I haven’t talked much about my job, mostly because I wasn’t really doing anything. I got hired as an environmental specialist, but there wasn’t any work for me to do yet because the project is still in its infancy. So I had been playing the role of an accountant and human resources and secretary. Besides the project director, the finance vice president and my self there was no one else in the company that was here in Bissau.
Silly me, I figured if I’m working for an American company I’ll have other American co-workers. HA! 5 of my co-workers arrived at the beginning of the week from Pakistan. All are male, and all are Muslim. I was anxious to see what this would mean for the work environment. Having grown up half of the time in a Muslim community, I know that the dynamics between men and women are very different, especially so in Muslim countries.
When they first walked through the door, I waited to see what they would do. I know in some Muslim countries men don’t shake women’s hands. Pakistan is one of those countries. So when they all walked in, said hello, and shook everyone else’s hand except for mine, I wasn’t offended. I’m just glad I knew what to expect.
They are very nice people. Some of them have warmed up to me, while others keep a professional distance. One speaks English really well, one speaks decently, one speaks poorly but is always talking, and the other 2 do not speak English.
It’s an interesting experience working with them. I learn a lot about Pakistan, they sometimes bring me food, and while I am crying about my cousins trying to marry me here, 3 of them are patiently waiting for their fathers to choose a cousin for them to marry. The irony!
Anyways, we have been waiting for land documents to begin working on the 30 hectares given for the solar power plant. For this meeting we went to the minister’s office and attending a publicized meeting where the Minister of Energy gave Suntrough an official document
I took my camera, just so I’d get some shots to have on record. But after the meeting folks from the newspapers came running after me to get my contact info because they showed up without a photographer. I didn’t think he’d actually follow up, so I wasn’t prepared when he did. He almost left with my pictures when my friend’s words about getting credit for my photos ran through my head.
He said photographers usually just ask for money, and since I didn’t, it seemed as if he was just going to walk out the door and not say anything. I caught him on the way out, and he offered me a dollar for each photo, and there were five. But I told him to keep the money, and to just give me photo credit in the paper, which they did.
So the next week the newspaper came out with my picture on the cover stating “Construction of the Solar Power Plant: Company promises 6 months until the opening and jobs for 200 people.” The article explained that the government is giving the Company 30 hectares of land to begin their construction of the 10 megawatt solar energy plant.
The sad part is not many people read the newspaper, which comes out once a week. The most used source of news is the radio, because it’s a relatively cheap one time purchase and it doesn’t require you to have electricity. I remember being in Gabu when we went to see the Guru and we spent most of our evening listing to the radio, switching between stations in Portuguese, French, and Creole. It’s a popular pass time and a great way to practice your languages.
The next most used source of media is the television news. But this requires you have a TV or know some one who has one. More importantly it requires you to have electricity, which is harder to come by then the TV.
The newspaper is small, but it combines a weeks worth of local and international news. It occasionally has job postings and news about events, but the two are few and far between. The paper is in Portuguese and another obstacle for people purchasing the paper is the fact that you have to read it. Guinea Bissau has a national literacy rate of 42%. It also cost 500xof, which is inaccessible to some people.
After reading the headline, my first thought was realizing how many people will be running down to our office to put in a resume. We’ve already received lots of very qualified people asking for work who lost their jobs after many non-profits left the country after the 2012 coup.
The situation is so bad that some of these folks, who have worked for the UN or in UNICEF projects, were even offering to be the janitor if nothing else was available. I have been the person receiving most work requests since I speak creole and Its always a sad story when I ask about the requesters life. Having no job is so paralyzing! Especially if you have worked in relatively high level positions in the past and have a family to care for.
The bigger news recently has been the change in government that has been approved by the UN and international community. The government now has 19 ministers and 15 secretaries of States. There are now 20 people in government, and 4 of them are women.
But this change happened because of the unequal division of power by the other political parties in the government. The PAIGC and Social Renewal party are Bissau’s biggest parties and the switch up made the balance between the 2 parties a little bit more equal.
Many people have little faith that this change will do anything. But for me, at this point, the governments ability to come to a consensus, act on it , and have it approved by the UN is nothing less then a step in the right direction.