Editor’s Note: Meet Gus. He’s a big, red, fuzzy, stuffed bug with his own Instagram following. For the last few years, he’s worked at the WAVS office in Fresno. Why do we keep him around? Probably because he always has a smile on his face.
Earlier this year, we decided that it was time for him to make his first trip to Guinea-Bissau. We told him his only job was to write a blog post. Here it is …
Posted April 1, 2019
IT’S NOT EASY BEING A STUFFED BUG — ESPECIALLY WHEN VISITING WEST AFRICA.
Ever since the WAVS staff found me abandoned at a fundraiser a few years ago and adopted me as the WAVS mascot, I’ve waited patiently for my chance to visit Guinea-Bissau. This January, my co-workers finally invited me to come with them!
The good news is that I arrived back in one piece – but the trip left me scarred. More on that later …
As soon as I arrived at the WAVS School, I ran into some challenges.
For one thing, I’m really, really short. About eight inches tall, to be exact. So when the welding instructors were demonstrating to their students how to bend and cut metal, I couldn’t see past the crowd of students. Thankfully, one of the students propped me up on a table so I could get an up-front view of the welding lesson taking place. Before I knew it, I was the center of attention.
Definitely posting this pic on my Instagram.
Another problem with being a stuffed bug is that I’m basically one giant head – with little stubs for hands. So the welding students wouldn’t even let me hold a stick welder. They said I couldn’t grip it right and that their safety gloves were too large for me. I’m glad I got to watch them practice their welding skills, at least. I was impressed with how much they could do with just a stick welder and some simple tools!
The students showed me some tiny stools that they made to sell to people in the community. The proceeds from the sales go back to the school, which helps cover expenses so the school doesn’t have to rely on outside funding as much. The stools were the perfect size for a bug like me! Selfie time!
The students also take on many other projects for the community. They even made playground equipment for a local primary school, which I tested out myself. I was too excited to whirl around on the merry-go-round to pay much attention to anything else. At 1lb 8 ounces, I’m just glad I didn’t go flying off!
The next morning, we visited the rest of the school. I buzzed in and out of the classrooms, admiring the brightly colored walls and greeting everyone I met with my trademark smile (people say the only time they’ve seen me frown was when I was left upside down in a storage bin for a few months! 🙃).
I became quickly convinced that we have the best teachers in the whole country! Did you know that Cirilo, the welding instructor, is also a musician? He’s already released his first album. You can bet I jammed out to his tunes the whole trip.
The English teacher, Moise, is great at encouraging his students to remember the vocabulary they’re learning in class. “Use it or lose it!” he tells them at least ten times each class. “Use it! Write it down!”
Marfam, the French teacher, speaks five languages. That’s five more than me!
I was so inspired by Marfam’s knowledge of languages that I decided to try to learn a little bit of the local Creole, a Portuguese-based language unique to Guinea-Bissau.
Mattheus, one of the school’s guards, led a Creole lesson one morning. It was hard for a little bug like me to remember all the words, but Mattheus was a patient teacher. Some of the phrases, like kuma ku bu sta? (how are you?) and obrigado (thank you) were useful when I talked with the students. I tried really hard to remember those phrases – but when your brain is 99% synthetic cotton, it’s not easy!
That afternoon, we met up with Dauda, the computer basics instructor. He invited us to sit on plastic chairs behind his house and drink warga.
Have you ever heard of warga? It’s a kind of sweet green tea that people drink in the afternoon while they socialize. Dauda taught me how to make it. The tea is mixed with a lot of sugar and then poured back and forth between two small glasses, a process which caramelizes the sugar and creates a frothy layer on top. The same tea leaves are used to make three rounds of tea, with sugar added each time. I think I liked the last round best because the tea was not quite as strong, but still sweet!
Parabens! … That’s how you say “congratulations” in Portuguese and Creole. I got lots of practice with that phrase at the WAVS School graduation ceremony we attended on the first weekend of February.
I sang and danced along as Cirilo brought the crowd to their feet with his Creole worship music. I cheered for every one of our 23 graduates!
About halfway through my trip, I suddenly started feeling a little light-headed. Something wasn’t right. Was it just me, or was I losing my stuffing? Thankfully, my co-worker, Rebecca, took a look. Sure enough, I had a three-inch tear on the back of my head! Not sure how it happened, but I’m just glad the injury was spotted in time.
Despite the gaping wound, I stayed positive and kept smiling at everyone I met. My teammates made sure the tear didn’t get any worse. Finally, after arriving back in the states, Rebecca stitched me back up. Now I’m as good as new and already counting down the days until my next trip!
P.S. Here are some more photos from my trip!