It has been an interesting 3 weeks. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot and the fact that everything is in acronyms and most of my written work is in French it’s definitely putting my brain to good use!
Before the Ebola outbreak, WFP here in Guinea was a small office and didn’t have much outside attention from donors. However since September, the office has almost doubled in size with international staff as well as national staff. There are now 150 staff altogether, and not much additional office space! There are 20 international staff, and more to come, working on the ebola emergency operation (EMOP). These WFP staff are deployed from all over the world at last minute to come and work in emergencies so they have a lot of experience and have seen all sorts. This emergency is different to anything though because it’s invisible, it’s not like there is a natural disaster or we are in a war torn country. It’s new for everyone which is why it is posing such a challenge.
In terms of Ebola in Conakry, people are still going about their normal day. I’m more focused on not getting hit by a falling coconut or falling down a drain. It was everyone’s own decision to come here but there are some people who are more paranoid than others, of which I try to not spend too much time with.
Last weekend we took a boat to the islands, which was amazing. You just completely forget where you are, the peace and the view of blue water. There are wild dolphins! It makes it worth it because it’s quite testing living here, even though there’s potential, I just feel there’s no hope. People do live on the islands, not many. There’s still rubbish on the beach but not as much as here in Conakry. And the green trees make it look so tropical. I think that will be the plan for most Sundays as there really is nothing, and I mean NOTHING to do here in Conakry. I’ve been to all the restaurants that are acceptable to eat in. We went to a funny bar which consisted of plastic chairs in a line in the dark under a canopy, and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes. The thing is we’re not advised to take taxis which is fine by me as there are no road rules. One hour the road will be one way and then next it will be a two way. Undertake, overtake, the rules are up to you! There are so many cars, the traffic is horrendous. Where are people going??
Everyone has a TV, because they have nothing else to do… Girls having their hair braided and men hanging around chatting. It’s all very open and friendly.
It is just coming to the end of rainy season and the tropical storms only seem to occur at night which in a way is quite nice because it blocks out all the noise from the streets and turns it into a blackout. But it’s also quite scary. The other night I woke up in such a fright because of the lightening and thunder, I jumped out of bed to pull out all the plugs, even though there was already a power cut.
The currency here is very funny. There are no coins. And each note is worth 50p. So when you go to do a shop that costs £40, that’s a stack of 80 notes. And rent, which you have to pay 3 months in advance, that’s a whole rucksack of money!
I have made it to 5 weeks here… it does feel like a lifetime. This city is hard to like! I thought that you might like to know what I am up to day to day here and a bit about my role with WFP.
After a night’s disturbed sleep of generators buzzing, dogs barking, the morning prayer from the Mosque (Guinea is 85% Muslim) and the cockerel, I wake up at 6:30. I take breakfast at home, (bread and jam, fruit) whilst we watch the BBC World News then I walk to the office which takes about 10 minutes.
I quickly check through emails before our daily meeting at 8:30 which is for the key members (and then me!) in the Ebola Response. There are about 15 of us plus an extra person every week; security, health advisor, HR, finance, logistics, airport staff… we go around and say our key priorities for the week/day. On Monday by noon I have to get the internal and external situation report out to the West Africa Regional Office (based in Senegal, Dakar) which means rounding up all the information, it’s about 6 pages long. I normally start on a Sunday evening.
I’m now settled in my apartment and have taped up all the holes to stop cockroaches entering (Argh! Thanks Dad for packing duck-tape for me). I have also set up a local bank account. To do this they asked where I lived (next to Bar Loft) where I work (next to supermarche bobo) and the names of my parents. I then had to sign my signature two times identically. When I went back to the bank last week to collect my cheque book I had to sign and my signature didn’t match up so they made me tippex it out and re-do it!
Last weekend, we walked across the beach, passing piles of rubbish, and kids playing football (everywhere you go they are playing football) and people jogging with such funny arm gestures, such as running with two dead arms by their sides! Or running with one arm in the air. A lot of footy teams are doing exercise along the road but the drivers are so erratic I don’t feel brave enough to run. We found a ‘beach bar’ and watched the sun set and a distant storm. They were playing some nice African music and then this man approached everyone with a little banjo singing a terrible jingle right in your ear, and he only went away when you gave him money! I thought this was a clever idea, I think he earned quite a bit. Apart from the fact the sewage was running past us into the sea… it was good to be out of the office/ apartment bubble. It’s not really a good idea to take a taxi so it limits us an awful lot. We have drivers at work but we can’t use them at the weekend.
Hope that gives you a bit more of an idea of life here in Conakry! 2 more weeks and counting and I get a week of rest where they pay you to leave the country, I can’t wait.