As the exodus of embassy staff from Guinea gathers momentum, the new arrivals are also starting to trickle in. It’s fun to talk to them and see Guinea through their eyes, the way I saw it two years ago. I wrote a lot more cultural commentary pieces when I first arrived because everything was new to me; those posts gradually trailed off as I got acclimated and the things that had been unique and interesting – the roads, the money, the electricity (or lack thereof) – just became part of everyday life, hardly worth mentioning.
A perfect example of this is a movie trailer my news alerts recently brought to my attention. It’s for an independent documentary called Black Out, which explores the phenomenon of Conakry schoolchildren studying for exams at gas stations and the airport because they don’t have access to electricity at home:
Black Out – Trailer from HSI Short Films on Vimeo.
My initial reaction to the trailer was “well duh.” Of course they do this. It’s a practical (though limited) solution to a pervasive problem. It’s something I see around me all the time, and hardly seems worth the trouble of making a documentary about it. However, I quickly realized that the only reason I think of this as unremarkable is because I have lived here for two years and I see it all the time. For most of the rest of the world both the solution and the underlying problem are remarkable indeed, because almost nowhere else will you find a capital city that gets this dark at night.
None of this is to say that Guinea has lost the capacity to surprise me. I don’t see that ever happening. But after two years you get pretty familiar with a lot of Conakry’s quirks, and you learn to take Guinea on its own terms instead of constantly comparing it to the world you left behind.