Tuesday, December 26

A White Christmas, huh?

Merry Christmas everyone! I am in Conakry (again) after a relatively pain free taxi ride from Kankan. A group of 7 of us Haute volunteers came down to the capital to celebrate Christmas with everyone else in the country, and the house has been full of ex-pat style Christmas spirit ever since we arrived. We have eaten well, exchanged presents and listened to Christmas music with our Peace Corps family for days. It’s strange celebrating a holiday like Christmas in a tropical Muslim country. It’s hot, humid, and there are no decorations anywhere in town! On Christmas Eve, Reid’s host-family knocked on the door and gave us just-knocked-off-the-tree coconuts. I suppose Guineans don't have the recipe for Grandma's Sugar Cookies, huh?

Christmas Eve dinner was spent at our Country Director’s house, but it wasn’t his normal Sunday night football affair with spaghetti. He had cooked us a beef bourgognais, which he had spent days making. Upon finishing the first round of salad, we queued up for the main course. Steve noticed we still had some dressing at the bottoms of our bowls. "You guys can rinse out your bowls if you want," he said. A few people heard and kind of shrugged off his suggestion. "No, you're gonna fuck up my sauce," he semi-jokingly clarified. I suppose after putting so much work into a delicate dish for a gaggle of uncouth Peace Corps volunteers, I would have felt similarly. It was pretty funny. We all realized how unrefined we have become!

After that, Reid and I were exhausted, so we decided to head home. By the time we got home and showered, it was eleven o'clock, so we put on the Motown Christmas CD we borrowed from a friend, opened the bottle of white wine (you know it's a special occasion when I write bottle rather than box), set the alarm clock for midnight, and sat in front of the fan on the couch sipping away. The alarm went off, and we kissed and danced around the living room to Marvin Gaye singing "Purple Snowflake". It was simple and romantic. We wished each other a Merry Christmas, felt lucky to be with each other, and went to bed.

On Christmas morning, I forced Reid to wake up around 8 (he did so begrudgingly), so I could open my presents. Each present from him was wrapped individually and put into a cute stocking. He got me nail polish, good soap, a planner, chocolate, earrings, and drumroll….. A CAN OF HOEGAARDEN BEER! You guys know how much I love that stuff! And he found it here in this country and spent a small fortune on the one can. What an amazing boyfriend, huh?

The rest of the day was spent shopping and cooking. All of our friends were heading to the islands for the day, but Reid and I stayed around, wanting to treat our closest friends to a special holiday dinner. We heard a rumor about a man who raised pigs for the ham-hungry Christian minority, so we got his number and tried to call all day, but of course, the call didn't go through. The plan foiled, and we had to go with plan b: steaks. We found the one grocery store open (We thought no Guineans would close down for a Christian holiday, but, alas, they did.), and we bought the foreign ingredients we needed that are unavailable in local markets here, like Gouda cheese. Then we got in a cab and headed over to the African open-air market by the Peace Corps house. We bought four kilos of meat cut right off the cow. The butcher was so hard at work, I to turn away to avoid catching a bone shard in my eye. He gladly plopped our nearly nine pounds of fresh flesh into a bag, and we continued back to the PC house to start working.

We had the most delectable Christmas dinner. We seared pepper coated, several-inches-thick steaks freshly cut off the still identifiable skinned cow at the market. Then we put them atop sautéed mushrooms and onions that soaked at the bottom of the pan in a red wine marinade. As they cooked, the steaks kept their moisture, became perfectly pink in the middle, and caramelized the onions and mushrooms, while turning the marinade into a yummy gravy perfect for our roasted garlic mashed potatoes whipped with real butter (Real butter may sound like a negligible item to note, but it is a real treat in Guinea where refrigeration is hard to come by). To complement such deliciousness, we steamed julienned green beans and carrots mixed in crushed cashews and butter sauce and mulled red wine with whole cloves, cinnamon, and oranges. We finished off our Peace Corps Christmas feast with a round of savory baked apples cored and stuffed with a melange of Gouda cheese, dates, raisins, butter, then sprinkled with cinnamon. The best part was that dessert had yet to come. Caron and Eldon made a chocolate peanut butter fondue in which we dunked apple, banana, coconut, and pineapple. The whole meal was so delicious, I could barely move afterwards. But the best part was sitting around a table with some of my favorite people, enjoying their company and sharing a special meal together. That’s what the holidays are all about, right? What an amazing Christmas! (and we didn’t have to do dishes!)

Christmas Dinner At the Cky House

I hope you all had an equally enjoyable Christmas, spent enjoying good company, good food, and some surprise presents. Although it’s sad not to be home, I truly do love being here and the holidays have not been as painful as I had expected.

Now, I am going to remain in Conakry for the next couple of weeks to start research on my graduate school paper and work on my projects that need internet. But on January 8th, my mom arrives in country to spend a month with me here in Guinea! I can’t wait – that’s truly the best present ever (sorry, honey, it is even better than a can of Hoegaarden). But I will be around, so please email or call if you get a chance!

ps - thanks, Reid, for helping me write all of this blog entry!

Wednesday, December 13

A Long December?

Since arriving back at site in early December, so much has happened. I was in some sort of a rut before, not getting much work done, and quite honestly, not enjoying Siguiri too much. It was a combination of no work to do and no Reid. But now, things have changed. Life seems balanced and days are passing by with lightening speed. In fact, I am unusually busy for a volunteer. And Reid just got an Areeba cell phone (a new provider), so we can hopefully talk easily and more often.

But really the thing that has changed is that things have really taken off with work. I remember Brad, a fellow PCV said that one day things just fell into place for him and work began to take care of itself. Well, I guess that's what happened to me this December. Here’s all that has happened work wise:

*I have started going to the local APROFIG chapter daily to help teach basic computer skills from Windows to Word and Excel. APROFIG is a local NGO that works for the advancement of young women, and they have set up a computer lab where anyone can sign up for classes and pay $15 or 90,000FG (a lot!) for 2 week courses. We are teaching them how to create folders, drag and drop items, how to open up programs, and how to rename files. It's difficult to teach someone how to use a computer when they have never held a mouse before! How do you explain the difference between a single and a double click... in french? Let me tell you, it's a challenge. But my students are so happy to be learning, they appreciate even my broken French attempts to explain simple things like putting a folder into another folder. In addition, they are in the process of setting up satellite internet here, so in January, inchallah, we can start internet classes also, which I will lead!

*My Federation of Artisans have grown energetic again, and they want to start real trainings on business strategies such as accounting and SWOT analysis. So, we are having a BIG meeting next Tuesday to discuss what I have to offer and what they want to learn. They will be a HUGE amount of work once we start that! So many of them don't keep any types of books regarding their earnings or expenses, and so many have no idea how to market or how to expand - it's going to be a rewarding project... if it doesn't drive me to an early grave.

*My Lifeskills counterpart, Moussa Diawara, started a theater group while I was gone that I am apparently president of (such a Moussa thing to do), and we have been going crazy preparing skits to do for SAG’s (the gold mines) International AIDS Week. They made two skits - one with a Imam’ daughter getting married, and he insists on having everyone take an HIV test before the wedding and one where a man is propositioning women, and the first says "no, I am waiting until marriage," the next says "only if I am your only girlfriend and we get tested first," and the last saying, "only if we use a condom"(the three ways to prevent STDs - abstinence, fidelity, and condoms). Our new theater group went to a different village each day with the health team from SAG to teach all different types of people about AIDS. Last night, we even did the skits for the female workers at the mines! I didn’t even know there were females at SAG! It went really well, and it was so much fun (pictures will come soon). Now, AIDS week is over, but we are going to continue our work, hopefully teaching the artisans of Siguiri next. We are also starting a training of peer-educators, meaning that we will extensively train a handful of Guinean youth to talk to their peers about HIV. Because we have so many plans and we have been working so hard, the SAG health clinic gave us a GIANT box of Prudence Plus condoms to distribute and posters to hang up when we teach. Let me tell you, I have so many condoms (multiple thousand!) in my house, it is somewhat embarassing. Anyone need any?

*I have also started SERIOUSLY thinking about my graduate school final paper - my SRP. I am settled and ready (finally, after almost a whole year!) to start the research. It has taken awhile to actually figure out what I want to study, and it has taken a long time to also form strong enough bonds to ask the questions I want to ask. I have sat at my breakfast table each morning brainstorming ideas and thinking of questions for my research. It’s getting exciting! I will keep you posted, probably too posted, I’m sure. (ps - about this, anyone interested in helping me, please let me know, whether you are a fellow volunteer or a professor or just a kind friend)

So, that’s the work side of my life. But that’s not all that happens here. I have also had visitors (my beloved Sarah and Diana), and we partied at SAG last weekend with cool (not sketchy) miners. We had a BLAST hanging out with them - they’re a crazy bunch, and they took pity on us living the village life, so they treated us to prawn and lobster dinners and bottle after bottle of delicious wine (notice, I said bottle, not the boxes us PCVs are accustomed to). They were so kind to treat us to a night of good food, good drinks, and good laughs. As I said, they are a crazy bunch - imagine a bunch of middle-aged South Africans dancing around to heavy German rock like Rammstein, drinking whisky, wrapping everyone's head with red duck tape and then blowing up condoms on their heads. It was a blast. The highlights included drinking delicious wine and beer, watching the South Africains rock out to German music, dancing in circles with (oh, I forget his name), and of course, the GIANT PRAWNS! Pictures will come soon.

We also recently had a wedding in the Bereté family, complete with drumming and dancing. I danced and sang all night with my family, and we had a great time. The best part though was taking a break from dancing, and sharing a giant bowl of rice with the drummers, who were all hilarious men. We sat there, under the full moon, mixing rice with sauce and eating with our hands out of the same bowl. It's really one of my favorite things here in Guinea - sharing a bowl of rice with new friends or my family. I know the hygeine part is a little sketchy - everyone scooping up huge handfuls out of the same bowl and eating and licking their hands and doing it again, but I just love the comraderie of sharing a meal like that. After the meal, we went back to drumming and dancing, and I snuck out early to go to bed.

So, December has been quite eventful around here. But what do I have planned for the rest of the month? How am I going to finish 2006? I have visitors coming the weekend, I believe. And hopefully, we will once again party at SAG and have a good time. I also plan to do A LOT of work before I leave for Conakry for New Years. Inch Allah (with the help of God), all will work out. Thankfully, I have internet again in Siguiri, so please feel free to say hello - I'll get back to you quickly!

Happy holidays to everyone, and I will talk to you again soon!