As Lady Gaga aptly sings, "It's been a long time but I'm back in town..." I've been traveling in and out of Guinea recently, and haven't spent much time blogging. Here's what's been happening in the past few months.

The United States is wonderful. After spending an amazing two weeks visiting family and friends, gorging on American food, and getting my refill of the pop culture I'd missed in the past year, I got back on a plane to Guinea. Though I had an emotional goodbye with my family, landing in Conakry wasn't a tenth as scary as it was the first time, and returning to Guinea felt normal. I was ready to begin my second year of Peace Corps service. I returned to the training site in Dubreka to continue helping with the "formation" for the new group of volunteers for another two weeks. Being a volunteer-trainer does have it's perks, and I was lucky enough to be able to catch some of the Olympics in Conakry on the weekends.

By the beginning of August, it was time to head up-country again. I wasn't looking forward to the day-long bush taxi adventure that awaited, but luckily I had a fellow volunteer also heading to Labé to face the ordeal with me. The day, of course, started out gloomily, and we made it to the main taxi station in an early morning downpour. At the muddy station, we fought with drivers and taxi-helpers who kept trying to put our bags in the wrong cars and who then proceeded to demand extra money for our luggage. Even after arguing in Pular in the pouring rain for a good fifteen minutes, we still ended up paying a small amount. As our car filled up and we began to leave the station in a sour mood, the driver insisted that I move to the back row of the taxi to make room for a child who we were to pick up on the way of Conakry. I obliged, making us four in the backseat, me squeezing between two large stinky men, one who refused to scoot over to give up his window seat. What a wonderful way to start the day. As we finally got going, I managed to plug in my earbuds and sneakily play music from my iPad hidden in my purse. As much as the situation stunk, I realized then, as the first few notes came on my iPad, it's really impossible to stay in a foul mood while "Call Me Maybe" is playing in the background.

After a ridiculous backup due to several large trucks sprawled across the road, we made it into Labé that night, and I left for my sight the next morning. I received a hero's welcome from the neighborhood kids as they chanted my name while I unpacked. My house, unfortunately, was not as welcoming. The porch gate had been destroyed by cows and goats seeking refuge from the rain, and their droppings covered my entry. Inside, the spiders and other insects that are relatively easy to manage on a daily basis had coordinated for a large-scale invasion. Mold spores were on lots of surfaces, but thankfully the mice seemed to not have returned. I did lots of home improvement the next few days at site, repairing my porch gate and doing general cleaning.

The village is pretty calm at the moment, as we're in the last few weeks of Ramadan. Everyone is fasting during the day, and though it's nice sharing communal meals with my neighbors when they break their fast at sundown, the daytime hours are slow and quiet. Many of my friends and neighbors have left for the summer, including the family and their monkey that used to live across the street from me. Another monkey made an appearance this past week, however.

A villager one morning came past my house parading a prize he had recently shot- a wild monkey larger than my dog. He was dragging the carcass around to show everyone, and then sold it to a family from the forest region of Guinea. I later learned that the forest family cooked and ate the monkey- and my dog chased around a neighbor's dog, fighting over the dead monkey's head. It stunk so badly, we finally had to catch both dogs and hide the skull.

My biggest achievement since being back in the village was finally teaching the neighborhood kids the card game, spoons. Guineans seem to know one card game and one card game only, 'American 8,' as it's called. The game is pretty much the same as UNO or "Crazy 8's" but everyone seems to play by different rules for the 'skip' or 'wild' cards. After lots of explanation and charades, I finally got the idea of a different game across, and the kids began to enjoy themselves as we played a few hours worth of "Spoons". I was proud to have them explaining it to other kids later, saying in Pular, "Jeu Madame Sarah no footi". (Mme. Sarah's game is cool!).

I too, picked up a new skill since being back in my village- how to wash my clothes in a stream by banging it against rocks. Many Guineans seem convinced this is the most effective was to get your dirty laundry clean, and there's a special way to whack your clothes against the ground that you have to learn to master. I accompanied several neighbors to the local stream, one that only has running water during the rainy season. We spent an entire morning washing (banging) our clothes, and I finally seemed to master the technique to their approval. Being at the stream is a fun event too, with kids and women stripping down to just their underwear and washing themselves as well as their clothes. With so many bare chests and naked babies, I felt a less obligated to hide my knees, so I let down my guard down and hiked up my skirts to offer my thighs some sun.

The big Ramadan "fete" is this coming weekend, and I've been invited to celebrate out at my principal's village once again. I know I'll be fed until my stomach bursts, especially with it being such a big holiday, but I'm excited about the trip. I won't be the only one stuffed this time.

Until next time...