Saturday, December 11, 2010

Family Visits

I find myself becoming popular to drag around on ‘family visits.’  I can imagine the conversation, “I’m marrying a white lady, let me bring her over and you all can see her;” and I’m told something like, “Please come visit my family, they are very much looking forward to meeting you.”  But I don’t mind so much, really.  It’s a good excuse to people watch for me too, I have an all access pass to gaze into this cross section of society: the family system.
            I go to visit the family of one of my friends’ ‘grand’. ’Mon grande’ (literally: my big)  is the term guys use to address their acting older brother aka the guy that will school them on life, send them on a million B*** errands, and generally have their say over the things they do.  Similarly, ‘mon petit’ (lit:  my small) is given as the name to the younger ‘acting brother.  From my observations it seems that most guys are both someone’s petit and someone’s grand – some more active than others.  Girls don’t really seem to follow this tradition – I still haven’t come up with a definitive reason why.
            So this particular ‘grand’ that we are visiting is, to be blunt, idolized by my friend and I find it very interesting to see this relationship play out as I visit his gargantuous 3 story gated house in the villagey-suburbs of Conakry.  His ‘grand’ speaks English, he’s lived in Europe for many years and is married there, he drives a used SUV, and has the sort of money supply envied by most Guineans.  When in town, his family is at his beckoning, like a king in his domain.  He eats what he wants to eat, lounges where he wants to lounge, and speaks to who he wants to speak to. Life is good for this European flight attendant, returned home to flying colors. 
            I am more impressed with talking to his elder aunt, Hajji Aminatou, a woman in her 70s who’s made the trip to Mecca (hence the title).  She has virtually flawless unwrinkled skin, a sparkle in her eyes, and large intimidating biceps that pay homage to a life of hard work.  She doesn’t really speak French so I ask questions and they’re translated to her; she seems surprised that I’m interested in her life (like her nephew steals all the thunder and she’s just the old woman sitting quietly in the shade).  I ask if I can take her picture and she says she’s “villain” (very ugly) but then I finally get her to acquiesce.  She wraps a rose colored transparent shawl over her head, which partially covers her worn night dress she’s wearing , with the sides opened up to allow more air.  With the sunlight dancing on her motherly, knowing face, turns out divine.  I walk over to go check out the young daughters veggie garden (mostly green onions) and when I get back underneath the grand outdoor pavilion we’re all sitting under grandma has pulled out a small plastic bag, and I laugh when I see what’s sticking together that she’s trying to pull out: brightly colored gummy worms.  Where in the world did she get these?  She’s not even sharing with the kids – these are obviously her prized gummy worms she is enjoying so much - so I don’t even bother to ask for a handout. 
            Two of the young girls doing all the cooking in the background take turns coming up and flirting with my friend in the guise of asking him for money. “500FrancGuinean” she coyly pleads.  He agrees and the sum requested quickly becomes 1000, then 2000 – I find this kind of neediness very annoying.  At first I thought these girls sweet, but now they’ve lost my respect and I don’t bother to engage them in conversation as I gather that any signs of friendship would lead them to ‘requesting’ something – and I don’t humor this. 
            Food’s brought out and we all eat rice and sauce.  “Le Grand’ has just polished off a bowl of rice not more than 30min prior (actually, rice caked onto the side of the pan, which he’s poured water into and then scooped out with his hands – like rice crispies I guess, without the milk), yet he still eagerly fills his plate and goes back for seconds.  Grandma has moved to a spot below the mango tree, over by where 2 guys (unintroduced) are making tea.  We drink our 'primier,' and our 'duexiem,' and then its time to go.  But wait, not before the girls do a dance!  Popular music is played from one of the cell phones, and two 8year olds take the floor doing their interpretations of how to dance based on (what I’d guess as) how they’ve see adults move and what they’re feeling with the music.  Oh, it is hilarious! They’re ultra-serious and almost deliberate in their moves, but I’m almost on the floor.  One girl keeps gyrating and rolling her left shoulder as she tries to move sexy and go from standing, to squatting down to the floor, to standing again – she’s left handed I’m told, hence the oddly, one-sided emphasis.  The family gets a huge kick out of it, but I can’t help feeling someone should put her under their wing and teach her some kids’ dances.
            We get back to km36 and it’s a zoo as always.  Taxi’s line up almost by the mile, people hustle and bustle in every which direction, it’s too much of a dusty, loud sensory overload for me.  I want to put up a sign that reads, “Car horns are a privilege not a right” (i.e.: shut the F up, we heard you the first time).  Nevertheless, girls sitting under a large umbrella selling watermelon are part of the scene too, so I take a moment to reflect on the interconnectedness of it all too. 
            When I get back to village a Conte, the winning pres. Candidate, party is in full swing taking over the central ‘transit.’ (I imagine in the not too distant past, this was a villagey-style, dirt, central meeting ground, but now it’s all paved over).  One part of the circle is taken over by the band and the rest is flanked by dressed up on-lookers and dancing participants.  Because the losing Djallo party represented virtually all Peuls in the country, the out celebrating now include everyone in town but the Peuls.  Songs that were before used as rallying calls for Djallo are played, with the words changed to sing praise for Conte (ouch, slap!).  One group of women from the Forest region are having their own side party and are dancing around an overturned large metal bowl that one of the women is drum-tapping on.  I dig their style of fast, quick-footed, unabashed, booty-shaking dancing, and especially since they look to be mothers, just coming out away from the chores for a while to enjoy the fun.  The principle dancer is shaking a wand with a tassel of hairs that sticks out from one end.
            I’m surprised to see that my friend Mohammed is the main griot on the mic for this celebration.  My other hiphop friends want to rock the mic for a song, so they wait around until their given the opportunity.  I love hiphop, but it almost seems incongruous to have traditional griot music followed by loud beats and DMX style hardness, yet, the crowd digs it just the same.  Even some middle aged ladies come out to grind with one of the performers who’s out doing some down and dirty dancing to hype up the crowd – including the lady with the big teddy bear tied to her back like a baby (I’m still a little confused about this bear symbology, but I was told something to the effect of ‘being born,’ ‘taking care of,’ ‘Conte,’ “Guinea,’ ‘We’re all together’ yeah, really cant expect these young kids to be specific.  This one’s a lost cause. I’ll just have to still shake my head and wonder)   A comedian crew has been rallying the crowd too.  One guy has a leotard on, stuffed to make a huge protruding belly and bulging backside.  He’s got a Santa hat tied on like a loin cloth and holds a contraption he’s put together of a plastic bottle and an oil bottle (supposed to look like an instruments?).  He enjoys thrusting his large parts around, and surprising the crowd with outbursts of spontaneous wild caricatures and hip thrusts.  I wonder what his life is like outside of the costume. 
            I finally get back and get to rest for a bit at my friend’s house.  There’s no electricity so I’m sitting in darkness with the candle.  I let out a big sigh, unconsciously, watch as the flame flickers, and then pray that it doesn’t go out.                   

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