Discovering Guinea-Bissau

When I visited Guinea-Bissau three years ago, everything was unfamiliar. I had to accept the fact that there were a lot of things that I wouldn’t fully understand. This time, though, I want to try to make sense of it all – or at least some of it. It’s similar to visiting a new friend for a second time – you know him enough to have a first impression, but still realize that there’s still a lot to find out. So far, I’m enjoying visiting my friend Guinea-Bissau again.

There are several layers to this country, culture and people. I’m making new friends – like my friend Mattheus, who is helping me with my Creole, and my friend Celistino, who is a student in the school’s English class. I’m discovering new places – like the make-shift restaurant in Canchungo with pop music playing in the background and the trendy coffee shop that just opened in downtown Bissau. And I’m exploring the country – like a weekend trip to the massive islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau that are some of the most remote parts of the world.

I’ve also spent a lot of time getting to know the students and observing the classes at the WAVS school in Canchungo. It’s encouraging to see so many students engaged and eager to learn English, computer basics, sewing and auto mechanics. This is one of the poorest countries in the world, the infrastructure is deplorable, and unexpected deaths, illnesses and tragedies are a normal part of life. But despite this, life goes on and my friends here are much like the friends I have back home: They enjoy hanging out with friends, joking around, playing sports, and dreaming about their futures.

My schedule has been pretty busy these last two weeks. Every day there are new tasks, meetings and projects. I’ve lost track of how many day-trips I’ve made to Bissau and back – I think at least six. There’s also several other challenges to daily living – like drawing about 15 to 20 gallons of water out of the well every day, living with very limited electricity, and surviving the ever-increasing heat without any air conditioning. But there are also advantages to living in Canchungo – like the great sense of community that permeates every aspect of life, the tranquil river that runs right outside the house I live in, and the variety of new flavors that accompany each meal.

I still don’t feel like I’ve quite settled into a routine – mostly because each day is so different from the previous. But I am starting to feel more comfortable here and I’m looking forward to getting to know the people more. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers and I’ll keep you posted.