When I was little, I used to carry around a basket singing the Belle intro from Beauty and the Beast, pretending I was in a "little town, full of little people..." You know the rest. Little did I know, I would be living that scene on a daily basis many years later. Go back and listen to the song, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what it feels like for me walking to school each morning in rural Guinea.


Minus the mention of a library, (none exists now, though I hope to change that in the near future!), and the general lacking quality of infrastucture, everything else is pretty much on target. From the incessant "Bonjours," to people asking "How's the family?," to the baker with his bread, to the creepy dudes planning to marry me, to the town gossiping about my oddities, it's all a pretty accurate picture. Who would have thought that life in Africa would be less like the Lion King and much more like Beauty and the Beast?

My adventures this past month have increased with my increased confidence in my bike. I've ventured out to several small towns around Lafou; I've also made one big haul to Labé on my bike. (30 miles on unpaved, rocky, dusty mountain roads, I felt pretty cool...and pretty pooped afterwards.) One of my trips was out to Diountou, a sous-prefecture in Lelouma that I wanted to check out as a prospective site for future education volunteers. Thinking the trip would be an easy 15 kilometer ride out of Lafou, I was in for a surprise when I arrived, after a rough hour up the mountain, at the turn off for Diountou from the main road to Labé, and re-read the chipped, hand-painted up close. It read 14k to Diountou. Not 4. Oh man. I hoofed it further up the mountain anyway, and on my arrival learned from locals that I had take the round about long route, which was in fact 32k from Lafou, not 15. I've started to suspect that some people might be making these distances up, or that they're just not calculated very accurately. Who knows. I spent the day in Diountou with some locals who had known Peace Corps volunteers in the past, and refused repeated invitations to stay the night. I left for Lafou around five pm, taking a rougher, but shorter route home.

Another recent trip I took was out to see the big Sunday market of Thangel-Bouri, a town that's about 15k north of Lafou. This time, I found, the distance was accurate, but the ride was a fast, straight shot down hill, and I found myself dreading the ride home instead of enjoying the fun of the ride. The market (which I had been told about by lots of people in Lafou) was indeed pretty huge, and I was able to find certain things that I had only ever been able to get in Labé before now. (Carrots! Mangos!) The bike ride home didn't turn out to be too excruciating, and I made the trip back in just about an hour.

I celebrated my birthday (the day after my day trip to Diountou) in a quiet way at site. I was proud of myself for holding out and waiting to open all of my wonderful birthday cards and presents until the actual day. In the morning, I made fried dough cakes with little girls who live near me, and later worked on jewelry making out of old magazines with some of my students. That night, I hunkered down in my neighbor's outdoor kitchen, and we made a delicious rice and peanut sauce dinner (in Pular, 'mafe tiga').

My classes have continued to go well; in 8th grade chemistry, we're playing with fire. Literally. The curriculum required us to study matches, (les allumettes) so we learned about the different components of the match, the reactions behind how exactly it lights up, and then we lit a bunch of stuff on fire. In the 66 student class, I only had to kick one girl out for lighting a match when hadn't yet given permission.

I've been starting a few small projects outside the classroom lately too. I'm working with the teachers to create a better grading system and revamped grade sheets to lessen the work load and mistakes that come with the hand-grading and ranking that we have to do every month. I'm also collaborating with the elementary school to help make their classrooms more "active" as required by the education bureau of Lelouma. This basically involves decorating and making drawing wall paintings for previously bare, dilapidating classrooms. We've already gotten geometric figures and the digestive system painted up in the 3rd grade classroom. My hopes for the next few months are to secure the space to build a school library at the middle/high school where I teach, and slowly start acquiring the books and materials to maintain it.

A word to wise, watch out for grumpy cows. They may look slow and dumb and afraid of you, but man do those horns hurt. I currently have a 10-inch gash and bruise on my thigh from an unfortunate bovine run-in last week.