Thursday, April 29, 2010

The sacrifice

I just wrote this for a travel writing contest, so I thought I mine as well put it on here as its about my trip....

I sat cross-legged in the late afternoon sun with a shawl covering my head, quietly entertaining the most bright-eyed little girl. Looking into the distance was an uninhibited view of African scenery, an intense sun preparing to deepen in color and set over the rice fields and mango trees. Those that surrounded me were Africans and Americans that I had begun to see as a wider extension of my family. In this moment I felt an immense sense of community, both observing it as an outsider and being brought in as a part of it.
I traveled to Guinea, West Africa with One World Dance; a family company based out of Seattle, Washington that brings dancers and drummers on a cultural and musical immersion trip to Conakry, Guinea for three weeks each winter. Each weekday we had two Guinean dance classes and one Guinean drum class, all taught by local teachers, and accompanied by a half dozen local musicians. During the weekends we traveled to beautiful destinations in the countryside for sightseeing and relaxation. We were housed in compound which included a house for us Americans to stay in, another house for the Guinean musicians, a covered patio that we used for our dance and drum classes, and a yard - complete with a pet baboon and sheep. It was called a ‘compound’ because it was surrounded by a fence to keep out the curious neighborhood kids and souvenir sellers who were interested in meeting us ‘fotes’ (foreigners) at all hours of the day.
As we neared the end of three beautiful, trying, life changing weeks, our group wanted to give the community something to show our gratitude. The highest honor, we were told, would be to buy a goat to sacrifice. Though I was wary about this, as I was generally vegetarian, I wanted to honor the community. And while I didn’t know what to expect, what occurred after this point was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
The next evening, a live goat was brought to our compound. Our drum teacher, Karim asked if anyone wanted to help wash the goat. For the next two hours family, neighborhood kids, and American dancers took turns scrubbing and washing him. By the end I knew that goat was cleaner that I had been the whole trip! We then all put our hands on the goat and concentrated on the blessings and intentions we had for the community. The goat bleated and shifted its weight nervously as it didn’t like being surrounded, but we held it still so our blessings could be transferred to him in this ritual.
At dawn the men in the compound, plus a few women who wanted to witness it, gathered and respectfully sacrificed the goat. Women were allowed, but not necessarily encouraged to attend the sacrifice, so I decided not to be present for that action. By the time the sun had fully come up there was a flurry of activity all around. Half a dozen neighborhood women were standing over fires preparing the meat. In addition older girls there were in charge of more than a dozen kids who were directing them in cleaning the compound and preparing bowls of vegetables, sauce and Keke (a local dish made of flaked Cassava). I watched in awe, but kept out of the way because there seemed to be a system of efficiency and I didn’t want to delay the proceedings.
After the preparations were complete, the women and kids left to clean up and change into their best clothes. Groups of men in intricately decorated shirts and caps began showing up; it turns out all of the elders of the Muslim mosque and members of the community had been invited to join in this ceremony. As the service commenced we women visitors were asked to cover our heads with shawls out of respect.
We gathered together under the patio, the men on the inside and the women and children in the outer ring, and the elders read from the Koran. A prayer ceremony commenced and the goat was thanked. They spoke blessings and intentions for the community, and thanked us for the goat. Further blessings and intentions were spoken for us while in Guinea and for our families and lives at home. This was all conducted in Susu, the language of the Susu ethnic group, so bits and pieces were translated to me by our musicians who knew both Susu and English. The Guinean kids sprawled and crawling around me also helped guide me on when it was ok to squirm and when it was time to bow your head and be still.
Once the ceremony was completed the food was brought out. Bowls of Keke, sauce and goat were served to the 100 people there, and more bowls were saved to bring to other members of the community who weren’t in attendance.
While I hadn’t eaten much meat in the last eight years and was wary about the physical implications this might have on my already travel-weary stomach, I savored this meal. It was by far one of the most respectful, thoughtful and community-oriented meals I’ve ever participated in.
By being a part of this ritual and honoring this community I found a profound sense of peace and community connection. The gift we had given them had come back to us all threefold. This allowed me to experience this community on a deeper level as well as provide a contribution I would not have been able to give had I not taken the opportunity to view life from their perspective.
To experience a trip like this for yourself, visit

Friday, January 9, 2009


Check out Julia's photos.
I will post mine soon, but hers are amazing. So you should look at hers.

Guinea December 2008

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I have been back at work for 4 days and feel like it has been forever since I left Guinea! Weird feeling.
Wow lots to catch up on! Sorry for leaving you all hanging.
I will post in a sections so you don't get too overwhelmed by my ramblings.
This ones about Roume
We were able to head to Roume (or I think its actually spelled like Room, but I think thats wierd and have been picturing the spelling 'Roume' in my head, so um deal with it)as planned because everything had returned back to normal after the President was buried on Friday.
We rented magbana (mini-van type bus) and loaded it with too many people, and strapped our stuff on top and drove down to the port of Conakry. It was another beautifully sunny hot day, and when we got to the port we were greeted by the welcoming smell of dead fish woohoo!
There was a market set up there with people with kiosks, or with just a basket of goods following people around selling fresh fish of all kinds, fried plantains, oranges, tshirts, hats, cloth. We watched the market bustle, but most of us decided to stick together as we were holding all our stuff waiting for the go-ahead for us to load our boat.
When they told us we had an hour boat ride on a motor boat, I figured it would be some sort of thing with a roof, and maybe an indoor spot for us to sit, but as we got down to the water I realized this was hard core real boating. We were going to be riding in a 20 person dugout canoe basically. With a motor on back. AWESOME!
We all trudged through the trash-y water and hopped in and were on our way! All of us fotes(white people) covered our heads and arms with shirts and scarves as we were warned of the hot African sun reflecting off the water and scalding our skin. We were pretty funny looking, Janet had a fantastic Lawrence of Arabia look going on. Most of the Africans did not know how to swim and our dance teachers and a few of the girls in the family had spent very little time on the open water, so it was a treacherous trip for some of the girls. We passed by some Portugese ships of war that had been shipwrecked in the 1970s which were beautiful and looming.
When we got there, the boys all swept us off our feet and carried us to shore, how romantic.
Roume was...amazing. I pretty much almost got depressed because I didn't feel like I was enjoying myself enough.
After a bit of lunch which Mmomma had brought for us (i love how they just carry that shit around, who needs tupperware when you have a big bowl, a serving tray to cover it with and a cloth to wrap it in?!) (then again, how did none of us get food poisoning?!??! is the temperature danger zone an american conspiracy?!?!)
We then almost immediately went to the beach and swam for a couple hours. We were serenaded by some Lebanese tourist blasting some tunes from a nearby cabana.
Then we had dance class in the sand. Holy shit, hardest thing ever. The teachers happened to bless us with the dance Djole that day which had a move where you twirl around on one foot, a bunch of times, we all almost bit it every time that step came around.
But probably one of the best moments on the trip was after dance class when an Akon song about being together came on just as we were all hugging saying how much we appreciated eachother. it was touching and probably suuuper corny for everyone around us but Akon will forever remind me of Guinea (they looove him there)
There were no mosquitos on Roume so it was really pleasant in the evening. A bunch of other tourists and Rasta-Guineans were on the island as well, so they gathered at the bar and just about got us all second hand high as we relaxed on the beach a few feet away.
We then hung out at the beach again the next day and had another grueling but successful dance class on the beach.
We returned later that afternoon to Conakry, and got to ride in the LoveTrain Magbana!!! It was a van with windows cut out like hearts, they put all our stuff in the back seats and we all crowded on tiny peripheral benches in the van. To complete the love train picture the driver had a horn like a train, which he used just about everytime he merged er um cut someone off which was about every 19.5 seconds. It ended up being a pretty long ride home because of traffic, so the driver decided that a great shortcut would be to drive on the wrong side of the road for about 2 miles! I mean why not? theres no traffic there?! and who is gonna hit the Love Train?!?!
We made it out alive thankfully and were so happy to return to our compound - o cause i forgot to mention there was no running water and their toilets/showers consisted of little outhouses with holes in the ground (very much like squat pots in Japan!)
My memory card was full before we went on this venture, so I will be relying on others for pictures of this.
I'll write about New Years later.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'm Home!

I made it home safe.
The trip home was fairly uneventful thank goodness! the only downfall is our luggage got stuck in New York. We made it through customs with our stuff but then had to run to make our flight; our bags didn't quite make it. They should be delivered to my door tomorrow though.
Lots happened in the last couple days though so I'll write more later.
I may need a couple days of culture shock/reentry time, but after that I hope to see you all soon!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hey all Im back!

Thank you Grant for that fantastic and complete update on the situation. the president has been sick for a long time and so his vice president type person constitutionally took over when he died but then one of the heads of the military decided he wanted to take over so that was the coup; but it seems like everyone was pretty much ok with it. it sounds as though they will let him stay in power until the elections that are scheduled for 2010. we are still in wait and see mode though and are instructed to run the opposite direction if we see any large gathering of people, peaceful or otherwise. this is the first time we were allowed to leave the house since tuesday so it is very freeing.
we have been allowed to dance but our drummers are not allowed to play; however they have been singing the beats with their mouths which is basically the coolest sounding thing ever-6 different beats acappela
when the events went down we were in the woods in Kindia dancing at a rundown tropical resort at the foot of a waterfall complete with a decrepit and treetaken over cabana and mice which were not happy we had taken over their huts
on christmas we had a mock dance performance for the family and the drummers and then gave them all little gifts. surprise^^guinean kids dont like peeps; they tried them and then gave them back to us haha
tomorrow-God willing we will get to go to Roume-a tropical island for a little rest and relaxation and dance class on the beach.
sorry to hear about all the ice and crappy weather in the states; hope it is better now!
thanks again grant and happy travels in peru
if i dont post before HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!