A friend said this to me recently and I thought it was great! It is easy to become complacent in life, to be settled into our comfortable little routines. It even happens on the ship. The ship is often referred to as a “big white bubble” inferring that we live a detached life from those whom we serve and whose shores we share. Sometimes I have to pick myself up and remind myself that God didn’t send me all the way to Africa to create a new comfort zone but, instead, to shake me out of the one I was already in.
God didn’t call us to a life of comfort but to a life of purpose. If we manage to have both then we are lucky indeed. Every now and then when we are just cruising (excuse the pun) along I decide it is time to shake the tree, so I was very excited when we received an email from the Staff Development Manager about participating in a Guinea Cultural Tour. The whole idea was fascinating yet made me feel uncomfortable at the same time….perfect!!
We began our tour at the Conakry Grand Mosque a gift to the city of Conakry from the King of Saudi Arabia. Completed in 1982, the Grand Mosque is the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The mosque has 2,500 places for women on the mezzanine floor and10,000 below for men. An additional 12,500 can be accommodated within the exterior grounds of the mosque. Its interior opulence stunned me, a direct contrast to the poverty existing in the plight of the beggars outside. We watched with great interest as our Muslim guide showed us how a Muslim prays and performs the ablutions (a ritualistic cleansing routine that a Muslim partakes in before he prays).
After our visit to the Grand Mosque we headed further out of Conakry to a compound that housed an extended Muslim Susu family, one of the many tribal groups that exist in Guinea. Our mission…..to participate in their daily life and instead of our natural assumption that we are “here to help and teach them” to, instead, allow ourselves to be taught and to be teachable. We were there to observe and participate in traditional customs and way of life. Now how uncomfortable did I feel as I stood there like an idiot wondering where to start?
I decided to get warmed up by doing a bit of hand washing; after all I had done that before. But I still drew many giggles and tsk, tkss. Eventually I got it right. Whilst I was slaving over the washing Andrew was busy relaxing with the men learning how to make a special brew of traditional tea. It looked like really hard work! After doing a bit of washing I decided to head on over to see what was for dinner. The ladies were busy peeling and chopping about 3,000 potatoes, yams and plantains to feed us all. I thought I would pitch in and chop some onions. Now let me just say it has a few years since I have had to chop onions which was evident as our fellow chefs picked out pieces for us to re-chop the “correct” size. Soon into the feverent chopping my eyes began to water profusely much to the amusement of the ladies, one of whom tucked a piece of onion behind my ear, supposedly to stop my watering eyes. I kind of forgot about it until Andrew said to me later, “Is that a piece of onion behind your ear?”
We then took a quick trip to a well just outside the compound to collect water which we were expected to carry in buckets on our head. I chickened out at this point, realising where my limitations lay. Once again we were the subject of jokes and guffaws as well as being captured on many mobile phones. Yes-there was mutual photography taking place and plenty of it!
Finally it was time to eat. We gathered expectantly inside the candlelit house and plopped ourselves down on colourful woven mats, the men on one side of the room, the women on the other. We dug our fingers into the stew type mixture, a traditional Susu dish, on a communal plate and I silently prayed against all gastro and parasites. With dinner complete we headed out to enjoy the balmy evening air and to listen to some singing and to hear the delights of the kora, a traditional West African instrument. We culminated the evening in prayer and sadly said goodbye to our new friends.
Right now you are thinking the adventure was over right? Wrong!!! The trip home which usually takes around an hour 15 mins ended up taking us a long, hot, almost four hours through nightmare traffic and edgy locals. We began to pray after the second hour as we noticed a man running between the “lanes” of traffic brandishing and AK47. I began to worry about Jessica alone on the ship and the headache that had plagued me all day became even more ferocious and I felt waves of nausea wash over me. Our water had long since run out and a sassy South African chick with us decided enough was enough and jumped out the back of the land rover to get us all cold cokes. Finally we made it back, almost an hour after curfew. PTL-never been so glad to see the ship! Yep, I was out of my comfort zone all right……….
The Grand Mosque of Conakry.
Andy and I outside the Mosque. All the women on our trip had to wear a head covering at the Mosque.
Prayer beads for sale outside the Mosque.
Our Muslim guide shows us the Muslim ablutions.
Inside the Grand Mosque.
A beautiful chandelier inside the Mosque.
Andrew and I inside the Mosque. We all had to take our shoes off and socks had to be worn.
Andrew poses with Steve, the cultural tour organiser, and some men of the Mosque.
The Susu compound where we spent time with a local extended Muslim family.
Me doing the washing!
Andrew sitting with the men working super hard learning how to make traditional tea.
Andrew trying to pour tea in the way he was shown-not very successfully judging by the look on his face!
A traditional cuppa!
Me trying the tea-it was very strong and highly caffeinated.
Andrew learning how to play the Kora.
A member of the family playing the Kora.
Me learning how to peel and cut vegetables all over again...well it HAS been a while you know!!!
Pounding the onions.
Getting water from the well. For some reason the locals found this immensely funny?
Eating dinner with my fingers-right hand of course. Left hand is used for, ahem, other things!
Andrew, Steve and a family member eat their dinner!
Goodbye friends and thank you for sharing your home, your culture and your traditions with us!