Guinea Debrief

May 15, 2007 at 7:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dear Ones,

Guinea

Hello again. I’m glad to report that I made it through Guinea, my first circuit ride. Guinea left a lot to be desired as a country and as I write this I feel sad for its people. I felt sad for them when I left too, though it was good to leave. Africa in general is a giant and beautiful but dusty and dirty continent (they have yet to pave over giant land masses with concrete like their Northern neighbors). Nonetheless, it is something to consider when the locals that you work with call a place “dirty” and snub their noses at it. Alas yes, Guinea was dirty and yes, rather a hole. Of course, we weren’t there for sightseeing and believe me there were no sights in Conakry to see (the capital) nor time to see anything.

It’s a country that’s been having a lot of turmoil especially lately and well, really since independence 40-50 years ago . When it reached independence it severed all ties with France most seriously trade and finance, so it has suffered economically ever since, unlike it’s Francophone neighbors, one being Ivory Coast.

The hotel we stayed in was pretty nice though apparently it’s gone down hill. I especially enjoyed the elevators that never worked. The porters heaved our heavy suitcases up the stairs on their heads when we checked in. They often offered to help with other things but I couldn’t handle that many tips so I carried most things myself…up six flights of stairs. My room was on the fifth floor, but in good French tradition, the first floor is never counted as the first. It’s more just a lobby or ground floor I was kicking myself for not bringing gym shoes, though I don’t actually own a pair here so I’m not sure what good that did. Most of my colleagues planned on using the gym. Upon finding out that all the equipment was broken and that I’d be climbing the stairs up to four times a day in high humidity, I promptly stopped kicking myself. The climb made me feel downright elderly but I sure was glad I was up so high every time I opened my curtains to see the view.

Humidity

I thought Ghana was humid. Ghana was cool and moderate compared to the humidity of Guinea! We had no A/C in the building we worked in and my poor, dilapidated fan did it’s best to circulate the air around me. At first we were sharing fans because there weren’t enough. I’m thankful a coworker introduced me to the handkershiefs that are indispensible in humid climates. I was sopping myself up regularly.

Work

I was stressed out of my mind on this trip because you have to work like an animal to get all the refugees processed in an efficient manner. There were a couple days where I worked 13-14 hour days. Others 9-10 and boy it was a good day when you only had to work 7 or 8. Oh, there are no breaks or time for lunch really either.

There’s so much to remember and such pressure to get people in and out that I made myself sick and then enjoyed working with a fever and runny nose for 3 days. Oh, I was exhausted, but it was a fire that I had to go through to learn my job. Part of the work involves knowing regulations well enough to decide who stays on a case and who doesn’t. You’re only too nice once and then you learn to take control and be firm. It’s hard for people to understand that you’re just following the law and that you can’t change it for them.

Cost

Guinea is expensive! I think we were taken advantage of when we first arrived because we couldn’t get a good exchange rate from the local lenders. The dollar had decreased in value so they said but…I don’t think it decreased that much. The men work by the way out of their wooden kiosks selling tourist goods on the side of the road. You just go inside trade your money, count it out and voila. In Ghana we get $9,300 Cedi’s for $1.00. In Guinea it was 2,650 to 3,000 Guinea Francs for $1.00. And in countries which are struggling and unstable, any slight luxury (like tuna fish, spaghetti sauce (yes I just said luxury) or anthing in a grocery store) or restaurant food, is priced even higher than normal. On our second day there I decided to load up at the grocery store since prepared food was too expensive. I found myself looking at prices like $4.00 for a can of tuna, $7.00 for a small jar of mayonnaise and $6.00 for a can of chli. I didn’t even venture back to the deli cases full of cheese and meat. I kid you not that when I got up to the register to pay for my food, after a careful search of the cheapest food possible that I could prepare with my colleague’s rice cooker and a wad of Guinea Francs in my purse, that I did not have enough money to buy my food. I started to feel like a welfare mother for a split second until I remembered what kind of prices I was paying. I offered to put some items back but I think because of my white skin the Indian owners gave me a healthy discount and they let me go with all of my overpriced, white trash, hotel food.

Now on to the fun facts portion of the blog; everyone’s favorite (or so I think):

Fun (and not so fun) Facts of Guinea

1. A badly made small pizza costs minimum $10.00; a better one $16.00 and up.

2. No breakfast food was available for under $10.00 and there wouldn’t have been time anyway, so every morning for two weeks I ate a hastily made peanut butter and jelly sandwich on bread that I bought down the road from the hotel, in the Guinea projects, with peanut butter and jelly that I brought from Ghana. Man, freshly made peanut butter tastes good! You Americans don’t know what you’re missing. But I still got tired of it…

3. I learned that if you’re persistent and goal-oreinted enough you can bang on a can of mackerel with a butter knife and actually get a corner of it open. It takes awhile to shake out the food inside but hey, how much French TV do you really need to watch? This valuable lesson was learned after climbing the stairs ad nauseum and not knowing who had a can opener or who was even in their room. The phones didn’t work of course and the maid had thrown away my room list for the second time anyway. P.S. The value of a Swiss army knife increases exponentially in a third world country. P.P.S. The French TV was quite wonderful. Well, hearing the French was for keeping up my linguistic repertoire. The content…zut alors…

3. For five days I earned the mistrust of the man whose kiosk we all bought water and minerals (soda) from because I kept the coke I bought in my hotel fridge (still unopened). He became convinced that I wasn’t going to return the bottle so that he could get his deposit back.

4. Guinea has a lot of power outages and fluctuations so the power went out often. Luckily our hotel had a generator so it would only go off for 10 or 20 seconds and then come back on again. Of course you were usually making some food and had a blob of something on a knife in your right hand. So you froze in your spot hoping it wouldn’t fall onto the floor before the lights came back on.

5. We were right on the ocean and the hotel had been intelligently designed to have all its rooms overlook said ocean rather than the very, poor neighborhood right behind the hotel. Man that was a nice view (the ocean that is). Unfortunately you can’t swim in it due to the fact that it’s polluted. The hotel didn’t help matters as I heard they dumped their trash in there too. That seems to be the reason that there’s no beach; just a lot of mud. Still, I made sure at least one evening that I sat in prayer and contemplation as close to the water (and thus as far from the mud) as I could. It was a nice way to decompress from the whirlwind of work that was consuming me. 1 hour and 12 mosquito bites later I decided to head in before I became the source of sustenance for all the local mosquito families.

6. Guinea has been having trouble with riots due to inflation, low pay for its soldiers and government workers, and a host of other things. Just a couple months ago students were protesting and the military opened fire on them. We’ve been waiting for things to calm down to go in and help the refugees. The Friday that we were wrapping things up, we got a call from our Field Team Leader who was downtown. She was being yelled at to leave by our in-country partners, as the military had begun converging on the downtown area to protest their low pay. Her van was stopped a number of times and beaten on by the soldiers but she stuck it out in time to get our flight tickets, since no one was leaving the country without those. We were told to pack our things up immediately and get back to our hotel which we did. We were all pretty calm and knew things would be fine but after debriefing at work today we realized that things could have easily have taken a different turn.

Which leads me to my ending and this blog’s prayer request. Most of the refugees we met with had not only been beaten, raped, tortured, etc. in their home country but endure the same thing in their country of asylum (where they fled to). Imagine how hard life is simply being poor in your own country. Then imagine being a refugee in someone else’s. If you’re caught one day without your papers you go straight to jail and no one will know where you are. No one wants you. When they hear you speaking another language they ignore you, charge you double or triple the price, refuse to serve you, harass you, steal your money, your virginity , your chastity…the list goes on and on.

Please pray for them; the people that nobody want. They need your prayers desperately. And I do too to be able to help them effectively and to continue to be a light to my colleagues. I cannot thank you enough for your prayers. If there was ever a time in my life when I have realized how helpless I am and what an amazingly premminent role you all play in this great business of God’s healing work – simply by being a force of prayer – it is now. I just couldn’t do it without you. You must know that.

your sister soldier,
Grace

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  1. I love you Grace.


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