Monday February 5 8:30 a.m. Telimele
Everything I do in Guinea seems to be or at least feels like an escape of one kind or another and my departure from Douki felt like much the same. The irony was that there was no need for it. As I said before, I wasn’t angry about anything. I was a trifle annoyed with the Mastermind but I couldn’t really blame him for not having insight into the Western mind and certainly not into mine. How could he guess that for me to sit in the shade with a bunch of women peeling manioc was very interesting, certainly more interesting than a forced march to a “vine” bridge? And I noticed that the French (the two men at least) were really into the major hiking angle. And it occurs to me that this is probably normal for the Douki experience. Almost everyone who comes to Douki is a permanent resident of Guinea Peace Corps Volunteers or embassy staff. They’ve come up to Douki in a way as an escape from Guinea. It’s a holiday for them. A weekend excursion. Like the French they come up to see the scenery and get some exercise. Wanderers like me who see Douki as a unique opportunity to experience more of Guinean culture and everyday life must be very rare. I think the PCV’s would have had more than their share of Guinean village life.
Nor was I angry with the brother just a bit annoyed and very frustrated that it was impossible to get him to understand my need for a certain kind of privacy. When I first set eyes on the Fula Hut I was so delighted partially because it offered a chance to control my own life and at the same time be in a traditional village setting. But from the first day the brother and the Mastermind were a constant presence, trying to help but driving me crazy. All my attempts at subtle hints were to no avail. Nothing I said convinced them that I really did want to get my own water. Nothing would have pleased me more than to walk through the compounds and wait my turn at the village pump with my bucket like everyone else. But in order to do that I’d have to go in the dead of night like a thief. At any other time the brother was hovering like a vulture and when I picked up a water container he swooped in and insisted on getting it for me.
That final escapade with my eviction from the Fula Hut and the brother’s absolute refusal to leave me in peace in my tent was the last straw and I spoke with him frankly and probably too harshly. Then the next morning when the sound of my tent zipper brought him bounding towards me before I’d even wiped the sleep from my eyes was too much. I wasn’t ready to fend off his attempts to help me. How to explain to this nicest of men that if he really, truly wanted to make me happy he could go away, leave me alone and stop trying to help me? While still in the Fula Hut I’d been reduced to keeping the door closed in the morning and pretending to be still asleep. But in reality I was having my cup of coffee by candlelight and enjoying the solitude. I knew that the second the door opened even a crack either the Mastermind or the brother would be there to begin “helping” me. (“Knock, knock,” the Mastermind would say each time he appeared.)
But in the tent I didn’t even have that option. I couldn’t light my stove inside obviously and the sun would soon roast me out anyway. So when I emerged, dreading the arrival of the brother and like clockwork he came, I once more could have wept. I threw subtlety to the wind and laid it out for him. I told him that by trying to help me he was driving me crazy, by trying so desperately hard to make me happy he was making me very unhappy. I tried to share with him my peculiar (to him) Western mind set and the frustration of being in a country where everyone was so nice and helpful and yet everything they did for my comfort only made me uncomfortable. I told him I wasn’t angry but frustrated that no one listened to me. When I said I preferred to get my own water I was telling the truth. When I said I wanted to make my own dinner I really did want to make my own dinner. And when I said I preferred to sleep in my tent as opposed to a room in their family house I meant it.
But all of this went right by him. All he heard was my tone of voice (somewhere between urgent and a man finally cracking under some incredible strain) and I could literally see his jaw set as he made a promise to himself that now he would redouble his efforts to make me happy. This hospitality prison was like the monster Hercules fought. Every time he threw it to the ground it rose twice as strong. The more I fought the confines of Guinean hospitality the tighter its grip became.
The only alternative left to me was escape which I accomplished yesterday morning. The previous day I’d spent recovering from the Long March and making many, many visits to the latrine. I began to suspect that my illness was more than just oily potatoes but some kind of bug. The vast amount of intestinal gas I was producing (“Hark! It’s the call of the porto!”) made me suspect giardia but I wasn’t burping and there was none of the telltale sulphurous rotten egg smell. I had no fever and the diarrhoea was somewhat chronic which made me suspect amoebic dysentery but I wasn’t really experiencing stomach cramps bad enough to make that diagnosis likely. There was, however, one more culprit and now I think about it it might really have been the cause another aspect of Douki cooking, specifically salt.
I’m not talking about “Oh, I think the soup’s a little salty.” I’m talking about putting in salt by the cup, enough to make your throat bleed. It didn’t happen every time. One time the oily potatoes were fine. The next they were drowning in salt. The first time I finally convinced them that portos really do eat rice and they served me my favorite, feh de manioc, it was very tasty. The next it was barely edible because of a salt overdose. I ate as much as I could but had to leave a lot. The salt was overpowering and I couldn’t choke it down. On my last day they prepared a kind of potato/peanut stew. Without the gallon of salt it would have been delicious. But with the salt it was inedible and I snuck around and dumped most of it in the bushes. I was amused when the brother came to pick up the bowl and said, “A lot of salt I think.”
During the last couple of days in Douki I couldn’t help but think about “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and wondered if the Douki clan was trying to poison me. (“No, I insist. You have the bigger bowl of beans.”) And ironically in the Fula Hut library was a copy of Jon Krakauer’s “Into The Wild.” No one knows exactly why Chris McCandless died but Krakauer makes a strong case that he ingested a poisonous potato seed, a poison which blocks the body’s ability to derive energy from ingested food. The more you eat the stronger the effect and you starve to death. My attempts to resist the Douki clan’s efforts to force feed me took on a whole new light after reading the book.
I left early in the morning from Douki. The brothers were there before the “zip” of the tent zipper had faded away and instead of making coffee as I’d planned I simply broke camp and loaded up the bike. That my efforts to communicate had failed was apparent in the grim faces of the brothers. They took the speed of my departure as another signal that I was angry and stood by sadly, hoping that a miracle would occur and the porto would suddenly be happy.
When the bike was loaded I said goodbye to their lovely 75 year old mother (I suspect she was the one trying to poison me that harmless, kind demeanour could be an act) and pushed my bike along the red stone path to the gate. The brother almost refused to shake my hand. He was ashamed that his efforts to make me happy had failed. Like the horse in “Animal Farm” he felt the fault was in him and resolved from now on to “work harder.”
The Mastermind shook my left hand with his, a Guinean custom that meant we would surely meet again. I think his concerns were more practical than his brother’s. He wanted me to recommend the Douki experience to other wandering portos and was worried I wouldn’t, that I might say bad things. I had tried the night before when I settled my bill to tell him that Douki had certainly been the highlight of my visit to Guinea and would likely remain so but I don’t think he believed me.
At the gate I was amused to see the “two women from the embassy” walking towards a waiting 4X4 (with driver). Where they had been all this time I had no idea. I’d seen them only once before, also walking from my Fula Hut to the gate where the same 4X4 was waiting for them. Where they’d been all day and to what bucolic delights they were now heading I don’t know. But I did know they hadn’t bothered to come over to say hello even though I had been in plain view at my tent only fifty feet away from the Fula Hut. My face brightened at the thought of touching base with them and talking about the Fula Hut for a minute or two but after a glance in my direction they climbed into their 4X4 and shut the doors. By this point I was just a few feet away and thought they would roll down the window to say hi. I stopped my bike in preparation but without a word they drove off.
I saw them again at the carrefoure. I had stopped to say goodbye to the third brother who had initially pointed me in the direction of the Fula Hut. The “two women from the embassy” were standing with their backs to me at a table being laid with coffee and breakfast. “Bonjour” I said. One of them half turned, said “bonjour” then once more presented me with her back.
“Well!” I thought as I cycled away.
Ahead of me lay the final stretch of the Pita Telimele road, a ninety kilometre distance. When I left from Douki I wasn’t sure if I would do this in one day or two. There were arguments for both.
To do it in two days made more sense, especially since I don’t have any real time pressures. I was still sick and indeed had to make a couple emergency dashes into the bush. My legs had also stiffened into boards after the Long March and I was weakened by several days of poor food intake.
But this ninety kilometres wasn’t all your normal tough Guinean road. According to my informants twenty-six kilometres of it was downhill, essentially the same drop of eight hundred meters from the clifftop to the valley floor that I’d done on foot with the Mastermind. That made the actual cycling sixty-four kilometres which is feasible even for a guy as lazy as me carrying a heavy load.
The final argument in favor of doing it in one day was the strange nature of Guinea and the fact that the only hotel was in Telimele. I could have broken the journey at the somewhat large town of Lei Miro but what would I do while I was there? I certainly didn’t want to get caught in the hospitality prison limbo again. And camping out totally on my own, hidden in the bush was possible but wouldn’t be much fun. I knew I’d reach Lei Miro quite early, perhaps around noon or one p.m. and there would be nothing to do except sit under a tree, sweat, and rave about the flies. The sun would make it impossible to hide in my tent and the flies would make it unbearable outside. I couldn’t cook, couldn’t write, couldn’t sleep, in fact could only endure, hardly an enticing prospect for seventeen hours till the sun rose the next morning and I could cycle on.
It would be different if these Guinean towns offered anything in the way of items of interest, variety, shelter, sanctuary, even a place to sit and pass the time but except for the larger places they don’t. Even some of the larger places like Pita offered little. My search there produced only one place where a person could begin to relax and every time I showed up they forced me into the dank back room where I suppose they thought I’d be more comfortable. The small towns I’d experienced like Mambiya, Tamagaly, the horrifying Bouliwel, and even the amusing Bomboli were somewhat like wastelands where the only way to pass the time was to find a patch of shade and lie down like everyone else. The cliched question “what do you do for fun in this town?” takes on a whole new light in Guinea and I’d heard nothing about Lei Miro to indicate it would be any different.
So when I cycled away from the “two women from the embassy” I was keeping an open mind and mentally prepared myself for a long day. After all if all I could do was sit in the sun I might as well be cycling while I do it.
Someone should have kicked me in the head for a bit of a reality check.
The thirteen kilometres to Dongol Touma passed pleasantly enough. The road was fairly good, the sun low and behind me, and I munched on a loaf of bread as I rode. I had thought about stocking up on some antibiotics in Dongol but the tiny pharmacy the Mastermind had told me was there was closed. I would have stopped for a break but in all the little places clustered around Dongol’s central courtyard I saw no place offering a place to sit or anything remotely pleasant and cycled right through it.
On the far side of Dongol the road immediately started to go down. I had read a description of this road that made it out to be a twenty-six kilometre blazing descent through a paradise of towering cliffs, parrots, monkeys, butterflies, and “giant leaves.” I suspect somebody was on drugs. The road did go down, the scenery was pretty enough, and I did see two monkeys but when I write my postcards home I won’t be thumbing through my thesaurus looking for superlatives. Perhaps my perspective was skewed by the comparison with the truly impressive terrain around Douki that I’d just left (and by my desperate lunges into the bush which occurred here).
What I did find interesting was the long ridge of mountainous cliffs that came into view to the north. They were reminiscent of the cliffs around Douki and according to my map the rough road leading from Telimele to Lelouma cuts a path along that 120 kilometre ridge of stone. That road, like the road from Ditinn to the amusing Bomboli, is a mystery. No one ever refers to it or even seems aware of its existence. When I mention I’m going from Telimele to Lelouma people automatically assume I’m going via Gaoual, a distance of three hundred kilometres instead of the direct route down this other road, a distance of only one hundred and twenty kilometres. It seems obvious to me and the fact that no one knows anything about it makes me think it could be a very interesting road.
With constant checks of these mountains I pushed on to Lei Miro where I arrived, as I thought I would, around lunchtime. I decided to risk putting something in my stomach and found a tiny place selling rice with a tasty peanut sauce.
As I sat there considering my options I looked around. If I was going to break the journey this was the place to do it. There was some kind of sous prefect here and I could go get hypnotized and set the wheels of the hospitality prison limbo in motion. I even had an ally to help me, a friendly man who was currently, as everyone did, boring me to tears by reading off an endless litany of place names from my map in the mistaken believe that this helped me. He’d finished the route from Pita to Telimele, Gaoual, and Labe and had launched into a recitation of all the towns in Boke region (conveniently broken down by prefecture) when I made up my mind. There was no way I was going to spend the next seventeen hours in Lei Miro listening to this guy. A look around “downtown” Lei Miro a sun blasted dusty courtyard confirmed my decision. The place I was sitting in, consisting of two crude benches just outside of the reach of the sun, represented the best Lei Miro had to offer. There were a few other rice places (though not as well appointed), a couple of cows hiding in the shade thrown by the mosque, and that was about it. I did some rough calculations of the distances remaining, filled up my water bottles and cycled off into the hottest part of the day.
Four kilometres out of Lei Miro I reached the Kakrima River. There was no bridge but a barge over on the far side offered at least the chance of getting across. I rode down to the water’s edge and settled in to wait till something happened. A group of goats came out of the bush and formed a curious ring around me. One by one they fell to their knees, then lay down to keep me company as I waited.
I don’t know how long I might have waited but a man on a motorcycle appeared on the far side with the barge operator in tow. He rode his motorbike onto the barge and then engaged me in a shouted halting conversation as the barge inched its way across, propelled by a hand winch attached to a cable. I had found out in Lei Miro that to take a car across on the barge cost one thousand FG. I thought a bicycle might be less but it was clear it made no difference. The poor guy operating that hand winch was working up a tremendous sweat. I don’t think whether his passenger was on a bike or in a 4X4 made any difference to how hard he had to work. At least the goats and I were waiting in the shade. The barge was out there on the river in the full onslaught of the sun.
On my trip across I thought briefly about taking a picture of my bike in this unusual situation but thought better of it. Such a barge was clearly a major component of Guinean national security. For all I knew there was once a bridge there but then a tourist took a picture of it and a week later it was destroyed by a bomb. Who could tell?
On the other side of the Kakrima the real work began and I wondered if by continuing on I had made a wise choice. In a car you might have called this land flat but the road followed a continuous series of ups and downs climbing to 310 meters and then dropping down to 270 or 245. And the grades were steep. Meanwhile the sun beat down on this most windless of windless days. The vultures began to circle and the tiny black flies moved in for the kill.
I comforted myself with the thought that being totally self sufficient I could stop and set up camp at any time I chose. Of course that fantasy didn’t really ring true when I contemplated the airless, bug filled grassland oven savannah around me. One could survive here for a night if one had to. One could also sleep in an alley in downtown Chicago. But in both cases you have to wonder why would you? Especially when there was an alternative.
But my alternative, my El Dorado, the hotel that was reputed to exist in Telimele was still a long ways off and I was beginning to feel a tad fatigued. Luckily I had an intermediate goal and that was the point where the road I was on joined up with the main Kindia Telimele road, the very same road in fact where the world’s most unfriendly cobra was probably still testing the screen, dreaming of the day he finally sinks his fangs into a juicy tourist neck.
Where road met road was a carrefoure and if nothing else a carrefoure offers the possibility of some human activity. I told myself I only had to reach the town of Gougoudje at the carrefoure and there if I couldn’t possibly go on I could stay. This was the carrot I offered myself. The stick was all around me in the heat and the flies that threatened to drive me mad when I stopped moving for even a few seconds, and I continued to push on.
I’d almost given up hope when my calculations proved false and four kilometres early I found myself at Gougoudje. It wasn’t a moment too soon and I collapsed onto a log in an open field breathing heavily and frightening a few local girls with my wild eyed appearance and incoherent mumblings about flies and heat. I was so far gone that I’d even forgotten about the carrefoure and when I saw a couple taxi brousse moving seemingly across this arid plain I was puzzled. Then I remembered the road and that Telimele was only fifteen kilometres away. Fifteen measly kilometres with three hours of daylight to do it in and a hotel waiting at the end. Surely even a wimp like me could do that. Did I want to spend the night in a place called Gougoudje? A man couldn’t even say that a hundred times fast without starting to slip into insanity. No, I could do fifteen kilometres. I was going to Telimele, poor fool I.
At the carrefoure proper I stopped and asked a man how far it was to Telimele. Fourteen kilometres he said while pointing at a road marker with the number fourteen painted on it. “Ce n’est pas loin.”
I agreed with him that no, fourteen kilometres wasn’t far.
“Of course,” he added, “there’s the mountain.”
The mountain. Of course. Would this be a small mountain or a large mountain?
He properly concluded I was off my head and simply repeated that it was a mountain and then washed his hands of the whole business of the dumb white guy on a bike.
Who knows why we do these things? Why did the Titanic steam full speed into a field of ice bergs? Why did Rob Hall and Scott Fischer continue on to the top of Everest knowing full well it was too late in the day? Why didn’t Dr. Evil kill his nemesis Austin Powers when he had the chance? Why did we all shell out cold hard cash to see that dog’s breakfast “The Blair Witch Project”? And why did I decide to cycle that last fifteen kilometres to Telimele? I mean for the love of Pete there’s a guy telling me I have to go up a mountain to get there. And still I go. I tell myself that I’ve got three hours. Even at 5 km/hr I’d still get there before dark. 5 km/hr? I wish. As things turned out I was lucky to be moving at all.
Luckily the mountain wasn’t much of a mountain. I started out at around 270 meters and topped off in Telimele at 570, a climb of only 300 meters, about a thousand feet. But there was nothing left in the gas tank, absolutely nothing. I had the strength to walk and could have walked to Telimele perhaps even carrying a full backpack. But to drive those pedals around to push that bike forward was another story. I could barely continue on flat ground let alone uphill. But still there was hope. I was making progress and thought I just might survive this without permanent psychological damage.
But then I hit the first of the switchbacks. There weren’t many of them and they weren’t long but they were the steepest mothers I’d ever encountered. I knew I was in trouble when I saw a man returning from the Telimele market walking his bike down. The switchbacks were too steep for him to even dare ride his bike down. He stopped to see how I would fare. I tried to put on a good show and attacked the first really steep one but I didn’t have the strength. I made it about thirty feet then ground to a halt and simply fell over. I didn’t even have the energy or will left to break my fall and lay there gasping like a beached fish. So finally Guinea did make a liar out of me and grunting and shouting, sometimes falling to my knees I pushed my bike up the switchbacks.
It was embarrassing but in a way not as bad as it could have been. It was touch and go whether I could even push the bike and I thought briefly that I might have to take the pannier bags off the bike and carry them up individually. But I wasn’t reduced to that and after a surprisingly few really steep turns it was back to steady climbing and even a number of flattish sections.
But I’d been pushed over the edge. That effort had taken the last of my reserves and the sun, the distance, the steep grades, the flies, my illness, and the residual effects of the Long March all finally caught up with me and I was a beaten man. When I came up to the steep grades remaining I was forced to stop again and again and gather my strength to continue. The rests got longer and longer, the distances I covered shorter and shorter till it was a very real possibility that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Telimele without help. It became more and more difficult to move again and I felt, the first time I think, that fatigue I’d only read about where a person literally can’t go on. You can whip them and it would do no good. The pain of the whip would be welcome as long as you can continue to just lie there and not have to move.
The hardest part came when I’d actually reached Telimele. I couldn’t believe I was there and scanned around eagerly for this hotel which was supposed to be on the Kindia end of town but didn’t see it. It turns out Telimele is one of these long strung out towns and in fact I still had forty meters of climbing to do. The worst of it was that I didn’t know where this hotel might be or even if it existed. This uncertainty fed into an internal release upon arriving at the stone arch saying I was in Telimele to produce a total shut down of my muscles. It was probably only a kilometre or a kilometre and a half from that point to where I am now but it was easily the hardest kilometre of my life. I felt feverish and lightheaded and my whole body was trembling. I knew that if I sat down once I’d never get up again. My breath came in ragged gasps and my pulse wouldn’t go down no matter how long I rested. Dozens of people were on the road leaving from the Telimele market and they all greeted me. It was all I could do to gasp out my replies and resist the impulse to break out into hysterical giggles.
But foot by foot I made my way forward until upon asking for the hundredth time after this hotel a woman detailed two representatives from the small boy network to show me. By then I was pushing the bike again and the two of them took up positions behind the bike and helped. The final piece was a trail down a steep, short hill. I jammed the brakes on full and skidding and sliding, one millisecond away from disaster I arrived, nearly out of my head at the only hotel in Telimele.
I don’t know what I would have done had there been no hotel. I don’t think I had the strength to go get hypnotized by the sous prefect and go through all the shenanigans in order to find private “logement” or set up my tent. Had I been told there was no hotel I might have just lain down at the side of the road and gone to sleep.
But if all’s well that ends well then I definitely got lucky because not only is it a hotel but in my terms a very nice hotel. My room is large with a clean bed, not one but two tables, and a toilet. There are actually two doors. One of them faces a parking area and the other opens onto a small patio facing an L shaped courtyard where the family and all the animals hang out. Right at the edge of the courtyard is a steep drop off and through the trees I get glimpses of the rest of Telimele far below. The patio gives me a place to cook and the layout gives me lots of activity to watch everything from the chickens tracking down bugs to the armies of small boys throwing rocks to knock down an almost ripe mango or two.
The man who showed me the reasonably priced room also had a nose for priorities. When I asked him for two cold Fantas he got them right away. (I’d had six litres of water during the day but was still badly dehydrated.) The Fantas wouldn’t do much for me liquid wise I knew but psychologically they were nectar. He also instantly supplied me with a bucket of washing water and filled my water bag with ten litres of drinking water, which I purified and started putting away a litre at a time on top of two cold cans of Beck’s beer, my first since leaving Dalaba thirteen days before.
I was so tired that I didn’t feel any hunger but I knew that was just an illusion and I asked the miracle man if the hotel might be able to scrounge up some food. He said they could make me some fried chicken and he was as good as his word. Around 9:30 (better late than never) I was presented with a platter containing one small diced tomato and one complete chicken. A whole chicken just sitting there. I took out my plastic camping cutlery, tore that chicken apart, and inhaled it.
I didn’t last long after that, staying awake only to fill out the very detailed registration form that was handed to me. It read that it was for the local police department, a reminder along with the police checkpoints outside Gougoudje that I’d reemerged back into mainstream Guinea. In fact this Kindia Telimele road continues on into Guinea Bissau and Senegal and so the police might take a special interest in it.
7:24 p.m. “Hotel of the Revolution”
It never ceases to amaze (and frighten) me to see how quickly humans can adapt to and accept new circumstances. I think back to my arrival in Conakry and how just the street outside my hotel literally “blew my mind.” Bit by bit I accepted it till now if I stood there I wouldn’t be able to imagine why it affected me so strongly. And now I’ve spent just nine days away from any urban centre and I find I react to Telimele’s bustle with something like shock. I walked from the hotel down to central Telimele, really nothing but an overgrown village, and I thought I was in Times Square. Douki and my Fula Hut had become “normal” and I walked through Telimele like a scared rabbit. I was nervous about going up to a streetside stall with its wide selection of goods and tough urban seller. Meanwhile if I’d come here directly from Canada Telimele would seem quaint if not decrepit and even primitive.
I made my purchases quickly and scurried back to my hotel, the rabbit darting back into its burrow. I’d like to spend more time out on the streets but these towns just don’t encourage that. There are places to sit but they are just rough wooden benches in the sun where you could get a plate of rice and sauce. It’s all very utilitarian and I have to wonder where this comes from. Is it strictly a function of poverty or is it a cultural thing? Because anywhere in the world a town of this size with this much traffic would produce at least one place, one cafe, one set of defined tables and chairs where those with the means can put up their feet, order a coffee and relax. But here in Guinea there’s nothing like that.
I took a quick tour through this hotel (which I learned is or was called “Hotel de la Revolution”) and it is the same as everywhere else. There are in fact large public areas. One big, dark, dirty room used to be a bar. Another room was once a lounge. Now it’s a lightless dungeon slash warehouse with some crap thrown together to make rough seats against a wall. When the electricity comes on they plug in a TV and watch “Roseanne” dubbed into French. (And if that doesn’t frighten you nothing will.) There’s even a terrace of sorts that given another time and place would be quite nice. But now there’s nothing there but some old chairs against a wall and a lot of barbed wire to keep who knows who or what from climbing in. I’ve come to think of all this as post-apocalyptic decor. But from what little I’ve gleaned of Guinean modern history I can’t imagine a time when a hotel like this actually functioned. When would Guinea have been able to support a hotel with a bar, lounge, terrace and rooms with hot running water and showers? None of this exists anymore but the skeleton is still there and where there’s a skeleton one assumes at one point flesh was attached to it. When did Guinea have flesh?
Shopping is an interesting experience. On the one hand I find it difficult. I don’t speak Fula (or Susu or Malinke or Kissi or…) and my smattering of French is worse than useless. And I never know what they call the items I’m looking for. Sometimes they use brand names and not actual names. (Just try and find a “stylo.” “Oh, you mean a bic.”) Other times they use an ingredient or a word from a local language. And of course no matter how small the purchase you have to go through the whole process of asking for the price of every item. Luckily most of the items I need are standard and the price is more or less fixed so I needn’t bother with bargaining. And a final difficulty is that I find almost all shopkeepers reticent to the point of surliness. (“Would it kill you to smile?” I want to ask them.) I think often of Sundar in Conakry and how different he was in tone friendly and eager to help a customer. I’ve kept my eyes open since then for Indian shopkeepers but haven’t seen any outside Conakry.
But there are certain features (unique to Guinea perhaps) that make shopping easy. For one thing I’ve learned that there is absolutely no variety in terms of stock. That means if the first shop you go into doesn’t have what you’re looking for then no one has it. You might as well give up looking and go home. But if one shop has it then every shop has it. I was amused to see that in Telimele this sameness extended right down to how they displayed stock. For whatever reason the shops in Telimele are flooded with body lotions and beauty soaps and every shop has them lined up neatly with bars of soap perched on top of bottles of lotion. I look at a line of shops and I think I’m suffering from double, triple, or quadruple vision.
I’ve been searching fruitlessly for oatmeal ever since leaving Kindia and the Mastermind suggested a reason I haven’t found it. People think of it in terms of the brand. I should have been asking for “Quaker” (pronounced locally as ‘kwacker’). Till now I’ve gotten nothing but blank stares on my search. But here in Telimele I followed the Mastermind’s advice and asked for “kwacker.” Nobody had it but at least this time they knew what I was talking about.
I’m still doing a fair amount of simple cooking and today on a whim I picked up five eggs and for the first time in my life a tin of corned beef. I don’t even know what corned beef is let alone what I’m going to do with it and the eggs. Perhaps a corned beef, egg, and cheese sandwich? I got five eggs instead of a round half dozen because I was told the going rate was two hundred FG/egg. Five eggs therefore is a nice even mille francs. The woman put them in a tiny plastic bag and for the rest of my time in the market I was carrying them gingerly, the knotted bag pinched between thumb and finger. I planned on this experimental sandwich for dinner but then discovered they’d already thrown another chicken in the pot for me. I hope the eggs will keep till morning. They should considering the length of time eggs are kept at the market in the heat of the day.