My ability to eat the food I am offered has gone down during my time here. Now, even when I am hungry, I am unable to stomach the starchy white rice or the sauces drowning in palm oil. The smells make my stomach twist. The family keeps encouraging me to eat the communal rice dish on which they all eagerly feast, and are perplexed that I never join in. I feel that I’m being rude in my refusal of the food, but even social graces can’t get me to eat. Read the rest of this entry
Just as we learn more about ourselves by visiting other cultures, so can we learn more about our own culture when seen through the eyes of others. For this, I have my partner to thank. For his family and friends here in Guinea, he is the paramount of wisdom of life in the US and there are a few stories I’ve listened to him share in my time here.
One that never fails to amaze is his story of one of the first times he shared a home with roommates. Sharing a home is certainly not strange to Guineans, nor is sharing resources. In this instance, my partner shared a home, kitchen, and specifically, refrigerator with others who were paying by the room. One day he ventured, hungry, out to the kitchen and found an orange in the fridge. He ate it gladly, and was later shocked when the owner of said orange confronted him when he went searching for his fruit and found it gone. My boyfriend will act out the confrontation with grand gestures, demonstrating how angry the man was to not have his orange. His listeners will invariably be amazed at somebody getting so angry over sharing such a small item of food – something so common it goes without saying it will be done here in Guinea. The story ends with my boyfriend cooking up delicious food and not sharing it with the stingy, salivating roommate. Read the rest of this entry
It’s hard not to get mad about bad medicine. On the one hand, I want to respect the culture I find myself in, and that includes respecting their beliefs about what makes us ill and what makes us better. On the other hand, medicine practiced poorly can have results that resonate far and wide.
The day started out early and joyful. Mafinle, pregnant when we arrived, has been growing by the day. She would regularly go to doctor’s appointments, free for pregnant women, and return with news of a healthy pregnancy. Yesterday, we awoke early to her leaving in a taxi for the hospital. Her husband and other family members followed, two by motorbike and one by taxi, then returned to gather blankets for the coming baby. The men sat waiting on the porch of the hospital, not being allowed to enter the room. “This is Africa,” they told me. The household was elated to receive news of birth of a baby girl just a few hours later. The girls started cheering and jumping up and down. The new baby was named Libby, for me.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading. With the African sun beating down, I don’t have much energy for a vigorous yoga practice, so I find a nice shady spot and if I’m lucky, one that comes with a breeze, and I’ll settle in with a book. I was gifted with many electronic versions of books ranging in subject from yoga to Reiki, fiction stories to historical non-fiction.
The fact that the books are electronic posed a bit of a challenge, given the constraint of electricity here. I’ve mentioned before that I’m lucky to be in a city that has electricity even for a small window most days. Out in the rural areas, electricity only comes from a generator, and those are few and far between. I’ve discovered, though, that the smartphone I have will hold electronic copies of books, and will also be recharged by my computer. Thus, I bounce back and forth between laptop and cell phone devouring book after book.
I’ve been reading a lot of Dickens, as well as more contemporary fiction and non-fiction set in the late eighteen hundreds and also encompassing the two world wars. I’m struck by the descriptions of the poor because they mimic what I’ve observed here in Africa.
Dickens describes a world of poverty coexisting next to a much smaller realm of wealth and privilege. He speaks of trash building up in the street and the smell of human waste running open in throughout London. While the human waste disposal here does not run in the streets, the trash is omnipresent. There is also a huge disparity of wealth, with a small sliver of the population living well above the poverty level that most Guineans occupy.
She walks here barefoot every day, sometimes wearing a little shift of a dress, and sometimes, inexplicably, wearing a knit sweater over it. Her name is Rama and she just watches. When I make eye contact, she’ll raise her eyebrows and give me a small smile. Her name reminds me of one of my favorite yoga mantras, so I’ll chant to her sometimes, “Sitta Ram, Sitta Ram, Sitta Ram Ram Ram.” She sings back, “Sitta Libby, Sitta Libby, Sitta Libby Libby Libby.”
The children here respond wonderfully to the language and movement classes I’ve begun. Read the rest of this entry
One of the things I’m asked for often as a foti is medicine. When somebody isn’t feeling well, they assume that I have the cure. I count myself blessed that I’m usually able to help.
The complaint I hear most often is pain in the belly. Sometimes, it’s exhibited as a small pain where the person has a more subdued energy than normal. Other times, the sufferer is lying down in too much pain to do much of anything else. When the case is the former, I mix up some white clay that was gifted to me by a girlfriend in California. One spoonful of clay mixed with water followed by two more cups of water, and my patient is usually feeling better right away. For more severe stomach pain, I mix up some water with a spoonful of activated charcoal, gifted to me by another friend in California. For extremely severe pain, I’ll follow up the natural medicine with a Reiki healing session. I’m lucky to have happy patients each time.
I’ve offered several Reiki sessions here in Guinea for a variety of reasons. Sometimes for stomach upset, others for fever, and other times for life issues compounded by energetic blocks in the chakras. Even though Africans here haven’t heard of chakras or Reiki before, they’ve been extremely receptive to the healing. I’ve received feedback that they’re able to feel the energetics of the treatment, have a sense of calm afterwards, and feel relief for the symptoms that led to me offering a treatment.
I’m lucky to have more than just natural medicines and Reiki in my toolkit. Read the rest of this entry
It’s only 10 am and the market is crowded. Vendors line the left and right in small wooden booths and converted shipping containers. In the center are an array of ladies with large bowls holding rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and an array of other vegetables while other vendors move throughout the market, one carrying brightly folded material on his head, another with a basket of fish in her hand. People press against each other to move through the mass. Voices rise as vendors shout their prices, a girl in a tatter of a dress stands quietly in her own small space waiting for her mother to finish a transaction.
A medicine man told my boyfriend that in order to ensure health, happiness, and abundance, he needed to buy a racer chicken and leave it at the house to be cared for.
I’ve experienced a different relationship with food since arriving in Guinea. I was blessed during my stay in the States to be extremely spoiled by good eating. In California, much of my time was spent with health-conscious friends who also possessed a talent for cooking the often garden-fresh meals I enjoyed. On the east coast, my family kept me well fed with home cooked favorites and restaurant meals.
Here in Guinea, the food is nourishing and freshly made, but I must confess that I don’t relish it. I eat to nourish only, rarely for the flavor or to enjoy my meal. This brings to mind a discussion we had towards the end of my yoga teacher training.
The teacher was leading the class in a study of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and she was speaking to us of the importance of withdrawing attachment from the material world in order to cultivate a stronger connection with the spiritual. Moksha, freedom from attachments, is the ultimate goal of practicing yoga. Patanjali suggests the complete severing of all attachments to achieve this goal. In creating this separation, Patanjali speaks of the importance of drawing away from the narrative of our lives, observing the passage of emotions without allowing ourselves to be caught up in the sticky details, and to stop identifying with the many masks we wear.
I found myself agreeing with all of these points and fully understanding the importance of making this separation between the atman, the eternal self within, and the ego. However, I recoiled from my teacher’s next point that we must also break attachments with the joys of life. She said that we should not fully immerse ourselves in the joy of music, dance, or relishing of good food. Read the rest of this entry
“Hoo-bey” – dust (Susu)
The Dust in Africa deserves its own religion. It billows when the wind blows and sticks like a second skin to children’s bare feet. It clings to chicken’s feathers, goat’s fur and lamb’s wool. When the sunlight slants in the window just right, you can see that the air is made up almost entirely of dust. Cars that aren’t washed daily are quickly reclaimed by it, laying thick as paint over tires, hood, and windows.
Soso – “sue sue”
I try to spend at least an hour and a half each day on language training. I’m focusing mostly on Soso, as I have more resources on my computer for that. My resources for French language learning are all internet based, and as I learned in my first week, the internet here is not usable for much beyond sending email, and even that takes a looooong time. Luckily, the French I learned prior to leaving the States has stuck, and the rest I can figure out with my background in Spanish, Latin, and English due to the root similarities of the languages.
So my sit-down and study time is devoted to Susu. My boyfriend, with his many languages on hand, is my preferred teacher, but it’s difficult to get him to sit down for ten minutes, let alone ninety. It’s been five years since he’s been in the country, and the home is a constant parade of long lost family and friends coming by to catch up. That means that he’s usually to be found in the midst of a crowd animatedly telling a story about life in the States or a recent adventure we’ve had here in Guinea.