Monday, February, 26 2:30 p.m.
I appear to be momentarily trapped in Kankan by a “manifestation.”
The plan was to go to the bank this morning, change money, and then head for the Forest Region tomorrow morning. But when I found the bank it was locked up tight. My first thought was that with my usual talent for such things I’d chosen the one day in the work week that banks in Guinea are closed. “Open every day except X,” the signs always say and I always need to go there on X. But after peering through the barred doors I saw a sign that said the bank was open Monday to Thursday. Friday was X. So the day was right. Then I figured I must be too early, another common problem in the dumb white guy’s world. I’m eternally out of sync and trying to do things at the wrong time. I’d deliberately forced myself to wait until 10:00 a.m. before going to the bank to avoid just this problem. But a second look through the door at the sign told me the bank was normally open at 9:00. So why wasn’t it open?
It was then that a man passing on a scooter stopped to tell me that the bank wasn’t going to open that day.
“Why?” I asked him.
“Because of the manifestation,” he said.
I looked at the sky for signs of the apocalypse but saw no horsemen.
“What kind of manifestation?” I asked.
“You know, the parade,” he said.
Yeah, right, I thought. A parade here in Kankan. I had to smile. I’d seen some strange things in Guinea but a parade was passing all comprehension. I’d believe in supernatural manifestations of some kind before I’d believe the bankers had taken the day off to watch a parade.
I got on my bike shaking my head in wonderment but only managed two blocks before my way was blocked by some police and I heard the distinct, horribly off key notes of a marching band. The manifestation was on its way but a manifestation of what? The usual shudder ran through me.
The marching band was dressed in military fatigues and the men and women swung their arms vigorously though without much concern for synchronization. I was impressed that the band existed at all and settled back to enjoy the rest of the parade but it turned out that was essentially it. After the band came the students of various schools, some going so far as to have a single sign giving the name of the school but most just a clutch of kids happy to have the day off school. After the last group of students came a group of men whose only reason to be in the parade was that they owned scooters. They putted past in a thick cloud of black smoke that moved with them. I hoped the parade’s route wasn’t too long because these men were going to be breathing pure exhaust the entire way.
At the Bate’s Hotel I found out that the parade was in support of Lansana Conte and an excuse for an outpouring of Guinean nationalism. That explained one or two isolated signs in the parade that said something about Guinea’s sovereignty being inviolable. Sort of a “Guinea’s border Can’t touch this” sentiment.
I found this out through a man from Ghana name Charles. When I learned he spoke English I invited him to join me for a coffee. He seemed disinclined to accept but said a gentleman never turned down such an offer.
He was a nervous little man, keeping his eye on the door and rarely making eye contact. He was something of a professional expat having spent ten years in Senegal, five years in Mali, and five years in Guinea. He didn’t like living in Guinea much, finding the people reserved and closed off. He said they said “bonjour” all the time but would never invite you to their home, rarely get to know you personally. Guinea was unique in this aspect in West Africa he said and unique in most other ways. He definitely didn’t mean unique in a good way.