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HCR Guinea--reflecting my views, not views of Peace Corps or American goverment
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Time:04:27 pm
Wow, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything. Sorry about that. Things have been crazy here. In June, we had 9 days of pretty violent strikes. People were angry with the government, and students protested b/c they didn’t get to take their exams. The government/military ended up killing about 21 students in one day of protests…they are calling it Black Monday. Not a pretty situation. Never seen anything like it. Things have seemed to calm down…who knows what the future holds for this country.

My 9 day vacation was OK…but I’ve really gotten used to having an 8-5 job and didn’t do well with the having nothing to do. I was safely tucked away in the Peace Corps compound, so there should be no worries about my safety…if anything happens here, we’ll be the first ones out.

I’ve been traveling with work the last few weeks…and staying fairly busy, which is nice but also stressful. I’m continually enjoying my job and learning tons every day. My boss is a great mentor, and we have a good working relationship. I continually have frustrations with the Guinean ministry people that we work with. I am learning that due to the fact that I am a girl, young and not married, I get absolutely NO respect…and it’s really frustrating. This experience will definitely help me in the future. I will begin studying for the GRE and applying to grad schools over the next few months. It’s amazing how quickly the time is passing here.

So, life is good…I’m healthy. I have a cat (Safiatou) who brightens up my life and runs like a crazy woman around my little apartment. I have good friends who I enjoy hanging out with. I am dating a wonderful guy who makes me super happy and treats me like a princess. Really, more blessings than I can count.

I’m taking a week in August to go to Côte d’Ivoire for a friend (Delphine’s) wedding…really excited about that. Other than that, work and all. Would love to hear from people…don’t forget that I have email every day and I have a phone that works great!!! Yes, I am in Africa, but I don’t live in the middle of nowhere anymore.

Miss you all!!!

Peace and love!
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Subject:the latest...
Time:09:33 am
I don’t really know how to put it into words, but life is just tiring here. It’s the not the same kind of exhausting that you get in the states with people that have too many activities and too little time. I think it’s just the fact that nothing is ever easy here. Just when you think fate has cut you a break, you end up right back at square one.

Suffice to say, I’m learning a lot in this new position. I’m learning about how much it sucks to be a young, single, white woman living and working in West Africa. When I lived in the village, I was accepted and I become accustomed to working with people and accomplishing projects within the social and political structure that existed there. The authorities knew how I worked and where the line was. Things aren’t so easy here.

The first thing I learned is that when it comes to Guinea, HKI is basically doing the ministry’s work for them. HKI is supposed to be a support and a resource…much like I was supposed to be as a volunteer in the village. We assist the programs of the ministry of health in whatever way, but they should be the ones coming up with projects and doing the bulk of the work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here…and I really think that does a disservice to this country. I wonder what would happen if all the NGOs working in Guinea just picked up and left…what would happen to this place?!

Two weeks ago, I had a ministry official who oversees the nutrition program storm out of my office because he said I was trying to take his job. We were working on this big distribution of visual aids to all the health centers, and his schedule was continually changing, making it nearly impossible to plan a time for him to distribute them. So, trying to be helpful and being somewhat fed up with the fact that I had tried making about 10 different schedules for him, suggested that maybe I should just go ahead and do his distribution. He blew up and said I was trying to take his job. Later in the day after things had calmed down a bit, he came into my office on two separate occasions to make sure I understood that I was in the wrong and he was right. Words cannot express how much restraint it took for me to keep my mouth shut. One of my colleagues in the office told me that the best way to deal with him was “to be a woman.” By this he meant that I just had to let him think he was always right and that I think he’s wonderful, etc. Now, whenever I see the guy, he’s all smiles and compliments, expecting me to suck up to him or something. Smiling and playing the part just takes so much energy…

In the same week, I had a meeting with another ministry official; this guy oversees the blindness programs. I have met with him on a couple other occasions and have found him easy to work with, motivated and reliable. We scheduled meetings and he would arrive on time, ready to work…not something you run across everyday here. Our meeting went well, we had some rice and sauce, and while I was waiting for the driver to come and pick me up, he asks me what I like to do at night or on the weekends. He suggested several times that we should get together sometime so that he could show me the sights of Conakry (thanks, but no thanks!). This is a 45 year-old man with 4 kids and a wife…and a man that I have to work closely with over the next year.

So, these are the men I have to put up with. But it’s not actually much easier with the women. I went to Boké this past week to check on an iodized salt project that HKI is hoping to support…it’s the same project that my friend Carrie (former PCV) started during her service and that I’ve mentioned several times before over the last two years. I traveled with a woman from the ministry’s program that oversees iodine deficiency. She was nice enough, but when it came down to it, I’m not sure she knew how to react around a white person. I am not a horribly uppity person who expects things a certain way (we call this a “patron” in French), but I think she expected me to be. I don’t really know how to explain it…she just couldn’t relax around me.

There you have it…my working environment. I love the people I work with in my office…it’s all the other people I don’t enjoy so much. Pretty much, every day is a learning experience in surviving and coping. We’ll see what the next month holds for me…

Gas prices have come up 33% again…not really a good thing. I know that people in America are complaining about prices, but y’all have no idea what kind of impact this has here. Really don’t know how the people can continue to support this…

Gotta get back to work. I head to Sierra Leone next week for a week…should be fun!

Peace!
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Subject:update...after so very long
Time:12:08 pm
Wow, it has truly been ages since I updated my journal…so sorry for the delay. As I sit here in my office overlooking the ocean and listen to the lull of the waves, I think how good life is. I am settling into my life in Conakry. It’s definitely a change from life in the village, but I’m beginning to adjust. There are days when I wish I was back in the village…days when the electricity never comes on, when I run out of water in the middle of a shower, when it’s so hot that I would love nothing more than a quick dip in the river. But there are perks, as well. One of these is having weekends to myself…I don’t have to worry about feeling guilty about not being in the village…I actually have free time on the weekends…it’s amazing.

So, for those of you not familiar with the situation, I’m staying in Guinea for a third year…working as a PCV with Helen Keller International. I’m living in Conakry, the dysfunctional capital of Guinea. I have an apartment with running water (50% of the time, if I’m lucky), electricity (50% of the time, if I’m lucky), a fridge (contingent upon the electricity), a TV (also contingent upon the electricity), a washing machine (contingent upon water AND electricity), two completely non-functioning A/C units, and an oven (that shocks me when I plug it in). One of my PCV friends recently visited my apartment and said that it reminded them of living in the projects. Not sure they’ve ever lived in the projects, but its how it made them feel. My two windows overlook a shanty town…very depressing. And it’s 10 times noisier than my life in the village. There is another PCV living in the apartment next door to me, and rumor has it that another American girl will be moving in soon. I’ve made friends with a very nice Ivorian woman (meaning she’s from Ivory Coast) who lives in the building. She feeds me really good Ivorian food, so that’s working out well.

My job is starting off well, but slowly. My official title is Technical Assistant. I am primarily overseeing the eye care projects, but I currently don’t have tons to do. I am also providing technical assistance in other areas. I’m also working on teaching English to our staff. I’m supposed to be traveling around the country training health center nurses on using these big picture books about women’s health and nutrition, but I’m finding that it close to impossible to make any kind of set schedule. People change their programs all the time. It’s very frustrating. HKI also works in Sierra Leone, so I will be traveling there as well. I’m figuring that I will be traveling about 40-50% of the time.

It’s strange also being in Conakry because I primarily hang out with other ex-pats…I don’t really have much contact with Guineans, except for the people I work with. I’m finding that the attitudes of the Guineans in the city are very different from the attitudes of those in the village. They seem less interested in getting to know me or being my friend…it’s interesting. There is a small ex-pat community in Conakry, and I’m slowly working my way into it.

Well, guess that’s really all for now. I have a new address and I also have a phone number, which seems to work pretty regularly…

Hannah Reddick
Helen Keller International
BP 6050
Conakry, Guinea
West Africa
Cell phone: 011-224-64-24-36-13

Please keep in touch! I have email every day (as long as I’m not traveling). Miss you all!!

Peace and love,
Hannah
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Subject:Happy Holidays!
Time:08:01 pm
It has been a very long time since I took the time to update this live journal. Sorry about that. I think I have to go back two months to October to remember all that has been going on. At the end of October, I spent a few days hiking through the cliffs of Guinea. I went to a beautiful spot called Doucki (don’t let the name fool you) with a few of my friends. The one hike we took lasted 8 hours…we hiked a total of 16 km, and we descended then ascended 450 meters. You will have to check out the photos to really appreciate what an incredible hike this was. My favorite part was when we had to start going back up the cliff…we climbed up “ladders” butted up against the cliff with waterfalls flowing on either side of us. Amazing!

After this little side trip (the last of my vacation days), I had a week in the village before I headed to our close of service (or COS) conference. It was the Ramadan holiday on the 5th. I think I ate 3 different meals of meat…it was a good day. For those of you who might not be knowledgeable about such things, Ramadan is the 30 days of fasting that all Muslims observe. They are not allowed to eat or drink from sun up to sun down. At the end of the thirty days (which is determined by seeing the new moon, so sometimes one group of people will say they saw the moon, while others didn’t…so the actually fete is flexible), they have a big party. In Guinea, I realized this year that is basically a mix between Christmas and Halloween. Everyone (especially the kids) get new clothes and shoes…usually the only new stuff they get all year. Then, the kids walk around to different houses saying “E sali ma fo!” which basically means “Give me candy or money.” They will either get 100 fg bills…I personally bought a bag of lollipops and handed them out. They usually kill a goat and eat lots of meat…they also share the meat with their neighbors. Everyone gets dressed up in their best clothes and walks around.

I think the best part for me is that it’s the end of the fasting. People just aren’t pleasant to be around when they’re not eating all day. And I no longer had to feel guilty when I ate in the middle of the day. The dates of Ramadan change every year since it is dependent on the moon. This year was actually pretty difficult for people because they were in the middle of harvesting their fields and didn’t have a lot of money yet to pay for all the necessary fete things. I can’t even imagine what it will be like next year…Ramadan will be the middle of October before they’ve even begun harvesting.

So, after Ramadan, I headed down to Conakry for COS Conference. This is basically a 3-day Peace Corps conference where they talk to us about leaving our village, completing all the necessary PC paperwork, and readjusting to life in the states. They took us to a beautiful island off the coast of Conakry and let us relax and enjoy being back together with our original training group. It was a great 3 days. We spent quite a bit of time talking about resumes and interviewing and all that important stuff, which was helpful for me. I’m glad that I have some idea what I want to do when I come home…several of my friends have absolutely no clue.

Returned to the village with some lovely stomach friends (still trying to figure them out) and just hung out for a few weeks. If you all remember, this time last year, I trained a group of middle-school students to be peer educators. I decided to re-do the training for the students, and we also added a few new members (we had lost 2 people…one of them was my thief, and the other got married). The training went well…I know it might sound strange, but I get a rush out of talking about HIV with kids. I just feel like it is such a receptive group who are still young enough to make healthy decisions for their futures. In observance of World AIDS day (December 1st), the peer educators sold red ribbons at their school and in the community. They also organized a soirée (Guinean dance party) where they presented skits (same ones they did last year) and we showed a short AIDS film. All in all, it went well. I’m not so sure this project is actually “sustainable,” meaning I’m not sure they will continue to do activities in the community. But I’m hoping that they will at least adopt healthy habits for themselves. Who knows what effect anything I’ve done here will actually have…maybe I’ll never know.

The last weekend in November was the wedding of my village sister, Aissatou. She is one of my closest friends in Guinea, and a girl who has so much potential to go far in this country. She is 20 years old and in high school (not that uncommon)…her husband is an engineer, roughly 37 years old. That’s Guinea for ya. The wedding was quite the event…it took up an entire weekend. The first night (Friday evening) was the religious ceremony. Sakon’s (the groom) mother and sisters brought the bride’s dowry…a suitcase full of clothes, perfume, underwear, etc. Then the bride’s family inspects what has been brought and decides whether or not to approve of the marriage. But it’s not the bride’s father who does this…it’s the uncle of the bride and his family. The bride then sits on a mat and people come and throw money at her…meaning the family approved. There are many cultural explanations that I’m leaving out…many of which I don’t fully understand myself. The next evening was the sabar, which is basically a dance party. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people in my village. We hired an “orchestra” (lots of drums and guitars) to play at the sabar. It was just lots of dancing. One of the most annoying things about Guinean weddings for me is these older women who come with megaphones and come around demanding money. It’s just expected that you give them money for their services, though I’m not really sure what they do. I was completely cultural insensitive and refused to give them money. That made them pretty mad. Another Guinean thing is to dedicate a song to someone, then that person has to get up and dance in front of everyone while people surround them, putting money in their hands. I always get confused when this happens because I never know who I’m supposed to give all this money to. Usually, it goes to the band, but that always annoys me because they’re getting paid…I think the bride’s family who is feeding all these people should get paid. Oh well…

Sunday afternoon, the bride and her girlfriends (including myself) spent the day in the salon in Boké getting her hair all done up, then we proceeded to the city hall for the civil service. Aissatou actually wore a white wedding dress, and Sakon had on a bow tie. We crammed into this tiny room (hot as hell), while some official read through the marriage amendment of the constitution that was written in 1963. The two points I remember clearly were: 1) a husband is the chef (head) of the household and has complete control over it and 2) a husband decides where the family is going to live. I just sat there stunned…can’t ever imagine those things being said in an American wedding. The one positive point is that a woman has a right to her own bank account and to earn her own money…her husband cannot interfere. Who knows if that actually happens or not. So, after city hall, we headed back to Hamdallaye. Within an hour of being back in the village, several of the women’s groups who were there started a war over some chairs (one of these women’s groups being the one that I’m in), and the party ended. As far as I’ve been able to understand from the different accounts I’ve received, the women from Hamdallaye didn’t want to give their chairs to the women who had come from Boké. There was some insulting that went on, rumors that a child was hit, then all hell broke loose. It was quite disappointing. My women’s group had bought special outfits (complete with shoes and a purse) for the occasion…I spent $25 on the outfit and wore it for 3 hours…I was pretty peeved. And I just felt bad that Aissatou’s wedding was ruined because of chairs. But it turned out to be quite the social event of Hamdallaye. Aissatou is now in Conakry living with her husband. My biggest fear is that she will get pregnant soon and any hopes of her continuing her studies will be down the drain. She is supposed to come visit at Christmas, and I plan on staying with her in Conakry before I leave in March.

This past week was the volunteer-organized Girls’ Conference. I co-organized the previous conference with my friend Michelle, but I opted out of any kind of responsibility for this year’s conference. The end of my service is near, and I just didn’t want the added stress. An education volunteer in the Boké area offered to organize this year’s conference. Since the beginning, I have been concerned about how well it would go…she’s just not the most organized person you’ve ever met. And that’s not a bad thing…it means you probably shouldn’t be in charge of things. As feared, things didn’t go too well this year. For the girls, I don’t think they were able to tell that there were problems…Guineans are used to pagaille (chaos). But for the volunteers, it was just one headache after the other. The volunteer in charge didn’t step up and run things, so we had 24 volunteers trying to figure out what needed to be done and how it should be done. So, I guess the fact that the girls learned a lot is the essential point. The girl I brought seemed to have a good time. We had a session on excision and afterwards, she told me that she was fachée (mad) that they had taken away her clitoris and that she was going to talk to all the women in her concession about what she had learned. That’s what the conference is all about!

As I post this update, I am in Conakry waiting for the arrival of my parents. WOOHOO! They will be here for about 12 days. We will be spending most of that time in my village. They have the luxury of staying in the missionaries’ guesthouse, so that won’t really be “roughing it.” I think they’re pretty freaked out, but I’m not worried…we’re going to have a lovely visit. The village is very excited about meeting them. Having a sister come visit was a big deal, but your parents…oh my! Parents here are extremely important. I think they might even be organizing a little Guinean drumming party for them…we’ll see.

Well, I hope that you all have a lovely Christmas and New Year’s! Enjoy the time with your families and remember to thank God for the abundant blessings that he daily showers on our lives! Make a snowman or two for me. Joyeux Noël!
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Time:06:06 pm
Well, how do I put into words all that has happened the last few weeks? I definitely feel like Guinea is testing my patience and seeing how much I can possibly endure. Things seemed to be going so well following the successful malnutrition training. I went to Mamou for a Peace Corps meeting on revising our public health goals and objectives…a very boring meeting. I returned to site a week later with my friend Julia, who was going to help me with my girls’ summer camp that I was starting that week. It was going to be a week of health lessons on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and the importance on staying in school. We entered my hut to find the back door standing open, a big hole in the mud wall next to the door and my back window damaged. There was some of my stuff scattered on the floor. The place looked like a tornado had hit it.

The shock of what had happened didn’t hit me until I started looking for things that had been taken. The first thing I noticed was an envelope of money…750.000 Guinean francs (roughly $200). This money was to be used to buy scales for the participants of the malnutrition training. At this point, I broke down…I am so thankful that Julia was there. Then, I looked more closely at what the thief had stolen. It is a random (and actually comical) list of items: a bath towel, a fleece blanket, 2 drinking glasses, a bag of dice (which was sitting on a shelf next to my digital camera and a bag of batteries that he didn’t take…go figure!), a pair of speakers, mini-cassette recorder (with a tape that I had started to my mom), a pumice stone (beats me!), soap in a soap dish, shaving cream, and a container of cream cheese frosting (this one really made me mad…what am I supposed to put on my Funfetti cake!?!). I have only been back to my house once since the break-in, and I’m afraid that there might be more missing that I didn’t notice.

So, our Peace Corps representative in the area came to the village the next day with the authorities and gendarmes (military police). They went through my house and check out the damage. I had to write up an official report, and I actually had to name people who I suspected. At this point, I was pretty confident of who the culprit was. There was the punk kid who had stolen some money from me (he actually just lied and said he gave me back my change when he had not). I asked his younger brother (who gets water for me and who until this point I trusted) if he was in the village, and he lied and told me that Mohamed had left the same day I did. Peace Corps tells the village leaders that they have to take action…that they will not get their volunteer back until they recover all my stuff. Basically, this means that I’m stuck in Boke with nothing to do for about a week…it’s enough to make a girl go crazy.

Well, about this same time, I have this weird bump thing on my ankle that keeps getting bigger. It looks like a bite, but I don’t remember getting bit or ever scratching it. By Tuesday, my ankle is swollen, and I have these mysterious red lumps developing on my upper thigh. I called our doctor and he thought I just had an infected cut. Luckily, there was a Peace Corps car going to the capital, and I decided to head down…just in case. My boss also offered to give me some work to do until I could return to my village and said it would be fine to go to Conakry.

By the time I got to see the doctor, the welts on my upper thigh had spread and were painful, and I realized that the pain in my hip was actually an inflamed lymph node. Apparently, the little bump (to this day, we don’t know what actually caused it…a bite or just a scratch) is on a vein and caused a pretty major infection. I got on antibiotics and was confined to bed rest. Things improved pretty rapidly. The sore is pretty nasty, but it’s healing…and I’ve been told that I might get to go back to my village on Tuesday.

Meanwhile…in Hamdallaye…my village is searching for the thief. Our Safety and Security coordinator goes to the village to see what progress has been made…and to make it clear that Peace Corps is serious about solving the problem. Well, it turns out that I was right…Mohamed was the culprit. He also convinced another boy to help him…the boy just happens to be the son and grandson of the two principal imams of the village…ironic. He was caught with a few of the items on him…my speaker and dice. He says that the recorder is in Conakry with his uncle and that he somehow managed to spend all the money. On what, I have no idea. He is currently in prison waiting for a judge to make a decision. I’ve been told that his parents will have to pay me back.

So, while the mystery is solved, the problems really begin when I return to my village this week. The family of the thief is my closest neighbors; his brother is one of the young boys in the village I trust to do work for me. I’m just not sure how to interact with them…or how the rest of the village will respond. Peace Corps made it clear to the village that the problem is not between them and me but between them and Peace Corps. This is important here in Guinea…if he hadn’t said this, I would have had (and may still have) people coming and asking me to “pardon” (ie: forgive) Mohamed and not let him get in trouble. This is going to be challenging.

Hopefully, things will go well when I return. I only have 5 more months (actually, a little less) left in my village, and I have to admit that my motivation to do anything productive for them in that time is at about 0. We have our close of service (COS) conference next month. They take us to an island for 3 days and talk about leaving, life after PC, and all that jazz. It will basically be a big party and time to see all the people I came to country with. I will let you all know as soon as I know what day I will back in the states…can’t wait!! I could use your prayers…not sure what to do until March! Love to all!
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Subject:rollercoaster
Time:12:57 pm
Well, the roller coaster ride that is life in Guinea continues to thrill me. Since I last updated this, things have been up and down. To be completely honest, there was about a week where I was completely convinced that I Was going to give up and come home. My readjustment after the cruise was more difficult than I ever imagined. I ended up spending 3 nights in my regional capital because every time I tried to leave, I would burst into tears or have a sort of panic attack. It was not a fun time. The rest of August continued in similar fashion, though I did manage to have a great birthday. I had decided to start running as a way to help my mental health…I decided that if I was going to make it through the next 6 months, then I needed to start exercising. About 2 weeks into my new routine (getting up at 7 am to run…if anyone knows me very well, they will know that this is not typically Hannah behavior), someone stole my running shoes from my doorstep while I was in my house. I was so angry with my village…tried everything to get the shoes back, but to this day, they have not been seen. The same day this happened, my closest friend in country (a missionary) told me about the month old baby they had adopted that died in their arms of meningitis. Basically, things kept going from bad to worse. I spent a few days in Conakry getting work done and regrouping. I still wasn’t really convinced that I wanted to stay, but I had a big project coming up and couldn’t leave it.

So, the week of the 12th, I organized a malnutrition training for 16 people. I found two experts who came from Conakry to facilitate the training, so I was basically responsible for making sure that everything ran smoothly. I wrote a proposal and received $1000 to pay for it…quite a bit of money, especially when translated into Guinean francs. We invited 11 villagers from the surrounding area to participate, as well as the health center and health post staff. We even had 4 women participate, which was great (women here don’t usually have opportunities like that). The training consisted of learning how to weigh and measure children (which we then did in my village), how to talk to women about better nutritional practices, how to prepare healthy sauces and porridges for children, and how to treat cases of mild malnutrition. Words cannot even express how well the whole thing went. The participants didn’t show up until about 11 on Monday morning, but I wasn’t even stressed out…that’s just how things go in Guinea (it was exciting for me to see how much I’ve adjusted to life here). They were long days, but I was so excited to have something to do other than sitting in my hut reading a book. The last day, we invited the women from the village to come help with the preparation of nutrient dense meals. We were able to identify two cases of malnutrition in the village, and I will work with those mothers when I get back. I’m optimistic that the community workers will go back and share the information with the women in their area. All in all, it was amazing…and I could probably say that it was the best project I’ve done so far.

I have another big project coming up this week. I am having a mini-summer camp for young girls in my village. We are going to talk about health stuff and the importance of staying in school. I am having my village mom translate it into local language for me, and I even have prizes to give to the girls who come to all 5 days. And one of my PC friends is coming to teach them yoga…I’m trying to incorporate some kind of sport or activity with each day. One of PC friends is also coming to help out for a few days. I think it should be fun.

So, that’s pretty much all that’s new. I have 5 months left…crazy! My current plans are to be home around the beginning of March, but nothing is set in stone quite yet. My parents will be here for almost 2 weeks in December, which will be a lot of fun. Be sure and keep in touch…there are so many of you who I’ve lost complete touch with.

LOVE TO ALL!
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Subject:cruisin'
Time:11:32 am
I returned yesterday from my week cruise in Italy and Greece with my friend Kristin from Hope. Words cannot express what an incredible week this was. By far, one of the best vacations that I have ever taken. I am having an extremely hard time being back in Guinea. I can honestly say that I don't want to be here right now. I arrived last night to rain and more rain. Hopefully, I will get back to my village and things will get better...at least that's what I'm hoping. The one thing that helps is the fact that I will be home in 6 months...but I am trying not to let that fact keep me from making the most of the limited time that I have left.

Let me give you a few of the highlights from the trip...

Day 1--Arrive in Venice. Kristin and I met at the airport, dropped our bags off at the port, and did a bit of exploring in Venice. We were both exhausted, so we made our way back to the boat. I found when I got there that my mp3 player was taken from my bag at some point...very disappointing, but it taught me to not become too attached to things. Our boat left that evening for Bari, Italy.

Day 2--Bari, Italy. We decided to spend this day on a local beach. We were kindly greeted by a beautiful Italian lifeguard who offered to show us around Bari that evening...unfortunately, our boat was leaving at 6pm. We would loved to have stayed. We witnessed a robbery as well...this guy grabbed a woman's person from the beach, hopped on his friend's moto and rode off. This all happened within feet of us...we were so shocked we didn't realize what was happening until it was over. We made the most of Italian gellato (this is a common theme for the rest of the trip) and then headed back to the boat. As was the case with every evening on our boat, we ate dinner, went to the show, and then went dancing. Our drink of choice for the week was Cosmopolitans...very fun!

Day 3--Katakolon, Greece. On a whim, we decided to rent motos and ride around. We visited a few beaches, got lost once, and ate at a delicious Greek restaurant on the water. Probably one of my favorite days. This night, we went out dancing with our new Venezulean friend, Timoteo. He and his friend Josue go to school in the states and were seated at our table for the week. We also had a older couple from FL seated with us...it was a fun group of people.

Day 4--Santorini and Mykonos, Greece. Two of the most beautiful places I have ever been (hopefully the pictures will be up soon). In Santorini, we rode donkeys up to the city, shopped, ate and then rode back down. On the way down, we passed probably 1000 gay American men on their way up. It was quite possibly one of the funniest things I've seen...all these attractive men walking past us, and not a single one of them straight. Mykonos is the 2nd largest party island in the world...sadly, we had to leave at 10 pm and didn't get to experience it to the fullest...maybe next time.

Day 5--Rodos, Greece. Once again, we got off the boat, found a beach, and a really good local restaurant. If you have not noticed, we didn't really stray far from this plan, and it served us very well. And once again, we wished we could have stayed much longer.

Day 6--Day at sea. Slept in and recovered from all the fun times. Tried to get scary, stalking Italian guy to leave me alone. Let me explain...one of the nights that we were dancing, I happened to make eye contact and say Ciao to a random guy on the boat. Didn't think anything of it, but then he came up trying to talk to me...trying, because his English was awful. One night, Timoteo tried to help me out by making it obvious that I wasn't interested, but that didn't work. A couple of nights later, he wanted to dance with me and Kristin and I had to shove him off the dance floor to get him to leave us alone. The last day on the boat, he came up to me and gave me bracelet (FREAKY!) and his email address (quickly threw that away). It was quite possibly one of the strangest things that has happened to me.

Day 7--Dubronvik, Croatia. There really wasn't too much to see here. We stayed for about an hour, then went back to the boat. I had gone to bed at 3am, so I slept and watched a movie in bed...it was heavenly!

Day 8--Back to Venice. :o( This was the saddest day by far. I just did not want to get off the boat. We checked into our hotel and slept for a bit (going to bed at 4 and getting up at 7 does not make for a happy Hannah). Then, we went and had dinner. While eating dinner, we watched as the cruise ship once again made it's way out to sea.

And now, I'm back in Conakry. I do have lots of projects coming up and things to keep me occupied until March. I just hope this gets easier.

I hope you are all enjoying your summers...they are quickly drawing to a close!!

CIAO!
Day 7--
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Subject:adventures in Mali
Time:08:19 pm
I have just returned from a week and a half trip to Mali (for those of you geographically challenged individuals, that is a country that is next to Guinea). I went with my friend Michelle (fellow PCV) who just finished her service and is traveling around a bit before heading back to the states. We decided to overland it to Bamako, which took forever. We went to the taxi place in Conakry at 8 am Friday (24 June)...we sat there until 3 pm waiting for the taxi to fill up. There is really not much to do at the taxi stand. We didn’t make it all the way to where we wanted to go, so we ended up spending the night in the car on the side of the road. The trip was definitely off to a rough start.

We finally made it to Bamako and decided to head up country (at this point, I had decided to buy a plane ticket back to Guinea...I didn’t want to spend more time in the car...that was the best decision I have ever made). Oh, I forgot one small detail. Michelle and I went to get visas in Conakry having been told that they should cost somewhere around $4 only to find out that the price has recently been increased to $100...slight difference. Well, we had heard from several volunteers about this pass you could get in Kankan (another town in Guinea near the border with Mali) that was much cheaper and did the trick. We were skeptical, but we decided to take our chances instead of spending the $100. We didn’t have problems getting into the country, but I did get some grief today when I tried to leave (thankfully I was with a PC guy, so it wasn’t a huge deal). But most of our trip, I was fretting about not having a visa...I think Michelle was going to shoot me just to shut me up.

So...after arriving in Bamako, we headed up country. There is a place called Dogon Country that everyone raves about. It is this region where the people live in the side of cliffs. We finally got there on Wednesday. This means that we had basically spent 4 of our 5 days on the trip so far in a car or waiting for a car to leave. This was not enjoyable. I can just say that overall we had the worst luck when it came to transportation. We would get somewhere just as a car was pulling out, meaning we had to wait hours for another car to fill up. On this trip, I traveled in everything from a tour bus (no A/C...not fun) to the back of a pick up trip with benches (that was for 2 ½ hours...once again, not fun) to a motorcycle.

Back to Dogon country...well, we had randomly run into a Dutch anthropologist who worked in this area for 25 years. He offered us use of his house in a village and told us we would be warmly welcomed. We decided to go to the village he suggested. We were hoping that it would be a really cool experience seeing a real Dogon village and not being treating like tourists. Well, we did enjoy the village, but it wasn’t all we hoped it would be. The accommodations and food were just so-so, and we couldn’t find any tour guides that spoke enough French to explain things to us. I did enjoy a few days in a quiet village to just chill, but you couldn’t go anywhere in the village without an escort, so it got annoying after awhile. The countryside is beautiful and drinking millet beer out of a calabash (aka a wooden bowl) was enjoyable.

After almost 3 days in Dogon country, we headed to Mopti. Once again, we encountered transportation headaches. We sat for 5 hours waiting for a taxi to leave. When it finally did, we broke down 3 times. On one of these breakdowns, I started talking with a little baby trying to get her to laugh. I look up and see a Malian man pointing his phone at me with three of his buddies huddled behind him...turns out he was taking my picture with his camera phone (they actually have camera phones in Mali...shocking, I know). Michelle and I got pretty mad...you just don’t take a picture of someone. He lied and said he didn’t take one...whatever! That was a pretty rough day.

We bummed around Mopti for a day...really not too much to see there. Then, we headed to Djenné where you can see a huge mosque made of mud...it is actually the largest mud structure in the world. It was pretty impressive, but it looks much bigger in the pictures. The next day (4th of July) we headed back to Bamako. This required riding in a small bus for 10 hours, arriving in the city at dusk, and getting lost trying to find our way to where we were staying.

We actually had pretty cool living arrangements upon our return to Bamako. Michelle had some random connections with a family, so we stayed with them. It was a pretty patrony family (meaning they have more money than the average Malian), but they were extremely welcoming and were fun to hang out with. We spent a day doing some souvenir shopping in Bamako (they have some amazing things...I got some cool masks and jewelry and other very African looking things...I know I’m being vague but I don’t know how to describe them), then I headed out this morning and Michelle headed to Senegal to continue her COS trip.

My flight back to Guinea was probably one of the highlights of my trip. I was on a 40-seater plane with only 3 people. The flight crew was South African and didn’t speak any French, so I translated for them. At one point in the flight, the flight attendant asked if I wanted to visit the cockpit...she told me the pilots were interested in chatting with me. So, I sat up in the cockpit for about 30 minutes telling them about my life as a volunteer and asking about their lives as pilots. Quite an experience.

So, to sum up my travels in Mali...I would definitely say that it was an adventure. It was not a vacation and not relaxing, but I had some interesting experiences that I will not quickly forget. Sadly, we did not make it up to Timbuktu and the much talked about camel rides, but it just means I have to make it back to Mali at some point...shouldn’t be too hard.

I am happily returning to my village tomorrow morning. It has now been 6 weeks that I’ve been gone. I have never been more ready to get back. My visit home was wonderful, and I enjoyed Mali, but for the time being my place is in Hamdallaye. I have a big nutrition project I’m working on, and I’m hoping to do a girls’ summer camp some time this summer (they don’t start back to school until October). I have a cruise lined up in August...which will be a wonderful vacation.

Guinea definitely needs your prayers right now. The price of rice is rising dramatically and they are threatening to increase gas once more. The Guinean franc has basically no value, and the people are beginning to suffer...I am really not sure how much more this country can take.

It is crazy to think that I only have about 7 months left here...there is so much still left to do. Please pray that I will accomplish all that I hope and that I will use the time that remains to the fullest.

Take care and I hope that everyone is having a wonderful summer!
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Time:02:03 pm
i come home to visit in less than a month!! I CANNOT WAIT!! See you all then!
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Subject:the last few months
Time:12:35 pm
It has been awhile since I update this...it is so crazy to think of all that has happened in the last few months. And it's amazing how fast the time is passing here. In January, I hit my one year in country, and the end of this month will mark my one year at site. I really can’t believe that I have less than a year left. I just got done helping out at the training of the new health volunteers…it was weird being the “expert” volunteer and knowing so much more about Guinea than they do. I was also shocked to see how much I have learned and changed in a year. I feel like my time is running out, and I am more motivated to get going with my projects.

So, February was my busiest month so far. From the 9th to the 14th, we had our annual Girls’ Conference. Basically, what this is is 4 days where we talk about the importance of staying in school, the dangers of excision (female genital mutilation), HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, and the environment. Each volunteer brought 2 middle school/high school girls from his/her village to take part in the conference…we had 30 girls total. We did a day where the girls went and interviewed professional women in Boke, and then they gave presentations about the women. In my opinion, the conference was a success and probably the most satisfying activity of my service thus far. Many of these girls had never been out of their villages or their regions. Many had never been encouraged to be something other than a wife and mother. The two girls from my village were anxious to get back to Hamdallaye and share what they had learned. It was quite a rewarding experience.

After the conference, I organized a girls’ football game and AIDS day in my village. I trained a group of young people to give skits in local language. I bought jerseys for the girls’ team (they started training back in December and many of the girls actually got pretty good) and invited lots of people to attend. It was quite a challenge getting my peer educators (the young people I trained) together, and there were a lot more headaches in the project than I could have ever imagined. One of the girls in the group dropped out…actually, she just stopped showing up. One of the boys insisted that I pay them to be part of the group…not exactly the point. People got mad at me and yelled at me in local language, so I had no idea why they were mad. It was just all around bad. But the important thing is that the soccer game and the AIDS part went off without a hitch. In the afternoon, the girls played against another nearby girls’ team…sadly, we lost, but it was due to our not-so-good (ie: REALLY bad) goalie who couldn’t handle the penalty shots. In the evening, we showed an HIV/AIDS movie at the local video club…it was in French, but we had about 50 people from the village come to watch. After the movie, we had a discussion to find out what they had learned and answer their questions about AIDS. That was awesome! Then, my peer educators gave their skits…once again, a success!!! It was such an exciting thing to see…I got goose bumps just seeing these young people willing to get up in front of their peers and parents and talk about sex. Sadly, the equipment that was going to animate our dance party until 4 am (usual dance party time in Guinea) broke and the party ended around 1am. Despite all the problems, I enjoyed this project and feel like it was a success. If nothing else, I have 8 young people who have all the information necessary to protect themselves against HIV.

We had another vaccination campaign…working with 3 other people, we vaccinated 676 kids in one day! I was definitely tired at the end of that day. I also gave a diarrhea presentation at the primary school…that was a lot of fun and I want to start doing more of that. My village was also chosen to launch a program to give scholarships to 5th and 6th grade girls…the program was put in place by the US embassy. The American ambassador came to my village…it was a REALLY big deal (see the pictures). From what I’ve heard, Bush gave lots of money to African countries to help with girls’ education…I don’t believe that Bush had anything to do with it, so if you’ve heard differently, please let me know.

Early March, I participated in the Boys’ Conference…I took a boy from my village to Mamou (middle of Guinea…10 hours and 4 taxis from my village). This conference was similar to girls’, but we put a lot more emphasis on the relationships between men and women. The most memorable session for me was when I got to show the boys how to use a computer. How many times in my life am I going to sit with a group of boys who have never seen a computer in their life? You should have seen their faces…another goose bumps moment.

Guess that brings us up to date. More and more, I am settling into my life here and loving it. I just got three new close neighbors (ie: volunteers)…two of them are health volunteers, so I’m excited to do projects with them. One of them is in a village that speaks Landuma, so it will be fun to go out to work with him. Plus, he’s just a cool person and we get along…I haven’t really clicked with my other neighbors, so it’s nice to have people I enjoy. I feel very out of the loop on many of your lives, so if you have a chance, please drop me a line! I would love to hear from you…and don’t worry about me not having enough time.

Every time I write one of these updates, I feel like there is so much more that I want to say and try to explain about life here, but I can’t seem to find the words. Life here is so complex and rich…the people are at the same time wonderful and frustrating. Every day, I go through a mix of emotions, ranging from love and happiness to complete frustration and discouragement. I always love to answer questions, so feel free to ask!

Bisous!
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HCR Guinea--reflecting my views, not views of Peace Corps or American goverment
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