As compared to my arrival in Ghana’s very modern airport a couple weeks before, arriving in Guinea felt, to me, like arriving in Africa – but I suppose I should say, “my memory of Africa.” Stepping off the plane and directly into the warm (very warm), welcoming African air; riding a bus from the tarmac to the airport itself; small and warm and simple inside, and not without its share of chaos as we were herded through Customs… this was all so much more like it had been at the old airport in Ghana. And after a fairly crazy day of travel with the African airline that had been my only option for air travel between Ghana and Guinea – a day full of last-minute changes and re-routing and some nearly serious mishaps (as in, winding up on the wrong plane – despite multiple employees having checked my ticket!), this familiarity now felt so very comforting. I was also extremely relieved to find that all signs were not only in French but in English as well, so it was easy to find my way out to the “Meeting Point,” where I happily found Alisco waiting for me, with his entourage of nephews. And then I was in their care. And I knew Alisco would take good care of me. And he did.
His first thought as we drove out of the airport was to stock up on fruit for me, and so we soon pulled off to the side of the road at a roadside market, where, as if at a fast-food drive-through, we stayed in the car as Alisco called an order out the window, my eyes meanwhile boggling at the absolutely immense amount of fruit piled up there – I don’t think I had ever seen so much fruit gathered into one spot. Then we headed straight to Dubreka, Alisco’s younger nephew, Youssouf, doing an amazing job of keeping his calm, sweet demeanor as he drove through some of the worst traffic I can ever recall experiencing. The traffic in West Africa is made so much worse than any I have experienced in the Western world by the lack of emissions controls in these countries, as well as the predominantly diesel engines, and the air quality as we inched along reached (not surprisingly) a new height in my scale of awful. We drove and stopped, and drove and stopped, and drove and stopped, and sitting in the backseat with one of the nephews, whose name I had already forgotten but whom I would soon come to know (and love) as Sekou, I pulled out a handkerchief to put over my nose. Still, though, burning nostrils that night…
I knew – had heard from friends who had been here – that to study dance in Guinea, to dance every day as my old dream had gone, generally involved being in Conakry, as that was where you could find the teachers, where all the “ballets” (performance groups) had their rehearsals. And Alisco now told me that Youssouf Koumbassa, one of my favorite master dance teachers (who has been based in the States for a very long time), whose camp in Conakry had already begun, was teaching some dance classes that were open to everyone – not just the students in his camp. But I couldn’t see going through that traffic again to get there. The pollution was far too much for me, and I definitely felt no desire to go through it all again until I absolutely had to, to return to the airport; to me, nothing seemed worth breathing in that much pollution.
Well outside of Conakry ages later, now moving along clearer roads, a refreshing breeze suddenly blew through the car, and the air felt about twenty degrees cooler as we approached Dubreka. After eventually passing through the town’s busy market center, we went slower and slower as the roads became increasingly rough, and my mind turned to what sort of living situation I might have in store for me. I had had no idea what to expect as far as this went, and now I felt a bit of relief as, though the roads still turned ever more haphazard, the houses lining them became increasingly substantial.
Finally we stopped before the gate in a tall cement wall surrounding what could only be a nice house inside. We walked through a concrete courtyard, so dark that I could barely make out the structures around its perimeter (which I would later discover to be an outhouse, a storage shed, and the living quarters for one or two young men who seemed to come with the house), and then, after stepping up some stairs, along a porch, and finally into the house – all of which were also fashioned from concrete, I was a bit bedazzled by how nice it indeed was. With its tile floors and its fancy ceilings imprinted with moldings, it felt grand and impressive in a way, a style, that was very different from any of the homes I had ever been inside in Ghana, and coming from Ghana, it felt very… foreign. The house was spacious, and perhaps appeared even more-so due to the fact that it was almost entirely empty: its big living room held only a handful of stacked-up plastic chairs, its four bedrooms only a standing electric fan in each. Although the heat here was intense – far hotter during the day, I would soon discover, than what I had just gotten used to right on the coast in Ghana (though also much cooler at night), the fans, as it turned out, were more to deflect the mosquitoes than the heat, as we generally only had electricity at night. Alisco’s nephews and son also now brought a brand new mattress and set of pillows into the room Alisco decided should be mine (and I, a pillow-free floor-sleeper for decades now, promptly took it all out within a couple days). This room, along with one other, had its own bathroom, complete with a sink, toilet, and shower – but no water. Water was brought from a well in buckets and jerry cans, and after the novelty of using a functioning shower at my AirBnB in Ghana, here I was happy to enjoy a return to good-old-fashioned bucket baths. (The toilet with no running water, however, proved to be a much less enjoyable affair…)
Alisco was just now seeing this house for the first time as well, as he had just arrived in Guinea a couple nights before me and had been staying at his family’s house in Conakry. He was having a house of his own built here in Dubreka, but as it was far from being finished, he had rented this house nearby for us to use. After sitting and catching up for a while (which was the only time that big living room would be used for anything besides storage, as the courtyard was always the hangout place from then on – day or night once the electricity to the outside of the house was set up in the next day or two), he went back to his house in Conakry for the night, but I had two of his nephews, Mohammed (from Dubreka) and Sekou (from Conakry), neither of whom spoke any English, to look after me.
And I felt so very happy and content. I had everything I needed, felt well cared for, already loved the nephews and felt like family. And I think, also, I was just so utterly relieved to have left behind me the disturbance of all that NOISE in Kokrobite, back in Ghana. There was amplified music and the sound of crowds as I was falling asleep, and this would be the case much of the time I was there, but it was never so loud or so nearby that I could not block it out with my earplugs. And it was always much better music than what I had been subjected to in Kokrobite! Dubreka was not quite what I would consider a quiet place, but at least it was an improvement.
I woke to the usual West African village or town sounds of roosters and goats and birds and hordes of children, and for those first few days in Guinea, as I got settled into the house, occupying myself with cleaning and with starting some very basic Susu language lessons with Sekou, I was mainly just thrilled with my change in environment – and with my room. After living alone for so long now, and becoming quite used to enjoying my own mental space, having some sort of space to myself was the one thing I had very much been hoping for here, but had not dared to ask about when planning the trip. Now, settling in for what I thought might be several months, and being a homebody besides, I was delighted to have the opportunity to make this wonderful room just exactly how I wanted it, in my minimalist way – plenty of space (once Sekou helped me remove the unwanted mattress) for my yoga practice. My universe felt simple and small – just the way I liked it, and in those first few quiet days, which were not overly populated with visitors (yet), I felt very content in my little sanctuary of a room…
Aharona Shackman has used writing as her primary practice for connecting with the Self pretty much since she learned to write. With the commencement of this blog, she is now beginning to practice the sharing of some of her writing...