This post was first published on March 10, 2009, one day after we arrived in West Africa.
Here it is. The Alt blog. It is just too crazy trying to keep up the emails & this allows you all to read (or not read) at your pleasure.
Soooooo, Africa. Wow! There is so much to tell & we haven't even been here for 24 hours yet.
We got on the plane in Denver at about 1 PM on Sunday, March 8th. We flew through Atlanta & Paris & arrived in Conakry, Guinea at about 9 PM on Monday, March 9th. We walked off the plane & the heat & humidity hit us. It is literally like a sauna. There were military police everywhere & throngs of Guinean people crowding around to meet family members. Yes, you understand correctly, these people were waiting ON the tarmac. We were herded onto a bus & took a short ride to the actual airport, where we went through immigration (a short process of checking to see if we had a Guinea visa & yellow fever vaccines).
Next we moved into a giant hall with one conveyor belt & crowds & crowds more people. Baggage claim African style. Men were everywhere with baggage carts offering to help us with our bags . . . they were not supposed to be in the airport & security kept kicking them out & Dave kept telling them he did not need their help. Maggee & I just stared open mouthed & silent. Then a woman approached Dave & said his name. She was from Dave's office & there to help us. (Aishea (Eye-E-Sha) & Dave hadn't met before, she knew him by his height. LOL! That is how I spotted him at our first meeting!) After we gathered all our bags, we went through customs . . . a completely random process. It went like this: a military officer asked to look in one bag, Aishea argued with her, we opened the bag, the officer did not say anything, we started to get ready to go, then she said she had to look in another bag, Aishea argued, we opened the bag & then we were free to go. I'm not even sure what she was checking, since she hardly glanced in the bag.
Directly outside the doors to the airport there was more mayhem. Much more. There were men everywhere waving Guinean francs & yelling that they could change our American dollars. There were more men offering to help with the bags. Dave & Aishea kept telling everyone, "No, No, No!" There were men sitting everywhere reading books by candle light or under the parking lot lights. All of the sudden silent Maggee found her voice & yelled out to Aishea, "Hey, where's the car?" Aishea pointed & Maggee grabbed her little kiddie suitcase & booked it to the SUV. Waiting at the vehicle was the driver, Konay (just like it looks), some police & bunches of more men. The men were again trying to help load us up in the vehicle. Dave, Aishea, & Konay were all saying no, but the men persisted & then the police officer told them to back off & a small argument broke out. We managed to get all loaded & drove out of the airport.
We had to drive the entire length of the peninsula through the city to our hotel. It was an eye-opening, amazing drive. Today is a Muslim holiday celebrating the birth & death of Mohammed, so people were all dressed up & partying last night. There were thousands of people lining the streets. We saw many, many street food vendors, selling food by candle light. Maggee & I noticed that all the women were really pretty & dressed in beautiful, elaborate African style dresses. The poverty was also mind blowing. Maggee likes it here, but made this comment when we got to our hotel room, "I am sad for all those kids living in those houses. They look like dirty play forts to me Mommy, but they are real homes." The traffic was insane. I have absolutely no idea how a person drives here. There were people & kids & stray animals all over the place, right in the street most of the time. Konay was an expert driver though.
At the hotel we were greeted by one of the guards, who helped bring our bags in to the front desk. Maggee & I stood on the street for a few seconds staring at all the people walking around. A pair of little boys, dressed in their fanciest Muslim clothes with hats, walked past & smiled big at us. We checked in, got to our room, sighed with fatigue & relief . . . and then started learning how to flush the toilet. I thought European toilets were interesting, but there are apparently many, many more variations on the flush apparatus.
We were filled with adrenalin, so it took awhile to calm down for sleep, but we finally got some shut eye. All in all, it was an adventure & we were always safe.
This morning we had breakfast & got cleaned up. A shower was great after three days. At lunch time, Konay took us to a restaurant to meet Dave's boss. He is a man from Ivory Coast named Salifou (Sally-Foo). We had lunch & talked. I can understand about 1/4 of the French conversation, but I can only say "hello," "thank you very much," & "I am very good." Salifou is also learning English, so we helped each other. He is a very nice guy.
After lunch we went to see our apartment. It is awesome. Maggee loves it, mainly because her room is bigger than our room. Our air shipment was also already there with some borrowed furniture, so we are planning to move in tomorrow. At the apartment we met 4 of our security guards. There were all very nice men. One of them, Saku (Say-Coo), knows a little bit of English & he was all smiles when I told him I only know a tiny bit of French. We also went to a grocery store owned by Indians. That was a big experience, the highlights of which, according to Maggee, were the chickens out front & the lizards.
We are back at our room now. Dave & Maggee have gone to the pool. I am listening to the evening Muslim prayer call from the mosque & sitting through the second power outage today, which is apparently a pretty good day for Guinea. There have also been some new lines painted on one of the streets & a few traffic lights installed since Dave's visit in January. This place is developing quick. Where's a family gotta' go to get some Wild West action? Hehehe! Just kidding.
Keep checking up. There is lots more to tell . . . like the leopard skins . . .