Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Candid Conakry

Conakry is a mess. If I wanted to sit in traffic I'd go back to LA - and the smog is less there!  I smoke the equivalent of 200packs of cigarettes just trying to arrive at the bureau in the city center. If 'this' is where Africa is going, forget it ! Send everyone back to the village, this is too much. This mess is not progress, this is mistakes made in the 1st world being made over 10fold in the developing world.  Time to throw a stick in the wheel and get everyone to do some critical thinking.  Moreover, who ever decided to put a capital city on a skinny peninsula should be shot.  Recipe for disaster, really. I can see why the embassy is so paranoid about what might happen if all hell breaks loose - exactly that. The situation is pretty close to that on the day to day.  Its like a crowd of people in a building on fire with one exit - this is what it's like getting in and out of city center during morning and evening rush hour everyday.  Get me a helicopter, please.
      In the evening its the hour when all the crippled and handicapped come out.  They wait along the road and approach stopped cars for handouts. Blind, albino, in hand-powered wheelchairs, using a pole for a stilt, missing arms and legs, its a pitiable scene.  I wonder if the government ministers ever leave their houses.  Oh, I forgot, they do but they're always in motorcades flanked by military that drive ridiculously fast so they never have to see or deal with anything.  Maybe they would stop if they saw a sign that read, " fatten your pockets here."
      I'm sure parts of Conakry will grow on me overtime - it's more about the people than the place though (and the people are amazingly friendly, so they've got this going for them). I did go check out some of the artisan ateliers the other day to satiate my curiosity.  Across from the grand Hotel Camaynnee there are a number of artisans displaying their wears.  However, upon closer inspection I discovered that about 75% of the stuff actually comes from Mali ! I took joy in I.D.ing all of the objects, "ah this is from Dogon, and this one is Tuareg, the symbol is the tongue of the camel etc etc."  I really blew one guys mind when I saw a very district piece of art, a face made of bronze, and I said it was from Benin and the seller acted like I had answered the million dollar question - I asked if he would give it to me for free and he unfortunately said no. There were some original Guinean paintings (mostly village girls with large bare breasts, such inspiration) and wooden masks and sacred objects from the forest region.  I've made it my mission to stop whenever I see an artisans workshop, but mostly the work is the same and lacking 'quelque chose'.  I did find one inspired woodworking studio in the Taoyah district, and I bought a statue of a musician playing the kora.  For the rest of my collection, I will leave space in my suitcase and wait till I go back to visit Mali.   
      I work between two different offices in town.  One is near one of the only sandy beaches in CKY.  However, its so full of trash it might as well be a landfill. Boys charge 2000francguinean ( .50cents bank rate, .20cents black market rate, also = to one really large baguette, or 6 bananas or 4 bags of roast peanuts, pick your exchange rate) to get in saying they supposedly clean the beach - whatever. They use their gaff money to buy beer, smokes etc. I do like the beach bar here at night though.  You can take a table and chairs and place it anywhere along the beach, including right where the waves wash up if you wish, and create your own atmosphere under the stars.
One the way to the large market in the quartier (neighborhood) I pass the house of the stand in president, fully guarded by a retinue of military, I say "bonjour" and hope they don't stop me for any unnecessary reasons.  The market is fun to walk around in - when you go with the 'see what you might see' philosophy - except the market vendors don't really respect the unspoken rule to keep meat in one section and fruit and goods in another. I was walking through the narrow pathways and stepped aside to let someone pass only to glance at a raw chicken leg almost grazing my arm, and a dead chicken head staring at me -eek ! For a vegetarian, it was a  little house of  horrors time in the marche.
        The bureau I work in downtown is in a building on the 5th and 6th story.  I enjoy looking down from the balcony to the street scene.  Oh, I spy the guy with cookies (to be bought later)! A sandwich lady; shoe shiner; money changers; sunglasses and purfume sellers; and a whole raz-matazz of city hawkers are all along the block. Since this street is home to a few banks, a whole 'streetside economy' has catered to those who potentially have d'argent (money) to trade, sell , or spend. Like paparazzi waiting to see the stars, these street vendors wait with baited breath those who come out of the bank with fatter pockets.
      In my lunch break I V-line to the Marche Niger (the 2nd largest market in CKY after Medina) and wind my way through stalls and over to a fabric seller.  Oh, ah , yes, I like this, and this and that pagne (the name for one length of fabric, about = to 3yards).  I've found normally sellers dont like to cut their 3 panges and want to sell the fabric to you as it comes all together.  But, with a little negotiation I manage to get one pange of 3 different ones (the trick, buy in bulk from one seller). He's : ) , I'm : ) Its a productive lunch break. I rush back before anyone realizes I've been gone for so long, and snag my cookies along the way.
       I get a ride with some of my colleagues after work, but asked to be dropped off at the Centre Cultural du Francais (French Culture Center), partly to get out of traffic for a bit, and also out of interest. Fabrics of Guinea are currently being displayed, and not much else going on. I peek into the large auditorium and a film is playing, but after a few minutes I'm still at a loss exactly what its about.  (French and their bizarre taste in movies, haha). I walk into the library and scan the selections.  I pick a book on the Horn of Africa and give it a good study as a chess player considers her next move.  By this time the traffic has lessened and I walk up the hill, run for my life across the busy street, and attempt to catch a taxi hoping that I'm standing on the right road to do so (guess and check method). Finally one taxi stops for me and seems to be going in the right direction. I hop in the backseat and 4 high school boys happily cram in back with me (2 in front). They sing a little and chat loudly, and we all get on our way back home.  

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