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2-28-02

Mom,
I write to you poised on the brink of The Heat. It hasn’t arrived, but you can feel it coming, you can smell it in the half-ripe mangoes awaiting the humid Mango Rains. Last week we got a sneak preview of the hot season when overnight it stopped cooling down in the evenings and there was nothing to do during the day but sit and stare at the wall and fan yourself. It’s bearable again for the moment, but tomorrow ushers in March, the month everyone’s been warning me about since I arrived in Kankan. Well, bring it on, I say! Let’s get this thing over with and get on with our lives.
     Not that mine is overly-exciting at the moment. My latest excuse for not teaching? The Muslim fête of Tabaski (the Festival of Meat!), which mysteriously removes students from school for two weeks. The compositions ended two weeks ago and Tabaski was the next weekend, so everyone just went home to their villages and have yet to return. I tried going to school on Wednesday, and had nine students (of 150); so I gave them back their compositions, showed them their grades, and played a game. I handed out bonbons as prizes and fête gifts (“salimafos”). Productive days, these. If I do end up teaching next week, it will basically be the first time since mid-December. That’s a 2 1/2-month vacation! But fortunately I’ve come to realize that education here is a joke for everyone, so I don’t take it personally and I’ve stopped feeling guilty. I’ve shed that nasty Western impulse that tells one that one should be doing something useful. That’s one thing Guinea will do for you; spend enough time here and you may never feel the need to leave the house again.
     We did have a bit of excitement here with the fête. During Tabaski every family who can afford to kills a sheep, then distributes the meat among the families who aren’t so lucky. We’re pretty rich, as families go, so there was a damned sheep tied to the tree in the courtyard for a good two weeks, next to my stick fence which he proceeded to mangle beyond repair. On Tabaski we all got dressed up and went to Mosque, then trooped home and ceremoniously slit the animal’s throat. I took lots of pictures, which thrilled people. All the boys and men in the family elbowed one another to try to get into the picture without being squirted with sheep blood. Then the non-distributed meat went into the sauce, and just like every other day we ate rice. Ah, rice. (I went through a period of several weeks when I got so sick of rice that I couldn’t eat the stuff, but fortunately I’ve moved beyond that.) In the afternoon all the little girls got dressed up in their frilly Victorian-nightmare plastic-bag dresses, the little boys donned their miniature rapper outfits, and the kids roamed the streets in packs demanding salimafos from family members and unwary passers-by. It’s customary to give them money. It’s like Halloween, sort of, so I gave them candy instead.
     Girls’ Conference here was a success, though the girl I ended up choosing (based on an essay I had each of my 14 female students write about — what they wanted to do with their lives) probably didn’t need it much. In contrast to 30-odd village girls, many of whom had never been to Kankan or seen a computer, my girl is from a wealthy, cosmopolitan family and has email buddies in Europe and Canada. And damn, she dresses better than we Volunteers do! (Actually, that’s not saying much —) But she probably provided a good model for the others, at least. She’s a sharp girl. Too bad she’s so bad at English.

Love, Hilary

   Hilary Heuler was a PCV in Guinea from 2001 to 2003 where she taught English and math at a secondary school. Now living in Southern California, she will be attending graduate school next fall, and study International Affairs.
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