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Christmas in Guinea with Jessica Massie
Christmas in Guinea with Jessica Massie
Christmas in Guinea
Published Thursday, April 24, 2003 1:35:57 PM Central Time
BESSEMER -- Christmas is a time for families, but most families don't travel to another continent to share festivities.
In December, Joel and Janice Massie of Bessemer traveled to Guinea, West Africa, to spend Christmas with their daughter Jessica, a Peace Corps volunteer in Kankan, where she teaches English at the University of Kankan. Her two years in the Peace Corps will end in June.
The Massies left Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at about 2:30 p.m. CST. They arrived in Conakry, Guinea, the next day about 5:30 p.m.
Jessica had given clear instructions: "Exit the plane and walk with the group into the airport. Go through a confusing customs line and people will most definitely be cutting in front of you. Don't panic. Just smile and act somewhat confused. Whatever you do, do not lose your cool. This would be very bad."
"It was just as Jessica said it would be," Janice Massie said. "American and European airports are serene and calm, compared with the airport in Conakry. It was our introduction to a place that could not be more different than Bessemer.
"The people of Guinea were very interested in us," Janice said. Their customary greeting is very formal, "Ca va? Ca va bien? Ca va ici? Ca va la ba?" Translation: "How are you? Are you fine? How is it here? How is it there? (meaning in the United States.)" This was often followed by, "It must be wonderful in America."
Conakry (population 2 million-plus) is a city of commerce that begins in early morning and doesn't close until long after dark. The setting is an open-market atmosphere. Everything from vegetables and fish to brightly colored plastic buckets are displayed on tables along the roadsides. Children and women carry trays of oranges, bananas and peanuts, balanced on their heads. All of this takes place while cars, motorbikes and bicycles dart in and around pedestrian traffic.
Jessica has made many close friends among the people of Guinea. They have taken her under their wing and accepted her as one of their own. Her host father told the Massies he considered her to be his daughter Aisatou's twin. Aisatou and Jessica are about the same age and spend much time together whenever possible.
Guinea is about the size of Oregon. The Massies crossed the country in a bush taxi. Most taxis hold eight or more passengers, with baggage and bundles piled high on the roof.
"It is not unusual for passengers to be carrying a live chicken upside down. Chickens go to sleep in this position," Janice said. "Cab rides are wild and crazy, as there are no road rules. Drivers use their horns liberally to warn pedestrians to get out of the way. They slow down for no one."
Guinean cuisine consists of rice served with a variety of sauces. A typical meal for three costs around $2. "When you go to a street-side bar or cafe, you are served one large tray of rice and sauce, then each person is given a large pewter spoon to eat it with. There is a piece of squash, manioc root, and fish or meat included for all to share. Condiments are a leaf sauce and piment, which is a very, very hot chili sauce.
"Living in Guinea is a full-time job," Jessica said. "People work very hard to feed their children and rid their homes of the red dust that permeates everything. Guineans are a beautiful people who stand tall and proud. They are outgoing and friendly. They do their best to provide for their families, even if it means selling straw that they have gathered along the roadsides."
"Africa has left an impression on us that we will never forget," Janice concluded.
Joel Massie, left rear, his daughter Jessica, second from left rear, and wife Janice, second row second from right, visit the Sowe family in Tamakene, Guinea. The Massies traveled to Guinea at Christmas to visit Jessica who is a Peace Corps volunteer there.
Little girls in Guinea practice balancing cans on their heads. Children and women carry trays of oranges, bananas and peanuts balanced on their heads. All of this takes place while cars, motorbikes, and bicycles dart in and around the pedestrian traffic.
Boys in Guinea sell cakes from a platter they carry on their heads.
Joel and Janice Massie crossed the Guinea, which is about the size of Oregon, in a bush taxi. Most taxis hold eight or more passengers, with baggage and bundles piled high on the roof.
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.