Corona's Guinea-Bissau Page: I fell in love with Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau while living and working there as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1991 - 1994.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Guinea-Bissau: Peace Corps Guinea Bissau : The Peace Corps in Guinea-Bissau: Corona's Guinea-Bissau Page: I fell in love with Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau while living and working there as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1991 - 1994.

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, August 07, 2001 - 9:03 am: Edit Post

I fell in love with Guinea-Bissau while living and working there as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1991 - 1994.

I fell in love with Guinea-Bissau while living and working there as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1991 - 1994.

I fell in love with Guinea-Bissau while living and working there as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1991 - 1994. I returned there the Summer of 1996 to study malaria. The Summer of 1998 I had planned a relaxing vacation in Guinea-Bissau. I bought my plane ticket two days before the war broke out. After much thought, I decided to try going to Guinea-Bissau despite the war. I could not imagine spending the next year without knowing how my friends in Guinea-Bissau were doing. All the troubles of getting there were worth it when I saw my friends coping with the war, experienced the generous welcome of both friends and strangers already hosting dozens of refugees from Bissau, and heard the optimism as people spoke of the future of post-war Guinea-Bissau.

Letters From the Road to Guinea-Bissau
The following is a series of letters received from Corona Freitag. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Suzana from '91-'93 and Canchungo in '94, Corona enrolled in medical school in the U.S. She has since returned to GB on several occasions to conduct research as part of her degree. Upon learning of the crisis in GB, Corona traveled to Dakar in hopes of working with one of the international humanitarian orgnizations assisting the population of Guinea-Bissau.

July 21, from Dakar

Corona writes:

The good news is, I have hooked up with AMI (Assistencia Medica Internacional), a Portuguese medical aid organization which has been working in Gabu for over a month. They have agreed to take me with them to Guinea-Bissau with their next team. We had planned to leave for GB Saturday.

Friday night I was handwriting a letter to you, planning to fax it on the way out of Dakar to Guinea-Bissau the next morning. I was interrupted by a phone call from Dr. Fernando Nobre, the director of AMI. He had bad news. The Senegalese Ministry of the Interior said it needed three days to review our request to enter Guinea-Bissau with rice and medical supplies. They will have an answer for us Wednesday at the latest. That means our departure for Guinea-Bissau is delayed until Thurday morning July 23rd.

In the press the Senegalese announce that they have opened a corridor for humanitarian aid into Guinea-Bissau (via Pirada). This may be true, but they continue to slow the flow of aid with bureaucracy. Even the French had to wait to get aid into GB last week. The Senegalese also continue to worry about any aid getting to the Casamance rebels.

Since arriving in Dakar, I have been struck by the lack of information about the conflict in Guinea-Bissau and by the lack of concern expressed by the general Senegalese population. The official number of dead Senegalese troops remains ten, although no one I have spoken with really believes that. Attempts by Senegalese opposition parties in parliament to get accurate casuality figures have so far been thwarted. Senegalese television news never mentions the Guinea-Bissau war and Senegalese radio and newspapers give little coverage. Most coverage is from international wire services, rather than Senegalese journalists. A recent exception is a photo spread in yesterday's "Le Soleil" called "Ten Days with the Diambars". ("Diambars" is the affectionate Senegalese nick-name for their troops.) The photos show Senegalese soldiers playing with Guinean children, staged-looking shots of market scenes in Bissau which claim to show the return to "normal life" thanks to the Diambars, and Nino visiting the wounded at Simao Mendes.

My first day in Dakar coincided with the beginning of an electricity strike. The lack of electricity, rather than the fact that as many as 3,000 Senegalese sons are risking their lives for questionable motives in GB, is what has grabbed headlines and filled the talk radio show airwaves of Dakar. These "days without bread and water" have been "tres dur" for the spoiled Dakarois. Coincidentally, the inconsistent electricity has made it more dificult to watch one good source of GB news I have found in Dakar, RTP Portuguese television news. I never had the chance to see this while I was in the US, so seeing TV footage has impressed me. Each time I see the images of collapsed houses with smouldering beds and puti stands visible inside, the interviews with the surprising number of Guineans sticking it out in Bissau, and the shots of blood running down stairs and pooling on verandas, I am jolted back to the real reason for my trip. It always makes me feel a bit guilty for enjoying my time in Dakar as much as I have.

Apropos people in Bissau, I'm sure you are hearing the same things I am about people heading back to Bissau despite the continued risks in order to try to salvage food and money as the situation in the interior continues to get more difficult. Also, some Guineans who had fled to Senegal, have gone back into Guinea-Bissau. Two newly COS'd GB RPCV's have also gone back in according to Senegal PCV rumors and former USAID-GB staff now in Dakar. They were both in the south, around Quebo and Catio I think.

During my time here I have managed to meet a few GB refugees, but the news on specific people is slim so far. Day before yesterday I spoke with Julde, Idrissa's little brother from Canchungo. He just left Canchungo last weekend and came to Dakar at the request of relatives, rather than to escape the situation in Canchungo. I did not have a chance to speak much with him, but he did say all of his friends in Canchungo, including Ciro and Lai, were staying there and doing fine. Julde confirmed what I had heard earlier from Kindi, Idrissa's older brother, and Mamasali, worked in obras publica in Bissau, about the alleged bombing of the Canchungo military base by Senegalese planes.

A Senegalese plane or helicopter did fly over the base and the Junta-allied soldiers of Canchungo fired some missiles at the Senegalese craft, but they missed their target and fell outside of the base, injuring no one and causing no damage. Canchungo has been calm since that incident. Kindi and Mamasali spent the first week of July travelling in Guinea-Bissau. They visited Ingore as well as Canchungo, Gabu, Bafata. People they spoke with in Ingore said that the Senegalese shelling of Ingore from across the border had resulted in four deaths that they knew of and many damaged buildings. The reports of 100 dead in Ingore were greatly exagerated. Shelling did not reach as far as Bula, as was reported in the press. Kindi and Mamasali were unsure about how many civilians died in the fighting around Mansoa. Although Mansoa is calm now, and some who fled Mansoa have returned, it remains a strategic point of contention. Government loyalist troops still control at least Jugudul, and thus a point on the main road between Bissau and Bafata. Junta troops control the opposite Bissora side of Mansoa. This means that getting from Gabu and Bafata to Cacheu and much of the Oio region involves detours on bad roads. Encouragingly, public transport is still operating at three to four times the normal price due to the five-fold rise in gasoline prices. Gasoline is one of the things Senegal is especially trying to keep out of Guinea-Bissau.

On Friday I visited the hangar near Dakar airport where over 500 Guinean refugees have been housed for over a month. These are refugees who fled to Dakar by ship and did not have friends or relatives to stay with upon arrival. Many of them are young men. Many of the families, women with children, and older women who came to Dakar by ship, have relatives in Portugal or Cape Verde and had hoped that Dakar would only be a short stop-over on the way there. For more than a month, men, women, and children have been sleeping in one room. Their cots and belongings are crammed together with barely any space to walk in between. They get breakfast around noon and a hot meal around six or seven. An old Tia from Bissau (Can't believe I forgot her name already!) is chefi di kusinha. While I was there she was busy cutting onions and negociating a deal for smoked fish. I think she does a good job of making sure the refugees don't eat too badly. I had hoped I would see someone I knew, but many people were gone, exploring Dakar. I did meet a student of Matthew Breman's in Mores. I gave him Matt's e-mail address.

I met with Joao Jose da Silva, president of the refugees. He would like to manda mantenhas for his good friend Carlos Paquette. He would also like to inform everyone about the difficult situation they face and ask for our help. In addition to the obvious difficulties of no privacy and trying to sleep in a room with 500 other people for over a month, the refugees are beginning to worry about their safety. They are a concentration of Guineans, easily accessible to anyone. They are afraid that when the Senegalese realize how many of their men have died in Guinea-Bissau, they will want to take revenge, and the airport refugees will be an easy target. (Remember the Mauritania/Senegal problem in the early 90's when images of mutilated Senegalese and black Mauritanians in Mauritania sparked killing of Mauritanians in Senegal? Senegalese I talked to say that the analogy with the Mauritania problem does not hold as that problem involved the general populationa and this problem involves military, but as Joao Jose says, the Senegalese are capable of surprises.) There have also been incidents of violence directed at Guineans - a rapaz beaten, requiring stiches, allegedly just for speaking Kriol on a bus, the attempted rape of a young woman near the hangar. The refugees feel insecure in a country which is actively participating in the war they are escaping. They are requesting to go to athird country. They have contacted possible third countries and were informed that the UNHCR must first take on their problem. In order for the UNHCR to take on their problem, they must be officially recognized as refugees by Senegal. As of Friday, Senegal had not yet done so. I think letters to UNHCR and third countries and pressure on Senegal are in order. Perhaps you can add this matter to the action section of No Djunta Mon. I will also try to fax you Joao Jose's letter which nicely summarizes the situation.

One final problem faced by the airport refugees - the Senegalese government wants to move them to Thies. This would make contact with third country officials, UN agencies, NGO's, and relatives in Portugal and Cape Verde more difficult. It would make it even easier for their problems to be ignored.

July 23, from Dakar

Corona writes:

# AMI has still not gotten authorization from the Senegalese Ministry of the Interior to enter GB with rice, medical supplies and a new team. They will go sometime next week at the earliest. Senegal continues to make it difficult for humanitarian aid to get to GB. Guinea-Conakry is better, but Senegal seems to be pressuring GC to make things more difficult. The Senegalese government says one thing, bu the Senegalese army controls what actually happens -- for them GB is just a military theater.

# Airport Refugees: in recent days heavy fighting in Bissau has lead to the arrival of hundreds of new refugees -- 200 today! There are now over 1,000 crammed into the hangar. They are still fighting being moved to Thies.

# Heavy fighting and Junta advancing in Bissau. Newly arrived refugees report the Junta has gotten as far as Chapa di Bissau and the Granja. The past few days Radio Junta Militar has been advising people to leave Bissau because these days Bissau will be terrible. Fighting in Mansoa today. Radio Junta has also begun to advise people to leave Bafata. Lots of dead -- Senegalese soldiers' bodies are coming to Dakar on the same ships as the Bissau refugees, but the Senegalese press continues to talk of nothing but the electricity strike.

# I can't wait any longer! I'm going to GB any way I can (well, not any way). I have a possible boleya with a UNDP mission flight to Bafata tomorrow morning! If that does not owrk, I will go to Kolda on Saturday morning and from there to GB, most likely via Farim, which is controlled by the Junta, or via Cambaju then Bafata. If that does nto work, I will go back to Dakar or Banjul to await the humanitarian flight or convoy that will take me. In GB, my most likely destination is Canchungo, to work with Medecins Sans Frontieres. I also hope to make it to Suzana, Bafata (also MSF, ICRC e-mail supposedly starting next week, and of course, tons of Bissau refugees), Gabu (AMI and refugees).

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS Guinea Bissau; Return to our COS - Guinea Bissau



By Jarrod Car ( - on Friday, March 12, 2004 - 7:28 pm: Edit Post

Just looked at the collection of photos you posted Corona. My heart is heavy seeing the folks in Ingore and the war in general. I tried emailing you but got a return. If you are able email me at
Jarrod Car

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