Hello Fellow Kossacks. I have dearly missed your erudite words and snarky smackdowns of Republicans. I have decided to somewhat “reveal” myself with this diary in the hopes that I can share something from my background that can possibly shed light on a part of the world that hardly gets attention. I’ve spoken a few times about my heritage but this time I’m going to give full disclosure. I want to include a few pictures to give a visual presentation of some of the topics that I am referring to but it won’t be superfluous (I hope) as I do not want to make this into a facebook post. I wrote another travel diary back in July when I returned from studying abroad in Denmark. I would like to draw comparisons between the US, Denmark, and Guinea in this diary perhaps also in the comments section. However, this won’t be as flattering as my Denmark Diary. I feel that because this is my country, the country my parents left to look for better opportunities, I have the right to criticize it. I am going to be harsh about the conditions in this country not because I hate it, but because I want it to truly come into the 21st Century with the rest of us. There is so much potential and is being quelled because of political corruption. I hope this treatise enlightens those of you who are not familiar with Guinea and warns those who believe that a hand off government, free of taxes and rules is the best direction for our country.
My perspective has been shaped by my family. My parents were immigrants to this country from Guinea. Guinea is located on the coast of West Africa. The Capital is Conakry and the official name is the République Démocratique Social de Guinée or The Social Democratic Republic of Guinea. The official language is French but there are various ethnic groups and dialects. Guinea was colonized by the French and thus, suffers the same issues as any colonial country. I won’t even mention the President because he doesn’t matter. This country “elects” their presidents the same way the Committee of Public Safety was “elected” during the Reign of Terror. Before I left the United States what was happening in the news? People were freaking about Susan Rice becoming Secretary of State and the Republicans were trying to deal with the fiscal cliff, correct? Well welcome to paradise. The way of coming to power in Guinea is by quid pro quo. There is no uproar from the minority about cabinet picks because you will be “removed” (aside. To be fair, there is a lot more history with the previous President with jailing/killing people than the current government but it is still common). Free speech isn’t free; therefore there is a constant malaise in the country. Education is not valued, intellectuals are made fun of, and the status quo is maintained at all costs.
Before my parents left, my dad was a teacher and my mom was a college student. During the regime of one of the previous presidents they had to flee from the capital city due to their “status.” That is part of the reason why my mom spent most of her life in Senegal and my dad lived 8 hours away from the capital in a small village. Fearing for your life because you want an education sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Well that constant fear took ages for my parents to shake, even when they assimilated into American society.
I’ve been going back and forth almost every year for the past decade to Guinea from Arizona. I met my grandparents and cousins for the first time when I was a preteen. Amazing isn’t it? I never had the grandparents who gave you cool presents for your birthday or attended basketball games. I’ll start from the village and end up in the capital city. My parents are from a village about 200 miles from the capital city. Guess how long it took us to drive from Conakry to the village? 11 HOURS!!! To give a great comparison, I live in Tucson, AZ. I drive up to Phoenix (actually Glendale suburbs) frequently and it takes me about 1h 45 minutes. The distance is about 113 miles.
This is what happens when you don’t have taxes to pay for roads. The roads are shitty and full of pot holes. We shipped a Toyota Truck with a four wheel drive from the US for our personal use and it didn’t make it any better :-(. The roads do not have any Aggregate Base Course (link for more info) The climate is similar to what you find in Southeast Asia it rains all the time and when it isn’t raining it is hot and humid. So imagine what that’s like year-round coupled with the lack of motivation to improve road conditions. Last semester I used to drive to school every day and there would be a pothole probably with a 2 foot circumference on my route. I learned to avoid it and curse it every day. When I came back to Tucson this week…the pothole was filled. We also have a streetcar being built downtown with absolutely horrid construction but there are signs warning people and giving them detours; there is no such thing in Guinea.
I often get questions about whether or not I see rhinos and zebras and if we live in huts. The answer is no, no and no. Brace yourself now
There’s me a few years ago running around like a dork in a field near our house. See the mountains in the background? That’s what it’s like in the village. The winters are just like in Arizona, cold but dry. The only animals I see roaming around are chickens, cows, and goats. BTW, the most famous African animals are prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Let’s talk about the environment. Here’s how you get water…Go to the river! It’s that simple right? WRONG! I’ll get into the gender prejudice but there is a river that runs through the village that is sectioned off. One area for men, the other for women. The area for men is used for water gathering and showering. After the men have washed their junk in the water, the water flows down to the women’s area where they shower themselves and their children.
Disgusting isn’t it? That’s how it’s been for generations. No one thinks anything of it. We installed a pump and well near our house so that everyone in around area could use the pump to get their water rather than trekking down to the river.
Now back to Conakry. When I got there my eyes burned. The smog and pollution is palpable. It took me about a week for my eyes to stop watering and to adjust to the smell of diesel fuel on my clothes. People cook using outside kitchens. I wish I took a picture of it but I am sure many of you know what I am talking about. Fire and wood is used to warm a stove for your meal. No microwaves and stainless steel stove tops. I’ve looked closely at my female family members and noticed a yellowish tinge in their corneas, perhaps this is from years of sitting over these wood stoves because men don’t have this condition. Gasoline or Petrol is Diesel fuel only. They buy it from nearby Nigeria and commuters can expect to pay the equivalent of $4 a gallon.
Speaking of environment, they do not have a proper garbage disposal. They burn their garbage. Add that to the list of pollutants in the air. There isn’t a trash bin in the front of anyone’s house nor is there anyone who is paid to collect it. You must gather your trash and either through it on the side of the road or take it to the designated areas in the city where members of the Military Defense burn everyone’s garbage. I don’t mean to gross anyone out, but you don’t hear these things or read them in a Wikipedia article. This is what the government does. They dispose of your garbage by dispatching military men to do it. Congratulations for their one bit of decency towards their citizens. The public health violations in this country are enough to make me want to pull my hair out. There is electricity and running water every once and a while. When we were in Conakry we had it every other day….at midnight to 6AM. How useful is that?
I would like to finish talking about two things relating to public health. The first is the treatment of women and children and the second is the exploitation of children. Islam in the predominant religion in the country and thus, the societal attitudes reflect those of the religion. Women are supposed to be submissive and obedient. That is just how it is done. I get in trouble a lot because I am pretty outspoken about these inequalities.
Plural Wives are common. My father and mother are in a monogamous marriage but both my paternal and maternal grandparents have had multiple wives. I know it sounds weird but let me explain. In the religion you are allowed to have up to four wives. The government doesn’t care; in fact they encourage multiple wives to have as many children as possible. Attitudes reinforce this practice and it continues on for generations and generations. My dad is an “only child” from his mom and dad but he has 6 half siblings. My mom has 7 brothers and sisters AND 7 half brothers and sisters. My grandfathers each had two wives. Having a lot of children serves two purposes: 1-agriculture is still a huge part of the economy, more kids=more workers=more money 2- status booster for patriarchal males. It shows healthy “manliness” when you can produce a bunch of children in their society. When people talk about climate change, you often hear the overpopulation argument. How can we explain to the citizens of Guinea that they must stop having so many children when they livelihood depends on it? It is a Catch-22 from my standpoint. I think that many people depend on their children as they get older in the US. The only difference between Guinea and the US with regard to children helping their elderly parents is that there is a government initiative that will step in (hopefully) to take care of us once we reach the appropriate age. In Guinea there is not Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. How you live and die depends on the amount of children you have.
I am going to finish on a sad note. (Thanks for hanging in so far) I mentioned how the treatment of women is archaic and needs to change but nothing could prepare me for the topic of genital cutting. As I’ve mentioned quite a few times in my comments on this site, I am pretty much set in the type of medicine I want to practice: Obstetrics and Gynecology. Women’s health is a HUGE deal for me. Whenever I go back, I have access to hospitals and doctors. This time I wanted an in depth look. I am a lot more mature than I was when I was a bratty American pre-teen the very first time I visited. But it’s been nearly a decade that I’ve been going back and forth and I have never noticed the prevalence of genital cutting…for females. I won’t get into male circumcision because it is still a common practice in the United States. I have two brothers--they are circumcised. I have witnessed live circumcisions and personally have feelings about whether or not this practice is necessary for males but I will save that for the comments section. I do not mean to offend anyone, male or female who has had this procedure done for their sons but it isn’t a pleasant procedure, however, Jewish and Muslim males tend to have this done. If you travel to Europe and see the men there you will find that circumcision is not as common as the United States. Think of the reasons why you may have had this procedure done on your son(s). Now take that thought and apply it to females in Africa. This is still practiced all throughout the continent. In Guinea, it is common place in the village, but not so much in the capital city. Several Non-governmental Organizations have stepped up and created a public relations campaign noting the dangers of female genital cutting. Again, I don’t mean to offend those of you who have chosen circumcision for males, but the reasons for female circumcision are as follows: 1-tradition 2- suppressing female sexual autonomy…that’s it! No health reasons, no superstitions of the religious flavor but tradition and keeping a girl “pure.” The sole function of the clitoris is for pleasure so it isn’t rocket science to understand why it would be something that is cut to suppress girls.
Here is more information about genital cutting if you would like to learn more about it. Despite my list of complaints about the country I have never seen happier people anywhere (even Denmark)! You would never know that the government controls, quite literally, when they have light in their lives and when they don’t. Yet the government doesn’t have a single thread of a social safety net for its citizens. I would be a terrible travel agent for Guinea but the day to day life of a Guinean is invisible to most people. I hope this was a worthwhile read. I didn’t touch on another topic that is very important to me which I highlighted in my Denmark diary which is trafficking. You definitely see it in the form of child exploitation and child labor but that is such a huge topic that I would like to reserve that for another diary. I hope you all had a great holiday season, now bring me up to speed on all the news from the past month! Thanks for reading, feel free to ask me any questions in the comment section.