Anybody who is African or lived in Africa for some time knows there are some things you see and hear that are just distinctly African.
Everyday I see something interesting. And by interesting I mean strange and amusing.
I have daily random goat sightings. In my yard, outside of cafes, on the steps of the mosques, on rooftops, following me home, strapped to the top bush taxis underneath suitcases. I have at least 20 pics of random goats. There’s a website and a theme song in the works. Stay tuned.
Guinean movies are hysterical. What’s funniest about them is the random American songs they will have as the sound track for the most uncomplimentary points of the movie. Like the title song from the Titanic playing as the main character creeps into the room to kill the young lady sleeping inside. Yes. Celine Dion playing in the background of the most sinister scene of the movie. Or “La Bamba” playing when a good husband finds out his wife is pregnant by his best friend. “La Bamba”? Seriously? I couldn’t help but thinking I’m sure (insert name of guy who wrote and sang La Bamba) could not have put money on his song playing decades later in a movie spoken completely in Sousou half way around the world. No one in the room knows why I’m laughing.
I regularly get at least 3 or 4 marriage proposals per day. Going out dancing is hilarious. Here is the convo:
Random Guy: Come here American girl.
Me: (turn to my right) yes?
Random Guy: (in his best English) what is your name?
Me: My name is Fatou Sylla
Random Guy: (back to French) You are beautiful. I love you.
Me: But you just met me.
Random Guy: I want to make you my wife and I love you.
Me: (awkwardly smiles and walks away)
He will leave his post at the bar to dance next to me and friends for the rest of the night and repeat the fact that he loves me. Oh I didn’t mention he’s at least in his 40’s or 50’s. And I will be his 3rd wife.
The resale of Goodwill rejects in Africa is another source of constant hilarity. The biggest guy in Dubreka walks around with a hot pink shirt that says, “I’m a girl and I love it”.
I looked at my flashlight last night and noticed it had a picture of an american flag, a full length picture of the Guinean president.....and was made in Russia. Quoi?
Generosity goes to a whole new level here. I told my family I love tomatoes the first day and that I loved the salad they served me. Since then I have salad every night, with tomatoes. I said in passing that I loved pineapples and the next day, despite the cost of the pineapples, my dad served me 3 with my dinner. The selfless generosity I see here on a daily basis is something I want to immolate.
But then it just gets a bit crazy sometimes. I was sitting outside eating dinner with my father and noticed there was what sounded like a TV in my brother in laws room. I had never seen one there before, so I asked my father, “Is that a TV in Mohammed’s room?” He said yes. For the next hour they worked on fixing the broken generator, pulling a table outside, and setting the TV up all so that I could watch it outside while I ate dinner. No, no, no, no I insist! I’m thinking about saying I love horses and seeing what happens.
Or how about the constant barrage of breasts, flailing in the wind, that are whipped out in the most inopportune times. Like taking off your shirt in the middle of church, or at the market, or during a conversation about your organization. I find myself saying in my head, “You’re not taking off your shirt are you, you’re not pulling your breasts out right now, please not now…..wow yep you are.” But knees? No knees are far too taboo to show in public.
Aside from the funny incidences of my everyday life, I have some of the most peacefully, beautiful snapshots.
Walking to school late in the morning, as I am usually late, the sun rising behind the mountains as the school children gather and gossip on their way to school. It’s breathtaking. The road that I walk each day to the Peace Corps training site is draped with low hanging large mango trees and women peddling their street side wares. Everyone tells me, the “fote” or white person, “Bonjour!” or “Tana mouri” in Sousou. And everyone gets a kick out of me speaking their language.
I love how my family will often go out of their way to give me something that reminds me of home. I came to dinner yesterday and there was a single golden delicious, yellow apple sitting at my table setting. My family laughed hysterically as I tripped out over this apple. It was crisp, juicy, amazing, and the first apple I’ve seen in a month. Definition of bliss.
New Years isn’t as celebratory here as in the states or other countries. But my organizational counterpart while I’m in Dubreka, the leader of a women’s empowerment cooperative, invited me and 3 of my project partners to her home for lunch on New Year’s eve. We sat down in her beautiful courtyard to a liter bottle of a cold pink drink. We poured them into 3 tall American glasses to find to our delight that it was a frozen smoothie made from the fruit of the Baobab tree!! OMG! It was amazing and the most refreshing thing I’ve tasted in country. We had an amazing spread that kept coming: keke (shaved cassava with onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers), sautéed onions, fried chicken and fish, papaya, and pasta. After engorging ourselves, we relaxed in the shade on comfortable leather couches and had a moving conversation about our pasts, the present, and our dreams, relishing the slight breeze that cooled our brows. Sigh. Lovely.
The week before last, I met a 14 year old girl who is literally a mini Wiatta and I know I’m not supposed to have favorites….buuuuut, lol. Her name is Martha. But she said she wanted an American name from me so I call her Jessica now, which produces a burst of giggles. She brought me to her house, where I met her equally intelligent, independent, and beautiful sisters. I found also that her family is Protestant Christian, living within a community of Muslims. They invited me to their church (yes there are 2 churches in Dubreka!) which meets underneath a huge, striking Baobab tree 2 blocks behind my house. The Sunday before I left for Labe, I found that protestant in Guinea means non-denominational. I went to service and it was enchanting, filled with drumming, dancing, singing, and praying. I was absolutely moved to tears watching my people praise God so openly and with such fervor. I don’t think I will ever tire of the off key, random arrangements of worship music of the West African churches I’ve attended. It seems as if they sing with such passion unconcerned with pitch, tune, or sequence.
Carelessly beautiful and uncommonly inspiring.
And this is how I have felt about Africa in general for a long time. Dusty streets and byways are plagued by littering as a result of the lack of mass trash disposal systems. Shallow well water systems contaminated by human waste make drinking and even bathing a bit scary. Shaking hands with people immediately brings up thoughts of hand sanitizer and the absolutely gorgeous and gregarious children are often carrying germs that I try to block out of my mind as they playfully paw my face. The lack of critical thinking skills due to a Stone Age rote memorization school system and the desperate need for good teachers makes conversations often circular. And the list continues. Yet even with the systemic problems endemic in many African countries, I am still utterly in love with this continent and my people. I haven’t quite found how to describe how my heart breaks over and over again--and is also continually healed. Africa is challengingly beautiful.
My mother and father repeatedly tell me in the states to stop and smell the roses. I’m often running haggard at home, trying to get to the next goal, the next project, the next vacation, the next country. But without regular internet, electricity, and with the intent goal of learning a new culture, I’ve been able to do here what is difficult for me in the states. There’s so much to see and take in here, it’s impossible not to automatically slow down, and breathe. I realized yesterday sitting at the breakfast table eating my bread and drinking coffee, feeling the breeze and just looking out the window, taking in my surroundings and the fact that I’m here….that I don’t get to do this in the states. All together, the funny, the negative, the blissfully beautiful, is my home. And I want to enjoy every minute.
Stop. Breathe. Feel. Take the time to see more of your community, your neighbors, your friends, your family, your surroundings than just point a and b in your schedule. You’ve heard it before, you know it’s good for you. But still you don’t do it. Make the time.
Because it’s necessary to stay alive.
My prayer for you is that in this simple act you will find something that causes your heart to break over and over again…..and be continually healed :-)