An article from this week’s New Yorker Magazine on Guinea’s corruption and iron ore industry gives a pretty accurate description of the sticky sensations you get upon arriving in-country:

 “When you disembark from a plane in Conakry, the corruption hits you almost as quickly as the heat. At the airport, a uniformed officer will stop you, raising no specific objections but making it clear, with his body, that your exit from the situation will be transactional. Out on the rubble-strewn streets, which are perfumed by the garbage that clogs the city’s open sewers, the military presence is less conspicuous than in the past...but at night insouciant young soldiers position themselves at intersections, holding submachine guns; they lean into passing cars and come away with cash.”

Nasty stuff, but true. We lovingly refer to those guys with guns as the GDGDs. (The second GD stands for gendarme. You can guess the first.)

As I find myself in my last few weeks of my Peace Corps service, I’m trying not to romanticize the life I’ve had for the past two years.  And being in Conakry definitely helps.  It’s not the most beautiful part of the country, to put it nicely, but Guinean goofy adventures still abound. Yesterday, on a trip downtown with some other volunteers, I paraded up and down the “Avenue de la Republique,” looking for the bank branch where my Guinean account had been opened in 2011.  I was there to close my account, but there happened to be three branches on the same street.  All of the Guineans I asked very kind in pointing me in the direction they thought was right, and after talking to the management in each of the branches, I finally found myself at the correct one on the third try.  The bank guy, though very nice, disappointed me by asking me to come back later in the week, because he was busy giving loans to all the government workers who had just been paid that month.

After my bank fail, I met up with the other volunteers to explore a little more “downtown,” where we witnessed interesting sites, like sidewalks street signs, and a catfight-like mania of Guineans trying to catch taxis. After lunch, we unsuccessfully hunted for ice cream, but as the city power had just gone out, none of the street vendors were selling. Foiled again!

We were beginning to worry about our trip back, as the taxi-searching mob of young Guinean professionals was still there, when a man ran across the street to greet us.

“I love you!” he said in English, to all of us. Our group looked at each other, each wondering whose random Guinean friend it was.  But the man continued in French, “I just wanted to say I saw you and I love you and I am happy to meet you all!” We all shook hands with him and he ran away.

The taxi problem was still there, so we stood on the sidewalk trying to figure out a plan of action.  We could join the mob, we could walk somewhere else to try and catch a cab, or we could “deplace.” Deplacing (‘day-plass-ing’ in good Franglais pronunciation) means hiring out an entire cab to go drop you off where you want to go. It’s what all other cabs in the entire world do on a normal basis. But we’re poor Peace Corps volunteers, who try so hard to be well-integrated, doing what regular Guineans do... Oh, screw it, we decided. We were going to deplace. 

It’s always better if a Guinean negotiates a ‘deplacment’ price, because with our foreign faces, it’s a guaranteed rip-off. As we were about to do “nose-goes” to choose the unlucky negotiator, I thought of the I-love-you guy.  “I wish we had asked I-love-you-guy to find us a taxi,” I mused.  Then out of nowhere, the man himself popped up again. “I’m here!” he said. We told him our problem, and in two minutes, we had ourselves a taxi heading back to the Peace Corps compound.

Unpleasantness mixed with ridiculousness is the norm here, and the best we can do is laugh about it.  In our preparation for the new volunteers arriving on the 4th of July, we compiled a welcome packet with “Guinean goodies,” and a list of You know you’re in Peace Corps Guinea when…” The list can be read with a smile, unlike the New Yorker description of entering Conakry.  And that’s how most things are in Guinea. The unpleasantness doesn’t go away, but you can always laugh about it.


Top 12

“You know you’re in Peace Corps Guinea when…”


12.  You know of and/or are a member of the Oopsie-Poopsie Club.

11.  It’s tough to distinguish between tan lines and dirt lines, no

 matter how  many bucket baths you take.

10.  You put heaping spoonfuls of hot pepper and/or mayo on everything, and love it.

9.    You respond to almost every question with the ambiguous head

nod/shake and “hmmm” grunt.

8.   You have more negative feelings towards sheep than you

would’ve thought possible.

7.   You prefer squat toilets to Western-style toilets.

6.   According to you, 5 passengers in a taxi is spacious, and if the car has

door handles, it’s fancy.

5.   Drinking tea and staring at your friends is one of your favorite


4.   Bare breasts no longer phase you, but skin showing above the

knee makes you feel uncomfortable.

3.   You haven’t seen a white person in over 3 weeks, and when you

do your first thought is “What’s that foté doing here?”

2.   You can’t form thoughts in English anymore, and communicate most effectively in Franglais.

1.  Watching an epic battle of daddy-long-vlegs vs. ant for an

entire afternoon is time well spent.