Friday, January 17, 2014

Seven goose, that’s geese – see you soon!

Starting January 22 I will no longer be an active Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and will officially be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV)!!

What can I say.  These have been simultaneously the quickest and longest two years of my life.  It feels like just yesterday I was silently staring out the bus window into the capital’s darkness as we were shuttled from the Conakry airport to the Peace Corps compound.  On the other hand I’ve had so many life-altering experiences that it feels like I’ve grown more these past two years than the 23 before coming to Guinea.

In my life I never thought I would end up working in Africa, let alone a country I had to Google in order to identify its place on a map.  I never thought I’d learn French, let alone lead professional trainings to youth leaders and professors in it.  I never thought I’d work with such talented and strong spirited colleagues, let alone consider them a second family, legitimately a home away from home.

This crazy adventure has been almost overwhelming to think about.  How do you reflect and dissect something like this?  Such a twisted knot of experiences - tying and overturning my ideologies, beliefs and life-goals.  But although I may not understand the meaning of all of this right now, I do know that I would never give any of this up.

To those who are interested in joining PC, all I have to say is that it is not for everyone.  It’s a trying journey that gets harder before it gets better.  But if you are realistic about what you will accomplish and flexible enough to just go with it for a little while, you’ll last long enough into your service to realize how this is a once in a lifetime experience.

Before coming home though, I’ll be going on a crazy-awesome road trip!  We’ve just purchased a gray ’98 Peuteot 806 mini-van (as well as insurance, license, plates, registration, lassez-passer), the Grey Goose, and we will be driving it across West Africa (see below) for the next 6 weeks.



The seven of us are excited to have this opportunity and travel through these six countries.  We’re sure it’s going to be another trip to remember.  You can keep tabs on our adventure at greygoosegaggle.blogspot.com.  Wish us luck and I’ll see you guys soon!



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Random Photos

Just a random assortment of photos I've been meaning to put up.  Enjoy!

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1.  For some reason everyone thinks chameleons are extremely poisonous and aggressive and will kill you.  Everyone gasped as I crouched down to take the photo (there was a crowd of people who had put a good 10 feet between it and them - someone even had a giant stick).

2-3.  While I didn't take too many photos from our National Youth Leadership Conference (NYLC), I was able to capture some moments from our hands on activities.  This group was in the middle of doing some domestic visits with families who lived next to the training center.  Coming off the heals of the national bed net distribution campaign, we had participants survey the neighborhood on how informed they were on malaria prevention and helping them hang mosquito nets if they weren't already hung.

4.  Public Health volunteer Megan Townsend leads a training on using theater as a way to engage and educate the target population.  

5.  This boy was spending his afternoon riding the perimeter of the local soccer field.  If you think this bike is too big for him, I should say that bikes can sometimes be twice the size of the kid riding it.  It's actually pretty impressive they can ride them at all.

6-8.  My youth group organized a soccer match against another organization in Pita.  Although rainy season may be dwindling down to a trickle (finally) it hasn't left for good.  Players continued through the mid-game downpour while the spectators tried to stay dry under the adjacent overhang.



Sunday, September 29, 2013

Social Entrepreneurship

I wrote this post a while ago and wanted to add a quick political update.  After being postponed nearly three years Guinea finally held its legislative elections, ending the transitional period and bringing the country into the nascence of true democracy.  Despite rising ethnic and political tensions the elections peacefully took place across the country.  I can’t begin to describe how proud I am to be a volunteer in Guinea.  

 The other week concluded the Dare to Innovate Business Plan Competition.  Instead of presenting the traditional first, second and third prize we decided to award the seed-money based on the quality of the business plans.  The judges decided which ideas were the most feasible, innovative and impactful.  All seven projects selected received prize money, with higher quality plans receiving a higher percentage of their start-up costs. We couldn’t be happier with the results.  I felt it would be more powerful to use photography to reveal the winning ideas as opposed to writing to you about them (see below).  So instead I want to explain why I am so elated this conference actually happened.  Why any of this matters.  Why I believe in social entrepreneurship – and why you should too.

Before I start though I need to preface with a brief explanation of aid in Guinea.  I know I’ve already touched on international aid, so hang with me for a sec.  This is a tricky subject and even just saying “aid” can be misleading.  Aid can be distributed by and to governments, non-profits, private institutions and individuals.  It trickles down in the form of cash, but also capacity development and materials.  So to preface, just as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m not an academic expert in this area.  I’m just going to talk about what I’ve personally seen as a PCV.

In Guinea, a donor or larger international organization who holds the money or technical capacity will work through NGOs to carry out their own projects or choose to fund projects already planned by the NGOs (while the former happens it is usually the latter).  The idea is hatched, an NGO is selected and a short-term contract is signed.  Money, materials and/or knowledge are channeled from the macro to the micro level and ends with community agents who affect change on the ground.  These agents are the ones who speak the language and know their community best.  They may or may not get paid for their work and if they do it will only be when the contract is still in effect.  At the end of the day resources are efficiently allocated to meaningful projects and local agents are trained up as leaders in their community. 

But consider the effectiveness of the system if these NGOs lack the functionality to successfully implement these projects.  An employee for USAID Guinea recently told us that there are around 8,000 NGOs registered in Guinea.  Eight-thousand.  That’s about 1 for every 12 square miles of Guinean territory.  If NGO presence was a parent’s love, this would be that uncomfortably awkward, I-really-hope-someone-I-know-doesn’t-see-this point of public embarrassment, right?  On the one hand, this demonstration of affection is coming from the best of intentions so who are we to squirm our way out or tell them otherwise?  But on the other… just don’t do that.  At the end of the day, no matter what NGO activity has done in the past, their overabundance makes it difficult for future investors to discern those who are reliable and those who bleed resources and efficiency. 

The truth is that some good hearted people who do truly meaningful work take advantage of the putatively abundant resources big NGOs have at their disposal.  Individuals with the best of intentions rationalizing a way to make ends meet by leveraging what they perceive as a moral gray area.  This could be consciously overestimating 200 liters of gasoline for the year when 150 would suffice.  Or maybe an employee personally rents out the speakers given to the organization when they’re not in use.  To be very clear, I don’t condone these kinds of actions, but can I see the reasoning behind them and surely you can too.  In theory, it’s “sampling” one or two stuffed olives at the grocery store or taking a couple gulps before you finally top off and pay for that fountain drink.  Something that is seen as a negligible loss for them and a meaningful gain for you.  Unfortunately the stakes are higher in Guinea than at the olive bar and while beneficial for that individual in the short run, it can cause leagues of long term complications for the organization and soften the efficacy of the system itself.

But more than corruption there is an unyielding expectation on external funding here.  A mentality that is as prevalent as it is subversive.  This is a fatalistic mind-set that creates a wealth of inefficiencies for the donors, the organizations and the beneficiaries and has been my greatest adversary as a PCV.  There’s an old Fulani saying that goes: Mô lôtanima bahogon ko ya lôtou rèdoudoun.  Translation:  When someone washes your back you have to wash your stomach.  The general interpretation is that you’re free to receive help from others, but you have to do everything you can do too.  Sadly I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen refuse to “wash their stomach” without first having someone else “wash their back.”  It seems to already be predetermined that no work can be done without important partnerships with important donors.  Ideally workers would be shrewdly seeking help while making a sedulous, personal effort at the same time.  That there would be lots of washing going on here and every Guinean would be clean from front to back and head to toe.  I can assure you that this is far from the case.

Social entrepreneurship offers a viable alternative.  A social business is a for profit enterprise whose product or service combats a social issue.  It both creates sustainable change and a sustainable source of income for the entrepreneur.  A long-run win, win.  So why hasn't it caught on sooner?  I suppose on paper a good idea can sometimes seem counterintuitive.  Why would you charge someone to help them when you could help them for free?

Ok.  We’re all grown-ups here.  Is thinking of yourself and making money the meaning of life? No.  But is it important?  Unless you’re Siddhartha or bizarro-John Galt then the correct answer is of course, yes.  I’m not expecting everyone here to be die-hard laissez-faire capitalists (I’m sure not) but I hope that everyone can see the importance in making a profit on your own, even if that profit is earned while helping others.  Entrepreneurs who run successful social businesses are able to sustainably provide for themselves and provide for their community.   There is no need to surreptitiously skim money from the top because they should already be working within a profitable business model.

Moreover, through the current NGO-centric aid model, even the most pro-active Guinean must wait to have their project identified, vetted and finally chosen by a donor before moving forward – thus propagating this notion that international donors are the gatekeepers to taking action.  Social entrepreneurs, however, can act now.  Even when it comes to money, the most glaring barrier in both cases, with a strong business plan any entrepreneur can leverage their local micro-finance institution instead of waiting for a big donor to choose their association or to fund their idea.  This singular quality has the power to lift the fatalistic miasma that has cast itself over Guinea for so long.  To create change from the ground up and why I believe social entrepreneurship is preferable in the long-run. 

Before I end I want to mention that I recognize this is certainly a more “high-risk, high-reward” scenario for the individual.  Obviously if the business fails, the entrepreneur loses.  Big time.  But it doesn’t always have to be a guessing game – especially here in Guinea where product diversification is so weak.  There is ample room for strong, innovative business solutions.  It may be riskier than being handed money from afar, but the reward is worth it. 

While I think that social entrepreneurship has an important role to play in Guinea’s future I don’t mean to say that it is the only path to take.  Social entrepreneurship should be working side by side with the current model.  A model that despite its faults still does a lot of good here.  I guess I’m advocating for a sort of mixed-economy approach to community development, calling on both the external public and internal private sectors to create lasting change.  

However Guinea and the international community decide to approach aid, the Dare to Innovate team is excited to train up this new generation of social entrepreneurs.  To help them identify social problems they are passionate about and to mitigate their personal risk.  Pushing these role models to create a new Guinea that is conscientious, innovative and most importantly - squeaky clean.

Wontanara,
Chris 


The winners of the Dare to Innovate Business Plan Competition:














Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thank You!!!

I apologize for not putting something up sooner and unfortunately I don't think that I'll be able to put up a proper post until late September, but for the moment I just want to thank everyone who donated to our Dare to Innovate Conference for Social Entrepreneurship again.  Across 6 jam-packed days 21 eager and motivated participants uncovered their innovative side, learned a more sustainable approach to community development and mastered the hard business skills to ensure the success of their social enterprise.  It was a huge success and we are all excited to see some high quality business presentations in September.  Right now we have participants planning on creating new sanitary public restrooms (not available here at the moment), a youth fitness/ education center and a mobile veterinary clinic, to name a few.  

Unfortunately due to two overlapping conferences (Dare to Innovate and the National Youth Leadership Conference) I don't foresee me having very much free time to elaborate on the conference, but I promise that it is coming!  Also, my camera shutter decided to check out and take some vacation (only to start working once I got back home to Pita...) which means that I took no photos at the conference...  Luckily, everyone else brought cameras and captured some amazing moments.  I'm currently consolidating and editing them now and I'll throw them up here when I'm done so you can all see!

Thanks for being so patient with my lack of posts and once again, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for helping make Osez Innover (Dare to Innovate) a rousing success!

Chris

Monday, June 10, 2013

CBO Revitalization

I was asked to write an article for our PCV newsletter here, Torch, and wanted to share it with you.  Keep in mind that this is geared towards other PCVs, but it gives a strong apercu to what I've been doing in my own community this past year as well as the difficulties we face as PCVs.  To preface, although both are pretty self-explanitory, "revitalization" has become Peace Corps argot for kick-starting an organization that has been previously inactive and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are what we call the organizations and associations in our communities.


Revitalization of CBOs
Breathing life back into your friendly, neighborhood organization

Revitalization.  We see an association teeming with potential and we naturally want to give it a paternal push in the right direction.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.  I’ve had some success in this area and have been asked to write about my work thus far.  Obviously each organization is unique, but after reading about my own experiences I hope that you might be able to glean some useful tips to implement in your own community.
To start, I’ll talk about my partner organization. CECOJE, Centre d’écoute, de conseille, et d’orientation pour jeune, is tucked away behind our aging Maison de jeune in the middle of Pita.  On paper, we should have 15 to 20 Peer-Educators who sensitize the community on the usual suspects of Guinean public health topics: HIV/AIDS prevention, family planning, contraceptive usage, etc…  On paper, we meet twice a week and plan our schedule every quarter.  On paper, we have, well, paper – and other training materials.  Like many Community Based Organizations (CBOs) there can be a discrepancy between what we should have and what we actually have to work with.  In my case I slowly but surely learned that this organization was highly dysfunctional and in desperate need of some TLC.
I should stress the fact that the CECOJE is entirely composed of volunteers – from the members to the staff.  Unfortunately, this has left the CECOJE bereft of a strong central leadership role.  My counterpart, a petite man with a stern disposition and who is blessedly devoid of that voice in the back of our head that tells us to postpone doing stuff until tomorrow, is the chef of our local branch.  But more than that, he is the head of another association, an entrepreneur and father of two.  As a PCV I’m able to allocate all of my time and energy towards the CECOJE.  This is a luxury my counterpart does not have.  He helped when he could, but in the end it was easier to plan around his absence than count on his attendance.
Consistent membership was another hurdle.  As many of you know, working with a CBO can be difficult.  Mostly it felt as if I was dealing with an organization with multiple faces.  Some days amiable, others cantankerous and sometimes just left in the middle of an apathetic abyss.  Awesome.  When talking about the state of affairs in Pita I would refer to the CECOJE as a whole, a single unit.  Maybe this was the wrong approach.  The volunteers were just that – volunteers.  They showed up when they wanted to and bowed out when they couldn’t give the time of day.  As a result of this merry-go-round participation our membership composition and organizational structure were amorphous at best.  This organization really did have multiple faces and if I wanted to make any significant change I had to start treating it as such.
In the end I took a two step approach.  The first was deciding whether or not I needed to find new volunteers to work with.  This was a decision I was struggling with for some time.  On the one hand I understood that the Peer-Educators (mostly high school students) had other responsibilities to attend to.  In all honesty I was impressed they even opted to spend what little free time they had volunteering – a pious and philanthropic gesture that I admit I did not do as a 17-year-old.  The other hand carried the heavy reality of the situation.  The simple fact that we could not amass everyone at the same place at the same time meant a critical failure of the organization’s vitals. No efficient way of ascertaining everyone’s opinion, no means of effective decision-making and no structured planning process.  I had been working with the CECOJE for a while now and although I hated to admit it, I think it had flat-lined long before my arrival.
I ended up deciding to suck it up and find new Peer-Educators to work with.  As amicably as possible I explained to the fair-weather volunteers that the door would always be open to them, but in the meanwhile I was going to recruit new members.  Fortunately, the lax institutional structure of the CECOJE afforded me this option.  I eventually found a handful of engaged, available youth who were more than happy to work with the CECOJE and finally we were almost ready to get to work.
My other task was addressing the lack of leadership.  For the sake of sustainability, I approached this problem with caution.  My biggest fear was that the organization would latch on and become dependant on my presence.  Instead, I sought out others who had the IQ and EQ to lead a fresh batch of energetic high-school volunteers, allowing me to play a more supporting role from the sidelines.  I ended up working with a graduated university student, a diplomé sans emploi who I knew the Peer-Educators respected and who was eager to gain professional work experience.  Once again taking advantage of the relaxed organizational structure we created a new cabinet position and voila, the new “adjunct-chef” became the proverbial shoulder I knew the Peer-Educators could lean on.
These two approaches seemed to do the trick.  With a reliable group of volunteers and a strong figurehead to guide them we were finally able to pick ourselves up off the ground.  Again, every organization is unique and revitalization can come in all shapes and sizes.  It’s very possible you came into a higher functioning CBO than I did.  I just happened to come into an association that was at the organizational development equivalent of Maslow’s first rung.  We couldn’t approach problem solving or creativity until we were able to breath, sleep and eat.  Although this story is far from over I can tell you that as of now we are 15 strong and poised to carry out sensitizations across town, without my direct supervision.  If we had flat-lined before our ECG would now be starting to reveal some peaks and valleys and I’m going to count that as a serious win.
I hope this didn’t give the impression that I knew what to do at every turn.  It was a lot of trial and error – and change certainly didn’t happen overnight.  I arrived at site on Tuesday February 7, 2012.  We didn’t start having regular meetings with consistent participation until Saturday December 8, 2012.  More than once it became alluring to just wash my hands of the CECOJE and start fresh with another project.  I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am that I didn’t.  For anyone hoping to revitalize a CBO I just wanted to let you know it’s possible – and although it may take a little while, or 305 days in my case, it could quite possibly become one of the most rewarding experiences of your service.
Chris
P.S.  Thank you so much to those who donated to our Dare to Innovate Conference for Social Entrepreneurship!  We're all done and it's all thanks to you!  Seriously.  Can't wait for this to get started.  Again, you can check out the conference at osezinnover.com.

Photos
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1-2.  "Le Vieux" is my neighbor - and litterally translated his nickname is "Old Man."  It's not uncommon here for kids to be given the nickname of their elders, and this little guy happened to get a bit of a misnomer.
3-4.  Full-on rainy season is June through October and my neighbors have been prepping their garden for the past week.  This particular morning they were planting onion.
5-11.  So I really don't have too much experience with Agro-Forestery type work here in Guinea, but I was invited to plan potatos with a group I'm working with here and didn't want to pass up the opportunity to finally get my hands dirty.  We'll be harvesting the potatos as an Income Generating Activity to help fund the groups objects: to improve the quality of the neighborhood they live in.

Friday, March 15, 2013

AllVol and International Aid


After 2 back-to-back 15 hour taxi rides, 14 Guinean PCVs arrived at the Peace Corps Senegal training facility in Thiess - 2 hours East of Dakar - to present at the All-Volunteer Conference - as well as participate in WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament) for a highly anticipated work-cation. The AllVol conference acts as a technical exchange forum, with volunteers presenting projects they’ve been working on in the field to promote a cross pollination of ideas across sectors and West African Peace Corps countries.  The committee I lead presented on the Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program we’ve been spearheading here in Guinea and was very well received.  It was also great getting to know other PCVs from across West Africa, as well as learn how a PC post with nearly 300 volunteers operates (we just broke 100 PCVs a few months ago).

Guinea had shaped my entire universe of West Africa since my arrival.  Up to a couple months ago, I had never visited another West African country, and thus had no other reference point to life at the 11th parallel.  I just assumed that most West African countries were just as worse off as Guinea.  This was a pretty rude awakening.  It was hard to reconcile the drastic differences in development between these two contiguous countries.  I think that says a lot about international development, as well as each country’s political and economic history.  Guinea rushed towards independence in 1958, France’s only African colony which opted for immediate independence rather than continued association, and effectively settled for dictatorship under Ahmed Sékou Touré and again under Lansana Conté.  Across the prolonged autarky, human rights violations and federal corruption, these two authoritarian leaders were able to stifle any hope of economic growth in Guinea for some time. 

Admittedly, I’m pretty unfamiliar with Sengal’s history.  But from my understanding, Senegal, whose involvement in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, as well as dedication to the CFA (Communauté financière d’Afrique – Financial African Community) which has a fixed exchange rate tied to the Euro, has fared better than Guinea – although Senegal has definitely had its fair share of hardships as well.  Senegal also seems to have no shortage of NGO (non-governmental organization) presence.  It was incredible seeing all of the crisp, white Toyota Land Cruisers – the NGOs vehicle of choice as those things are pretty much indestructible - pass by, each adorned with a different NGO logo.

Many PCVs in Senegal had a lot to say about the prevalence of international aid, which is definitely a tricky subject.  It’s hard to talk about international development without opening up a can of worms.  How much money is too much?  How should funds be managed?  Should aid come in the form of cash or in kind?  Should you pay participants who attend a training if they’re foregoing working their normal job?  How much per diem should participants receive?  How do we know if our trainings worked?  How do we justify requesting for more money?  How should all of this be monitored and evaluated?  By who?  And the list goes on.

Example time.  The World Food Program devotes food to what they call “Cantines Scolaires.” Schools in particularly impoverished areas receive food to give to students, providing them with one nutritious meal a day during the school year.  It’s a benevolent international program that is meant to address food insecurity in countries across the world and help carry out the Millennium Development Goals – reducing hunger by half, achieving universal primary education and realizing gender parity in education.   But what happens when five of the fifteen 50kg sacks of rice never make it to the school?  WFP can’t micromanage every location’s activity and may run into difficulties in monitoring and evaluating the progress of each locality.  It is possible that some principals and teachers become privy to this fact some may find it more prudent to report that they only received 10, and sell the other 5 in the market.  Villagers become upset that WFP has allowed for such blatant corruption and a general skepticism settles in the community against NGO presence.  Enter the PCV who just wants to help and finds him or herself working against what was out of their control in the first place.

This can also be frustrating given PCs approach to international development.  I’d consider myself an expert in 2 things.  Digital photography and devouring chipotle burritos.  As you can see I don’t purport to be an expert international development.  But from what I’ve seen so far, Peace Corps’ approach is right on the money, so to speak.  Modern day PC focuses on capacity building and helping communities utilize the resources that already exist in their community.  It’s not coming in and telling the community what they’re doing “wrong.”  It’s about helping the community realize how to take advantage of their available resources.  Sustainable change should and must come from the inside-out.  That’s not to say the PCs approach is infallible, but it’s pretty darn good.  What, however, is a lowly PCV to do when community members are used to receiving a sizable monetary reward for attending trainings by other NGOs?  Despite our best intentions, money is often the bottom line and if there’s none to be had why should Host Country Nationals even bother showing up to our trainings, especially when they know they’d be rewarded elsewhere?   And who can blame them?  If I were the breadwinner of my family (which in this case could very well mean wife#1, 2 daughters, 4 sons, wife #2, mother, father, 5 brothers, 3 sisters and 15 or so cousins) and had a choice between the two, the answer seems pretty clear.  As a result, many PCVs in Senegal feel as if they’re swimming against the flood of NGOs rather than be supported by them. This is not to say we should throw i the towel and pack our bags - nor that the ways other NGOs approach development work is wrong.  We all enjoy and believe in what we're doing regardless of the cards we were dealt- otherwise we still wouldn't be here! 

At the end of the day though, Senegal had smooth paved roads, consistent electricity and potable water.  At least in terms of infrastructure (which keep in mind helps the country become less risky to foreign investors and international donors – not to mention helps bolster local entrepreneurial activity), Senegal is in the lead.  Senegal’s GDP per capita is also about double than Guinea’s (1,800USD : 900USD respectively).  Clearly something is working.  It’s hard to say whether this came primarily from Senegal’s history of economic policy framework, federal governance or international aid.  But it’s interesting to see how effective or ineffective international aid can be and it's something I’ll be keeping in mind when I think about what I want to do life after Peace Corps.

A la prochaine / En Ontema / Until next time,

Chris


P.S.  I feel like I’ve been bemoaning Guinea since my arrival.  And I’ve talked up Senegal a lot in this post.   Let it be known that I love working here in Guinea.  And don’t get me wrong, PC certainly has a place in Senegal.  Although the urban cities may be extremely developed, rural villages are just as impoverished and many face more hardships than most villages in Guinea, such as prolonged hunger seasons and immobility of nutritious food.  And it’s hot.  I mean, really hot.  Certain areas of Senegal reach over 110 degrees even after the red sun sets beyond the flat, arid horizon.  Some of the other Senegalese PCVs were telling me they don’t even bother trying to go to bed before midnight.  The entire village essentially sits outside until about 2 in the morning (inside the hut it’s still a blistering 110 degrees) before the few brave souls venture back in, only after swaddling themselves in a lightweight, water-drenched cloth – which of course dries in minutes anyways.  Man I’m lucky to be here in the Fouta.  As I’m writing this it’s 10pm and the tiny, AAA battery powered La Crosse Technology thermometer that sits on my desk is telling me it is 86.9 degrees in my room right now with 28% humidity.  Could be worse. 

P.P.S.  Check out http://www.osezinnover.com/ to see a project I am helping work on to use social entrepreneurship as a means to help entrepreneurs address Guinea's social issues.  We're all really proud of how this conference is shaping up and we'd love it if you checked out and subscribed to the site!


Phototime!
(So I didn't bring my camera with me to Senegal, but Kenny took some great pics of which you can see here.  Here are an assortment of photos I've been meaning to put up though.)


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1.  Thank you Adam Struzyk for the first/last Twinkies ever consumed in Guinea, probably.  Felt sick to my stomach after eating it, but man was it worth it.

2 . It’s hard to show just how massive this controlled fire is.  Keep in mind that the horizon line is about 10 miles away. 

3.  I’m sitting in front of all of the Peer-Educators that I work with.  This is after months of getting the organization back on its feet.  We just finished painting a new sign to in front of our “Maison de Jeune”/ Youth Gymnasium.

4.  My neighbor, Madame Diallo and her daughter, getting water at our pump. 

5.  Water comes about once a week.  I fill up 5 of those yellow containers (each holds 20 liters) and haul them back to my place to use for bathing, cooking, drinking and cleaning.
6-8.  We recently had solar lights installed throughout the city. Photo 8 shows it in action at our basketball court.

9-10.  Evening soccer with the neighbors.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winner winner...

So my 24th birthday was last week.  Second one in Guinea which is kind of strange.  This year I wanted to do something a little different.  Some friends came to visit for my anniversaire and we purchased, killed, prepped, cooked and devoured 2 chickens.  It's something I have never done before, and being such a lover of chicken parm/ nuggets/ flavored ramen I thought now would be as good of time as any to understand how that bird winds up on my plate.  After slitting the throat and letting the blood (I killed one and Kenny killed the other) we dunked them into boiling water to facilitate the defeathering process.  Next, we gutted them and cut them into parts.  Shidassa was the master chef for the evening and cooked the chicken over our charcoal stove while the rest of us helped prep and fry up the french fries in the ever plentiful peanut oil.  Not only was it delicious, it was, honestly, strangely satisfying to eat something that I had a hand in (literally) every step of the way.  I feel like back home we've been polarized - either we associate all of this with overly graphic, appetite ruining images from PETA or make an effort to stay ignorant of the whole process as we take another bite out of our double quarter-pounder with cheese.  It was comforting to break past this meaty-partisanship and experience what my neighbors and millions of others around the world do every day.  It wasn't "cruel."  It certainly wasn't "factory farming."  It was life.  It was 6 hungry PCVs who wanted to eat some chicken.  And at the very least, I got to ring in my 24th birthday with great friends and a delicious meal, even if we secretly cringed throughout the entire process (we did it, but that doesn't mean we weren't a little grossed out).


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1.  Christina and Kenny getting chicken number one ready.

2.  Lucas - from "swissland" made a surprise visit on my birthday and was kind enough to bring Sean along too!

3.  Getting the charcoal ready.

4.  You can't see it, but on the inside I look like this >.<

5.  Chicken number one done.

6.  The crew: Kenny, Shidassa, Lucas, me, Christina and Sean (from left to right)