Friday, 31 January 2014 | 7 comments

Field notes

Conakry, the capital of Guinea, in West Africa, is on a very narrow peninsula projecting out into the Atlantic. I was there all this week. You can’t really drive from one part of the city to another without seeing a glimpse of water, and my commute from my hotel to the office was no exception. The driver weaved in and out of the hordes of uniformed kids walking to school, vendors selling soap, people burning trash, and then, boom, la mer. It nearly reaches the road in some protected areas when the tide is high.

I was struck, every day, by this boat yard, if you could call it that. “Une cimitière des bateaux,” I told my driver on my first morning in Conakry, and he laughed at me. (My French is not very good, so this is probably not correct.) On my last morning, I sucked up my embarrassment at seeming touristy and asked him to stop so I could snap an iPhone photo.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? So strange that a bunch of abandoned, shallow-draft boats can be so evocative. In truth, it should make me sad, and in a way, it does: Conakry’s fishers have long been under pressure by illegal international trawling in their waters. So it’s possible the boat graveyard represents (literal) broken livelihoods.

But me, privileged magpie–I take my picture and get on a plane to go home.

§ 7 responses to Field notes

  • Stacy Neal

    Your last line makes me like you even more.

  • Jenna

    Thank you Sarah for this glimpse of your work in Africa. I am glad you stopped to take the picture. It is important to be reminded of the inequities still to be overcome.

  • Emily

    My brother just returned from 27 months in Guinea as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I have to say that before he went I wouldn’t have even been able to pick this country off of a map, but it’s been a remarkable experience to learn more about the country from him and his inspiring work there.

  • Hi Sarah,
    You have much truth in you. Thank you for sharing. I actually got sick when I enlarged my screen and viewed the filth/ trash…and never ending ‘plastic’ scattered….forever. I said out loud, and I am alone with my kitty on the bed with me, as my husband just passed away, and I am grieving…” I am actually looking at trash in another part of the world, I feel so sorry for the people and all living creatures there, and everywhere, while I can cry and grieve in a nice warm clean bed…there are these ‘other’ places. It is so unfair, when there are so many ‘glutinous ‘ wealth hoarders who with a click could remedy much.
    I am still growing the sprouts you so generously shared sources & methods with me. Thank you again . Judith

    • Hi Judith,

      I know the litter can be a bummer, but it’s only because it’s visible. We produce way more in the U.S. and Europe…we just hide it in landfills.

      I’m sorry you’re in a rough spot. Feel free to email if you want to talk to somebody.

      Best,
      Sarah

  • Wow, at first glance, it looks like an architectural beacon. Upon further inspection, the layers of history, decay and destruction become evident; untold stories and lost livelihoods all part of the very landscape that makes it beautiful. I am glad you were able to stave off embarrassment to take this photo which is beautiful and sad all at once. Travel, for work or for pleasure, gains us insight into the lives so vastly different than our own, for better or worse.

  • Always lovely to hear your views. You inspire me to post my own dispatches from the field!

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