“GUINEA? WHY GUINEA? Why would you complicate your life?” the Lebanese landlord asked me, frowning and bringing a hand to his head. “Why don’t you go to Namibia? It’s a wonderful country”. A few hours later, while I spooned rice into my mouth, Sophie paraphrased the words of her French friend, “Guinea is the dump of West Africa”. Everything was going well. In the afternoon, returning to the office, John opened his eyes widely on referring to Conakry airport, “my wife had lots of problems there, it’s a very corrupt airport”. It is night time when I run into a diplomat inside a Nissan Patrol and on mentioning the magic word, “Guinea”, the man looks out of the window and after a sigh adds, “I don’t know, I wouldn’t go again”. In the early hours of the morning, I meet my Belgian friend Monique in a pub, you know, the self-proclaimed number one public enemy of Guinea where she spent seven years. Her declarations do not come as a surprise, “nothing, there is nothing there. Don’t go!”
If you think about it, the truth is that the majority of people to be seen in West Africa prefer to land in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali or the Cote D’Ivoire, but very few decide to touch down in Guinea. There is such rejection towards this country on the part of all of my consulted sources, that now it starts to seem strange to me that there is life in Guinea, that it was indeed there, bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire and other countries. Did this country actually exist?
So, after all these opinions about Guinea and the confusion that this “country” (?) produced in me, I now had every reason to go there.
I trusted in the nothing, I trusted in the brightness, that was all. And in a few hours, there I was: at Conakry-G’bessia airport. Let’s go. While I descended the metallic steps of the aircraft, I remembered John’s bulging eyes when referring to this airport, a recollection which collided head on with the discovery of various beautiful flight attendants signalling a man with a large hump on his back and a sign in his hand with my photo and my name written in pen. I grasped this man’s hand and as he led the way carrying one of my cases, I noticed that one of his shoulders was clearly higher than the other.
Outside Samory and his red wine coloured taxi were waiting for me. After briefly negotiating a price in a friendly manner, we were on our way. It was night time now. And so. The Autoroute at the height of the area of Matoto which merged with Route du Niger further on became the road which took us away from the airport, moving into darkness, and suddenly offered us a profile of people, lots of people hurtling across the road and jumping from the pavements and the central barrier. Hundreds of young athletic teens leaping on the tarmac, joining with other crowds who approach from the background as though they were coming from a huge rally. Samory hit the brakes, several cars did a half spin, but all of a sudden the throng dispersed, calming and finally blending in with the night. What was all that?
We continue our progress now to drive past tiers of shacks, softly, yet decisively lit by kerosene lamps, hundreds of kerosene lamps that filled the night with yellow spots and opened up pathways such as the ones that dragged us to a hotel in the neighbourhood of Minière, my residence in Conakry for a few days. The hotel was more like a compound with two blocks inside comprising of several floors. One part was dedicated to the reception and the dining room, while the guests slept in the other chunk of concrete. Everything was small, everything was cozy, and after leaving my stuff in a room crowned with a large mosquito net, Samory took me to Le Patio, a restaurant that I had noted down on a piece of paper.
Le Patio consisted of a terrace where tables and chairs were spread out under a raffia roof to the left and an exposed garden where there was nobody, to the right.
A pleasant French woman welcomed me and offered me a seat. I ordered a Neptune pizza, which was nothing special. Yes, it’s true I could have eaten chicken, cassava, rice as I always do in Liberia, but it had been ages since I’d had a slice of pizza anywhere near my mouth. Why would I have chicken, cassava and rice again? In the restaurant, which had its certain something, with its terrace, candles, and the evening atmosphere, there were Guinean and also French couples. A mixed coexistence that you hardly ever get in Africa, and that I see very little in Liberia. I thought about all of this, in all of that, when the French woman touched my shoulder to ask me with a joking smile if I also worked for Rio Tinto.
After dinner, I decided to go to the disco Ipso facto, which we found in the middle of some shacks thanks to an orange sign that must have been missing lots of light bulbs. A heavy-set doorman charged me forty thousand Guinean francs and then another guy pushed several buttons in the form of a password and it opened immediately. Inside I discovered a pub that was a little dark, monopolised by a disco ball on the ceiling and lots of mirrors. While I drank a rum and coke, I told myself three things. The first I don’t remember. The second is that it was Friday, it was just after eleven and the bar was still empty, something strange in Liberia. Did Guinea exist? The third thing or object that I said to myself was that the few women who wandered around the disco were truly beautiful. A few days later I learned that these dazzling women come from the Fula ethnic group, who live principally with the Mandinka and the Susu, the majority ethnic groups in the country. A country that offered me a night and a disco that would now be full, just like that, without warning, without existing. Like Guinea.