. Not only because most men his age are working in larger towns, capitols or abroad and sending money home versus but also because he is in the village while his wife and 4 sons are in Conakry. In my experience, it’s generally women and children who stay in the village.* He prefers them to stay in Conakry because his sons can get a better education there. He has been farming for the last 5 years. Before that he was selling pharmaceutical products in Conakry.
The first time I met Yagouba I was attending a meeting for various cooperatives. It was all in Pular so I didn’t understand any of it, but I remember Yagouba saying something and everyone agreeing with him. I made a mental note and planned to talk to him after the meeting but he left before it was over and being the busy guy that he is, it took a while for me to track him down after that.
When I finally saw him again I asked him if I could see the area where he farmed. I can’t remember if I asked several times but he later told me that he accepted to show me because I had been very persistent about visiting. He hadn’t introduced himself earlier because he was worried my original work partners would be bothered.**
And so our friendship/work partnership began.
In the short time I’ve known him I’ve seen a little of how difficult farming can be. Not the labor part of it but all the things that can go wrong and ruin your crop that season. This past season, he had a problem with birds eating his crops, and then monkeys. After that some cows trespassed and really messed things up. I had a single chicken trespassing into my garden and messing up my beds and eating the leaves from my eggplant plants and I was pretty upset about that. There were not even any vegetables yet but I was still angry and annoyed so I can only imagine if that were my livelihood.
Most recently, the hut next to his field which he used as a storage room/nap room burned down. Some bush fires are intentional and others result from embers that reignite. We don’t know exactly what happened but the place where the fire started wasn’t near a road or trail so he believes it may have been someone doing it intentionally. When someone starts doing well here, other people sometimes get jealous and wish bad on them.
It was really sad when he called me to tell me about it. I was in Conakry at the time and when I came back a week later I could tell he had lost a decent amount of weight. He said it “How could I not have lost weight with that shock?”
I wasn’t sure if or how he’d recover from that but he didn’t let it get the best of him. He was back to working on his farm pretty quickly. He said he planned on building a house to keep watchdogs. He also asked me to get him some information on fish farming. Usually people here (and probably everywhere else) will mention something that they’re interested in but it will take a while before they actually take steps to doing it. Not Yagouba. When I brought him the information on fish farming he had already started digging the fish pond! He doesn’t play around. And it’s thanks to him that I started working with the gardening cooperative I’m doing my primary project with now. More on that later.
He is a very motivated individual. And the amazing thing is he’s generally on time to things! So he’s pushing me to be more like him in that respect because he gets really mad if I’m late. One time I was a little late and he said “Now you’re the Guinean and I’m Canadian”. Insulting to his own culture but also somewhat true since people don’t rush to be on time here. I think our short tempers somehow make us get along well. He has a short temper like me so sometimes one of us will be mad about something and then the other person will get madder about it and that will somehow calm down the person who was initially mad.
Very lucky to have found such a motivated work partner and friend and I wish the best to volunteers who have a rough road with their assigned work partners. My original work partners were always very busy but I got lucky and found someone with time and motivation. If you can’t find someone in your village, try the next village or town. It’s not easy but it’s possible. As Tim Gunn from Project Runway says “Make it Work”. That’s the real slogan for the Peace Corps during your service.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
*It may sound weird that his wife and kids are away from him but it’s not uncommon for husbands and wives to be separated for extended periods of time. For example, my tailor’s husband works in Angola and he is gone for a year at a time. I’ve heard of other couples/families where the husband works in amother country.
**Peace Corps assigns you a community host and sometimes a partner organization so that you have someone who will introduce you to everyone in the village when you first get there. But for one reason or another, these people may not be available, or you may find other people that you work better with.