I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from the Republic of Guinea, West Africa.

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I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from the Republic of Guinea, West Africa.

I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from the Republic of Guinea, West Africa.

Peace Corps Guinea

I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV, as the lingo goes for Peace Corps alumni) from the Republic of Guinea, West Africa. I was a middle school math teacher in the beautiful village of Beindou (near the city of Kissidougou) in the southeastern region of the country from 1995-97. It was a great experience about which I hope to add more to this site in the near future.

Friends of Guinea was recently started up as an organization gathering together PCVs, RPCVs, friends/family of those two groups and Guineans. If you would like to learn more about Friends of Guinea, please visit our web page at:
www.friendsofguinea.org or feel free to contact me at saabrian@yahoo.com.

The page has information which may also be of use to future volunteers and relatives/friends of current ones.

There is also a Peace Corps Guinea listserv (emailing list). If you are interested in subscribing, click here

Also, if you have any other general questions about Peace Corps or Guinea or related topics, please don't hesitate to drop me a line.

Do you have a friend or relative in Guinea and want to send them mail in a safe, secure way? Click here to find out who's going to Guinea and has offered to take letters and/or packages to PCVs or staff over there.

On January 7, 2000, two Peace Corps volunteers, Justin Bhansali and Jesse Thyne, were killed in a car accident near in Pita, in central Guinea. Click here to read the Peace Corps press release on their deaths.

Herb Caudill snapped some photos of the Memorial Service for Justin and Jesse held in Mamou, Guinea on 19 January. Click here to see the pictures.

Below is an account of Jesse's Memorial Service, held in Pasadena, California. It was written by Shirley Woodward (Guinea '97-99) and reprinted with permission of the author.

We thought you'd like to hear a little about Jesse Thyne's memorial. Several of us Bay Area RPCVs and one renegade from Atlanta drove down to Pasedena for the service this weekend.

When we entered the church, we were struck by the impressive turnout- several hundred people had joined to celebrate Jesse's life. As Pink Floyd's "Wish you were here" played on the piano, we sat down and looked at the programs. On the front cover was a photo of Jesse smiling, his arm around a Guinean student, superimposed over an old style map of Africa. This was the beginning of many tears for us. Inside the program was a poem written by Jesse's father after he visited Guinea last summer. The Thynes very graciously printed extra copies of the program for all the current volunteers in Guinea.

The service was very powerful. It began with a choir singing an African song and then Jesse's father Rick Thyne took the pulpit. He was an excellent speaker, and maintained his composure throughout an incredible and uplifting speech. He told many stories about Jesse, and we were struck by how well these anecdotes represented Jesse's kindness and "goofyness". One story was about Jesse's passion for playing the harmonica. For a senior project in high school he got a street performer's liscense, and headed out with his tunes and his baseball cap to the Santa Monica Promenade and Uptown- right where, as his Dad ruefully pointed out, the Thynes' friends often went out to dinner or the movies.Rick believes in Peace Corps and its mission, and calls Jesse a hero for choosing such a challenge.

The Deputy Director of Peace Corps spoke next.He had met Jesse during his application process, and read parts of Jesse's motivation statement about wanting to teach math. An RPCV from Somalia, he became very emotional when he spoke; it was clear that Jesse's death had affected him deeply.

Guinea Country Director Kathy Tilford was next. She expressed the profound grief of PC Guinea volunteers and staff, and spoke of Jesse as an outstanding volunteer. She explained how Jesse had met the three goals of Peace Corps (increasing Guinean's understanding of Americans, increasing Americans' understanding of Guineans,and increasing Guineans'technichal skills and capacity for development)and talked about how strongly Jesse had affected his village. The Jesse Thyne Memorial Fund money will go toward the school renovation project he had just begun in his village.

Jesse's girlfriend, Michelle Lynar, read a deeply moving letter to Jesse, and included some lines he had written to her recently from Guinea. This was truly heartbeaking and we appreciate her bravery.

Next, the priest, who had known Jesse as he grew up, gave an excellent and moving homily. He said, as Rick had, that Jesse was "weird" and "marched to the tune of a different harmonica". His stories related just how special Jesse was- such as how he took on the name Diallo-Bah in his village so as not to side with one tribe or another. As the priest pointed out, Jesse created his own tribe of inclusiveness. The priest stressed the importance of telling stories about Jesse to preserve his memory and learn from the way he lived his life.

The service ended with the sweet sounds of a single harmonica playing Amazing Grace. As the notes drifted upward, our resolve melted and the tears fell again.

During the reception, we were able to talk to others in the Peace Corps family who had attended the service- current PCV Kelly Cannon and her father, RPCV Guinea 96-98 DeDe Dunevant, Kristen Anthony's mother and stepfather, Nathan Whiteside's mother and step father and Gretchen Vogel (current PCV Chris Furguile's girlfriend). We were happy to see Country Director Kathy Tilford, and to hear news of our friends in Guinea. We are all grateful to be part of such a strong peace corps community during this difficult time.

We gave our condolences to Jesse's father, and were blown away by his kindness and the way he reached out to us,and told of his time in Guinea with Jesse, and expressed his appreciation for our work as volunteers. He also told us how happy he was to get a videotape from volunteers in Guinea talking about Jesse. He was especially grateful that Danielle spoke and told him Jesse had not suffered. DeDe told him that Senator Kennedy had spoken to the department of PEace Corps where she now works, and said that Jesse and Justin were fulfilling his brother's dream. Rick Thyne was deeply touched by this, and hugged DeDe as he told us that he and his wife are "Kennedy democrats" and gave Jesse's brother the middle name Kennedy.

Overall, it was heartwarming to be part of the service and to see such overwhelming support from the RPCV and parent community. We know we only represented a fraction of the people who were there in spirit and who care deeply about Jesse and Justin and believe in the work they and volunteers across the globe are involved in. We could feel your presence, and believe the Thynes could as well.

As Rick Thyne said, "Jesse was only 24 yars old when he died. That is the only sad part of this story."

Goodbye Jesse. Goodbye Justin. We love you.

RPCVs 97-99: Stephanie Chasteen, Casey Golab, Ann Grodnik, Eric Lenaeus, Caroline Fichtenberg, Nathan Whiteside, Nolan Love and Shirley Woodward

Below is a sort of eulogy to Justin and Jesse written by Aaron Sharghi. This text is re-printed with Aaron's permission.

Dear everyone,

I don't know yet if you have heard yet, but two of my best friends in Guinea died Friday. They were in a fatal car accident returning together to their sites after our Ghana trip. There names were Justin Bhansali and Jesse Thyne. They were both 24 years old and math teachers in the Fouta-Diallon region of the country. They began their service with me in 1998.

Justin aspired to be a pediatrician when we finished Peace Corps in June. His parents had been here to visit him this summer. I did not get the opportunity to meet his parents, but I have heard all the volunteers comment on what a wonderful relationship he had with them.

He found out while we were in Ghana that he had a medical school interview at McGill in Canada, and he was preparing for a trip to go there on the 13th of this month. That didn't leave him much time to go back to site, but he had been away for a while and he wanted to celebrate Ramadan with his family and spend time in his village called Pilimini. I heard that when he was asked why he was going back to site with so little time to spend there, he said that he had nothing better to do.

Justin is remembered for his wit and a mind full of ideas. I didn't spend a lot of time with him until this trip to Ghana, but I truly saw that side of him then. Justin has Guinean family in the Ivory Coast, who we visited when we were there for the evening. He was clearly loved by his family. It was our one night of speaking Pulaar, which I dreaded because him and Jesse speak great Pulaar but I speak Mandengo so I understood nothing.

We left the Ivory Coast the next morning and went to the bus station where we got tickets to Takoradi, a town in Ghana. We got on the bus, and somehow Jesse got put onto the second bus. That bus was leaving at the same time as ours. Jesse didn't even put up a fight when we left the station. "No big deal," he said - "We're going to the same place." We arrived at our destination that evening. The bus driver announced that we were going to stop and eat there. We thought that after, we would continue to the bus station and take down our bags. Justin, Jeremy, and I went to the bar, sat down, and had a beer and some octopus. Just as we are finishing up, Jesse comes by and says "What are you doing, you guys are going to lose your bags! The bus went to the station and they are ready to move on to the capital!" Well, we went to the bus, and Justin, as he often did, took the lead and searched for our bags. They were among the bags of all the others who were not getting off here, but going to the capital Accra. Justin searched and searched. He found Jeremy's. Then he found mine. His was nowhere to be seen. We must have held the bus up another 30 minutes looking for the bag before giving up. I was concerned that this might sour the night, but Justin just put on some of Jesse's clothes (which was SO not Justin!) and we went out anyway.

The next day, we talked about the odds that the bus would actually deliver the bag from Accra the next morning on its return trip. We arrived at 8 AM - no bag yet. At 9:30 AM or so, we went there again. The guy working there reaches behind the counter and pulls out Justin's bag. Arms open wide, Justin smiles and says to the man "Can I give you a hug?!" "Justin," we said "you are the luckiest man!"

His luck didn't stop there. We were in the casino in Accra when he dropped some money and a woman approached him to give it to him. That one, we might not have even known about, except that he was so proud of his luck, he wanted to make sure we knew it!

Then, New Year's Eve came around. We were ready to go out and Justin had lost his wallet. He searched, but gave up and we went out without it. We hopped from place to place when we arrived to the place we had lunched at that afternoon. Out of the blue, he says to the waitress "You wouldn't have by any chance seen a wallet here that was left this morning?" "What color was it?" she asked, as she proceded to go behind the counter and - Voila! Again, we all laughed about how lucky he had been on this trip. He was 3 for 3.

It was largely Justin's inspiration and leadership that sent us to Ghana for Christmas. It was Justin who brought the guidebook, who had a rough idea where to go, where to stay, and what to see on our trip. Justin seemed also to know what to do when we had problems getting back to Guinea. We looked up to him as our experienced West African traveller. He had travelled to several countries with my friend Chris Furguile this past summer, including Timbuktu, from which came some great stories. His goal was to fill up his passport before he left, and he griped about the guy who stamped it when we returned to Conakry. "I have five stamps on this page. I can stamp this blank page, or I can stamp this one which is full with five stamps. I think I'll put a sixth stamp here," he imagined the passport stamping guy saying as we walked through customs.

Jesse Thyne was my best friend in Guinea. Our friendship has slowly grown throughout our time here. Jesse was like me - he had no idea what he wanted to do when he left here. He knew only that he wanted to settle down in the Washington, D.C. area with his girlfriend Michelle. His parents also visited during the summer while I was in Senegal. His girlfriend Michelle came here as well, but unfortunately, I hear she was sick during much of that time. Jesse also went home during the summer and had gone back to Washington, D.C. for some health issues in November. He came back to us in December after spending Thanksgiving with his family in California. I was very happy that Jesse was well and back with us so that he could come with us to Ghana. He sent us email from the US at Thanksgiving asking us to include him in whatever we were doing for Christmas.

Jesse was also know as "El Hadj Abdoulaye Diallo-Bah." The name deserves some description for those who don't live in Guinea. Amongst the Pulaar people of Guinea, you have one of two surnames - Diallo or Bah. The Pulaars play with this, like an amiable group of Hatfields and McCoys. On arriving at his site in Diountou, Jesse did not want to commit to one or the other of these names, so he took both. This drew an almost playful anger from his villagers. "You can be one or the other, but not both!" He told me once how someone just called him Diallo, so he called that person Bintou (a girl's name). The guy finally conceded to calling him Diallo-Bah. He wore a ring (which, so sadly now, he lost in Ghana) that was engraved with the initials "EHADB".

My most memorable time with Jesse, along with the Ghana trip, was the time when he came to Tiro. He came for about 6 days just before the swearing in of the new volunteers in September. We walked down to the river, we played (and "shared") cards, we took a trip down to Kissidougou, we walked to the "Top of Tiro", and Jesse cooked spaghetti and showed me how to make keylime pie. We laughed a lot together, so much that the first night after his arrival at my site, my village mom commented on how all night all she heard coming from my hut was "HA HA HA".

My village mom speaks Pulaar and Malinke. When Jesse came, we sat up one night in my mom's hut talking. At one point, I would say something to my mom and she would turn to Jesse and say in Pulaar "He said, blah blah blah." Then, Jesse would respond and mom turned to me and in Mandengo would say "He said, blah blah blah." After a couple rounds of this, we just looked at each other like "Wait, we both speak English don't we?"

My village asked often about Abdoulaye when he left. One time, I met a gendarme in Kissidougou who asked if a remembered him. "We dropped off your friend Abdoulaye at your place a couple months ago," he said. Jesse loved people and had lots of friends.

Jesse liked to talk. We both got along great this way. He was perhaps worse than me when it came to just talking with random people in random places. When we were in Ghana, the three of us would turn around and say "Where's Jesse?" And, he found some guys on the side of the road or some kids to talk to. He had made some friends.

Jesse was adventurous. I visited him in Diountou last April during our spring break. We climbed some random mountain through the bush and climbed trees. But that is nothing in adventure compared to how he began his Spring Break. I had written him a letter to tell him that I was coming up to his site for Spring Break. When I got to the regional capital, I was told that he wasn't in Diountou, but I might find him at another friend's site, Kelly Cannon. I went to Kelly's site, but Jesse wasn't there. "Where is he?" we thought. Kelly and I left her site the next day. If we didn't leave Sunday (it was Easter), we were going to be unable to leave for another couple of days (If you can imagaine - some sites don't have daily transport). She needed to bank, and I didn't want to spend spring break there. We left, and on arriving in Labe, someone asks "Did you see Jesse?" He had found his way to Kelly's site. And only later, at around 1:30 AM when he returned to Labe, did we find out his adventures. He took maybe an hour to tell us his adventures. First, there was trying to find a car to Kelly's site. They don't leave Sunday mornings. But, he said he HAD to get to where we were. Cars weren't even willing to travel there. So, he hired a guy to take him out there on a motorcycle (this is a touchy story - that's against Peace Corps policy - but that's what he was willing to do for his friends). When he arrived, of course, he had found we weren't there. Now, there still are no taxis out of the site. Only a market truck. He took the market truck - again, trying to get to his friends - riding on top where trees and thorns are regularly passing by (People were shouting duck when they went through these areas). The entire trip back took 8 hours becasue the truck broke down three times. At one point, when his truck broke down, another truck came by, slowed down, and he jumped onto it "like Indiana Jones" (theme music). The other truck then stopped to help out his truck that had broken down after another 100 feet or something. He said he felt like a shmuck now for having deserted the first car and now neither truck was moving!!! Jesse must have told this story 20 times that weekend! In Ghana, he remarked "Peace Corps is all about stories!!" Good stories that you can go home and share with your friends. He was full of them! He was almost dissappointed that we weren't in Ivory Coast for the coup d'etat - it would have made a good story. But, I think he preferred the wonderful trip that we had to Ghana!

Justin's funeral was held in Alabama on Wednesday. It is being attended by Geroge Greeg, our future country director. At the time of the funeral, around 20 of us gathered on the rooftop of the volunteer house by the ocean and prayed for Justin. We laughed more than we cryed. He is missed by everyone here.

Jesse's funeral is tomorrow. Kathy Tilford, our current country director, is attending the funeral as well as Kelly Cannon, who hopped on a flight last night for California to attend the funeral. We will be remembering Jesse tomorrow at 1:30 California time. Jesse too is missed by everyone.

We are having a Memorial Service for them on Wednesday. The Guinean government has been very supportive of us. They will be among those attending along with the Guinean media, members of the American community, Peace Corps staff (the offices will be closed), and almost all volunteers. I also expect that us volunteers will have a less formal service without so many people later in the day.

The accident occurred Friday evening. The car was about 45 minutes from its destination in a town called Pita. The driver was driving much too fast and took a turn to the right. The car was completely in the left hand lane and was heading straight for a large truck. It looked like there was going to be a head on collision, but the driver was able to turn the car just enough to avoid that and the truck plowed directly into the seat Jesse occupied. He was killed instantly. Justin sat next to him. A third volunteer sat next to them - Danielle Monty. She survived with, what I believe, is a broken rib and punctured lung - relatively unscathed in the grand scheme of things. She is waiting until it is safe for to board the plane (doctors don't want changes in cabin pressure to damage her lung) to get treatment in the United States. There was a woman in the front seat who walked away. The driver,too, walked away from the accident. In fact, I hear he literally tried to walk away, maybe run. He is in prison right now, and it's hard to say what might happen to him, though there is no punishment that one could possibly receive now that could help my friends.

Most volunteers were contacted by car. Peace Corps was busy sending people out to the remotest of sites to convey the sad news. I was not informed until Tuesday monrning - one of the last to receive the information. My principal actually said to me first that he heard two people dies from Peace Corps. He heard that one was from Diountou. I didn't want to believe it until I heard oficially the news. Forty-five minutes later, two friends showed up in a Land Rover to deliver oficially the news. Two friends stayed the night at my place Tuesday and the Land Rover brought us here on Wednesday. Everyone in my village who found out gave me their condoleances. I told them all that one of the dead was my friend Abdoulaye. My village mother and my principal in particular, expressed their sadness.

I arrived Wednesday night in the car and I saw my friends who knew Jesse and Justin. The first 24 hours or so in Conakry was very difficult. A phone was set up for us to call home at a local hotel. I was able to call mom and dad and tell them I was safe. Peace Corps also sent a counselor in from the US. Things are much better now.

People are concerned now about the safety of taxis. Taxis are not as safe as cars in the States - this is fact. But, that is information that I have known for a long time. I realize that whenever I get into a taxi, I am taking a risk. But, I believe that it is a small risk - even now. I could wake up in the morning and not leave my hut - or go back to the States and not leave my house because there are big roads and cars, there is disease and people who do bad actions, there is pain and hurt. But, there is nothing that I know today about bush taxis after the death of my friends that I didn't know before. Life is worth living, and life is worth taking risks, because, after all, if you take away life, there is nothing left. And, if Jesse and Justin were here, I believe that they would agree with this sentiment.

Jesse and Justin lived their lives and made them worth living. Their lives were short, but they made differences. Losing them in my life is a loss for me, it's a loss for everyone here, and it's a loss for their families. Please give a thought or say a prayer for these two incredible young men, their friends, and their families. They died happy, living life, and helping people.

Justin and Jesse, may God watch over your souls.

Aaron Safula Sharghi

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Page last updated: 14 August '02, 1020 EDT

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