Hope for Guinea. Conakry, 17 November

Back in Conakry for Louisa’s visit to the eye doctor today. Results tomorrow.

While sitting outside the pharmacy, we got in a conversation with two university students. One is studying law and the other political science. We were surprised. But he said in the university they were free to discuss everything. He also said the young of Guinea and Africa see things differently than the old first generation leaders. The young understand the need to improve the infrastructure. They are hopeful for the future. I hope it’s not the the naivitie (sp.) of the young. Time will tell. Against most logic, I feel that Africa is turning the corner, or more appropriate to say bottoming out. It’s only been a generation since they got independence. And they didn’t have countries before that. One book said something like one percent of Guineans were literate when they gained independence. And the French trashed Guinea when they left. Hi to Abdoulaye and Amadou!
I may have said this before, but Guineans claim to be Guineans first before their tribal groups (we of course are primarily speaking to younger educated people).

Other impressions: The Guineans are a little reserved and rarely speak to us first. But once they are engaged they are friendly and helpful. Yesterday on the taxi ride from Labe to Conakry (another story, towards the end of this post) we asked to borrow a cell phone to call and it was freely offered. We then said we wanted to get off before the station, but we didn’t know the name of where we wanted to get off. With the guide book map and a couple of helpers, they figured it out. Someone who was getting off at the same place waited to make sure we got ourselves (bikes and luggage) together and knew the way before he left. Then the taxi driver (who had also made sure we found the lunch place) had us follow him through the intersection to make sure we were going the right way.

It may be their nature or the lack of tourists, but we are not hassled. When we are unloading at the taxi stop people offer to help or help when asked but leave us alone otherwise. Very pleasant especially compared to places like India (and it’s a whole lot cleaner than India. I’m not picking on India, it’s just a country many of us have visited.). We pay the posted price for long distance taxi tickets. We may be paying a higher price for luggage, but it’s not much in any case.

Much of my reading had lead me to believe that West Africa hadn’t advanced in twenty or more years. Net that may be true, but here there are signs of progress. Roads being built. Decent cell phone service (poor land line). New motos in the more distant towns. People seem healthy. Nonetheless, poor and working hard to survive. People carrying wood for fuel. Many small (tiny) “businesses.” Electricity non-existent or erratic.

Another third world taxi ride: To see the good eye doctor we had to return to Conakry–400km and 9 hours away. We had tried to hire a taxi for ourselves, but something went wrong, he didn’t show up at the hotel and so we left for the taxi station. We were the last two to sign on for a nine passenger 20-30 year old compact station wagon. (Same as described in an earlier post, but this ride was in a smaller Renault 21, not the larger Peugeot 504.) We opted for the middle row with four people hoping for fresh air for both of us and head room for me. I thought a nine hour ride would be excruciating particularly with back problems. But it was barely tolerable. And we kept moving fairly well in the hotter country near Conakry (it’s pleasant in the mountains were we were). After loading the roof including two chickens tied by their ankles, we took off 100m to get gas. The usual suicidal passing of other cars and taking advantage of momentum to go fast down the mountain (car accidents are probably the most dangerous thing for foreigners). We stopped for lunch, and when it was apparent we didn’t have a clue where to go, the driver took us to a restaurant and helped us order. The difficulty for us was that the restaurant is kind of hidden behind other street vendors and was a couple of doors down from where we had stopped. We haven’t gotten used to what street side restaurants look like in these “truck and taxi” stop towns. We saw three other Westerners while eating and they had a guide and an AirCon Land Rover. Lunch was rice with beef (like pot roast but better seasoning). Another stop for the driver to buy a large bag (gunny sack size) of something from a road side vendor in the country–maybe sweat potatoes that he will resell, a wild guess. Then a detour to take two guys back a few miles to the their destination, some kind of communication error. As we approached Conakry the driver made a short detour to perform some kind of errand. Then people started getting off as we approached town (this all within the last 5km or so, we’re in the “suburbs”), and as I mentioned earlier we got off early too, which saved us at least half and hour of travel and the dirt and noise (and minor concerns of stuff disappearing) of the large taxi stop. Loaded our bikes and went looking for a hotel. We had phoned the only small nice pension we had found in this area, but was booked. But there are several tourist hotels in this area (seems to be the only area with them except the nearby off-shore islands), and the second one we went to had a decent room. Clean, large, air-conditioning, hot water, shower, toilet, electricity in the evening, nice courtyard. Relatively expensive, $45 per night. This is compared to $12 for a room and two meals a day in Dalaba.

A side note. The driver and car we originally planned to ride with found us in the station, but we were busy loading and all and couldn’t find out what had happened.

We are getting comfortable here. We are getting used to things as they are. Such as recognizing restaurants and realizing that the people are not used to poor French speakers and don’t know how to simplify what they say for us. And we really liked being in the small town in the mountains, Dalaba. The weather and scenery were good, the town was quiet. Not much air pollution, because not a lot of traffic. And we were looking forward to exploring the country-people in the small villages and the scenery–mountains and waterfalls.

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