"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." So said Jane Austen nearly 200 years ago... So remains true for Guinea in 2011. Amend the statement to remove "single," and you've hit the nail on the head. A man with up to three wives here can still be on the lookout for another. Four is maximum permitted by Islamic law. From the various conversations over tea that I've had in the past month, it seems, as it was in the era of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, marriage is on everyone's mind. The single men are ridiculed as being "petit" (little, younger) by their married friends, and girls are worried about finding a husband before they get too old (18, 19). A good number of my female students are already married.

My marital status comes up every single day in conversation, my Pular has finally expanded to be able to say, no i don't have a husband. No, I'm not married. No, I don't want to get married here. The other day, eating a meal (rice with leaf sauce out of a communal bowl on the floor) with a few fellow teachers, the village security head (commisaire) and his wife, I told them I would rather stay my entire life single than ever become a "co-epouse" (on of several wives). My statement, though obvious for an American, was met by a high five from the commisaire's wife, and "really?"s from my male friends.

Despite being told that I need to find a husband, the past month has flown by here in Guinea. The beginning of the month had the Islamic new years, a holiday that's celebrated here like halloween but with a few crappier twists. Aside from the religious celebration of the fete, families make big meals (several of which were shared with me) and children stay up all night going from village to village singing loud songs and banging on your door until you give them money or candy. I was not exempted from this tradition, but thankfully the last of my visitors showed up around one AM.

Other new cultural experiences abounded, including picking manioc leaves for rice sauce, baptisms, soccer games, and bike trips to smaller surrounding villages with names like Zawia and Horé-Bombi. Thursdays (market days) i've made a tradition of making "gateaux" (fried does balls) in my house with dozens of neighborhood kids. My hair was braided twice this month, (I still have the latest set in for now), and my English classes for the village adults have begun with lots of interest. Drinking tea with my colleagues has become a daily tradition, and through the several-hour process of making tiny, shot-glass size tea servings, I've learned a lot about the region, Islam, Lafou itself, and African politics (of which they have little hope for).

To answer the age-old (ok not, actually age-old) question: Do they know it's Christmas time at all? No, they really don't, and I have to keep reminding myself that it's December, let alone a few days until the 25th! It's finally gotten cold in the mornings here, but we have close to a 40 degree temperature change from the chilly mornings to the blazing hot afternoons. It's the dry season here, so everything is dusty and orange, and I have a permanent "poussiere" tan from the dirt that blows up from the roads.

More soon from Labe, where we are lucky enough to have power for the moment! Merry Christmas!!!