Friday, September 27, 2013

Nigeria vs. Guinea-Bissau…. No its not a soccer game

 I think the nature of the rain in Guinea Bissau explains very well the political/social nature of the country. Everything is fine (sunny) and normal until suddenly, out of nowhere something crazy happens (rain).
            I though my excitement for the day was going to be the car accident I almost got into while riding in a Taxi. I was coming back from the Governer’s Palace and the car on our right started to cut us of, so much so that the taxi driver had to veer off the road on to the side walk where he almost hit an elderly man and his grandson.  Passerbys came running to the car yelling at the taxi driver for what he had done. He got out of the car and spent 10 minutes apologizing and explaining that he got cut off. A crowd had formed and it became quite a spectacle, but eventually they pardoned him and we were on our way.
            Later down the road I hopped out of the taxi and stopped by the office of the Environmental Agency that was writing the environmental study for the solar project my company is doing.  One of them had offered to give us a ride into downtown so we could make some copies.  The traffic was horrible and I was anxiously shaking my foot as we sat in traffic.
             I was on a time crunch. My Boss was heading to Dubai and I needed to give him 3 copies of the environmental study and have the writers of the study stamp all 180 pages of each copy. His flight was scheduled at 2pm, he needed to be at the airport at noon, and it was already 11am.
            The road we were on in is a 4 lane road with a big metal divider down the middle. The two lanes on the left go to the airport and the 2 on the right, which we were on, headed to downtown Bissau.
            As we were sitting in traffic, we came to an intersection where I told  the driver, Augusto, to make a right because the road ahead was blocked with more traffic. Our driver usually goes this way if traffic is really bad. He decided against it and followed traffic straight ahead.
            As we continued down the road we notice crowds of people running around, most of them running away from the direction we were going, others just seemed to be running with out direction, but doing so just because every one else was running.
            We looked up ahead noticed that the cars in front of us were all turning around, going the wrong way in traffic. My first response was an insult the “stupid drivers”. What the heck were they doing?? Then we realized there was some kind of problem up ahead.  The entire road up ahead was deserted and we could hear gunshots going off in the background. We followed suit and turned around and that’s when people began throwing rocks and bottles in the air. You could hear them crashing into peoples cars.  It suddenly got really chaotic.
            People started getting out of their cars, which is the worst thing they could have done, because then everyone else was stuck. People were still running around, some running for safely, others running with goods they had stolen from the market during the commotion.
            I called my boss to let him know what was going on.  I tried to sound cool and collected, but I know there was a trace of panic in my voice.  We slowing inched through traffic, keeping our heads down and watching what was going on around us. Military vehicles flew by on our side towards the scene of action.  I felt like I was in a movie!!
            We finally got out of traffic and turned down an alternative road to get to downtown. When we arrived it was as if nothing was going on. It was the normal hustle and bustle of downtown.  
            When I got to my office I felt like I was coming back from war! My boss had called the assistant to the prime minister and asked what was going on.

So what happened??

            First you have to understand that there is no boarder control here.  So if the scum of the earth walks up to the boarder, they can walk right in to the country, no questions asked.
            So several Nigerians have been kidnapping and killing young children and selling their organs.  The Guinean government finally caught hold of the trend and tightened security on the roads. Some military officials pulled over a car which happened to have children in it! A fight broke out with led to a shoot out of sorts.

My boss ended the  explanation with,” Im sure it was crazy, but its not too serious. We thought it was going to be a Military vs Politician battle, which is way worse for the country. This will pass over in a couple of days. ” Then I received several txts from friends saying to stay away from Bandim Market because its not safe. HA! I was just in the middle of it!!
              Bandim market is the cities largest market in Bissau, so alot of people I know happened to be in that place at that time as well.  That night when I stopped by my neighbor’s house to say hi, everyone was laughing and sharing the stories of where they were at the time it all went down:

- My step dad ran into an office building and hid under a desk.

- Tia M’boby who unfortunately had diarrhea at the time, talked her way onto an ambulance and got a   
   ride all the way home from them.

- Another neighbor was running in the crowd, but was explaining her confusion because people were 
   running in all different directions, so she didn’t know which way was away from danger.

It was hilarious! But at the time it was far from it. I kept saying how crazy it was and everyone just shrugged it off. They told me, “ You get used to it!” You can get used to waking up early, you can even get used to spicy food, but this?! Impossible. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sorry I got your daughter pregnant… Ceremony

I probably laughed for half an hour after hearing about this. I would have never thought there was a formal ceremony for asking forgiveness from an impregnated girl/woman’s parents!  But it’s real!!
            The Feirra family was my neighbor before I moved into my uncle’s house the next street over.  They have become like extended family to me. There is Tio ( Uncle ) Yano and Tia (Aunt) M’boby and they have 3 children named Ruben, Hilha, and Nuh. Hilha is the middle child and she has become a great friend of mine. Nuh is the youngest and she lives with her aunt on the other side of town. Ruben, the oldest, is 28 or 29 now and getting ready to start a family.
            After 3 years of being with his girlfriend, Ruben got her pregnant. I didn’t even know he had a girlfriend until she had been living with him at his parent house. After a month of seeing her around I finally I asked who she was and they explained the situation. When I asked why she was living at their house they said that the financial situation at her house is fragile, and there are often times where there is nothing to eat. At least at Ruben’s house she would always have a meal to feed herself and her growing baby.
            Since he got her pregnant out of wedlock, there is a traditional ceremony that is done to ask for forgiveness from the parents of the girl. Ok, so its not actually called “Sorry I got your daughter pregnant Ceremony”, but that’s essentially what it boils down to. It’s called “Ceremonia de Leba Cabas” or “ Gourd Delivery Ceremony.”  
            And it’s exactly that! The mother of the boy, in this case Tia M’boby bought a gourd and Ruben filled the gourd with drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcholoic) in pairs which represent the union between him and his girlfriend, N’ten.  He also put in some money, several buttons and thread, some cigars, and other small nick-nacks.
            Each item has its own meaning. The cigars are surprisingly for Rubens dad. In the event that Ruben’s dad goes to visit N’tens family, they will have cigars at the house to offer him. The buttons and thread are for N’ten to have if Rubens clothes ever need to get fixed.  
            On Saturday they had the  “Leba Cabase” Ceremony.  N’ten took this cabas filled with things that Ruben had bought and presented it to her family. Ruben’s family sent friends, neighbors and other family members to represent them at N’tens house which was filled with her extended family, friends, and neighbors for the arrival of the cabas.  
            The opening of the ceremony was a presentation of Rubens family and the cabas they had brought. They opened the cabas, which was tried by a traditional cloth, and presented the contents to the attendees. After the cabas was unloaded N’tens family presented their “wish list” to Ruben’s representatives.  The list was read allowed and included things like money, alcohol, candy, a goat, cigarettes, and things along these lines.
            After Ruben’s representatives were presented the list, they were given some time to discuss the contents of the list with N’tens step-mom. N’ten’s mother was present, but didn’t say a word the entire time. Everything was done by her combossa ( her husbands other wife /N’tens step-mom ).  N’tens dad was not present because he is currently in Portugal, but he did send his own “wish list” for the ceremony.
            N’tens family was asking for a lot of money! Almost 1,000 USD, which is a lot in a place where a schoolteacher makes 200 dollars a month. After lots of negotiation, Rubens family was able to bring their demands down to 600 dollars. I thought the money was for N’tens family, that they were just going to use it as they wanted. But the money they are asking for is actually for N’ten, so they can buy her a bed and other household items since she is getting married. I asked how they know her family wont just spend all the money on themselves. Tia M’boby explained they would have to answer to N’ten for that. If they spend it all that would leave her with nothing once she gets married.
            Once all negotiations were settled it was grub time! We stayed at N’tens house just to take a bite and not be rude, but the real party for us, Ruben’s representatives, was back at Ruben’s house.
            Back at the house I gave Ruben a big congratulatory hug! I found out he is the huggy intoxicated type that night.  And even though he was drunk or maybe because he was drunk, you could tell he was very proud of where is life was headed. This is his transition into manhood. He has child on the way and a wedding in the near future!
             I asked him why he and his parents didn’t take part in the ceremony. He said they couldn’t! That often when the 2 families are in direct contact some kind of altercation ensues. He didn’t have to explain any further. Hilha got into a little argument with one of N’tens neighbors  about the contents of the cabas and spent the rest of the ceremony outside in fumes. If Tia M’boby had been present I know for a fact something would have gone down. She doesn’t take anything from anybody!
            Usually during the Leba Cabas Ceremony you decide on a wedding date. They set the wedding date fore October 15th, but its not going to happen. Having a wedding is expensive (personally I think its because of the quantity of beer you are expected to supply)!! Ruben will have to save up enough money first before they can get married. It might be a while….
            Unfortunately this is a dying ceremony.  As the years pass, more and more people are having church weddings, or muslim weddings, or just having kids and not getting married, leaving the grandparents to raise the child.  The feelings are mixed. Some people think it’s important to hold on to tradition. Other’s think it’s these “backward traditions” that is stopping Bissau-Guineans from getting ahead.  Personally I just wish they would stop serving pork so that I could eat something while I’m attending.