You may have never heard of this obscure country before, but chances are you've enjoyed some of Guinea-Bissau's produce. The country is one of the world's leading exporters of cashews – those tasty nuts that we eat by the handful. If you visit the country in May or June, don't miss out on the freshly-picked, hand-roasted cashews, as well as the cashew juice squeezed out of the fruits attached to the nuts. Just don't let the juice sit for a few days, unless you want to try another local favorite: cashew wine.
With just 1.6 million people in a country the size of Maryland, it's easy to overlook Guinea-Bissau. But we can't afford to ignore this culturally-rich and vibrant country. It's the sixth-poorest nation in the world and two-thirds of the population survives off less than $2 a day. Sometimes families can't even afford to buy a sack of rice.
The language spoken in Guinea-Bissau is a unique Portuguese-based Creole. For audio-guided lessons in speaking Creole, click here.
Below is a brief tour of Guinea-Bissau. It zooms in on the capital, Bissau, and then travels over to Canchungo, where WAVS is running its vocational school.
POVERTY, DRUGS AND CORRUPTION
Despite the fertile land, Guinea-Bissau is critically under-developed. Only pockets of the capital city have electricty. The rest of the country is in the dark. Sewage seeps into the same ground where well-water is drawn from. It's not surprising that the average life-expectancy age is 49.
Guinea-Bissau also has another problem: The country has become a favorite of drug traffickers who smuggle cocaine between Latin America and Europe. They ship the drugs in bulk to Guinea-Bissau, stash it in the dozens of unpatrolled islands off the coast, and then sneak it into Europe. The value of the drugs funneled through Guinea-Bissau each year is greater than the country's gross domestic product. Thanks to chronic corruption at the highest levels of government, the traffickers go unchecked.
Click here for a timeline of Guinea-Bissau's chaotic history.
WANT TO FIND OUT MORE?
If you'd like to learn more, here's some great resources for you to check out:
>> A story written for McClatchy Newspapers by WAVS Executive Director Chris Collins about drug-trafficking and the April 2012 military coup in Guinea-Bissau.
>> A great summary of the country from the BBC.
>> And from the other side of the pond, here's the CIA's profile of the country.
>> An in-depth and powerful feature from The New York Times Magazine.
>> A behind-the-scenes photo slideshow about how drugs are destroying Guinea-Bissau.