So the food situation has gotten a bit more interesting. So far, my gut is handling it relatively well…can’t say my nose or even my broken tastebuds are loving it. I went to sit with Haby Thiam at the fire where she was cooking. Once again a huge pot (20” in diameter, at least), along with a couple smaller pots simmering away on charcoal piles. I asked her what she was making, and 1 dish was plantains (yum!), another was rice (no meal gets consumed without lots of rice), and the huge pot was a corn stew…with the goat head in the middle of it. Maybe seasoning it like we would use a ham bone in split pea soup?
Then, at dinner time - again, me eating by myself in the dining room - I was faced with a large dish of the corn with lots of gray-ash bits that looked rubbery. The smell was…a lot to take. I ate the corn, but completely pushed aside the rubbery, gray-ish bits. One was kind of honeycombed. I don’t think I could have gotten that down for love or money.
I have been ridiculously blessed by the Plumbing God to have incredibly excellent toilets. I don’t know how that is happening, but, wow, am I thankful. No hot water in Dakar, hot water delivered in a bucket in Conakry and Labe - but amazing flushing toilets. A big exception was during our ride yesterday from Conakry to Labe. I knew that was going to be dicey and squirreled away napkins and toilet paper to prepare - and mostly didn’t eat or drink. Crossed my fingers and my legs hoping all would go well.
We left around 6AM (in the rain, of course) and arrived in Labe a little after 3, so pretty long drive. The road, which is a main “highway” connecting different parts of the country, is two-ish lanes, mostly asphalt (though not completely), and with pretty giant potholes throughout. Tons of speeding up, to slam on the brakes, to swerve around a pothole, and hopefully not take out a motorbike that is coming by on one side or the other. There were giant trucks on this road, huge semis delivering probably everything. Occasionally they were broken down; a couple had tipped on their sides, There were plenty of cars and buses along the way slightly pulled over (or not) with a crew of people looking under a hood or changing a tire.
The country is beautiful. It is wet season, so everything is green and growing like crazy. I was sharing the back seat with another person we were taking to Labe. Ilhagg lives in Dakar, but is from Labe - and he speaks English. I said to him when we went through one particularly beautiful spot that I had to keep reminding myself where I was, because looking at the land I kept thinking I might be in Vermont. His eyes lit up. “Yes, yes!” he said, “I spent time at Dartmouth and went hiking all around there. When I sent my friends photos of Vermont and New Hampshire, they didn’t even believe I was in the US. They thought it was Guinea.” Here we are on this hilarious “highway” between nowhere and nowhere, and I am in the back seat with this guy who did a 6-week fellowship at Dartmouth. I love it when the world gets small like that.
The living conditions are not beautiful; I don’t want to skim over that. People look healthy, but it is incredibly obvious they are scraping out a living. There are babies and little children everywhere. What is it with massive procreation accompanying subsistence living? A conundrum. There were tiny little kiosks, mostly made out of tree branches, all along the way selling nuts, soda, crackers, glass bottles of gasoline. There were huts where people were fixing motorbikes; lean-to’s that appeared to be cafes. People’s homes right on the road, with women cooking, men sitting, and little children running - they must teach these kids young not to go in the street because there were many 3-5 year olds along this road. I am not kidding when there were jaunts we were going 60 mph; I had to close my eyes at times.
Women carrying huge platters and baskets on their heads. Seven and eight year old girls with their baby siblings strapped to their backs. Many of the women are still in these brightly colored, long dresses. What I have to assume are traditional houses started appearing when we got far enough outside of Conakry - round buildings; about 15 feet in diameter; pointed, thatched roofs. A common set up would be a small concrete block building and two or three of these round houses. I wondered if one house could be for each wife? And everyone has a bit of corn planted near their homes.
We stopped at a very busy place to eat. By busy, I mean the “highway” was lined with open-air places to eat, parked cars, and the moving traffic wasn’t actually moving at all. Apparently, it is where people stop to eat when they are on that road. Everyone stops. There are giant pots of boiling who-knows-what; rice (of course); recently skinned goats (sheep? An assortment?) hanging, ready to be diced up and cooked over a grill. This stretch of busyness was probably 75 yards long - I mean, there were lots of people there. We went to one of the stands, looked at packets of raw meat, picked out the packets we liked, the man cooked them on a grill in front of us, wrapped them in tinfoil, and we went and sat in the back of one of the stands at a picnic table and ate. By “we” I mean Ahmadou and Ilhagg, and I just watched. Do you want some, they asked. What is it? I asked. Meat, they said. “Meat” covers everything, I think. I did have a couple pieces; it was tasty. There was a lot of bone in it, like the goat (or whatever it was) had just been chopped up vs. carved. Who knows. It was good.
And then I got to use the toilet. The toilets are right behind all these stands where they are preparing and cooking food. Awesome. They are stalls with doors that close and there are two holes in the ground. C’est tout. There are little plastic kettles of water (about 1” of water, so not a deluge) to take into the stall. Was one hole for #1 and the other for #2? How would you know? Do you use the water to wash your hands and/or rinse down the hole? Ugh, I didn’t know and Ahmadou only described the toilet as “less sanitary” than what I had seen before. I seriously would need a lesson on how to poop in that place. I didn’t. We were soon on our way - on the major highway where we would speed past motorbikes with families of four crammed onto them (family member #4 usually a baby strapped to mom’s back); come to almost a complete stop to traverse a big hole, and then scream up to 60 whenever there was a patch of asphalt that was smooth; and pass cars/trucks/motorbikes going uphill and around curves with no visibility. Praise be to God we got here in 1 piece.
To my mother who loves me: I have not sat down to a single meal in 12 days that is not served with lots of onions. OK, no onions for petit dejeuner - it's a very French breakfast - but literally everything else has loads of onions. In most cases, no other vegetables. Karma.
Love and light