Well, after being gone from site due to vacation and training for almost two months, I’m finally back in Djelibakoro. And of course, I’m sick as a dog. Guess my immune system isn’t up to West African standards yet. My hut was incredibly dirty and dusty when I got in, everything a dull red color except for the mold. Mouse holes everywhere (and plenty of mouse poop to boot). The backyard was overrun by weeds taller than me- beneficiaries of wet season. It took Sara and I a whole day to clean it all out, but the place is back to being a home. Of the many awesome presents I brought from America for myself, one of the best is a lamp that actually works (all the Guinean lightbulbs I’ve tried burn out within a day due to the fluctuations in voltage/current/something that comes from truly unreliable electricity). That, and a ton of food!
All that aside, a home’s not really a home unless you’re comfortable in it. One of the best feelings is being comfortable in your hut, your yard, your latrine. And I really do feel normal here now. The second year is a million times less terrifying in all the little ways that your imagination invents. A year ago, I’d get up every night with my flashlight and go hunt the sounds in my hut- I sleep peacefully now. I remember a certain species of green spider that I used to track in my backyard and spray down, every few days. Now, a year later, they’re laughably small and harmless, and running into their webs is really no big deal at all. All the things that used to annoy me about the village (like the rather mean way that most Guineans like to laugh at foreigners when we don’t understand something they’re saying in the local language) don’t even phase me. It’s all little stuff, but it seems to apply in basically every aspect of life. Without a doubt, year two is more comfortable. Hopefully this will apply to the big stuff too- I think that teaching will be a lot easier now that I understand the reality of it. I’ll be much better at controlling a classroom and holding them to consistent expectations.
Here’s to hoping that I get a chance to really experience year two. Right now Guinea is undergoing an extremely unstable and difficult event: elections! Peace Corps Guinea is on “standfast” right now, which means our movements are restricted to within 10 kilometers of our homes. It’s the lowest level of precaution on a system that eventually leads to an evacuation. During standfast Volunteers are assigned to groups headed up by a “warden.” The warden communicates with each ward every day, and relays their status to the Regional Coordinator. Standfast really is a precaution more than anything. There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful that these elections will go off smoothly and without excess violence. If things do start to look bad though, we go to “Consolidation.” During consolidation, all the wards travel to their warden’s site and wait it out until further instruction. Getting people together is a precursor to evacuation. Each Warden has a giant trunk of non-perishable food Peace Corps sent us all, in case pricing and availability changes during a crisis. I’m a Warden for two other Volunteers, including one of the newest groups (G24). G24 will get to site only 4 days before elections- I hope things go smoothly for their sakes, because those first few days are hard enough without all the stress of a potential evacuation.
Guinea has evacuated twice before, so it’s no idle threat. Neither is the possibility of violence. Guinea’s politics are expressly ethnic. Peace Corps Volunteers are encouraged to stay away from political discussions (and political expressions are forbidden, so don’t take any of this as my personal political stance), but I have had some election conversations with the Guineans I trust most and am closest with. In my region, the incumbent Alpha Conde is heavily favored. He is Malinke, as is everyone in my village. There is a belief here that if the Poule candidate, Cellou Dalein Diallo, is victorious, the Malinkes will be ignored by the government. Interestingly enough, the Malinkes seem to feel that the Poules are more ethnocentric than they are- they cite several reasons for supporting Alpha Conde (for example, his refusal to endorse violence when he was in the “opposition” before he was president, or his abolition of an extremely unpopular tax), and they cite reasons for opposing Dalein (that he’s a “thief” and he stole a lot of money during his time as a Minister for the dictator Lansana Conte…as if corruption stopped once Conte was out of power). But they believe that the Poules only support Dalein for ethnic reasons- that the Poules are more ethnocentric, prouder of their culture and language. I suppose that even in American politics we tend to assign stronger reasoning to our own political views and assume the other guys have less well reasoned positions. But there’s a dangerous undercurrent of ethnic hostility here. One friend said that Poules always make you speak Poular, that they cling to their language more strongly than Malinkes. Another said, more vaguely, that the Malinkes are “straight” and do as they say, while Poules try and shirk their responsibilities. On multiple occasions I’ve heard Malinkes call Poules “not real Guineans,” often because they migrated here from East Africa long ago. One guy even compared them to Jews- an apt comparison, though not in the way he meant it. I really do think that the Malinke attitude towards Poules closely mirrors anti-semitism.
On the brief occasions that I’ve been able to talk to Poules about Malinkes, I’ve heard similarly disturbing sentiments. The two groups’ mutual distrust is no secret. I hope that there isn’t enough animosity that losing becomes unbearable and violence seems like a good option. As poor as Guinea is, it’s avoided civil war in its independent history. I can’t imagine an election in Guinea without massive fraud, so both sides would probably have plenty of reasons to contest the results. Let’s hope it doesn’t get down to that.
As a side note, I thought it might be interesting to discuss election campaigning. Besides signs throughout Kankan telling you to avoid the “predator of the economy” and other such things (references to the Poule leader Dalein), much of the campaigning is done through color. Everybody voting for Alpha Conde is wearing yellow everything. Everyone voting for another Malinke candidate, Lansana Kouyate, has orange and green. They have streamers on all the motorcycles. Weird random dance parties with speakers. Marches, rallies. And terrible, TERRIBLE driving! For some reason, election season means try and show off with your moto. When I was in Kankan I saw two accidents within 15 minutes of each other…and decided to stay in the house after that. Kids doing crazy zigzags, nobody looking where they’re going, big gangs of motorcycles riding around smashing into each other…frankly it’s a little terrifying. It goes all the way to the village too. Apparently during the last elections, one kid died during a moto accident at Djelibakoro (Fofana showed me the spot where it happened). So the village council banned crazy driving this year and hired “policeman” to beat up anybody who drove too crazily. When even the Guineans are concerned about crazy driving, you know it’s bad.