A Travellerspoint blog

An ostrich walked into a bar...

We went to a private reserve today that was a mini-safari of sorts. About 2 hours drive outside of Dakar, and about 4K acres with giraffes, zebras, warthogs, a bunch of different beautiful hooved, antelope-ish animals I didn’t catch the name of, water buffalo, 2 white rhinoceroses, and, yes, ostriches.

The animals are just ridiculously gorgeous. The warthogs getting down on their front knees to eat; the slow lope of the giraffes, a fixed stare from a coba (the Woloff name for one of the beautiful antílope-y animals). They have a male and female white rhinoceros, but they have lived together for 21 years and no babies. It seems the female doesn’t like the male even though he is the only guy around.

The ostriches! What? That is the weirdest damn animal! I was trying to figure out if God took to creating the ostrich after 1 too many margaritas (mos def my God knows her tequila) or concocted this wild thing just to screw with us. “You think you’re creative? Look at my ostrich!”, God says, maybe with a fist bump. I mean who could come up with that. The next time I catch myself being way too serious, I am going to think of these ostriches, and I know I will smile. They are just that funny.

It is actually the baobab trees that stole the show for me, though. The guide told us they can live to 2,000 years, and when I googled it just now to check the spelling, I learned they have actually been dated to as old as 6,000 years. Holy crap. They are beautiful and huge. Their massive trunks are just kind of mind-blowing; diameter of the big ones I saw today were 12-15 feet, and my google article says they can be 9m in diameter - that is almost 27 feet! We had beautiful blue skies - and the green leaves, grey trunks, and blue skies were just mesmerizingly beautiful. All trees are alive, of course, but these seemed almost closer to being animals than plants. A giraffe under a baobab tree - I hope that image doesn’t fade for me.

It is a privately owned park; the government is not involved. I hope the ridiculously high entrance fee goes to support the animals and more conservation instead of lining the pockets of the 2 Yemeni, 1 Belgian, and 1 Senegalese who own it. One can hope.

It was worth it in every way. And though I am in the same choir with all readers of this blog, it must be said: we are assholes for desecrating the planet. We have lost too many wild places. We have replaced that with cities, many of which are hideous. The choices we make as humans are truly nuts.

Heavenly creator, wake our spirits to fight for animals and habitat with the fierceness we fight a water bottle deposit or limiting car emissions. For goodness sake. In the most literal sense of that phrase.

Tomorrow, my last day of this wonderful adventure, I will go meet Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone and a friend of a friend. When my friend Brad introduced us via email, Ishmael wrote back and said “I will be in Dakar in August.” Fancy that. So will I.

Love and light. Can’t wait to see all of you and hug you a lot.

Posted by sarahglover44 14:55 Comments (3)

A la prochain

So far, so good. I’m in the airport in Conakry, sitting at my gate. The airport is right on the coast, just like in Boston. I am flying to Dakar, where I will be for 2 days. I am looking at the ocean, and imagining landing in NYC on Monday morning. Yay, ready to come home. Ready to be with my girl, whom I am missing in a way that almost feels like I have the flu. I don’t ever like being apart from her. I don’t at all like being this far away from her if we have to be apart.

It is not raining! Praise be. I smell terrible - not because I didn’t shower, but because of vanity. I put on a very smelly shirt that I thought would look a bit better in our good-bye photos. I know I will treasure these photos. I thought it was worth the stink to be able to look at them and not have a first or second thought be “why do I have to look like such a dirtbag?”

The two people I connected with most in this Conakry household are Haby Thiam and Hadiathou. Haby Thiam is the 23-year-old manager of the household; there are 12-20 people in the house at any given time. I told her she is smart, hard working and gifted at knowing people, and that she could do anything in the world she wanted to do. With the help of Google translate, I think I got in the neighborhood of communicating accurately. I told her I would help her if she needed it.

Hadiathou is 8; she doesn’t know her exact birthdate. I don’t know why this little one captured my heart so completely. Her smile, her shyness, her timid ways of staying close to me and even showing off a little when I was around. I brought Hadiathou and the two other little girls seashells that I found on the beach in Conakry. Hadiathou didn’t know what they were. (You can see the ocean from a hill close to their house.) I hugged her and told her she was my Guinean daughter. I held her close for quite a while before I left.

I see the women here generally being very strong - they shout and direct and tell everyone what to do. Anytime I had a bag or bought something in the market, any man who was with me carried my bags. And that wasn’t because I was white; I saw many men carrying diaper bags, handbags, and walking behind women who were taking charge. But I think the women’s purview is purely domestic. Cooking, cleaning, sewing, deciding who eats what and when, deciding who gets hot water and when.

Socially, men and women mostly are in different spaces. I didn’t perceive there to be hard and fast rules on this, though I might be wrong. There is no question it is the convention. Driving through the streets of Conakry, I would see women and girls grouped on front stoops, braiding each other’s hair, breast-feeding babies, sewing, tending whatever genre of things they were selling as it seemed every front stoop had something: roasted ears of corn, peanuts, hair ties, socks; honestly, it was an amazing array.

In the evening, women would slowly walk together through the streets, stopping into houses of friends and relatives. Haby Thiam and I did this a couple times, walking arm in arm.

A thing I wished I had a photo of is they way people present fruit to sell. Amidst what feels to the Western mind like utter chaos, plates of oranges, lemons and limes would be extremely carefully arranged into very small pyramids, with the last round fruit balancing on top of the top of the pyramid. Colorful spheres of precision , balance, and order. Little bright round trays of it, lining the streets that have no traffic lights, no lanes, lots of holes, wandering chickens and goats, and in which a two-ish lane road with cars going both directions would morph into a 3-ish lane one-way road (2 lanes of cars, 1 of motos) as soon as traffic wasn’t coming from one direction or the other. Then when a car came the other way, the traffic would flow back into a two-way street. Kind of genius, actually.

Here is the best story: I have a visa to be here, but so far, it has been a separate piece of paper and not yet transferred onto a page in my passport. We went to the Security office before we went to Labe to get it taken care of, but the person who did that job wasn’t there that day. So we went back yesterday. There was lots of conversation, one part of which was the policeman telling Ahmadou to tell me that my Passport was wet. Yep, it was. The cover is curling up, and it is damp to the touch. Was this policeman in a different country? It had been raining for almost 24 hours...I thought everything was wet. But somehow this deserved special recognition. Ahmadou confirmed to the man that I was aware that it was wet. Check. He took my passport and said they would call us back when it was complete.

We were told to wait; then we were told to return at 4:30. Then we were called to come early. Then when we arrived the person who needed to sign off on it wasn’t there. Then we waited a bit; then they told us to wait somewhere else (vs standing outside the building) because it might take awhile. So it’s a little after 4, I am scheduled to fly to Dakar the next day, and I don’t have my passport. It is so extremely likely that they will lock the Security office (which is also the national police headquarters) up tight at 5pm. Potentially anxiety provoking. But what was I going to do? I don’t know enough French to get pissed off, and Ahmadou did not seem worried.

He and I go across the street to a little cafe. Well, that might be an elaborate term because they didn’t have coffee. Soda, juice, water. I don’t get anything. Then I ask jokingly if they have beer. People jump into action, telling us there is a place to get beer about 4 “storefronts” down. (They are more than stand-alone kiosks, less than full-fledged stores. Shack isn’t quite right, either. Going with storefront.)

We go, pull chairs outside, and they bring me a cold beer. What?! It was great; we hung out and watched 2 chickens start hassleling each other. A woman from the Security office whom we had met earlier gets into a car that is parked in front of us and waves, wishing us a good day. C’est bon.

Ten minutes later, a young man comes up to Ahmadou holding up his phone asking if Ahmadou is Ahmadou. “Oui, mon frere,” he says. And this young man pulls out my passport and hands it to me, complete with visa.

Just when you think nothing could possibly work here, a dude in the bar, with a flip phone, hands me my passport. Et voila, I am all set.

Some things are hard. Some are mysterious. Some are confusing. Many are beautiful.

I described a lot of the things that were different, but what is actually overwhelming is how much is similar. People greeting each other; families raising children. People shopping for food, preparing food, eating together. People hustling in every imaginable way to make a living. Laughter, gossip, flat tires, hair salons. Boys playing soccer and shooting marbles; girls playing hopscotch and jumping rope. There was so much more that was the same than was different.

“A la prochain” means “until the next (time)”. It is the warm way of saying good bye, because you are saying you will see each other again. I think that will be true.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone and everything that made this whole experience possible. I am swimming in gratitude.

Two days in Dakar, then home!!

Love and light

Posted by sarahglover44 01:44 Comments (2)

A Duckboat would have been a good option

We are driving from Labe to Conakry today, the first leg in slowly wending my way home.

When we stop for lunch, I see a young woman with a full length leopard print dress, slowly walking down the street. She has a large tray filled with eggplants balancing on her head. The eggplants are arranged in a round pyramid and are bright purple. I don’t see anyone paying her any mind and wonder if she is gorgeous only to me?

The road deteriorated a ton since we drove to Labe just last week. Bella, the man who has driven us everywhere, reads the road like a river guide reads a river. I don’t know how he knows if a hole is deep or shallow or if the puddles are standing water or hiding deep holes. He seems to know, though. He uses the whole road and the sides of the road to go around holes and broken chunks of pavement, or slowly over them. The motorbikes weave around us.

We have just come to a complete stop; the entire road has turned into a parking lot, 3 rows of cars and trucks, all pointed in the same direction (though this is not a one-way road). Traffic is stopped because a river has flowed over a bridge, and the road has disappeared under water. It has been raining for a couple hours...and who knows how long it will go on. Lots of people are out walking around; it is a complete downpour. It’s 3pm; we are 50k from Conakry, which would normally take about an hour. I would guess it has to stop raining before there is any hope. And then who knows after that? There is only one road. We left Labe at 7 this morning. Turning around to go back does not seem so awesome. Yikes, this is going to complicate my plan to avoid the toilets.

4:05 and I got my answer. A group of enterprising guys - looks like they are in soccer uniforms - put together a car tugging business for anyone who was up for crossing. We were. To be clear, I did not participate in this decision. It was handled in Poular while I was knitting in the front seat. The water was hip deep. We started heading across, and the soccer guys made sure we didn’t float away. Water started coming in the doors, then got as high as the bottom of my seat. We were holding our electronics up high. The water didn’t get higher, and we made it to the other side. The car started - victory - and we bailed out the floorboards. My butt is wet and now we are actually at a standstill on the other side because I have no idea why. Probably the traffic on this side just takes up the whole road, so there is no room to pass.

How much did we pay the soccer guys? I have no idea. Roughly 10,000 Guinean francs is equivalent to $1, and there are literally inch-thick stacks of bills with rubber bands around them in the glove box.

5:50 and we are inching along. You cannot imagine all the water. It is flowing from everywhere, and continues to rain. The road is just falling apart. I doubt we go 50 yards without going through a major hole. “Through” is the right preposition because many of the holes have a footprint the size of the car and range from a couple of inches to probably 8 inches deep. Right now, we are driving through a couple of inches of water that covers the whole road. Two or three of the big semis have turned on their sides. This road is about the same size as Franklin Street - but is the only road connecting the Capitol to other regions of the country. There are cars, trucks, motorbikes, and even pedestrians for as far as the eye can see in both directions. A dude just walked by me who is carrying an umbrella. And walking through 4 inches of water. The ladies are still walking on the side of this not-road with the trays of fruit on their head. I feel like I am in a hurricane without the wind, but life is going on around us as if this is no big deal. Which I guess makes sense, because what choice do people have?

We’ve been in the car for almost 12 hours except for a stop for lunch at - you guessed it - the 2-hole-in-the-ground choice break for food. I skipped coffee this morning (in order to skip pooping in the hole). While I don’t regret that choice, my head hurts and I am tired. I am ready for a cold beer and a hot bath. Those are both four days away.

We made it to Ahmadou’s family’s house about 7:30, 12 1/2 hours after we started. The distance is 225 miles. Long day.

I talked to Sophie on WhatsApp for the last 15 minutes of our trip. Her voice was clear as a bell, and we had only the tiniest delay. Hearing her talk about back-to-school shopping, her plans for her room when she gets home, her delightful voice - I don’t know how it is possible, but I am grateful.

Haby Thiam had hot water and an amazing dinner ready for us. It was a treat to be so warmly welcomed. I tucked into bed early, and woke up a couple times during the night to the sound of: roaring rain. I am scheduled to fly to Dakar tomorrow, and am praying the airport and runways are in good shape. I fly early, and the rains don’t usually start before the afternoon, so hopefully all will be well. (Of course, it is 8am Thursday morning as I am finishing this post, and the heavens just opened again. There seriously cannot be a lot of places for this rain to continue to go! Conakry is on the coast, so maybe we are filling up the ocean.)

The training we did for the teachers in Labe was amazing; I will share more about that later. On our last day, the Governor of the region, head of the Prefect, and Mayor all showed up. Pomp and circumstance. It drove Ahmadou nuts, but I thought it was kind of fun.

Love and light

Posted by sarahglover44 00:54 Comments (5)

Animal Husbandry (Midwifery?)

I want to breed a goat that eats plastic. Then, the streets and rivers of Senegal and Guinea would be clean.

We finished our second day of teacher training today. We have 28 people in the class, and it runs from 9am-1pm. My parts are pretty short, and I carefully script myself. This morning, I practiced for a little bit with about 10 people who showed up early. They got to laugh at me a bit - because me trying to teach in French is giggle-worthy. Laughter grows warmth, vulnerability grows trust. Or at least that was my plan. They were rooting me on, for sure.

It is Saturday night, and we are hitting a nightclub in Labe. I would have thought this was impossible, except that I am sitting in it. Feels like what I imagine a dive club in Everett to be. Loud music on a sound system. Guys who are casually dressed with scrupulous care; a pool table. They probably don’t have shisha pipes in Everett, but I’ve actually never been to a dive bar in Everett so I am kind of making this all up. It just all feels so...bland. The Facebook chokehold on the planet is startling. If they could decide to do something good, my goodness, what reach they have. There is no one here who is not scrolling FB and Instagram.

Inexplicably, there are three orange, reflective traffic guards in this bar. Based on our car rides this far, I would have thought these were unknown objects in this land. Instead of being outside, alerting cars to obstacles, they are inside separating the pool table from sunken white vinyl couches. Ahmadou and I literally pulled low branches from a tree today to put in the street (the same street that is the main - only - road from Conakry to Labe) to give more visibility to a huge obstacle in the road because we watched a motorbike and a bicycle collide when trying to avoid it. A couple hours later, someone had removed our branches. Ahmadou keeps asking me if my world is upside down; that stuff certainly feels askew. :)

I went to a “garden” yesterday. It was in a bit of dense forest, and someone with passion and vision (and perhaps a touch of madness) had cleared paths, and the paths were lined with carefully planted seedlings that were all in plastic jugs being recycled from whatever their first purpose was. The paths were reinforced with tires, and tires sunk I to the dirt formed steps. This place was pretty big, and the tree the tree canopy was high. So it felt like ducking into some other world. It was really beautiful - quiet, shadowy, and an unbelievable amount of work by whomever did it.

My plastic-eating goats would have had a field day here as the river at the base of this garden was clogged with bags and bottles and jugs.

Posted by sarahglover44 09:56 Comments (4)

Does the Geek Squad make house calls to Guinea?

Ugh - my computer crapped out today. I think something might have gone awry with the electricity. It won’t turn on now. :( So blog entries likely to be shorter - and perhaps comprised of photos of what I write by hand.

We have done lots of driving around, and i am not quick enough or close enough to take photos of some wonderful things. So here are my verbal photographs from a few rides:

  • Lady in a beautiful chartreuse dress, off the shoulders, flaired peplin, fitted at the waist, hemmed at her ankles. Rich chocolate skin. Climbed onto the back of a motorbike. I don’t know how. She was 100% elegant on and off the bike.
  • . Chickens and ducks, goats and sheep, cows all wandering around. Ahmadou says they know their way home. They seem kind of like pedestrians, merging with other foot traffic.
  • No bicycles (a difficult thing to photograph)
  • Tough looking 8 year old walking down the street. Hands in pockets. Scowl. Wearing a wife beater undershirt. Backwards.
  • scaffolding on 4-5 story buildings made out of 3-inch diameter branches and tree trunks. Couldn’t see how they were fastened
  • Teens who wisely set up their kiosk of selling windshield wiper blades and boxes of Kleenex where there is a large speed bump in the road; everyone has to slow down for them
  • The rain was literally roaring last night. I got up at 4am to watch it.
  • Many of the roofs are made out of orange tile. A lot of the corrugated metal roofs are orange, too. Triangles, squares, rectangles of orange against a hillside of lush green. It is a Cezanne landscape.
  • The earth here is red clay. The puddles are bright orange. A memory that might be in my toes, is not quite in my brain, of the orange puddles and red clay I discovered when we moved from Iowa to Georgia when I was 5
  • In the back part of a parking lot, nosing through a pile of trash are 8 baby pigs. Pigs! How does this make sense in a Muslim country? I asked Ahmadou’s brother what they were and he said “boef.” Boef my ass. What are those pigs doing here?

And so many more. Today, I got to hold a two-week baby girl. Her mom is coming to our teacher training. I got to hold the baby a good chunk of the morning. The sweetest.

Love and light

PS: thanks for the comments! I love seeing them.

Posted by sarahglover44 14:21 Comments (3)

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