Letters from Volunteers in the Field

Letters from PVCs


10/98: Daily Life

Second Letter to Linda Becker’s 1998-99 class at Mast Way School in Lee, New Hampshire
October 17, 1998

Hello again! I just finished my lunch of rice with peanut sauce, and I thought I would take a moment to write to you all.

You may be wondering what my daily life is like. In general, I set my alarm for 7:00 a.m. and get up at 8:00 a.m. (I’m sure you’ve all done that before!). I sweep my concrete floor, which gathers dust so easily, and go out to my latrine. My latrine is just outside the house – a concrete and corrugated-iron building with a tiled pit latrine. I have a two-burner gas stove where I cook my breakfast of oatmeal and tea, and I make my way to the health center around 9. At the health center, I greet all of my colleagues in turn (very important!) and chat a little while. Maybe I’ll practice my Pulaar (local language) or help lead a staff meeting to discuss projects we’re working on. That may sound very professional and simple, but I assure you . . . things are quite different here. We never set meeting times, and if we do, they change. Only one or two people ever speak in meetings – the educated men. When I try to ask the women’s opinions, they often look at me as if I’m making fun of them. And, because this is a society where appearances and groups are very important (i.e., they are “collectivist” versus the “individualist” culture of the U.S.A.), they never tell me what they really think of my ideas. “Yes, yes, yes, that’s very important,” they’ll agree. However, then nobody takes the idea and works on it. They just agreed so that we could all agree and I wouldn’t lose face.


Read more: 10/98: Daily Life


12/97: Food

World Wise Schools program, Letter #2
Food

December, 1997

One of my greater fears in life was realized yesterday. While making an omelette, I cracked an egg into a bowl and, mixed in with yolk and egg-white, was the beginnings of a tiny chick. Gross, right? Well the point of this wasn’t to gross you out (though I probably did that, too!), but rather to show you how drastically different food is here in Africa.

In the U.S., it’s highly unlikely that chick would have found its way to my breakfast table. Your eggs are laid by rows upon rows of caged egg-laying hens. Those hens are specially bred and are fed a special diet so that they’ll produce good eggs. The resulting eggs are tested, sorted, packaged, and shipped. You’ll find them on your supermarket shelf in those cute little boxes, stamped with an expiration date.


Read more: 12/97: Food


9/98: Intro, my house

First Letter to Linda Becker’s 1998-99 class at Mast Way School in Lee, New Hampshire
September 28, 1998

Hello to all! I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa, and I’ll be writing to you this year. I hope to get a lot of letters from you, too, since life in the village gets pretty lonely.

I’m a Public Health/Community Development volunteers, which means I can take on a variety of roles. I give health talks in the Health Center on diarrhea, family planning, AIDS, etc., and train local people to do health education. According to the needs of the community, I can arrange midwife trainings, latrine building, school building, educational events, and other numerous possibilities.


Read more: 9/98: Intro, my house


July 10. Ruminations from Guinea

July 10. Ruminations from Guinea

Hello everyone,

I’m in Guinea! The short story is – we arrived exhausted, but there were no problems. It looks likely that we won’t have email access again until July 28th. The place feels so oddly familiar, like returning to a childhood home. Even though you forgot the color of the house, you remember the curve of the stairs, the hiding place in the eaves, or this vague impression of light in the living room. Guinea feels familiar. It’s certainly not home to all of me, but it is home to an important part of me.

For the longer story, read on…


Read more: July 10. Ruminations from Guinea


Letter home from Josh Forquer

An interesting letter home from then-PCV Josh Forquer.

Well hello everbody, I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season, I am here in Africa, though one can take only so much of sitting by pools and on tropical beaches ya know. How are those blizzards going;).

Well I have been here a year now, and everything is going good. Village is good, a bit slow sometimes, but with just under a year left in this country I am sure the time will fly just as fast as the last year. Not too much is happening at the momentm I am just chillin’ in Conakry, capital of Guinea, where good food can be found, for the holidays. Though I recently did make my first foray outside of Guinea, when I went up to Senegal for a few days to see off my friend Jeff, who went home for the holidays. We had a good time and had some crazy adventures. It all started nearly two weeks ago, though it seems months ago.


Read more: Letter home from Josh Forquer


Woody Colahan’s letters – 14 June 1995

It’s been a while since I’ve written so I guess it’s time for an update. The last week of May I took a trip to Kankan in the eastern part of the country. A gruelling 36-hour voyage by “bush taxi” (a Peugeot station wagon with eleven passengers) which I don’t think I will repeat. Kankan is the second-biggest city in Guinea. While I was there I saw lot of other volunteers, most of whom had gathered like myself for a going-away party for Mara, the volunteer with the record for the longest stay in Guinea — almost four years. (The standard stint is two years.) We all had a great time.

Haute Guinee (Upper Guinea), as the area around Kankan is called, impressed me mostly as flat and monotonous. I was glad to have seen it primarily because it made me appreciate my own region of Guinea, the Fouta Djallon highlands, that much more.


Read more: Woody Colahan’s letters – 14 June 1995


Woody Colahan’s letters – 30 June 1996

Today was an unremarkable day. This morning at 8:00 a.m. Mouctar showed up at my door. I was still getting dressed and he had already hiked all the way from Kambaco. He’s Saikou’s star student and assistant in the literacy group out there. He said Saikou was sick with a sore throat and did I have any medicine?

I gave him some cough drops I had and recommended tea with lemon. I also recommended he gargle with salt water. I had to look up the French word for “gargle” (se gargariser) and demonstrate for Mouctar what it meant. He thought it was pretty hilarious. I told him Saikou probably had the flu but if his sore throat lasted more than three days, he should come in and get checked for strep.


Read more: Woody Colahan’s letters – 30 June 1996


August 10, Dazed and Confused

Hello friends,

This will probably be the last missive about my trip (do I hear some sighs of relief?), though I may forward some other writings that I do about it at some point in the future.

I’m in New York City as I write this, enjoying a fast internet connection at my friend Alex’s (who has graciously given me run of his room while I wait for my flight to San Jose tonight). It’s 9am, but feels like sometime in the afternoon, and coffee is my friend. I walked down the street this morning looking for that friendly coffee, and the first coffee shop I found was full of men. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was inappropriate for me, a single white woman, to sit in a coffee shop full of men, so I left. I also can’t shake the feeling that everyone’s looking at me as I walk down the street, though they’re probably not. I’m definitely a bit culture-shocked.


Read more: August 10, Dazed and Confused


July 26, To the Village and Back Again

Well, folks, we just arrived back in Conakry after 2 weeks “en brousse” (in the bush) and I’m exhausted. It was a day of bad choices & bad luck. The wrong taxi, missed phone connections, the wrong choice of eating establishments, wrong choice not to bring an umbrella, trying email a half-hour too late. But it’s ended well, and I just washed my hair for the first time in 10 days and am sitting groggily typing this note. The next two days will be a whirlwind so, tired though I am, I might as well take a moment to write a little.


Read more: July 26, To the Village and Back Again


10/98: Schools

First Letter to Kris Lynes’ 1998-99 grade 3-4 class at Mast Way School in Lee, New Hampshire
Saturday, October 19, 1998

Hello to all! Welcome to a new year of school. Some of you who were in Mrs. Lynes’ class last year will remember me. Those who are new to the class – I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, West Africa. Mrs. Lynes’ class and I have been writing each other the past year – sharing letters, stories, and drawings. I can’t wait to hear from all of you!

The school year just recently started here, and we kicked it off with a big party. We held a grand ceremony for the school opening, and gave school books to the top students in each class. School materials here are not free, and most families have a hard time finding the $3-$4 for books, plus notebooks, pens, and school uniforms. We asked some people in the capital city to help us out, and with the $100 they gave us, we were able to really help some kids out.


Read more: 10/98: Schools


3/98: Water

World Wise Schools program, Letter #3

Second Letter to Kris Lynes’ grade 3-4 class at Mast Way School in Lee, New Hampshire

March/April 1998

Hello to all! Thank you again for all your wonderful drawings. As soon as Easter vacation is over, I plan to show them to the children in the local school, and ask them to make some drawings for you, too. If you have questions to ask them, please send them to me, and I’ll translate them into French.

Several of you asked if there are schools here. The answer is yes – there are schools and post offices and banks and stores, just like at home. The difference is that things don’t work quite as well here. The stores are small. The banks are inefficient. The mail is slow. Roads are bad. Things, such as buildings and furniture, aren’t built as well in general, because they don’t have enough money for good cement, wood, or for power tools (carpentry and construction work is done by hand in the villages).


Read more: 3/98: Water


10/97: Intro, laundry

World Wise Schools program, Letter #1

First Letter to Kris Lynes’ grade 3-4 class at Mast Way School in Lee, New Hampshire

October 13, 1997, Monday

Hi!  As you know, I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa.  I grew up in Lee, N.H.  You should all know my mom – Mrs. Chasteen.  I studied Psychology at Bard College in upstate New York, and then moved to San Francisco.  I lived there for almost 2 years before joining the Peace Corps.  Now, I’m 25 years old.  You should check out my web site (and drop an e-mail to my webmaster – Ulysses – my boyfriend in San Francisco).  Mrs. Lynes can give you the address.

I joined the Peace Corps mostly because it’s very important to me to understand the world we live in, and I feel that living in a third-world country can give me that perspective much more than any vacation.  I’m very much here to learn.  In the past, people joined the Peace Corps because they wanted to “save the world”.  We’ve become much more realistic about what we can actually accomplish in terms of helping the development of our host country.  We hope to touch a few lives here, do what we can, and bring our knowledge of the culture home, to educate fellow Americans.  That’s why I’m writing to you!


Read more: 10/97: Intro, laundry


Short Story: Fous (Crazy People)

“Thoughts About Fous”

Every town has a “fou” or two or, for the more politically correct among us, the “uninstitutionalized mentally disturbed”. There’s the Finger Fou of Labe, who will helpfully show you his extremely enlarged index finger and ask you for money. There’s the rarely-sighted Naked Lady Fou of Kankan, who will smile and greet you pleasantly. I had the fortune to be the very first to sight and classify the Rolling Fou of Siguiri, who gleefully rolled on the ground in front of each market stall, and laughing, ran on to the next. She caused an equal amount of mirth in passers-by. That’s the kind of fou I like. Not like the Goggle Glasses fou of Fria who, wearing dark shop glasses, will follow you silently for a good long time, until you realize with a start that he’s standing right behind you, staring. Or the fou that recently came to our health center.

Our fou is big, tall, strong. Apparently he was fine until his grandmother died and, in his grief, he drank some potion he found in her room. Since then, he’s stabbed his father and brother, caused all sorts of trouble, and escaped from the jail by lifting up the roof. So, when he came to the health center and ran from door to door, “Who locked this door without informing me? Where’s the key? Who locked this door?”, our female pharmacist, Bama, alone except for some women and babies, sat silent and didn’t move.


Read more: Short Story: Fous (Crazy People)


12/7/99: Final final Newsletter: Home in the US

Final final newsletter (Home in the US)

December 5, 1999

Hello everybody, and happy holidays!

I’m certainly grateful for many things this holiday.  I’m grateful for the chance to be with my family after many years of separation.  I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had in Guinea – the many kindnesses and the many hardships.  I’m grateful for my life.  And I’m grateful for my future, which might be a little cheeky, but I really am excited about what lies ahead for me.  Even more important, I’m grateful for all my family and friends in a deeper way than ever before.  Thank you, all of you, for being in my life.  Thank you for what you have taught me.  Thank you.


Read more: 12/7/99: Final final Newsletter: Home in the US


5/99: Last Newsletter. Thoughts on leaving Wawaya.

Last Newsletter — May 1999

Hello everybody! Here is my final newsletter from the Dark Continent. I return at the end of August. Overall, life is going well – I’m finishing my work with only minor stress. Getting a lot of reading done. I hope to start War and
Peace soon. Taking these last months to look back over the past two years – long, strange, hard, glorious, boring … I’m feeling more satisfied than I could have predicted even a few months ago. As you must know, it hasn’t been the romantic African adventure I may have expected. But it was an adventure, and I’m coming back changed. I’m apprehensive about re-integrating into U.S. culture, as in the last year I have come to wear my Guinean persona like a second skin. I’m very comfortable here, and rarely think twice about my daily life. I’m sad to leave, yet I can hardly wait. That, at least, is completely predictable.
I’m enclosing here some writing I’ve done, thinking about leaving, summing it up. Enjoy.
Steph


Read more: 5/99: Last Newsletter. Thoughts on leaving Wawaya.


2/99: Projects

Newsletter #8 – February 1999

Hello everybody, and Happy New Year!

I had a good Christmas, traveling with some friends in a cooler part of the country. We did some hiking, cooked some food. It was nice to get away. I’ve been in Guinea an entire calendar year now (if you don’t count my trip home).

Well, my work here is really taking off now. When you come into Peace Corps, 2 years seems like such a long time. But it’s just after you’ve been here a year that you finally know everyone, start to understand how it works, and who everyone listens to, etc. So, I finally feel capable, and now I only have 6 months left. My official COS (Close of Service) date is September 1, and I plan on finishing a month early on August 1 (most PCV’s do this). And it should be a busy 6 months!


Read more: 2/99: Projects


12/98: Short Story: Understanding Loss

Letter #6 – December, 1998

December 6, 1998

Hello to all!  My last three months here since returning from my harrowing vacation have been full and productive, which is not to say frustration-free!  I’ve been working to plan a training for village agents who will sell condoms and oral rehydration solution (for diarrhea) in the villages, and we’ve started pulling together a proposal to build a health post (a very basic health care facility) in a village 15 km away.  It’s hard work.  I don’t enjoy working on these projects, they require a more western system of planning ahead and scheduling, and after the 5th missed meeting I’m ready to tear my hair out.  I prefer my daily tasks, the friendships I’m developing more deeply, cooking, reading, teaching my little brother to read.

The wet season is over, but the real heat of the dry season hasn’t started.  It’s about 90 degrees in teh afternoon, but it gets quite cool at night, so I can sleep.  By February, everything will be dry and dusty, the heat will be 110 degrees during the day, and the night cool won’t be enough to dispell the heat from my sunbaked house.


Read more: 12/98: Short Story: Understanding Loss


12/98: Life goes on

Newsletter #7 – December 6, 1998

Hello to all! I hope you all had a Merry Christmas. My last 3 months here since returning from my harrowing vacation have been full and productive, which is not to say frustration-free! I’ve been working to plan a training for village agents who will sell condoms and oral rehydration solution (for diarrhea) in the villages, and we’ve started pulling together a proposal for funding to build a health post (a very basic village health care facility) in a village 15 km away. It’s hard work. I don’t enjoy working on these projects; they require a more Western system of planning ahead and scheduling, and after the fifth missed meeting I’m ready to tear my hair out. I prefer my daily tasks, the friendships I’m developing more deeply, cooking, reading, teaching my “little brother” to read.


Read more: 12/98: Life goes on


9/98: Short story: Thoughts on Gender

Newsletter #4 – September 10, 1998

I am sitting now in the Peace Corps office in the capital, having just completed a handbook on the activities of the Women in Development committee (WID) in Guinea. And so I find myself thinking about women. I find myself thinking about women’s work, and how gender changes our experience of the world. I think about myself as a woman, and of the lives of a few of my Guinean women friends.

The average number of children borne by a Guinean mother is 6.8, versus 2.1 in the U.S. About one-half of girls are married by the age of 16, half have children during adolescence, and half are just one of several wives. One-half of women between 14 and 49 are malnourished. Ninety percent of women are circumcised. Eighty percent have received no formal schooling.

But this is too big for me to get angry about. It’s like trying to wrap your fist around a tree. Instead, it has taught me something. It has taught me about gratitude. About respect. About a truly difficult life.


Read more: 9/98: Short story: Thoughts on Gender