In December, 2010, I visited Guinea Republic in West Africa. My destination was Conakry, Guinea’s capital city. The vacation was intended to give me ample opportunity to relax and see the world that lay on the western flank of Africa. I wanted to experience a different environment and relate with people who were different from me. Going by the stories I heard about Conakry, I had the mental picture of trees, friendly natives, amazing beaches and a comforting weather. After I booked my ticket, I decided to research a little more about where I was going.
In my findings, I discovered that Guinea had fine tropical fruits and beautiful seaports. I was joyed by these inspiring findings and could not wait to leave the country. I had already packed suitable clothing and other gadgets, as I got ready to travel. The following day, I bade my family goodbye and took a taxi to Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos where I boarded a plane to Conakry. Conakry was once a small island town that had spread to the country’s mainland. It was a hub of natural wonders that comprised one-fifth of the country’s population. Conakry boasts the national stadium, Stade du 28-Septembre and the National Museum.Order now
In Conakry, the Palais du Peuple, a thriving botanical garden converged many people who came for open-air markets. Plenty of nightlife activities took place in the Palais du Peuple. Just off the coast, the Iles de Los was a popular local escape for swimming and relaxation. During my first three weeks in Conakry, I stayed with my aunt. She and her husband were missionaries in Kipe, a small town in the heart of Conakry. With the trees that assembled in the compound where I lived, I had the opportunity to take nice pictures of the edifices that lay around the vicinity from tree branches.
I had travelled with my 12-pixel Canon camera. I bought the camera for the purpose of taking photographs of the environment, and also cover significant events with the video recording function it had. Nearly every afternoon, I would take a decent 30 minutes walk around the neighborhood learning and observing how the people in Conakry lived. One day, I visited a friendly neighbor whose house was just a yard away from mine. It was one of those mornings that I woke early. As I entered Sherif’s house, the sight of a type of bread called “talapa” greeted me.
I had eaten it once the very day I arrived Conakry, but did not like it. It was too crispy and was baked in form of a sugar cane. The bread was about 7 inches long if measured with a tape rule, and coned on its edges. I wondered how Guineans survived with this type of bread. I was told that Guineans liked to eat talapa bread because its hardness and high starch content helped to save energy for the day’s work. I saw that their claim was true as many of them worked in the riverine areas where fishing and other maritime activities took place.
At evenings, they returned home with small baskets of fishes. These were remnants of sales that were done in the day. They stored the fish after drying it in the sun with salt and local seasoning. The fish remained in their homes and was not marketable anymore. They gradually used the fish for meals until it was finished. Many people in Conakry practice Islam. Adjacent to the house where I stayed was a mosque where people within the neighborhood went to pray. Many times I saw people troop in and out of the mosque on Fridays. Women wore their “hijabs” and female children did the same.
The “hijab” was any clothing or veil that covered the females from the public. Females were only to be seen by their husbands and were not allowed to show their body. This was a typical Islamic belief. In the mosque on weekdays, people would go in to fetch water. The Imam of the mosque provided tap water for the neighborhood. I fetched water in gallons from the mosque sometimes when we ran out of water supply in my aunt’s house. The Imam, who I presumed was in his late fifties, had four wives serving in his house. From my observation, two of his wives bore him children.
Whenever I went to fetch water, I would try unmasking the women with my eyes in an attempt to see what their faces looked like. All my efforts always proved abortive as the women were constantly veiled. A surprising development sufficed one day, as I fetched from the tap in the mosque. I happened to have seen the women inside their house unveiled. I saw that these women were young and very beautiful. I had imagined why such adorable damsels would be in married to a man old enough to be their father. As weeks dragged by, I became bored and decided to lodge into a hotel.
I had only spent 100,000 Guinea Francs that was equivalent to 2,350 in Naira. I still had enough money to spend. I had experienced the average life of people in the Kipe neighborhood, but did not seem satisfied with it. I thought moving into an exquisite hotel was perfect at that time. I lodged into Novotel Ghi hotel in the center of Conakry. The hotel was a three star hotel in a residential area close to the sea. The hotel offered 196 spacious air-conditioned rooms, two restaurants, two bars and five conference rooms for meetings and seminars. I bobbled in excitement because of the qualities the hotel boasted.
This Guinean masterpiece was suited for business trips and holidays, and was about 20 minutes from Gbessia Airport in Conakry. The hotel offered free airport transfer service to customers. In its huge expanse of land were a private car park, a tennis court and a gym. The hotel also had a swimming pool. The swimming pool could be likened to that which Michael Phelps, the US Olympic medalist swam in 2012. It was a magnificent pool that was adorned with “swimmers” who had lodged in the hotel. I was lucky that the topmost room in the first floor of the building was available for me to stay.
I had seldom viewed pretty Conakry from the window of my room upstairs. When I was tired and felt like not participating in activities on the ground floor, I watched people in the poolside. During my stay at the hotel, I met an interesting Guinean who told me a lot about the culture and the people of Guinea. His name was Haaji; a tall good-looking man in his early thirties. Haji adored the Guinean brocade and would always wear it whenever he took me around in his taxi to visit places in the city. He owned a 1998 model of Toyota Camry. Neat and brightly looking, Haaji exemplified friendliness and liveliness.
His presence was one that I looked forward to. He told me that despite the French colonial rule in Guinea, Guineans had a certain form of greeting and their own set of values, norms and ethics. He maintained that even though some of their values were somewhat influenced by their French colonial masters, they still had their own way of life. The language of instruction in Guinea was French, yet many people spoke their native languages in place of French. In Guinea, Madinka, Malinke, and Susu were the three main tribal languages. These were languages that the Fulanis, Malinkes and the Soussou people spoke.
The Fulanis were referred to as the Peul people. They make up 40 percent of the population. The Malinke people make up 30 percent of the population and mostly live in the eastern part of the country. The Soussou tribe has only 20 percent of the population. Haaji’s knowledge about Guinea was striking and informative as well, as I learnt about Guinea in great details. After two months of vacationing, I returned back to Lagos. I had spent time exploring a neighboring West African country that had caught my fancy. My Conakry travel was a lifetime experience that occupied a significant part of my memory.
The journey had given me insight into the myriads of ethnic diversities present in the world, and how they lived and interacted. The “birds-of –the-same-feather-flock-together” saying suggested that birds have a cordial sense of interaction amongst themselves, even though they always seek to protect their territories. Even as birds flock in the sky in great numbers, they do not hit themselves down to the ground. I drew lessons from these birds that somehow cohabit peacefully. On the other hand, I discard the territorial aggressive characteristic also exerted by birds seeking to always protect their territories from external influence.
I believe that as human beings, I am expected to reason better than birds that irrespective of their wonderful cohabitation with others still border about their territories being trespassed. I am of the view that imbibing the habit of accommodating others, and showing love regardless of where I hail from, is a beautiful thing to do. Despite the different shades of colors, cultures and the idiosyncrasies embedded in the values and interests many different races radiate, I cannot help but love the world I live in. Travelling to different places around the world will always be something I will do.