Happy Thanksgiving! I’m in Guinea right now, so I spent my Thanksgiving holiday here. Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, clearly, so I worked Thursday, but got off early. I worked Friday too, even though Thursday and Friday were supposed to be days off at my American-based NGO. But I was actually very happy to work on our days off, because I got lots of comp time and I’ll be able to take more time off when I take vacation. I’m planning on traveling during Christmas, but I’m not sure where I’m going yet.
I’m in Guinea for work, on a “traveling circuit ride.” When we are traveling we go in groups, and in our group here there are five Americans, including myself, and seven Ghanaians. We are in Guinea to interview refugees who are applying for resettlement in the US. Most of the refugees we are interviewing here are from Sierra Leone and Liberia. If you don’t know much about the civil wars in these two countries, which I didn’t before I came to Africa, you can read short, but informative, descriptions on the BBC’s website. The refugees all have horrific stories of the atrocities that have been committed against their families and their tribes. Most of the refugees I interviewed were targeted because they or someone in their family was a member of a certain tribe, or a member of a certain political party. The rebels attacked certain tribes because of longstanding prejudices against certain tribes. Alternatively, in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, the major political parties had their own rebel groups, who routinely attacked supporters of the opposing political party. All of the refugees I interviewed had been attacked in their homes by rebels, their entire families had been beaten seriously, some family members had been beaten to death, and all of the women and girls had been raped by the rebels, usually in front of the rest of the family. In many cases, the head of the family (the father or grandfather) had been beheaded in front of the family. Also, in many of the cases some of the family members were tortured, some were mutilated with machetes, and some had hands and arms hacked off by the rebels. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to listen to these stories, but it’s gratifying to feel like I’m doing something to help them.
Guinea is a beautiful country. If you don’t know where Guinea is, don’t feel bad, I probably didn’t either before I moved to West Africa. Guinea is in West Africa, on the coast. It’s cooler than Ghana, and greener as well. And there are hills and mountains here, which is a nice change from Ghana, which is mostly flat. We are staying in a really nice hotel, with a nice pool and gym, and it’s right on the beach. It’s been so nice to have air conditioning when I get back to the hotel after a long day at work, and to take hot showers. And of course, the pool and gym are great too. We’ve been really busy though, and I haven’t had too much time to enjoy the amenities. Last week I worked 12 or 14 hours most days. I really like the work though, so I haven’t minded working long hours at all. And of course, I get comp time for any overtime I work. But I had Saturday and Sunday off, which was great.
Guinea is a francophone country, which means that the common language here is French, and very, very few people speak any English. Most people don’t speak French either, but only speak local languages. It’s been very interesting spending time in a country where it’s so difficult to communicate. I speak a little French, but not much at all. I’ve had the advantage of usually being with other people that speak French, but the French that’s spoken in West Africa is very different than French that’s spoken in France, so we’ve still had problems communicating. But it’s been very fun at times, having to find creative ways to communicate with people. I'll be going home soon, back to Accra, but I've had a great time in Guinea!