Last week I sat in my village snacking on a messy mango my three-year-old fiancé had just picked for me, and I didn’t want to look at my watch.  I really needed to go and pack, but the hours left were starting to tick away. I had a matter of days left.  I couldn’t believe it; I was about to leave my home for the past two years.

Earlier that week, all of the volunteers from my training group attended our COS (close of service) conference in chilly Dalaba in the middle of middle Guinea.  There we were taught more about how to tactfully give away our stuff than how to formally give our goodbyes, but the information turned out to be useful anyway. Now I was back in my village, trying to remember all of the people I wanted to speak to and cadeaus to give before I left. 

Getting to our COS conference had been… an adventure.  Traveling from Labe to Dalaba is a relatively short taxi trip on ok roads, barring any unforeseeable snags.

But we’re in Guinea. Of course there was a snag. 

About ten minutes outside of Labe, as we were nearing the university, our taxi was flagged down by some gendarmes who told us: “il n’y a pas de route.” (There is no road.) Well, thankfully there was actually still a road, but what they meant was the university students had decided to riot.  They hadn’t been paid their living stipends for several months, and they were gathering a few kilometers down the road, refusing to let any cars pass.  So our taxi parked and waited.

A little while later, on some unknown provocation, all of the taxi drivers shooed us back in the cars and turned around, driving back towards Labe.  We parked a little further up the road, waited a few minutes, then repeated the same pile-in-the-car-and-drive-away-fast process. The drivers were getting scared.  It turned out they didn’t want the crazy students messing with their cars when things got rowdy.  So instead of waiting, our taxi and a few others drove down an unknown side road.  We were going to hide in the bush until things calmed down. 

Check out the situation on video:

You can hear them chanting “Assez! Assez! Assez!(Enough!) in the background. We’re just happy someone found us a bunch of mangos.

After about an hour of hiding, we heard the protesters go back to the university (with some government officials in tow), and we carefully emerged from our hiding spot.  The road was clear, except for a row of gigantic boulders that had been rolled into place as one of the student roadblocks. We watched as annoyed Guineans rolled the rocks away, then finally piled back in the taxi to head to Dalaba.

As the car began to start, we realized one of the nine passengers was missing.  It was an old man no one had seen since prayer time. We got out of the car, yelling and searching for him, until the driver got fed up and decided to leave anyway.  We carefully pulled out on the main road back towards the university. Then we saw him. Patiently waiting back where we had first run into the gendarmes, was our missing man.  The driver slammed on the brakes and the entire car yelled at the poor guy for running away until we were off again.  

The conference was productive and informative, and we were fed decent food (real butter and jam for breakfast!) and had toilets that flushed.  In the afternoons after our sessions, we were taken on small outings to sites around Dalaba, one of which was the amazing falls at Kambadaga.  We scaled down (ok, slid down on our butts) the side of the waterfall to get to bottom of the chute, and we got stuck in a thunderstorm as we crawled back up through the mud to the top.  It was an excellent day.

On the way back from the conference, as I was thinking about all the things I wanted to do in the last few days at my village, our taxi began to tail another similar looking car.  This one was decorated with a painted phrase on the back windshield, not an uncommon sight in Guinea.  Seeing trucks with “Good luck to us all,” or junkyard-worthy taxis with “Don’t forget your mama!” is pretty common.  This one though, just said: “Tout sera clair,” or, “Everything will be clear.” As we slammed on our brakes and then sped past the seemingly-wise car, I thought about the time I had left.  It isn’t much.  Have I actually done lasting work here? Will I ever see my village friends again? Was my time in Guinea worth it?

I won’t know any of that for a while.  I’ll go back the United States, start my real job and still be asking myself those questions.  I really think though, one day, it will all be clear.