Friday, May 24, 2013

What you can learn from getting hit in the face

            I think God is trying to tell me something.  Last weekend I was excited to go out, and then I got sick. This weekend I was looking forward to going out to make up for last weekend and I got mugged.  Let me share with you what happened:
            I had gone out with Bruno and two of my Guinean friends, Valdir and Ronny. We went to a club (discotecha) called Insomnia where all the foriegners seem to congregate on weekend nights. The crowd is always the same, but the music is better then most other clubs, which is why we keep going there.  The night was normal. We were dancing and having a good time, but by 2 am everyone had left to other clubs, so we though we would too.
            We were a block away from Insomnia when we came to a crossroad. Ronny and Valdir wanted to go to Tabanka, which was on the other side of the block and Bruno and I wanted to go to Plack, which was a 7 minute walk away and much closer to my house.  With out coming to a compromise together, we decided to split up.
            Bruno and I were walking and talking and suddenly I noticed Bruno wasn’t by my side anymore. I turned around and found him in a headlock, a knife pointed at his side, and someone digging through his pockets.  In shock at what was happening, I begin to backing away from them and then, once coming to consciousness, started running and trying to call Valdir and Ronny on my cell.
            Then I head someone running behind me and calling for me to wait. I tried running faster but there was no outrunning an almost 6ft man in my flip flops. I turned around and saw his big athletic frame running towards me, as If he was the safety and I the wide receiver running for a touch down.  And as a football player would, he tried to grab me from behind, but I ducked and he passed over me. From the front he grabbed me and we struggled for a few seconds before I fell. On the ground he continued to try to get the phone from out of my hand. He hovered over me so I took the opportunity to kick him in the face, hoping he would just back off after words. WRONG!  I know I got him good because he stopped, cursed me, and began to punch me. I resorted to the fetal position, using my arms to cover my upper body as the blows continued to fall.  One or two got through my arms and got me right in the eye. I could feel my eye and nose throbbing and I prayed it wasn’t going to be serious. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only 10 seconds he stopped, grabbed my phone and took off running with his accomplice.
            It all happened so FAST!! I got off the ground and couldn’t believe what had just happened. I saw Bruno walking towards me and wondered where he was when all that was happening. He asked if I was ok and said the second guy was holding him off with the knife so he couldn’t come toward me. But it didn’t matter really, it was all over and done with.
            We walked back to Insomnia and I could feel my eye swelling up. It felt oozy and puffy.  My jeans were ripped, my entire side covered with dirt and one of my earrings was missing. It was definitely a sight to see. I rinsed out my eye and got some ice from the bar tender. I just wanted to go home.
            I was ready to call a cab but Bruno convinced me to go back to his place. And he was right, did I really want to go back to a house with no lights, no water, and be by my self after an experience like this?
            I showered at his place and he lent me some clothes to change into. I couldn’t sleep, so we stayed up talking while I iced my eye. At 4 am Emilio came home to make bread in the morning for the cafe. Since he doesn’t sleep here we took over his room, which has some extra mattresses. He surely wasn’t expecting to see us there, so the expression on his face was priceless when he walked in the room. And his face told us everything he was thinking. Bruno and I quickly explained what happened to us before he begin to over think the situation he was walking into. 
            I finally fell asleep but got up early because I had work the following morning. As cool as it is to have a friend hat lives on top of a bar/café, it’s not cool when you are leaving his house early in the morning with a black eye and wearing his clothes. On top of everything, now all the Portuguese guys that I’ve come to know who eat breakfast at the bar think Bruno and I hooked up. Greeeeeeeeeaaaat.
            Fortunately the swelling had gone down significantly and I was able to get by saying I had a bad case of Pink eye to those who asked what happened. But for people like my boss and step-dad, I couldn’t get away with that lie so I had to fess up about what happened. I wore sunglasses throughout the day and by Monday my eye was looking back to normal, just really red. 
            I finally ran into Valdir and Ronny and told them what happened. Ronny said he saw I had called and was trying to call me back, but he knew something wasn’t right when the call kept getting disconnected everything he called. He figured it wasn’t me because it was something out of my character. They felt bad because they figured if they had been with us nothing would have happened. But no one could have know what would have happened.
              But what is crazy to me is how safe everyone says they feel here. Since that day I keep hearing, “ I’ve never had a problem, or I always walk around late at night.”  I have my story to share now as a reminder to other foreigners that even though it feels safe, anything can happen.

So what did I learn, you ask? Haha plenty!!

1)   Take a cab at night!! ( Even this part is tricky because taxi drivers have been known to pull some shady stuff as well, especially at night) Or walk in groups.
2)   Be aware of your surroundings. Had we noticed then before they snuck up on us we probably could have avoid the whole situation
3)   When getting robbed, just give them what they want in order to avoid any physical harm. This is exactly what I didn’t do that I will do if there is ever a next time.
4)   I learned my own vulnerability. I guess in my mind I always thought of my self as a tough chick. But I learned that my physical strength have their limits, especially when confronted with a grown man twice my size.
5)    I think that most importantly I’m walking away from this experience with new eyes. Having an experience of this nature changes you. It’s a subtle change, but it’s deep and lasting. When I’m walking around at night now, my whole demeanor has changed from how it used to be. Not that I assume everyone is dangerous, but I’m much more aware of the possibilities of violence and theft.  My awareness of my surroundings has shifted or heightened.

At the end of it all am grateful that I was able to walk away from the situation relatively unharmed and I’m thankful for the lessons leaned. Hopefully there will never be a next time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Stomach Malfunctions

Ugh. What a weekend. After my first week of work I was definitely looking forward to the weekend. I had made plans to go out on Friday and Bob Marley’s birthday was on Saturday, so you know there were lots of activities going on.  Plus my step-dad was going to be out of town so I didn’t have to worry about checking in and everything else that comes along with living with a concerned parent.
            But of course things don’t always go as planned. I got home from work Friday evening and I was freezing (not because of the weather)! I knew it was the onset of some kind of bug, so I just hopped right in bed. I woke up several times during the night to put on layers and then take them all off.  I was burning up, then I was freezing, then I was burning up. Yes, all the fun stuff that comes with a fever.
            I was supposed to go into work on Saturday, but by the time I woke up I was feeling miserable. “Maybe in a couple hours I’ll feel better”, I kept thinking.  I had to go into work because we are having our big opening ceremony on Tuesday and I had a lot of things to get ready on my end.
            I was in and out of sleep for the next couple hours. And then it hit, diahria like I’ve never had in my life. At least I knew what all the fuss was about, and knew exactly what caused it.
           Friday morning I had decided to mix it up (because I was tired of eating bread and butter for breakfast) and bought a sandwich from a woman who sells them down the street. It’s not the 1st time I’ve had one of these sandwiches, but it’s the first time I had one from some one I didn’t know.  People sell all kinds of sandwiches on the side of the roads, but the one I had had fish, mayo, onions, and potatoes. It sounds strange, but it’s really good. Anyways something must have been funky with the sandwich because that was the only thing I had eaten all day, so it couldn’t have been anything else.
            You always have to be careful with food here, both packaged and cooked. You have to watch the packaged goods because they will sell you anything here: spoiled meat, stale pastries, and things past the expiration date. On the end of cooked you have to be careful because you never know how the food is prepared. This is something I continually forget because I’ve started to get comfortable. After almost 6 months its hard not to!
             I moved out of Alice’s house but still eat there more or less (less since I’m working full time). But my step dad still lives here, and has also been eating there less and less. Essentially we are “transitioning out” of her house, but its tricky on the food end because the only thing our house has right now is a bed.  So there isn’t really anything to prepare meals, most of the time I’ve been eating out.
            Anywho I’ll spare you all the details and just say that through out the entire weekend I didn’t go a step farther then 7 ft. And that is my estimated distance between my step-dad’s bed and the bathroom.  I stayed at Alice’s house for the weekend because her house has filtered water and electricity, two other really important things our house doesn’t have (yet, but really I just go there to sleep). And as I mentioned, my step-dad was out of town, so I took over his room with no problem.
            Alice would walk into my room and feed me all kinds of weird stuff. I'd ask what was in the cups and she'd reply," don't ask, just drink." Talk about putting your faith in someones hands.
            By Sunday the fever had passed, but the diarrhea lingered until Monday. On the bright side got lots of rest after a long 1st week at work. Anytime I get sick its a reminder that i have to be extra careful with my health here because the health care, as I have mentioned, is kind of a joke. 
            Monday morning everyone asked how my trip went! haha! Everyone thought I had gone with my step-dad because they hadn't seen me the whole weekend!

Monday, May 6, 2013

1 de Maio: Dia dos Trabalhados ( Day of the Workers)

I had told my cousin, Marta Alice,  I would go with her to Varela for Worker's day. At the end of April there is a mass exodus of people to the north of Guinea Bissau to the beach town of Varela. Varela is supposed to have the most beautiful beaches in Bissau and it is tradition for people to spend the 2 days before and after May 1st in Varela.
            I’ve never been, so I was really excited and all aboard for the trip. I had even offered to let everyone (5 or 6 people) sleep in the tent that came in the container we sent.
           Marta hasn’t talked to me since I flaked. I guess I should feel bad, but it all ended up being for the best. For some reason it wasn’t feeling right for me to leave, mostly because of the situation we were in in regards to trying to get the truck out of the port. It's not that my step-dad can’t handle it himself, but more so that based on past experiences, I should be there for the process. It also just wasn’t feeling right to leave. I didn’t want to be 4 hours away from home with people I didn’t feel comfortable with. Granted Marta is my cousin, but I’ve been in one to many situations with her that I’ve learned were not necessarily on the same team (in terms of comradery). Her boyfriend creeps me out a bit too.
            So after lots of reflection, I decided not to go and instead organized with some friends to go swimming at Hotel Azalia.  In attendance was Danny, Valdir, Hilha and her friend, my Brazilian friend Bruno and his friend Franciso. It was lots of swimming, racing, tossing people in to the pool and playing catch. It was a great way to spend the holiday.
            There was an older middle eastern looking guy that Francisco was telling me was from he US. I didn’t believe him, but made a mental note to talk to him. There weren’t very many foreigners there. Maybe 6 of us in total ( I didn't know the others, but knew they were foreigners because we are easy to spot.)
            After a while I came across the guy in the pool. He came up to me and said hi. I asked where he was from and he told me to guess. I laughed because I always tell people to guess, rarely am I the one guessing. I said India (knowing he was from the US) just for the heck of it. He said his name is Fazal and he is from California, LA to be exact.
            That changed everything.  When I ask another foreigner where they are from and they say the US, it almost always makes them a cousin to me, but the minute they say California they are immediate family.
            He was resisting answering the “why are you here” part and said he is just here. But no one is ever “just here”. I’m JUST here, but I came with a purpose and intention of getting to know the country and my family, so he had to come for some reason. Finally he caved and said he is here as director of a Los Angles solar power plant company that will be opening a solar power plant here in Bissau. I responded with, “That’s really cool! Do you have a job for me?” ( Side note: for some reason, speaking in creole has made me a lot more direct. I’ve been noticing ill say things in Creole that I wouldn’t usually say so bluntly in English, but now it’s slowly creeping into my English.)
            To my surprise he said yes, they are actually looking for people. I was excited because the last few weeks I have been looking for a job and have had a lot of potential opportunities, but nothing concrete. I had been talking with an American guy named Al Hope who was hired to revamp the organization of the National Airport. He said there could be an opportunity to hop in with them as a sustainability coordinator and write an action plan that would “green” the airport. I had also been in conversation with Nelson Dias, the director of the Institute for the Protection of Bio-diversity, and he mentioned I could work with them on a study of the role local fisheries systems play in the country’s economics. The studies would take place in the mouths of the countries 3 major Rivers.
             I took what he said with a grain of salt and the following day I called Fazal and we sat and chatted for a couple hours. He is Pakistani – American, born in Pakistan but lives in LA. The name of the business is called Suntrough Energy and they are an LA based solar power plant company.
Guinea-Bissau is the first African country they will be setting up a plant, and have a 25 year contract with the Guinean government to provide the country with 20 megawatts of solar energy. They also have a long term plan of having their plants in every country in the West African region.
            At the end of our conversation he offered me a job as the environmental point person for the development of the solar projects. It's a big learning curve, but he said it would be worth it to them and beneficial for me to go through the training to learn the job.
           I was torn between my “potential” opportunities and the one in my lap. With all these thoughts and possibilities running through my head, I told him I would think it over and call him the following day to confirm. 
            I went to the Portuguese bar and met up with Bruno and Francisco to talk it over. After just a few minutes of talking I realized I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Even though it wasn’t what I was planning on getting into (solar power), it will be a great place to start getting work experience. I called Fazal to let him know. He said, "Great, you start on Monday."