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