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