Monday, April 30, 2012

Welcome to Guinea

Nna and me, I nou cené!
I drag down my carry-on from the overhead compartment and roll my way to the nearly empty  customs line.  I hand my passport and customs card to the man behind the window and he opens my passport, flips through the thin, light-blue pages and lands upon my bright blue Guinean visa - recently issued in Bamako, Mali.  He looks down at the visa, looks up at me, picks up his stamp and as the stamp meets the paper says “Welcome to Guinea!”

I pull my suitcases off the luggage conveyor belt and groan my way through security and up an inclined, twisting ramp to get to the parking lot where Abdoulaye is waiting for me.  A family in front of me gets close to the end of the ramp and a woman from the other side breaks through security to hug her daughter.  The daughter's white husband and two children with skin the color of café-au-lait stand somewhat awkwardly to the side while the mom squeals and squeezes her daughter tighter to her.  As I approach, the mom remembers the other members of the family and releases her daughter to pull in her grandchildren.  As they disperse to their car and I spot Abdoulaye in the sea of faces, I wonder how long it has been since they have seen their grandmother?

As I slip by, as much as you can slip anywhere with two suitcases and sizable carry-ons, I see Abdoulaye standing with three, beaming friends.  We shove my luggage into the car and pile inside.    Abdoulaye hands me a bottle of water and I drink deeply as I look out the window.  Night is falling and street vendors are lighting candles in plastic variations of hurricane lamps and setting them in the middle of their tables.  The traffic is bad and cars honk all around us.  As we drive by, I try and recognize things from my trip to Guinea in 2009 though I am unsure what I am looking for.  People?  Food?  Places?  We only spent a day or two in Conakry but I am grasping for familiarity.  Abdoulaye says something and brings me back inside the car.  I realize I don't need to grasp for familiarity when I have him sitting next to me.

We turn right onto an unpaved, rocky road.  Oumar, one of Abdoulaye's closest friends, is sitting in the front seat with one of my suitcases weighing on his lap.  He points out his boutique where he sells sodas, soaps, and snacks and I say I am so sorry for how heavy my suitcase is.  He smiles and says, “Don't worry, you'll pay me back with English lessons!”

And then, we are there.  Abdoulaye opens the door and I scoot out of the car on his side.  His dad, Baba,'s compound is bordered by a row of shops along the road and inside surrounded by three single-family homes around his own house for his family.  Women stand in the courtyard, their heads slightly cocked and with smiles on their faces as they appraise me.  Little girls whose names I do not know run up to me and hug my legs.  Abdoulaye's mom, who he calls Nna, stands up on the porch and throws her arms open.  “I nou cené!” she shouts.  Welcome to Guinea.

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