(written Sunday, Aug 11)
We flew from Guinea to Conakry this morning - early. Woke up at 4AM, took a 5AM bus to the airport. Short flight (a little over 1 hour), but complete breakfast. A throwback to flights in the US from 30-40 years ago, though, happily, the plane was brand new. We arrived here about 10AM, and two men picked us up at the airport - one of whom was past security and the Customs folks allowed to hand me my visa.
The drive to the house was about a half hour. Not many cars out; a couple places where the street had crumbled and there were huge holes. Several places where water several inches deep was flowing across the road. It is a total downpour, though there is no wind, no lightning or thunder. Just an unbelievably steady downpour. A few people have umbrellas; many others are wearing light rain ponchos. No one is hurrying. There are clothes out on lines everywhere.
Everything is different. There are both buildings that are more modern that what I saw in Dakar (including an absolutely enormous US embassy….I can’t imagine why) as well as LOTS more people clearly living in little open shacks lining the streets. I have seen only between the airport and Ahmadou’s family home, so obviously have lots more to observe.
Not everyone speaks French, so while I was struggling with French in Senegal…it gave me something. For Fulani: I have nothing. There is not electricity all the time; Ahmadou says it comes and goes. They cannot rely on the government to ensure there is running water, so anyone who can afford it has their own well. Someone went to the store after I arrived to get toilet paper for me. Only for me? Do they not use toilet paper?
We are in the home where Ahmadou grew up until he went to Senegal. Hard to describe. There is a wall around it and a metal gate for both walkers and cars to go through. It is several buildings around a courtyard; there is a small round little “pavilion” in the center that he says is like the living room. It is almost like a stand alone porch; it is open to the air - no windows or a door. It is fitted with vinyl couches, that line the perimeter. I sat there for a little while with the men, then joined the women cooking.
Ahmadou’s mother is not here; I believe she is in Canada. His father is in Labe. He has a brother and sister-in-law who live here, and there are loads of other people whom he loosely calls “cousins.” The sister-in-law and one of the cousins did the cooking; a huge pot of rice and a huge pot of this soup with goat and potatoes in it. They cook over charcoal, squatting on the ground next to the pots resting on little frames that are filled with charcoal. (In Dakar, they cooked over a propane burner on the floor.) There is a rimmed patio adjacent to where they cook. I think this might be the rest of the “kitchen” in some respects because two younger girls started washing dishes in large tubs that were on this patio, catching rain water. The washing was kind of like we do when camping; one tub was to get most of the yuck food off; another tub was for rinsing. Because of the constant rain, this patio had about 2 inches of water in it, which was always flowing out a little downspout in the floor. One of the women cooking, threw bits of trash into this flow, and who knows where that trash went.
It is hours after we arrived and still raining so hard I am wondering if the streets will start crumbling.
There is so much to describe…. Today is a huge holiday, across all Muslim countries, I think. In Senegal, there were sheep all over the place, and here they use goats. Every family sacrifices one of these animals and prepares dinner with the meat. We got here in time to see them kill the goat. I did not stand very close because I am pretty sure I would have tossed my airplane breakfast if I actually watched. About an hour later, I was eating soup that had goat in it. I ate with Ahmadou and one of his cousins, Sulemon. We ate in a dining room, and out of one plate. I don’t know why we didn’t eat with everyone else. Ahmadou said it was because the food wasn’t ready, but I am betting it was more to not have me with them right away. The food was delicious and Sulemon speaks perfect French that I could understand pretty well. He runs a school in a town between here and Labe.
Ahmadou and I talked about whether I would stay in a hotel or stay at the house. His brother was urging a hotel; Ahmadou was confident I would be fine here. I was, too, of course - and happily agreed to come here. It is harder than I thought it would be. I had no idea how many people would be here, and I can’t really communicate with anyone. There is lots of coming and going and lots of movement - and people are changing clothes constantly because of the rain - but I am guessing there are 15 or so people here. There are 3 little girls who are very sweet and like to look at me and shyly smile. We did some counting together - 1-10 in French and 1-10 in English. Their French is very limited and my Fulani is zero…so I couldn’t think of anything else to do with them. I gave the little girls each one of my bracelets - I thought I was just showing it to the first one, then she said “merci.” Oops - so I gave a bracelet to the other girl so she wasn’t left out.
This is really different than home. Everything Ahmadou said earlier about Senegal being a mid-way point makes sense to me now. This life is hard to understand and feels very foreign. Today, I started counting the days to go home.
Love and light