So it has been a pretty long time now since my last post... I've been living in Forecariah with a host family for PST (pre-service training). The training itself is pretty exhausting... 8am - 5m, Monday through Friday, usually plus something for a little while on Saturday. I've gotten to know just about everyone in my group and am very happy to say that we break the stereotype of the boring education volunteers. With all the crap we put up with (cock roaches in the toilet, bed bugs, strange food, mosquito bites that look like leprosy, never ending "Ca va? Et la journee ? Et la famille ? Et le travail ? etc etc etc), I think we earned that Guiluxe before Cafe Francais.
An average day for me begins around 5:30am when I wake up with the prayer call (it sounds like a whiny voice chanting "Allah Akbar" over a scratchy loudspeaker somewhere far in the distance; it doesn't always wake me up, but I've subconsciously started listening for it, especially after having weird dreams, which has been every night since I've been in Africa). I usually fall back to sleep or listen to my iPod or something until 6:15-6:30ish when the rooster crows and the family gets up. I've never actually witnessed their morning routine, but I hear them get up and fill water buckets, get the fire started, and sweep and mop the floors. If I'm lucky, a new bucket of bath water is waiting for me next to the drain where I take my bucket baths along with a full bucket of rain water to flush the toilet (it's a regular looking toilet - albeit ancient by American standards - that you have to pour a fast stream of water down to flush). The shower bucket I can fill myself, but the toilet bucket is bigger and much heavier, so naturally I rely on the little girls in my house ("petites" as they are fondly called) to fetch this water for me. That's right, tiny African kids fetch water and do a multitude of other physically demanding tasks in this culture. Even the skinniest little girl can lift a water bucket, put it on her head, and walk as far as she wants without missing a beat and without a single complaint. Meanwhile, I struggle, cursing under my breath as I drag my bucket across the house. Despite my efforts to not spill anything, I always do. The girls chez moi are as strong as they are unbelievably gorgeous and always thrilled to help. Any time they catch me sweeping my room (using pieces of straw tied together - basically a broom without the long handle) they burst out laughing and say "Heyyyyyy Maimouna" and snatch it away from me to finish the job. They're great. Oh by the way, my name is Maimouna Soumah now. Having an African name is a great way to start a conversation with someone because people's last names are a huge symbol of both camaraderie and rivalry in Guinean culture. For example, if your last name was Bah, you might say that a Diallo is a thief or something like that. Soumah generally means that I am everyone's master (yes, many jokes are made about slavery and no one gives a shit about being PC).
So anyway, I hope out of bed and tuck my mosquito net into the mattress as quickly as possible and walk down the hall to the bathroom to take my bucket bath (i.e. taking a bucket of water and a cup and pouring it over myself). Then I go to the dining room to eat breakfast alone in the nicest table in the house. Everyone else eats outside from a communal bowl. This is how I eat all my meals... sometimes it's kind of sad, especially on nights when there's no electricity and I'm sitting alone in the dark with a flashlight over my food, which is probably an entire fish staring me in the face, laughing because I can't eat it because of all the bones. (Side story before I forget: one eveningg my host mother made fish spaghetti with an entire fish on top, which I couldn't eat because of all the tiny bones. She came in and noticed I hadn't touched the fish, so she picked it up with her bare hands and ate the thing whole, bones and all WTF). Breakfast can range from an egg with onions and way too much oil, to spaghetti, to rice and sauce, beans, avocado salad, always accompanied by a baguette. What I would do for a bowl of cereal and orange juice.... :)
So then I have training all day until 5pm. Lunch is our responsibility - usually an omelet sandwich or baguette with peanut butter for me. I can't deal with hot rice & sauce when it feels like I'm trapped in a sauna. Our main classes are language (French & local language; I learn Susu since I already had French), technical traning (TEFL for me, physics, chemistry, and math for others), cross-cultural, and medical (all the gross diseases we can get in Guinea and how to deal with them). Susu has been a big challenge for me because I get so tired during the day that I barely have time to study/it sounds unlike any language I've ever heard before. Any time I say anything in Susu everyone goes crazy, it's hilarious. But for all real communication I always speak French.
MY SITE : I'm going to be teaching English at Geology & Mining University in Tamakene, 5km from Boke, the regional capital of the Basse Cote region. I'll be the only volunteer teaching at the university level and I just found out today that I will be the only woman professor at the university... it will be a great challenge that I'm looking forward to facing. Whether or not the Guineans themselves can admit it, Guinean culture basically requires men to be sexist. It's hard enough for women to gain respect in the university system in the US, and Guinea is decades behind the developing world in the realm of women's rights. I saw the university itself today.. it was all overgrown because it's vacation, but they assured me that doing the school year, everything looks different and well-maintained. We'll see! I'm excited to live on campus in my own house, I think it will be a lively environment and provide me with many opportunities to meet people here and understand the nuances of the culture here. Plus I'm pretty sure I'lll have electricity and maybe even running water -- WOW!!
I know this isn't the most interesting blog post, but it's because I'm exhausted and looking at this screen is making me hallucinate. Bon voyage mes amies, this weekend going to Martha's Vineyard without me... don't have too much fun without me you skanks.wah. I love you. Send me letters! And peanut butter!! xxx :)