July 11, 2008

First Impressions

Hello everybody!

So I made it to Guinea in one piece. We arrived in Conakry yesterday around 9:00am after about 20 hours of travel. Our journey from the states was long and very tiring. It began with a bus from Philly up to JFK, then a plane to Dakar, Senegal, and finally another plane from Dakar to Conakry.

Arriving in Conakry was quite an experience. Peace Corps met us at the luggage pick up and I'm sure we made quite a scene with everyone walking around introducing themselves. Meeting a lot of the staff who would be training us and helping us during service was really exciting. There's a group of volunteers who delayed returning to the states at the end of their service so they could welcome and help train us. All the volunteers I've met here have been really awesome and have immediately made us feel right at home. They've been an unbelievable resource for trying to figure out life here in Guinea. I feel like I could pepper them with questions for days and still not run out of things to ask. Fortunately they don't seem to mind.

I haven't had an opportunity to see much of Conakry yet since the only time I've been out of the Peace Corps compound has been on the ride from the airport and on two short trips to the closest market. The little I have seen though has been really eye opening. The poverty here is unbelievable. The streets are lined with little run down shacks and are covered in trash. And I literally mean covered, when I'm walking I have to make a conscious effort to avoid stepping in it.

Despite the poverty the Guineans I've met have seemed genuinely happy and most of them have been extremely friendly to me. When walking down the street many people will greet you and ask you how you are doing. White people are quite a novelty in Guinea and we get a lot of stares as well as people (mostly small children) shouting "Foté" at us (which is Susu for white person). The shouting isn't malicious though, it's almost a game that the kids here play, it's really more of a chant than a shout.

Even though the city is dirty I still really like it here. The climate is really beautiful (although stiflingly hot) and the trash, stares, and shouts lend the city flavor.

The Peace Corps compound itself is really nice. It's walled in and has guards posted 24/7 at the gates. There are two main building which consist of the volunteer house and the administrative building. The living quarters are really nice and another trainee was talking about how it's almost like we're on the set of "Real World Conakry". We even have AC, which is a luxury I won't have once we leave here on Monday for our training. So I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

I'll leave you guys with a picture I took from the compound roof to give you an idea of what it looks like here.

Btw here's my address for people who want to send me mail.

Jesse Reffsin
Corps De La Paix Americain
B.P. 1927
Conakry, Guinée (West Africa)

If anyone decides to send a package send it via the post office and not DHL. You have to pay to receive packages in Guinea and a package via post costs me about $1 to receive whereas a package via DHL can cost upwards of $100.

Ok well I have to go because I'm using one of the only computers here and I don't want to tie it up for too long. I'll probably be pretty cut off from the internet for a while but I'll try my best to keep the blog updated. Until then, au revoir.