Sunday, December 9, 2007

Christmas Plans, a Cute Baby, and Funny Dog

Here in Guinea-Bissau no one really talks about Christmas until around the 20th. It was a little depressing last year, so this year Jase and I have been doing Christmas in a more American way. I made pumpkin pie for my classes on Thanksgiving and then the next day I got some white, red, and green ribbons and decorated all of the classrooms. On the Saturday after we had a big Thanksgiving dinner with us, Erica, Jens (a missionary from Germany), and two of the guys who work at the center, Tolos and Jerry. Since then I have been playing Christmas music a lot. I decorated our room and put a few things up in the kitchen here. I took a few pictures, so I thought I would share them with you guys.

This is our little tree in our room. Jason's Aunt Chris sent it over to us last year. The coolest feature you can't see right now. It lights up with little fiber optic lights that glow red and green.

This is the tree in our kitchen

Speaking of Christmas, Jason and I have been trying to make plans of fun stuff to do on our break. Jason doesn't have any classes in December, and I finish with classes on December 14th. We both start back on January 7th, so we have a few weeks to do stuff. If we can do everything that we want to do we will get to see quite a bit of Guinea-Bissau that we have not seen before.

On the first week that we both have off I think that we are going to go up to Ziguinchor (in Senegal) for a few days. It is a little bit of a tourist town, so it should be a nice vacation for us. After that we would like to go to Quinhámel which is a little village that's not far from us. We can take some nice walks there and I really want to go see a cool weaving factory that has been built there.

From the 20th to the 23rd we have a staff retreat for all of the people who work here at the Youth Center. We are going to a little town called Bula to play sports, have some discipleship time, and even hang out around the campfire. It should be really fun.

On the 24th Jase and I are going to go up to Sinchã Botchi to spend Christmas with our friends from Brazil, Gilson, Rosania, and their little 4 year old girl Nicole. She is very energetic and outgoing, so we have a lot of fun with her. We are going to stay there until the 27th. On the 27th the five of us are going to come back to Bissau, spend the night here, and then get on a ship to Bubaque. Bubaque is one of the islands of Guinea-Bissau. They have really nice beaches and the pastor of the evangelical church there has a guest house that we can stay in.

Here is a map of the places we will be going. All of the green is Guinea-Bissau and the thin black lines separate the different regions. I made all of the cities that we are going to into red dots. The pink route is the first trip that just Jason and I are taking. The blue one is the whole staff of the Youth Center going to our retreat. The dark red one is our Christmas and island trip with Gilson and Rosania. I know it's a little silly, but I had a good time making it .

I will let you know how all of this goes. I want to hear all about your Christmas fun times too

Oh, yeah, a few random things with pictures for your enjoyment...

Our guard dog likes to walk around with grass sticking out of his mouth, so we are pretty sure he is Arkansan at heart

Some of our good friends here had a baby recently. Their names are Pastor Beto and Ligia and the baby is Manaseis (not sure about the spelling). We went to see him when he was just two weeks old. Aparently Guinean babies are born with much lighter skin and then they get darker over the first month. Kind of like how most white babies are born with blue eyes and then the color changes after a week or so.

The new family

Me with the little guy

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Strikes and the Narco State

So, it seems that right now is the season of strikes in Guinea-Bissau. I told you about the strike that happened a few weeks ago with the drivers protesting against the police. About two weeks ago we had a teachers' strike. I am not sure if it was country-wide but it was in at least all of Bissau. After that there was a hospital workers' strike and then right around that time there was a rice strike. This week the postal workers are on strike, and since there is only one post office in the country this one is definitely country-wide.

I don't think that the strikes usually get good results here, but a few of these recent ones have, so I think that is what is spurring the increase. The drivers got the police to let them pay taxes one time downtown instead of paying the police any time the police happened to ask for it. The teachers had a strike because basically they haven't been paid for almost two years. During their strike the teachers finally got two month's pay and a promise of back pay.

With the rice strike basically what happened was that all of the people who import or sell rice in Bissau hid most of their supplies and told the government that they wanted to be able to sell the 110 pound bags of rice for $30 instead of $25 (the price for several things like that is fixed by the government). The government refused, so after a few days the vendors brought the rice back out and everything is normal now. Pretty much every family here buys a 110 pound bag of rice each month to feed their family, so they all still had rice (or their neighbors had some) so no was starving or anything like that, but people were starting to get a little panicked.

The hospital workers' strike was the saddest. The workers had not been getting paid for a while so they went on a strike. The government would not listen to them and many people started dieing in the hospital so they just ended the strike without getting any money or even the promise of it.

I am not exactly sure the nature of the postal worker's strike, but as near as I can tell it is because they have not been getting paid by the government (have you noticed a theme here...). The last few weeks that Jason and I have gone to the post office we have noticed big bags of mail sitting back in the room where we pick up packages, and we have not had any packages to pick up. All of the bags have country names on them, but we don't know if they outgoing or incoming. We know that many packages have been sent to us and should have arrived by now, so our guess is that they are all sitting in those bags, and since the workers knew that they were going to strike they just have not been working for a few weeks. It almost makes me want to run in there screaming like a crazy woman so that people will be afraid of me and then lock myself in that room so that I can look through the bags and get our stuff. Erica has one package that she has been waiting on for three months. She is leaving in two weeks, so I am sure she would appreciate finally getting it. Jason wants to volunteer to work as a scab in the post office, but I don't think that would be a good idea. J

Moving on to something totally unrelated, the other day I was looking around for something on the internet and I came across an article with an attention-catching headline. It was really interesting, so I thought I would share with you guys.

(Here is the URL: )

Drug barons turn Bissau into Africa's first narco-state

By Jonathan Miller in Bissau

Published: 18 July 2007

Welcome to Africa's first narco-state, a country with just 1.5 million people but a roaring drugs trade. Every day an estimated one tonne of pure Colombian cocaine is thought to be transiting through the mainland's mangrove swamps and the chain of islands that make up Guinea-Bissau, most of it en route to Europe.

Western intelligence sources describe it as "the worst drugs trafficking problem we've ever encountered on the [African] continent", and admit they have been blind-sided by the sheer scale of it. "The more we learn, the more we're shocked by the numbers involved. We've all been slow off the mark," said one top US Drug Enforcement Agency official in Europe.

Conservative estimates suggest monthly cocaine trans-shipments through this tiny former Portuguese colony on the West African coast are worth more than 10 times its gross annual national earnings, which mostly come from the export of unprocessed cashew nuts. The World Bank ranks Guinea-Bissau as the fifth poorest country in the world, yet flash cars with no plates brazenly cruise the streets of the crumbling capital, Bissau.

Western narcotics and intelligence agencies believe that up to two small twin-engine aircraft carrying up to 800kg of cocaine are landing on airstrips in Guinea- Bissau every night, having crossed the Atlantic from South America. The street value of a tonne of cocaine on the streets of European capitals is roughly £50m.

From the mangrove swamps and inlets that line its 400-mile Atlantic coast, and from an archipelago of 90 offshore islands, the cocaine is shipped northwards. Some leaves by ship, hidden in timber or containers. Some goes by light aircraft; some relies on the organised crime networks used to smuggle illegal immigrants into Europe; and some is carried by "mules" .

Last week, the country's leading human rights advocate, Mario Sa Gomes, launched a scathing attack on state complicity in drugs trafficking, which he said was "threatening the dignity of the people of Guinea- Bissau and our territorial integrity".

In a national radio broadcast, he said: "The quickest way to find a solution is the immediate dismissal of the heads of the armed forces and the police." Within an hour, an arrest warrant had been issued for Mr Gomes, who went into hiding. Interior Ministry police repeatedly visited his family home. His father, Jean Gomes, said: "I am worried because I think if they catch him they will kill him." We later interviewed Mario Sa Gomes in secret. He said: "What I say is true; everybody knows that in Guinea- Bissau the power is with the military. This is an international war we are fighting. We need protection." He said that he knew he was risking his life by speaking out.

And if the size of recent cocaine seizures by police in Senegal are anything to go by, the tonnage getting through must be enormous if, as enforcement officials say, the drugs being intercepted represent only a small proportion of the total.

The most frequent visa stamp to appear in passports recently seized in Senegal from three Colombians was that of Guinea- Bissau. An identity card, found with the passports, provided one Colombian with residency in Guinea- Bissau. It was issued by the Ministry of the Interior.

Guinea-Bissau's Interior Minister, Major Baciro Dabo, and the head of the navy, Jose Americo Bubu Na Tchutu, are alleged by multiple sources to be key facilitators of the trade.

The Interior Minister denies that his country is the newest narco-state, and the navy chief says he is not involved in any drugs trade.

"I just sit there waiting for evidence," Admiral Na Tchutu said. " Whether today, tomorrow or in a thousand years, I will never be a drugs trafficker."