Sunday, January 28 10:25 a.m. Douki
To say that I am deliriously happy would be an understatement. The reason for that happiness is my new home, a traditional Fula hut (with some decidedly Western twists) located right in the middle of the Fouta Djalon in a small village called Douki.
To be here in this hut is so perfect that I keep expecting someone to show up (an MIU probably) and tell me that I can’t stay here, that it was all a mistake. Or more likely that I can stay here but these thirty-eight other people are going to stay here with me. Or that it’s just a dream.
I’m writing this within minutes of moving into my hut. I’m drinking a cup of hot coffee the water for which I boiled in record time on a three burner propane stove. My notebook is sitting on a low table. There is no desk or high table but that’s just a minor flaw in my paradise. I’m comfortable with the low table because I’m sitting on one of the locally made wooden mushroom stools and leaning comfortably against the mud brick wall. There is a small single bed and to my utter amazement a large sleeping area built into a loft raised on thick posts. There are a couple of rough hewn counters hanging from ropes and three bookshelves between the posts. On the bookshelves is a small collection of English books I’ve definitely died and gone to heaven.
In terms of design the hut couldn’t be more pleasing to the eye and the other senses. It’s perfectly round and has two walls. The inner wall is about eight feet high and encloses the single room which is about fifteen feet across. The outer wall is only about two and a half feet high with posts at regular intervals. The grass roof is conical and rests on top of the high wall and then on the outer ring of posts. This design creates a wonderful narrow verandah that circles the entire hut. The roof overhangs this verandah keeping it shady and cool. I can sit out there and watch the world go by. (It’s also the perfect bicycle garage.) The thatch roof, mud walls, and double walled construction keep it remarkably cool inside something those who have experienced the horrific effects of “modern” corrugated tin roofing can really appreciate.
The propane stove, small library, and other Western touches are apparently the influence of French embassy staff and Peace Corps Volunteers who come up here to Douki quite regularly. Lying about the hut are other items like empty tubes of “Cocoa Butter Formula” and an assortment of camp shower water bags, sure signs that fotes and portos have been about. I don’t know the history of this place yet but it’s possible the Peace Corps was even involved in some way in its construction though it apparently is owned by a family here in Douki.
The reason this “tourist hut” exists in the first place is apparently because near here are some cliffs with caves and some other scenic attractions. According to my rather confused informants it’s all “tres, tres touristique.” (Nobody has taught the Guineans yet that “touristy” and especially “very touristy” are bad things in English. We portos wander around in search of tourist attractions but we don’t want them too touristy thank you very much.)
I think what appeals to me most about my little tourist hut is the near total privacy. It is in a village but the nearest huts are a hundred yards away. It feels very much like my own domain, my home. There is a substantial latrine nearby solving the toilet problem. There are supposed to be several water sources including a natural spring and once I have those located I’ll be more or less totally independent. I have enough simple food with me to last several days but even that doesn’t matter. There is an endless supply of bananas and oranges and (saving the best for last) the family that owns this “tres touristique” set up is an English speaking one and getting food from the villagers via this family will be no problem at all. Even as I write a member of the family is off cooking up a meal of fried sweet potatoes for me, unprompted.
The youngest son of this family is the most fluent English speaker, the mastermind behind it all, and the “guide touristique” that is advertised on the signs out at the Douki carrefoure. These signs are hand painted and were done by some French people and are such a surprise on this Pita Telimele road I almost fell off my bike when I saw them. I stopped to talk to a denizen of the small boy network about this “guide touristique” advertised on these colorful signs. He burst into tears and ran away in terror. He returned with an older brother who sold me a bunch of bananas for two hundred FG but who only giggled when I addressed him. He eventually led me to a fenced compound where his father was taping together an old aerial.
This man was an older brother of the mastermind who unfortunately was away for the day at Dongol Touma, thirteen kilometres up the road. I was confused for a long time as we spoke but eventually I figured out that there was some kind of place where I could stay just a couple of kilometres down a rough track which he pointed out behind me.
I pushed my bike down this bush road in the company of the banana seller. The whole time I was trying to keep my hopes in check. A place, a logement, run by people who actually wanted lodgers to stay there was incredible in Guinea. And for that logement to be a Fula hut in a village area was almost too good to be true. As I walked I kept waiting for the complications and misunderstandings and problems to develop.
But to my amazement they never did. The banana seller took me through the gate of a large fenced-in area and then pointed me up a trail of lava rock to this gorgeous hut. I didn’t dare believe that this hut could potentially be my home and looked at the boy for confirmation. He urged me forward and then went off in search of someone. It all seemed way too easy.
I sat on a bamboo bench with five small boys (all named Mamadou) and waited while this intense happiness started to build. I finally let it flow unchecked when I met the soft spoken brother. He was very friendly, spoke English, and instantly directed the carrying of my bags into my new home. The true test of any such situation in Guinea is the key and to my joy there was a key, it was in the door, and the soft spoken brother left it there in my possession. This really was my home.
My only concern was how long I could stay. I instinctively felt that any place so wonderful must come with a time limit. It must be reserved for someone else. So when the soft spoken brother asked me how long I might want to say I smiled, spread my arms to encompass the hut, and said, “Forever.”