Monday, December 18 10:30 a.m.
Taking this room and staying in Conakry an extra week has had the desired effect. I’ve ceased to obsess about getting on the bicycle and “go, go, going.” I’ve relaxed and slipped another notch into what I’m beginning to think of as a Guinean pace of life. And even loading up my bicycle with my four pannier bags and cycling the four blocks to La Vina has given me confidence about my impending departure.
The man of the household, after escorting me into my room for my approval, sat me down outside for a man to man chat. It’s not very efficient but normal I suppose that though Angie is the power here and knows all the answers they have the man talk to me. He only had two points to make. The first was that they occasionally had large groups at the restaurant and there would be more of a festive atmosphere (ie, it would be noisier) than at a restaurant in Canada and I might be disturbed by it. Second, he harped on what has become a familiar theme, that the situation wasn’t good in Guinea right now with the rebels in the southeast and the prevalent hostility towards Sierra Leonian and Liberian refugees. So the midnight curfew, the “raf”, should be taken seriously and it would be best if I was safe inside the compound by at least 11:30 each night. Sundar has also spoken to me of this and I took his advice to the extent of carrying only the bare minimum amount of cash along with my passport when I go out after dark. He says that during police searches at night they will not just demand a bribe but take everything you have on you, including traveller’s cheques.
This family at the restaurant moved into the compound for that very reason. They used to live in a three bedroom house in another part of Conakry. But they tired of running the gauntlet of police barricades each night. They had to pay 5,000 francs at each barricade and there were as many as four or five on their way. That, on top of having to pay double rent (the house and restaurant), convinced them to move in here.
There are some inconveniences to this place as opposed to Les Hotels Mantisse. The bathroom is shared and has only cold water. There is indeed some overflow of music from the restaurant proper to my room. The many trees provide for a lot of mosquitos and there is a concern for economy vis a vis the air conditioner but these aren’t real problems. And the advantages outweigh them. In particular I like the courtyard style. It’s very pleasant to sit outside under the palm trees and it’s convenient for me to ride my bike right through the gates into the compound where there is a shed for my bicycle.
The largest part of my day was spent moving and then cycling to the north through Ratoma and Kapora. It wasn’t a pleasant ride. The roads were too narrow and the traffic passed too closely and erratically for that. I bought some kerosene along the way and tested my stove back at the restaurant. The family stood around in pop eyed amazement to see me do this. Not that they were unfamiliar with camping stoves. They simply appeared nervous at having me around and stood at “deer caught in the headlights” attention on principle.
I gave them my standard “low maintenance” speech trying to get across the idea that I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of people running around doing things for me and trying to make me comfortable (which always has the opposite effect). So far my speech hasn’t worked and I’m heading off attempts to clean my shoes and open doors. Just now Angie appeared at my door with Abdullah, the handy man, and asked that I vacate so he could wash the floor. The clean floor was for my benefit but I couldn’t quite get across the idea that leaving the room, letting my coffee go cold, and having to stand around waiting was much more of a problem than an unwashed floor. And besides, the only way this floor would become clean is with a powerful sandblasting.
At dusk I walked across the street for a meal. There is a man there with a tiny place who each day cooks up a large vat of a potato and beef stew which he calls “ragout.” He puts the vat on a chair and settles back to wait for customers. It’s a filling meal and satisfying. We have the same conversation every day about the difficulties he faces and how he would very much like to emigrate to Canada, or failing that find a job cooking for a “white man” here in Conakry. I said I would keep my eyes open for anyone needing a cook.
I sat there for a long time watching the parade of people walking up and down the street till I spotted Bob and the lanky intelligence officer John Telkin walking up the street. They joined me for a plate of ragout and then we retired to my new home for drinks and conversation. “Conversation” I suppose is not quite the correct word since John held forth for the next three hours with barely a pause for breath.