Greetings from the Peace Corps by Emeka Korn, PCV, Guinea

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Guinea: Peace Corps Guinea : Web Links for Guinea RPCVs: Greetings from the Peace Corps by Emeka Korn, PCV, Guinea

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, July 02, 2001 - 1:21 pm: Edit Post

Greetings from the Peace Corps by Emeka Korn, PCV, Guinea

Greetings from the Peace Corps by Emeka Korn, PCV, Guinea

Greetings from the
Peace Corps

Dear City Honors Community,
I am writing you from the upper region of Guinea. I live in a village called Dialakoro, about 1/4 mile from the Niger River. It has about 3,000 people. Some say I live in a hut , but I like to refer to it as an upper Guinean efficiency.

The Peace Corps experience has given me a new perspective on education, as well as life in a small town with nothing to do.

One of the problems I dealt with in education in Texas was with all the Hispanic kids coming into schools not speaking English. For these kids, the language never ceases to be a problem since they speak primarily Spanish at home. Here, the language of the school and government is French. But nobody speaks that at home. The entire education system is a second language for every student. It is almost expected that kids will repeat two or three grades during primary school. Most of my ninth grade class is 18 or 19 years old.

The access to education is also limited. The government doesn’t have the resources to educate everyone, so it has a series of national exams designed to weed out students every couple of years. There is one after 6th, 10th, and terminal (grade 13). The rate of passing for each is something like 30%. In my school five kids have passed the 10th grade exam, called the Brev’et, in the past two years. If kids make it to the tenth grade they are considered of the intelligentsia of Guinea.

Another interesting recourse of this is that the teachers and staff at the middle school, called a college here, are the most educated people and the most respected people in the village. If a delegation comes to town from the regional capital, school is canceled so we can greet the delegation. Not all parts of the Guinea speak the same native language, and we’re of the few people in town who can speak French intelligibly.

The native language in my area is called Malinke’. I definitely hear that more than French, and am learning it slowly. It is not a very complicated language, but the sounds are very foreign to me. As yet I can greet people and say simple things referring to bodily functions.

I’m not sure how interested you are in the discussion on ebonics, but I’m sure it’s at least as much of a language as Malinke’. I’m all for young people keeping their heritage and being able to communicate with their grandparents, but the more they learn of European languages proper, the more they will be able to do. You can’t say “Solve for x” in Malinke’. You can’t say, “The efficiency of my extractor tower is...” in Malinke’, and you can’t say, “I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” You can’t even write a note to leave your kids telling them to pick up some milk at the grocery store when they get home from school. It gives new meaning to the power of speech.

I received a letter from Nick Graham (also a CHS alumnus presently in the Peace Corps). He’s searching the depths of the human soul in Burkina Faso. They don’t have a program for that here. He wants me to come visit before he leaves in that I am fairly close by. We could pass the time thinking up the most flowery adjectives possible for describing our experience. Adjectives and swear words are the weak parts of speech.

Today they are having national presidential elections. This will be the third election since the military corp in 1984. Elections here have a much different meaning. They are not accustomed to peaceful transfers of power. Presidents in Africa usually don’t leave office willingly – either by force or death or both. And when presidents leave office, there is usually a major change in government. Even if a new president were elected peacefully, he would change the governing officials in every prefecture of every region. That would be equivalent to changing all the mayors and governors in our country.

So things are a little tense here. There’s really only the possibility of violence in the cities, but there is still some anxiety in the villages. I was told not to leave my hut today. School has been canceled often during the past few weeks, and there won’t be school again until January.

A note about my living conditions: I have no electricity or running water. I have a mud hut with a grass roof, it’s about 120 square feet, with a closed in latrine area out back. It’s actually quite nice. I don’t mind spending the day here. You know, when I was in the United States, I was more of the outdoor type, the whole “roughing it” scene. I think we are fond of saying things like “I’d rather be a forest than a street, to feel the earth beneath my feet.” But I tell you, I’d have a microwave put in here if I could. Dirt roads are charming, but “What do you mean we can’t get there during the rainy season?”

I got a motorcycle battery and hooked it up to a light bulb, so at night it’s a lot better to read and write. I’m in the process of setting up localized running water, but I’m waiting for the materials. When students come by to visit, it’s like a physics lab class.

I hope I haven’t painted a bleak picture of my existence here. It’s actually kinda fun. My students crack me up. They all want to come to the United States and marry a white woman, so they can have kids who look like me. But I said, “What about the women here? they’re attractive.” “Oui, Monsieur, mais pas comme la bus .” “But what if you fall in love, do they have that sentiment here?” “Oui, but that lasts, maximum, three days.”

One of the things I like best here is the hierarchical system of labor. Or at least, I like being at the top. I can send anyone younger than me to do anything I want. “Here’s a 100 fg. Go get me some peanuts.” I sent kids to get my water, candles, whatever. I had my students build me an overwhelming porch-kinda area outside my door. I take advantage of the labor system, but even so, they’d never let me do any physical labor. Whites aren’t supposed to do that kind of work. The father of my concession would be insulted if I went to get water. The only way he would understand it is that his family was inadequate in doing the service for me.

The difficulty in being here exists on many levels; you don’t feel them all at once or even all the time. Sometimes it’s frustrating having to teach math in French. I’m so much more charming in English. Sometimes it’s taking a bath from a bucket of water. I miss playing Ultimate (Frisbee) but, then, when I go throw, there’s an arm of petites always on hand to chase down my discs. They love that game. I often miss American foods – the more processed the better. I’d love some Kraft macaroni and cheese sauce packets, or that 13 for a dollar Ramen. I’d kill a small African child if I thought he had Happy Meal.

Well, there’s lot more to say, but I’ll save it for other letters, in hopes that I get some correspondence from you, your friends, your students, or really anyone who likes to send packages. I would like to encourage you all to write. I’d love to know what’s going on with the latest music crazes, or what’s out on video. ( If you send cassettes I can play them at the sous-prefet’s house. He’s got a VCR and a generator.) But if you send packages, small padded envelopes have the highest success rate of getting through. Usually it helps if you put “Feminine Products” or “Religious Materials” on the package in large, official looking writing.

I would even like to establish some sort of correspondence between our students. They could share insights on their respective cultures and governments. The language barrier might be a problem, but it would definitely be a possibility for the French classes. I could also use some nice pens. Take care and I’ll see you in the Funny Papers.
Very Truly Yours,
Emeka Korn

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guinea; PCVs in the Field



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.