The Fouta Djallon
In Yembering, early morning mist clouds the hills of the Fouta Djallon
The Fouta Djallon is the lush and mountainous middle part of the Republic of Guinea, inhabited by an ethnic group called the Peulhs. There are small groups of Peulhs (sometimes called Fulani, Fula, Fulfulde, or Fulbe) scattered throughout West Africa, but as I understand it, the Fouta Djallon is their original home, where their Islamic kingdom existed in centuries past. The two principal towns in the Fouta Djallon are Mamou (in the South) and Labé (in the North), the latter being the larger of the two. Peulhs have a reputation for being a bit more reserved and conservative compared to other ethnic groups in West Africa, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree on that assessment based on my short time in the area thus far. The cool and breezy Fouta Djallon is a beautiful place to call home; while the hot season is well under way in Burkina Faso, here I find myself sleeping with pajamas and a blanket, and even wearing a jacket in the morning.
The "downtown" map of Yembering. Objects in map may be smaller than you think...
Yembering (also spelled Yambering or Yimbering, even within the village itself) is by far the smallest village in which I have spent an extended period of time. It sits 45k north of Labé, and 40k south from its sister city of Mali, which is, rather confusingly, often called Mali-Yembering in order to distinguish it from the country of Mali. Mali (or Mali-Yembering) is also the name of the general area north of Labé, where the mountains of the Fouta Djallon rise to their highest. Guineans associate this area as being the coldest in all of Guinea. The road from Conakry to Labé is paved (albeit very poorly, and very long ago), but if you want to continue on north from Labé to Yembering, it’s a rough dirt road. There are very few resources in Yembering. I can easily walk from one end of the town to the other, and the town market is really a skeleton of a market, even on the designated “market day” of Sunday. I am the fifth Peace Corps volunteer in recent history to have served in Yembering.
In Yembering there is no electricity and no running water. I get my water from a pump right located conveniently right outside my front door. Like the rest of the teachers at my school, I charge my cell phone using the solar panels at the school library. These panels were donated and installed long ago by a forgotten NGO, but they have held up surprisingly well. There are a few shops that run a generator to power a fridge, but not very consistently. Saturday night the mayor’s office turns into a night club, which attracts much of the town’s youth. They pay a small fee to dance under the black lights, where the biggest generator in town powers the biggest speakers in town. I’ve come to appreciate many aspects of West African culture, but I can’t help but find the music anything but awful.
Lycee de Yembering
Lycee de Yembering is a very weathered building.
There is one solitary secondary school in Yembering, and that’s Lycee de Yembering. Just to remind you, Guinea follows what I think is a francophone educational tradition, wherein students take four years of middle school (7e-10e) and three of high school (11e , 12e, and Tle). Classrooms belong to the students, not the teachers, meaning it’s the students who sit in one classroom all day while teachers go from classroom to classroom teaching their subject. Guinean students all take the same subjects for each of the four years of middle school; for the science curriculum this includes short, individual classes on physics, chemistry, and biology. English isn’t officially part of the curriculum until high school, although there is a movement to start English in middle school.
My school has all four grades of middle school, plus the first two years of high school. Each of the middle school grades is divided up into two classrooms (10e-1, 10e-2, etc), except for 7e which is divided into three classrooms. If students want to complete their final Tle year of high school, they must move to either Mali or Labé to do so. I suppose if demand were high enough, there could be a class of Tle at Lycee de Yembering, but it didn’t happen this year.
Because of all of the political hub-bub at the beginning of the school year, the ’10-’11 academic calendar in Guinea has been kind of compressed, and moved back. Students are taking their 1st semester finals this week. I start teaching next week.
My school administration and I have already planned out my schedule for the coming semester. I absolutely love my teaching load. I teach three days per week, 12 hours per week total.
9e-1 EnglishSo you can see that I have eight hours of chemistry and four hours of English. My school was pretty excited to have me teach English, which is fine. Since the English is a bonus on top of the regular curriculum, it’s pretty low-stakes… I plan on doing mostly fun activities. My 9e students have never had an English class before, and there are tons of Peace Corps resources on teaching English at the beginning level, so this should be pretty easy. Both of my 9e classes supposedly have around 70 students each, whereas my 12sm class supposedly has around 20 students.
Home sweet home. Also, the principal's office.
The door on the left is the principal’s office. The door on the right is my house. That’s right. I live next to the principal’s office. It’s a dilapidated dump and, in my opinion, a completely inappropriate location for a volunteer to live (lack of privacy? hello?). I categorically despise it. I’m the only person who actually lives on the school grounds. Complications are currently arising due to the fact that the principal likes to have the school grounds locked up during the night, but the door is only a padlock door, and I don’t want to be locked into the school grounds, and I don’t want to get up early and let everyone into the school in the morning either. I may finagle my way into a more amenable house, but if not, I can survive here for my few months.
My principal lives across the market from me, and has pretty much adopted me. I eat every meal at his house with his family. It’s a pretty nice system. His wife makes good attieke.
All right, ‘till next time. Wish me luck with the start of classes next week.