I arrived in Guinea- Bissau on November 24th at 1 am, 10 days after I turned 23 in 2012. That is exactly one year ago today.
I remember waking up the morning after I arrived and feeling like how it must feel to hatch from an egg. I felt so strange, the sun was so bright, I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying and the kids in the house stared at me inquisitively.
It makes me laugh to remember those first couple of days. It took me a few days to adjust to the humidity and that fact that everyone was black! I didn’t know anyone, so my friends became the 5 and 8 year old kids living at my Aunt’s house who spoke to me in rapid fire Creole. My step dad was very paranoid about the security in the country (and for good reason) and would not let me walk around after dark by my self. I spent so much of those first couple months reading, exercising, taking naps, and trying to explore what seemed like a barren city.
But after a couple of months, living in Bissau went from feeling like I landed on Mars to feeling like I knew it like the back of my hand. It’s a small place, so it’s easy to catch on. I also had some great Creole teachers.
In the year I’ve been here there has been a lot of struggles, frustrations and disappointments. I’ve probably cried more in my time here than I have my entire 4 years in college. I could easily say it’s been the most difficult time in my life. But even with all that in mind, coming to Bissau is absolutely the best decision I could have made.
I’ve always believed that you have something to learn from any place you go, and any person you meet. Some lessons that these people and places bring vary in depth, importance, and relevance.
By far the most important thing I’ve gained from my time here has been learning about who I am and where I’m from. The sense of knowing ones history is so powerful. I feel like I found answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. Layer that with all things I’ve learned about my self during my ups and downs. It’s has changed how I see the world and it has changed how I see my self.
I knew very little about Guinea Bissau, my family, and the political situation of the country before I arrived. But now I can say with confidence what it means to be Fula (although I can’t speak the language), What it means to be Bissau-Guinean, and what it means to be from West Africa (I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit other countries in the region). I can put faces to names of family members and understand completely when my dad speaks about the little village he was born in.
Having lived here for this long feels like a major accomplishment. And I am proud of my self for having lasted this long. It has not been easy! But I didn’t want to come here and get a superficial experience. I wanted to live the Guinean life, I wanted to feels what it means to be Guinean. *
*And ironically, no matter how long I live here, I can never truly know. I’m considered white here- imagine that! And there are certain privileges that come with having fair skin and an American passport.
So on to another day, another month…… another year? I doubt I can last that long, but as the days pass we will see what the future has in store.