An Wato Guinea, Det!

So we're doing it- heading back to Guinea. Stay tuned for details of our journey back to a place we love.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Monkeys, Snails, and Banana Trees

The following photos from Guinea are for all to enjoy but are especially for my former pre-school students. As many of you know, I taught pre-school during the 2006/2007 school year and somehow ended up with the most amazing group of 4 and 5 year olds. They kept me on my toes and left me with a ton of funny, crazy memories and stories. While I'm out of the pre-school teaching business, I will always consider them my students. It's almost impossible for me to imagine it, but, if my math is correct, they're all going to be first graders this year! I hope they haven't outgrown funny animal pictures.

But before posting the photos, here's a quick update: Matt and I are now back in Montana. This time in Helena. I arrived a few days ago and am still trying to find my bearings. I'm not yet sure how I feel about this town. It's odd to be in Montana and *not* be in Missoula. It's going to take some getting used to. I'm feeling very homesick right now, missing all of the family and friends in the various homes I've had this past year- Missoula, Guinea, and my family's home in California. Matt and I are working on the basics for the moment- finding a place to live, jobs, etc. I'll write a more complete update when we have some things figured out. I'll also let all the Missoula folks know when we'll be able to visit.

Okay, as promised here are some monkeys, snails and banana trees:

I'm scared of monkeys, but wanted to pose for this photo in order to share it with my students. Notice my shirt- this was a gift from the class and has all of their hand prints on it. The shirt has now been around the world- from Missoula to KanKan, Guinea, home of BooBoo the pet monkey. BooBoo is Amadou's family's pet monkey. He spends his days playing in the family's front yard area.

BooBoo climbing

BooBoo and a child from the neighborhood.

At night BooBoo sleeps here- in the family kitchen. For many families who live in this part of Guinea, their kitchen is either outside or in a hut like this one. They keep wood or charcoal in the hut to cook with. In this photo a pot of rice is cooking over the fire.

Most of the monkeys in Guinea aren't pets. They live in the wild. Matt and I saw a lot of monkeys when we were hiking. Here are a few photos of wild monkeys we saw on one hike.

We hiked to a spot with a view of a waterfall. We heard little screaming sounds from the top of the waterfall and when we looked closer we saw a whole bunch of monkeys in the trees. They were climbing in the trees and running across the top of the waterfall.

This monkey crossed the waterfall to get to this side of the trees. His family followed him soon after.

On a different hike Matt and I saw two giant snails!! I've never seen snails this big. A man from the village who knows a lot about the wildlife in this area told us that the snails were mating.

Here are some photos of banana trees. They're so huge that they provide shade on even the sunniest days. The leaves are between 5 to 6 feet tall. Notice how the bananas grow up-side-down.

The flower that hangs below each bunch of bananas is a beautiful, dark red color.

Here's Matt cutting some bananas from the tree. The bananas straight from the tree in Guinea are delicious- so sweet.

That's all for now. I've got more photos that might be of special interest to my former pre-schoolers. I'll try to post them in the next week or so.

Best of luck to the former Mariposa students as they begin first grade in a few weeks!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

News from Guinea

Last weekend I finally called Guinea. It seems silly now that I didn't call sooner. But since returning I've been worried that talking with Na and the kids would be too sad for me. I was dreading the possibility of the phone magnifying the distance between us. I was also scared about speaking Malinke on the phone. Would I even remember how to speak? How would I get out of a sticky language situation without relying on body language, context and smiles? And how would the fact that every minute is costing several dollars affect the whole experience? So I had been putting the phone call off since I returned home. Last weekend I visited Matt at his brother's place and Matt did what he often does- he brought me down to earth. He handed me the phone, told me he was going to the store and not to put the phone call off one minute longer. Translation: Ditch the fears and follow your heart. Connecting with people you love is worth all the baggage that sometimes accompanies it.

So I did it. And as it turns out, Malinke has not leaked out of my brain these past 7 weeks. And instead of feeling sad during and after the call, I felt better, joyous really.

It's hard to describe just what a miracle it is to dial a number, hear a ring tone and actually connect with someone in Guinea. Until this past weekend, establishing contact with Kerouane from abroad had been nearly impossible. In the five and a half year interval between our first and second trip to Guinea I simply couldn't contact the family. So I never imagined that someday I'd be calling the family. And that they would pick up. And that we'd talk.

Na was surprised and thrilled to hear from me. She and the kids were screaming and laughing on the other end of the phone. I could picture everything so clearly. It felt for a moment as if I were there. I can't tell you how how great it was to hear everyone's voices. I still smile just thinking about it. I spoke with Na for a few minutes and then talked with Max and Yai. Like my Malinke, Max's English was slower than a few months ago, but still there. Then Na and I spoke again for 10 min. or so. That's when she gave me some bad news. A day before my phone call her mother had died. Fanta, Na's mother (the woman who raised her, actually her step-mom) lived in KanKan with Amadou (Na's younger brother) and Amadou's two younger siblings. Matt and I spent a week staying with their family in late December. We visited them a few other times while we were in KanKan as well.

Fanta was always so hospitable and accommodating. Each time we arrived at her place she clapped and danced, truly happy to see us. No matter when we showed up she immediately sent her daughter out to buy us piles of oranges. By the time we were leaving Guinea she had traveled to another city to visit family. It's possible she went there because she was sick. While we weren't aware of anything serious, Matt recalls mention of an illness and cough that local medicine wouldn't cure.

Relations between Na and her family were strained. Like most family feuds, this one stretched back decades and decades. And while I have plenty of stories and information from different members of the family, I can't pretend to fully understand the dynamics of Na's relationships with her mom and siblings. I know only that the situation was, at times, tense and that it involved two of my favorite people in Guinea- Amadou and Na. This made getting together with both of them at the same time a bit tricky. In any case, it is clear to me that the passing of Na's mom is sad for the entire family and community. I get the sense that it has also inspired in Na some mixed feelings. When I spoke with her she was preparing to travel to the city where her mom died to offer condolences and participate in burial rituals. I asked if Amadou will remain in school in KanKan but she wasn't sure. I worry about Amadou and his younger sistesrs. They have lost their mother and their futures are now in limbo.

To honor Na’s mom, Fanta, I'm posting some photos we took with her in December. Keep in mind that photos are serious in Guinea, especially for the older generation. It took a long time to get Fanta to smile and laugh. Matt actually had to resort to making fake fart noises (which by the way, sound different than the fake fart noises kids (or, in this case, thirty-one year olds) make here). So, yes, in case you were wondering, potty humor is indeed bringing people together around the world.

Here's to Fanta- Allah la hinala (May she rest in peace).

Fanta with her son Amadou

Fanta and Amadou
Me and Fanta laughing

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Photos: Our Last Week in Guinea

I've been back from Guinea almost a month and I've just now looked at the photos I took from our last week there. It's difficult to look at them. They're recent enough that they actually invoke visceral memories. Something in my stomach is still there when I see these images- that sick butterfly feeling I had before leaving. It's a mixture of dread and disbelief and uncertainty-that pre-goodbye feeling you get when you're not sure when you'll see someone again and if it'll be the same when you do. For me, this feeling is magnified when it comes to saying goodbye to children. While a few years away from an adult friend or family member seems long (and it is!) reunions are usually more about catching up on details and life events as opposed to getting to know a new version of that person. But with kids it's different. Leaving a 6 year old and then finding them again at, say, age 12 is pretty dramatic. Suddenly this person you knew so well has been magically transformed by forces other than you. And it pushes questions of memory to the limit- do they remember me? From what perspective? A six year old's? A twelve year old's? And is memory even relevant after so many years?
I know from this time around, though, that memories are collective. Max knew me from photos and family stories even though he hadn't actually remembered me himself (I left Guinea in 2002 when he was only 5months old). And it reassures me to have experienced first hand the presence of a type of intangible essence of someone that never goes away. I couldn't have imagined the child that Max would become or the kid that Yai would grow up to be, and yet, upon seeing them again this time around it all made sense. "Of course that's Max!" I thought when I saw him in December. It couldn't have been anyone else. I had only known him for 5 months and yet, somehow, it was enough. And I still know him. And I still know Yai and Papice and Bijou. That won't go away. It doesn't make looking at these photos any easier, but it brings me some comfort.
These first few photos are from the day we said goodbye to Na and Max. The two of them accompanied us to KanKan and spent our last 5 days there with us at our house. We took these photos right before we all walked to the taxi park our last morning there, right before we sloshed through all the thick red mud and puddles, our baggage sliding off our heads and backs, right before we waited for hours at the taxi park and ate meat on a stick and steamed cassava and right before we got in the car to Conakry and said goodbye.

Max and me

Na, Matt and Max

Na and Max
A few photos of those last few days at our house:

Max taking a quick break between crazy kung-fu moves


Max and Matt doing kung-fu

Moussa (left) and Amadou the night before we left KanKan.

I'm including a few photos of Moussa for my friend and former site mate Josh who was the Peace Corps math teacher in Kerouane when I was there. Moussa was a kid back then and was Josh's student and friend. Josh would probably describe their relationship differently (more humbly) but it was obvious to me that Josh was Moussa's mentor and inspiration. Moussa is all grown up now and just finished his 2nd year at the University of KanKan where he is an economics major. Through our communication while I was back in Guinea Josh was able to give Moussa a scholarship for summer computer classes at the cyber cafe Matt and I frequented in KanKan. Matt and I did the same for Amadou. Most people don't have access to computers in Guinea so this was a huge deal. I know it will help them with future career opportunities and self-education but I'm just selfishly hoping they learn how to email soon.



Moussa and Amadou


A few photos from our last few days in Kerouane before traveling to KanKan:

Bijou and Yai. The three of us went on a nice walk on my last evening in Kerouane

The two game boards that Matt had made! Matt and Sekou Toure playing backgammon in the background and Papice and Jiba playing African Checkers in the foreground.

Matt and Max chill'en with their matching bandanas

More photos to come. And I really hope to be able to call the family in Keroune soon. I'll let you all know as soon as I do.
For now I'm in California with my mom. She's recovering quite well but still has a ways to go. I've decided to stay here most of the summer to help out. I'm taking two summer classes at the local Jr. College while I'm here. Matt was here last week and is with his brother right now. I'll go visit them next weekend.
The fires here are really bad. I'm going crazy cooped up in the house. It doesn't seem to be doing much good seeing as how the smoke has somehow made it into our house. I can't stop coughing. Reminds me of August in Missoula last year. Is the smoke following me or am I following the smoke? Stay tuned for smoke and fire photos from Lelouma, Guinea where, apparently, slash-and-burn never goes out of style.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two Worlds

I’ve been in California a little over a week now. At first being back was jarring. Now it’s a bit unbelievable. Was I ever in Guinea? Did that actually happen? It seems a different world, another lifetime. I’m scrolling through old posts on this blog in awe. There I am in a Guinean boubou. There’s Matt with the Kerouane kids. It's been documented. We were there. Our time there was life changing in so many ways and yet it’s hard to get my mind around the idea that that world exists at the same time as this one. I haven’t called the Kerouane family yet. Each time I get ready to it’s not the right time there. And I’ve been busy. Maybe those are just excuses. It’s hard to think of hearing their voices from so far away. I’m here now, not there. My leaving and the uncertainty of my return are bound to hang in the air during any conversation.

It’s been easy to avoid thinking about my friends and family in Guinea and what it means to be back because I haven’t had much time to think or do too much. I haven’t even completely unpacked yet. Two days after arriving in California my mom had knee-replacement surgery. Since then my brother, Matt, my brother’s girlfriend Julia and I have all been putting in a lot of time at the hospital and rehab center. This past week I’ve been there on average about 8 hours a day. My brother has been working a lot with her on physical therapy and I’ve been preparing meals for her and for all of us visitors (the food at the rehab place doesn’t smell too good). I get home late and am exhausted and so haven’t had time to even consider what the heck the next step for me is. The important thing right now is that the surgery went really well. For those of you familiar with my mom’s knee situation you know what a big deal this is that she finally took the plunge and decided to have this surgery. Our family couldn’t be happier. She’s been working really hard and can now move her knee/leg much better than before the surgery. She’s walking with a walker and is able to do most things on her own. She’ll be coming home on Sat and will continue formal and informal physical therapy here. (And by the way, I had never seen physical therapists in action before. They are amazing! I now have an enormous amount of respect for the work they do!). She’s still got a long way to go for a full recovery but we’re all very proud of her motivation and the progress she’s made.

In terms of readjusting to being back, all this time in a hospital setting has been quite interesting. It’s one thing to experience the abrupt change of airport environments (from the parking lot full of students looking for light and the swarming mosquitos in Conakry, to the food courts and perfume shops of JFK in New York), but quite another to go from a village hospital to a brand new Kaiser Permanente hospital in California. I still feel dizzy thinking of the contrast. I visited the hospitals in Kerouane and Lelouma several times. While in Guinea the first time around I was actually sick enough to go to the hospital in Kerouane as a patient. I wouldn’t recommend it. Some people in Kerouane have told me they prefer *not* going to the hospital when ill because of the lack of cleanliness, beds, medicine, etc. When I left Kerouane a few weeks ago the director of the hospital asked if I could somehow get them some microscopes and blood pressure cuffs (along with any other available supplies and resources). As you can all imagine the new Kaiser hospital here has got all kinds of machines and contraptions and staff, and yes, microscopes and blood pressure cuffs. Matt pointed out the spotlessly waxed staircase banister. My favorite detail, though, is the fact that each hospital room has a little anti-bacterial dispenser right inside the door. Everyone entering or exiting the room need only touch the little dispenser button and a dollop of goop that kills bad things skirts out and makes everything good (or at least sterile). Surely you get my drift. It seems mind-boggling that this reality exists. How can standards of care here and in Kerouane exist in the same world?
Now, to be fair, not everyone here "gets" to go to Kaiser (thank you to my aunt for reminding me of this detail as I raved about that little soap thing-ie). As someone walking around this often dangerous world with no health insurance I understand this all too well. I would be turned away from Kaiser if I tried to receive care there. Issues of access are important, life or death even, but my initial awe and confusion with the difference between hospitals is more basic. It’s as simple as this: This state-of-the-art hospital exists here. It was planned and built and paid for somehow. There is nothing comparable in Guinea (and yes, I have been to hospitals in the capital). So that’s a tiny window into my confused mind struggling to come to terms with the distance between two worlds that are, remarkably, only 14 airplane hours apart. Maybe once I can wrap my mind around all this I’ll find the time and energy to unpack. Maybe.

On the sleep front things are looking good. I can now say that I have finally found *the* perfect sleep conditions. My mom’s house is quite and at night, dark.. Her guest bed is literally all feathers- feather mattress pad, feather comforter, feather pillows (4 to be exact). I crawl into feather bliss and I’m lost. I don’t think an intruder would even be able to find me. The first night here I slept over 12 hours.
It’s great to be back.
Still no plans yet. For the moment I'm here helping my mom with her recovery and Matt is now a few hours away with Charlie. Stay tuned. I hope to post Guinea photos soon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

We're Back

The good news is that we're back. The bad news is that we haven't slept. There was, of course, that hour of fitful sleep I had on the airport floor in NYC (why florescent lights?!! Why seats with arm rests that don't lift?! Please, let me design an airport based on sleep deprivation!). Then there was the 7 hours of shifting uncomfortably in the plane next to the traveler who fell asleep with his overhead reading light on. Oh, how I struggled with the moral dilemma- Is it wrong to turn it off for him? Should I respect his right to have it on even though he's not using it? Such are the thoughts of someone desperate for the perfect sleep conditions. Around hour three of the flight I turned it off. Big shock, it didn't help. That, of course, sparked the next moral crisis. Do I take my seat belt off even though the seatbelt light is on? Maybe you're getting the idea. I was and am a mess. It has been over 36 hours and I haven't really slept. We flew out of Portugal yesterday (at least I think it was yesterday...June 8th, whenever that was). We got to New Jersey and then went to NYC where flights were delayed because of bad weather. We hit the middle of the night in the time zone we had just left and thought, okay, this is uncomfortable but perhaps useful in terms of adjusting to our new timezone. Surely, we'll be tucked in nice and tight for bedtime in the Pacific time zone. Not so. In an odd flashback to flight 720 out of Dakar to Conakry back in November, our plane arrived several hours late. We arrived in San Francisco at 3:00 am. Charlie, who deserves an award for putting up with us, picked us up around 3:30. We got back to his place around 5:00am. Just in time to start a brand new day.

I'm sorry for leaving everyone hanging with that last post. Thank you so much for all of your well wishes and worries. We left Conakry with no problems. A new strike was/is scheduled for the 11th I think. I don't have any updates on that front as of yet. In any case, we felt fortunate to get out of the airport when we did without any hassles. It was a stressful few days leading up to our flight but thankfully, the flight itself was uneventful.

One side note on the airport: When you enter the airport parking lot in Conakry, you often see a ton of people sitting or lying on the pavement and curbs, notebooks in hand. These are students. University students. They're there studying because there is always electricity at the airport, and large streetlamps lighting the parking lot. There has to be or else international commericial carriers probably wouldn't be so keen on flying in. The electicity in the rest of the city is at best, shoddy. This creates problems for motiviated students hoping to study for exams. The fact that these young people have come up with this solution is both inspiring and sad. Here are people taking control of a detail that is part of a larger situation that the government is neglecting. So what does this say about the state of Guinea? It's future? Are unlikely safety nets like the airport street lamps allowing the government to cruise a bit longer? Or is the students' initiative opening up a space for creative solutions and long-term change? A lot to think about.

In any case, we left Guinea and its students and airport and impending strike. We also left Max and his family and friends and characters who we laughed with and shared days and rice and dreams and games with for the past 7 months. Airplanes make travel easier (though not easy) but they also makes for fast and superficial transitions. A week or so ago we were in Kerouane and now we're in an apartment in the Silicon valley trying to figure out what the heck we're going to do. This is jarring to say the least. We spent three days in Lisbon, Portugal before starting that last long leg of our long, sleepless journey yesterday. Our time there, while a bizarre change of scenery, was also a breath of fresh air. We walked through those long twisty streets and alleyways and talked and talked, doing our best to figure out what our time in Guinea meant and means and how to best transition back. We happened upon a group of Guinean men on a street near our hotel. Matt heard them speaking Pular and stopped to ask where they had come from. Labe. They showed us a Guinean restaurant up a steep and windy alleyway. Our last meal in Portugal was a Guinean one. Rice and soup sauce and meat eaten with forks and knives and napkins on our laps. Guinea out of Guinea. If that's not the beginning of a transition back home I don't know what is.

So now it's time to figure out our lives. We've got a lot to think about and decide. We intentionally left so much behind when we set out for Guinea. Now it's time to think seriously about what we want as we start over. For the moment we're headed to my family's home north of here. My mom will be having surgery soon and we want to be there for it. We'd like to go back to Montana but we don't yet have details.

I hope you'll keep reading this blog for a bit longer. There are still a ton of photos and stories I'd like to share. Now that I'll have better, more consistent access to the internet I'll be able to post a lot of the stuff I've been wanting to post for a long time. I've been so focused on practical updates that a lot of my favorite stories about people have gotten lost in the shuffle. I also plan to keep you all updated about our plans.

I can't wait to be in better contact with you and to see a lot of you soon. Thanks for all of your support over these past 7 months. You could have called us crazy but you didn't. Instead you followed along as we stumbled through this experience. You have sent your well-wishes and have shared in the ups and downs of our time in Guinea. You have asked about our friends and families in Guinea with such concern and respect that it's clear you've become a part of this whole extended family. And you have never doubted that we'd come back home. Thank you.

For now, sleep.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Longest Day

It started with mud and goodbyes and ended with getting robbed at 4:00am at a police\military checkpoint. All the parts in the middle were spent in a bushtaxi. That was yesterday. Or today. Actually both. We haven't slept in over 24 hours so everything is sort of blending (that's my disclaimer).
We woke up to a wonderfully cool post-rain KanKan full of mud. We sloshed through it slowly, with huge sacks on our backs, holding Max's hand to keep him from slipping. Walking to the taxi park in deep, fresh mud with 20 to 30 pound backpacks on, and a child to look after is tricky. It takes time. Bottom line: we missed the first taxi to Conakry and had to wait until noon for the next car. For people who've traveled in Guinea you know exactly what this means: a painfully late (or, in this case, early morning) arrival in Conakry. This is bad. No one wants to spend the night zooming through the countryside in a bush taxi instead of sleeping. But it's not just that. No one wants to show up in Conakry (or any big city) when it's dark out. Especially if the security situation is shaky. So you can see how one thing led to another, the mud, the missed car, the late/early morning arrival, the eventual theft....
But let me back up. We decided to take a chance on Conakry. Our flight is scheduled to leave in a few hours. We've confirmed its departure and our seats and so, while I can't be competely sure, it seems our gamble might just pay off. The word around KanKan throughout the weekend was that the situation in Conakry was cooling down. In fact, the conspiracy theory circulating around town is that the unrest was actually staged by the dictator and his military "government." The theory is that after he sacked another minister the trade unions and general population started discussing dates for a national strike. They settled upon May 31st. The military uprising in the camp near the airport in Conakry sort of trumped the whole plan. A classic distraction strategy according to the conspiracy theorists. So now that things have calmed down, a new strike has been called for June 6th. If all goes well, we'll be following the news from Portugal and the states. In the meantime everyone is talking. We spent 14 hours in a bush taxi yesterday listening to the passengers' heated discussion about the state of the government. We heard the words "rogue state", "revolution," and "suffering" over and over again. It feels like this whole nation is really on the cusp of something. It has been facinating to be here inside of it for a bit but nerve-racking as well. I'm relieved that the airport is open again, that we didn't opt for the 3 day drive to Senegal and that tonight we can start our journey home.
But it's not that easy. Saying goodbye to Max and Na yesterday (or rather a few zillion hours ago it seems) was heart-breaking. Max tried so hard to hold it together but as we got in the front seat of the car he just stood there and finally lost it. He was sobbing and there was nothing we could really say other than that we love him and will come back to see him. Another passenger in the car was so sad for this kid she didn't even know that she opened up her pocketbook and gave him 5,oooGuinea Francs. This is about $1 but here it is actually quite a bit of money. I've never seen a kid Max's age with that much money. The last image I have of Max is of him sobbing, holding out this blue Guinean Franc bill as if it were a piece of garbage he weren't sure what to do with. I don't know if there's much worse than leaving a kid you love behind. And there's the guilt of it all as well. Who would want to cause a kid such sadness? On top of that, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm worried about Max's well-being. I can't possibly go into it now (I've got a plane to catch!) but I feel like the environment in which he is living isn't healthy. This isn't about financial resorces or lack of toys or any such nonsense. It's about how he's being treated. Of course, culture and money and place and time, and everything else go into what ends up being a kid's home life. It's a lot for me to process and navigate (culturally and ethically) but for the moment, I'll say what I feel in my heart: I feel uncomfortable leaving Max in the situation he's in. If all goes well, he and his sister will move to KanKan in September to start private school. I have a lot of hope that this move will make a difference, though we can't be positive it will happen.
So the goodbye was hard on all of us. And then 14 or so hours later we arrived in the outskirts of Conakry in the largest, most infamous military/police checkpoint. Long story short A guy reached into the car window, grabbed my shoulder and took my cell phone and then ran. Matt jumped out of the window but the passengers told him it was dangerous to go after the group of three guys who were running. Meanwhile I was screaming and screaming. I just didn't see it coming...not at all. I'm still a bit frazzled by the whole thing.
But the day didn't end there. It's stilll going actually. We have to be at the airport at midnight tonight for our 3:00am flight tomorrow. We're packed and ready but still in the daze of post-goodbyes and lack of sleep. Tomorrow at 11:30pm if all goes well, inshallahaw, we'll be in Portugal.
It's an odd thing to leave Guinea like this, at night, at what could be the beginning a new chapter for the entire nation. But it's time for us too. And with that last image of Max in my mind, I'm as sure as I can be that we'll be back.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


We had planned to leave KanKan today in order to get to wherever it is we're going before a strike cuts off our transportation options. The problem is that we don't know where we're going. Here we are with plane tickets out of here and no place to go.

Yesterday was a rollercoaster. I'm just now calmed down enough to write about it. The embassy told us not to go to Conakry. The airport was shut down and flights were cancelled. A millitary barricade was set up right outside the airport. The man at the embassy told us to look into flying out of another airport. Royal Air Maroc, however, was not very helpful on this front. The woman at the international call center said she was "100% sure" that by June 4th (the date of our departure) all the problems in Conakry would be solved. Hmmm....Meanwhile we learned that trying to fly out of Mali (our closest option- a 24 hour bush taxi ride) would require a visa and one can only get a Malian visa from Conakry. Great. Other major airports are in Senegal and Ivory Coast. Both are several day car rides away and Air Maroc cannot guarentee that we'd be able to fly out from there. The man at the Malian visa didn't understand our situation and said to just "get a visa." The embassy in Conakry understood our situation but didn't know what to do about it. We're still waiting for the head of the consular section to call us with some sort of magic solution. People around town were talking about an impending strike. Stories coming out of the big market here were that merchants were locking up their shops, trying to secure their merchandise, etc. We learned that a Peace Corps volunteer in our neighborhood was evacuated from her home because it's near a military camp. This seems excessive as KanKan is calm and quiet at the moment. It was disturbing none-the-less.

So yesterday we were running all over town burning through cell phone calling cards to get information and advice and trying to visit our friends here to say goodbye. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Meanwhile we're hosting Na and Max. As is customary we're expected to greet Na's family and friends here. So we were out with her past dark, flashlights in hand meeting her family, cheerfully explaining that we weren't sure when or how we were leaving. I'm not sure I've ever been this stressed. And I'm prone to stress as many of you know. Around 6 pm. we gave up the good fight and decided to do as the wise, politically savvy folks at Air Maroc had said- "Wait it out." So we're here. We had already packed so today I had to dig through the entire backpack just to find a clean pair of underwear. Things were so hectic yesterday that really important things like old journals were on top and underwear was on bottom. On Monday I'll pack again.

The good news is that today we've heard that negotiations have started and the conflict *might* be coming to an end. Still no word on the status of flights today.

The last time we left West Africa was in 2002. We were scheduled to leave out of the Ivory Coast but there was a coup. The whole thing was a mess and involved a ton of fancy footwork- travel to Ghana, a flight out of Togo and someone finding our passports in a trunk in the Ivory Coast in time for our flight. A nightmare really. But I've remembered the whole thing as a crazy adventure. Maybe my memory is off. Maybe I've romanticized the whole thing (Bosnian gunfire style). All I know is that I'm not enjoying this latest installment of "adventure." Not one bit. Yesterday I felt sick. I can't imagine ever storing this in my memory as a crazy, fun adventure.

We're here at the cybercafe with Max and he's hungry and bored. Time for rice. I'm feeling much better today. It's a relief to not have to take action until Monday.

I'll keep you updated.