This page is dedicated to posting the letters 2V has recieved from our pen pal in Guinea, West Africa. Our pen pal is my brother Erik. He is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dinguraye, Guinea.
I recently returned from my own African Adventure. I traveled to Guinea for five weeks to visit Erik. While I was there, we found time to travel to the country of Ghana also. I will be posting pictures in the near future!
Erik is no longer in the Peace Corps. However, he is now living and working in the Country of Senegal.
Hello again from Africa!I was very happy to get all of your letters- thanks a lot!Its great to get so much mail when youre far away from home.
You all asked some really great questions in your letters, and Im going to try to answer them all.
Question #1: Do you celebrate Halloween?
A lot of you were curious about this, and youre probably also curious about whether or not we celebrate other holidays you know (like Thanksgiving and Christmas).In general, Guineans dont celebrate the same holidays as Americans.I have an especially hard time explaining to them why we dress up in funny or scary costumes every October 31.Even though they dont know Halloween, there are many holidays that Guineans celebrate that Americans dont know.
Since 85% of the people here are Muslim, there are many Islamic holidays that are celebrated.In fact, today is the last (30th) day of the month, all the Muslims (all over the world, not just in Guinea) have been fasting during the daytime.This means that they cant eat or drink between and .Theyre not even allowed to swallow their saliva, so theres a lot of spitting going on.Since today is the last day of fasting, tomorrow will be the holiday to celebrate the end of the month.People will get dressed up in new clothes and after praying at the mosque, will walk around town to say hi to everyone.There will also be A LOT of food to eat.Ill get dressed up in my new outfit and go say hi to my friends like everyone else.This year I fasted for one day and it was pretty tough.I cant imagine doing 30 in a row!To make sure that the holiday happens tomorrow, everyone will watch for the moon tonight.This is because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar (each new moon signals a new month).So, if they see the sliver of moon, it means the month is over and the fasting can end.
Since there are also some Christians in Guinea (about 12%%), holidays like Christmas and Easter are also celebrated by some people.We also get a school vacation at Christmas and a day off at Easter.
There are also other national holidays in Guinea.For example, their Independence Day is October 2nd, because that is the day they declared independence from France in 1958.Americans are lucky to have Independence Day in the middle of summer vacation.Guinean kids have to start school the day after their Independence Day!
I still celebrate many American holidays with my American friends.We get together and make a lot of good food.At Halloween, I just put on a bunch of silly clothes for my costume.
Question #2: What is it like to live in Guinea?What is the weather like?Is it fun?Do you like it?
Living in Guinea is very different from living in Massachusetts.Asyou guessed, the weather here is a very big difference.I bet most of you think it is hot in Africa.You are right!It can get hot here.During the daytime it is usually 80° or higher, and during part of the dry season, it can be over 100° every day.Even though it is much hotter than in Massachusetts, the weather changes at different times during the year.There are basically two seasons here: the rainy season (May-October) and the dry season (November-April).In general, it is cooler during the rainy season because there is less sun (more clouds) and because the rain cools everything off.The coolest time of the year, though, is now- December and January.It is also very windy and dry.It will start to get very hot at the end of February and it will stay that way until it rains.
There are many other ways that living in Guinea is different form living in Massachusetts.I like a lot of things here (for example, learning new languages and making new friends), but it is often really hard to be so far away from my family and friends for so long.And even though its fun to learn and live in new places, there is a lot about Guinea that I dont understand.So, sometimes it is fun but sometimes it is very difficult.
Question #3: What do you eat?Are there cool snacks?Do you have good food?
The main food that people in Guinea eat is rice.It is grown here, but it is also imported from China.People usually eat rice with sauce for lunch and dinner, and sometimes breakfast too.There are different kinds of sauces: peanut sauce (made with local peanut butter- there is no Skippy or Jif here! - people grow their own peanuts and make their own peanut butter), leaf sauce (made with leaves from sweet potato or cassava plants kind of like spinach), or soup sauce (a watery tomato sauce with meat and some vegetables).I eat rice with sauce at least once every day.My favorite sauce is peanut sauce.For breakfast, I have bread and tea.
I think there are a lot of cool snacks here: Roasted Peanuts, oranges, bananas, fried sweet potatoes, fried dough.One of my favorite snacks is corn cous-cous with Kosan (a Pular word it is like plain yogurt) and sugar.You can get coke and other sodas here, but the locally-made hibiscus juice is much better (and cheaper 5˘ for a bag, compared to 25˘ for a coke).
I miss food from America a lot pizza, chocolate, and Indian food especially.
Question #4: Have you seen a big snake?Have you seen any zebras lately? Have you seen elephants?Do you have a guinea pig?
When most Americans think about Africa, they think about animals.Africa, though, is a big continent, and not all African animals can be found everywhere in Africa.In general, most of the African animals you think of zebras, elephants, and giraffes live in East or Southern Africa, thousands of miles away from Guinea.Here in my town, I really only see domestic animals: cows, chickens, goats, and sheep.There are probably more sheep in this area than people!
There are a lot of wild animals that live around here, but (luckily) they dont usually come into the town.There are rabbits, wild boars, and all kinds of birds.Ive seen a couple of different kinds of monkeys, and Guinea is one of the only places in the world where chimpanzees live (some people even have them as pets, which is very bad for the chimps).There are indeed a lot of different kinds of snakes, but they try to avoid people.I have only seen small snakes, but I know that there are very big boa constrictors in this area.There are also lions, hippopotami, and elephants in Guinea, but they are very rare.
No, I do not have a guinea pig but thats a good joke!I dont know why theyre called guinea pigs, because they dont exist here n Guinea!
Question #5: What does your village look like?
My village (called Dinguraye) is in a valley between 4 hills, all of which are fun to climb.There are many mango trees, which make it look green even in the dry season (it means we have really good mangoes, too).There are more huts (made of mud with straw roofs) than houses (made of concrete with aluminum roofs).There is a big, beautiful mosque.The population is around 8,000 people.There are no paved roads (so my feet are always very dusty).
Question #6: Do you have a friend?
I have a lot of friends here in Guinea.In my town, I have many Guinean friends.My best friend is a tailor named Ousmane.He is married and has a baby girl named Binta.Every day, I go over to his house to eat lunch with him and his family.We talk a lot about Guinea and the United States.I have another good friend named Amadou, who is a carpenter.He is learning English and likes to come to my house to practice.
I also have a lot of friends who are in the Peace Corps Volunteers like me.I dont I dont see them very often, but we always have fun when we are together.
Question #7: How do you get from place to place?Do you walk?Do you have a bike?
When I am in any town and I need to get somewhere, I almost always walk.It takes me about ten minutes to walk to school.I do have a bike, but I only use it for fun or to go places that are too far away for walking.Once I visited my American friend in his village 40 miles away and I went by bike.If I need to travel to the capital, I buy a seat in a bush taxi, which is usually an old station wagon.Travel is very difficult here and takes a long time because both the roads and cars are bad.Traveling the 360 miles from my town to the capital takes at least 12 hours.
Question #8: What is your house made of?
My house is made of concrete and has an aluminum roof and tile floors.It is round and has four rooms.My living room is painted sky blue and I have purple curtains.My doors are made of wood.I like my house, but it gets very hot in the dry season because of the metal roof.Because of this, I sleep outside in a hut when it is hot.
Question #9: Do you like to teach?How big are your classes?
I teach English as a foreign language to high school students.It is the only foreign-language option they have, and they start it in 11th grade.I am lucky because I have very small classes.I have two twelfth grade classes (one of 15 students and one of 25) and one Terminale (thirteenth grade) class (18 students).They are the same students I taught last year, so I know them very well.
I cant decide whether or not I like to teach.Teaching is very difficult here in Guinea.The students dont even have books, never mind things like computers, so everything I want them to know has to be copied from the blackboard.I have also learned that teaching is a lot of work!
Question #10: How is it to speak different languages?
It is fun, and its one of my favorite things about being here.At the same time,it can be frustrating to not be able o express adequately what you want to say.
With my students and my friends, I speak French (French is the official language here because Guinea used to be a French Colony.Students learn French in school starting in first grade).With other people who cant speak French, I speak a language called Pular.Dialects of this language are spoken all over West Africa.I have been trying to learn another local language called Malinké.Most people in my town speak 3 languages (French, Pular, and Malinké).There is a 9 year old girl who lives next door who speaks 4 languages (French, Pular, Malinké, and Kissi) and who has already started learning English.She can say Hello, Bye-Bye, How are you?, and Im fine.
I hope this gives you a better idea of what my life in Africa is like.Please keep writing to me.I love hearing from you!Say hi to my mom and my brother for me.
October 15, 2001 Dinguiraye, Guinea
Dear Super Stars of 2V,
Hello! Im sure youve heard my brother talk about me, but my name is Erik and I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, West Africa. I teach English in the high school of a small town called Dinuiraye (which means park of the wild animals in Pular, one of the local languages. There arent many wild animals in or near the town, but Ive heard that there are lions, boa constrictors, panthers and hippopotami not too far away!) People here speak Pular or Malinke at home and learn French in school, so English is a foreign language for them (like German in the US.) Our town is over 600 km (400 miles) from the capital, Conakry. To get to the main highway, we have to travel 85 km (60 miles) on a bumpy dirt road. We have electricity sometimes, and most people dont have running water - they have to carry their water from pumps and wells. Even though it is very different here from the US, people are very friendly and the landscape is beautiful (there are many mountains and grassy plains.)
Here is some more about me: I am 25 years old and I grew up in Holden on Chapel Street. I went to college in Connecticut, where I studied Sociology. I lived in Boston for two years before I came to Africa, and I have been here for over a year. I like to play guitar and read books. Im excited to be your pen pal this year. Send me any questions you have about me or Africa - Ill be watching for your letters!
I hope you are learning a lot and having fun in school this year. I cant wait to hear from you all!
Your friend, Erik
P.S. My name here is Ousmane Diallo - sometimes people have a hard time pronouncing American names, so I took a Guinean name to make it easier for them