December 14, 2009


I've been in Hawaii for the past three weeks and the week prior to that I was in Australia and the three weeks prior to that I was in Malaysia and the four weeks prior to that I was in lockdown evacuation camp in Mali. It's nice to be back in the first world but sometimes I feel turned around. I feel displaced and purposeless. Living the last couple months felt like they dragged on so slow but now I look back and I feel they whipped by so fast.

I don't know how to answer some of your questions least of all the ubiquitious "how was Africa?" I don't know how the continent of Africa was because I was only in two countries (those being Guinea and Mali). Sorry I'm being irritating but that whole continent of Africa is an undistinguished land mass thing has really become a pet peeve of mine. Nevertheless I know what you mean and I hide behind a "it's hard to explain" too much. I wish I could sum everything up in a satisfying pithy pharse or four but I can't. The best I can do is:

Mom! Grandma! Earmuffs!

"It's f'd." That's the short answer that may be the best and worst summary about the situation. I don't know. It's hard to explain.

So there I am in Guinea and I'm coming to the uncomfortable realization that I do in fact harbor some ugly bits of latent racism. I walk through the markets my second day there and I see the people all around me. There's garbage and waste and smelly dried, semi-dried, and rotting fish and that was the first time that I ever thought to myself "what have I gotten myself into?"

It was discomforting. I've never seen so much filth before. And on top of that the people are all black and I'm white and I can't blend in and I feel like everyone is staring at me. I've never felt like that in any place I'd been. I've never been more keenly aware of race. Why do I feel this way? Why do i feel this discomfort this anxiety? Like physically feel it. A visceral reaction. What's up with that?

I actually just put it aside for a time. Put it aside for a long time actually and eventually it went away or I forgot about it or I got used to it. I mean if you don't know what to do with an uncomfortable situation what do you do? You fake it! You pretend like everything's fine and eventually it is unless it isn't and then you have to fake even harder. I do this. You do this. We all do this, right? Whatever.

As I sit here and try to illustrate this for you without coming off like a total boob I'm doing my best to put it together. My discomfort was itself discomforting. I didn't want to feel like I felt but I couldn't very well not feel what I felt.

Put more formally, there are two parts to the racism game. One part intellectual and one part reptillian brain subconcious.

In college I learned and studied the intellectual side and understood conciously why racism is garbage. This served me well in lily white suburbs, uptown bars, and college campuses because the whole exercise was in the theoretical realm. I could tsk tsk thoughtless comments from friends and releatives and strangers. "I know racism is bad because I read yadda yadda by some dude and he said blah blah and I agree." I mean it wasn't that brainless but it was certainly that detached from any sort of real life experience.

The tricky part for me was to reconcile that with what I was feeling directly. Mostly discomfort and anxiety. My intellect tells me everything is gravy but my gut, my gut, il est pas bien la bas! Not good homes. There was a part of me that didn't respond to what I knew in my head. There was discord and it was frightening. How do you fix a knee jerk reaction that you don't control?

But like Andy Dufrane I walked through a filthy market and came out clean three months later. I'm not saying it was quick or concious or that I'm even finished really learning to be tolerant. At the least I've found a new part of me that needs more work and at the most I've taken my learned beliefs out for a test drive in the world.

I know now there is more to the game than intellectual theory. These things must be used and practiced. The reptillian brain must be challenged and conquered by repetition until the unfamiliar becomes routine. We fear the unfamiliar and once we get to know the world directly we might see that it's not so bad.

November 1, 2009

chumming the village for children

After a bit of a feeding frenzy, we were able to control ourselves and behave like gentlemen. Fine portraiture ensued.

October 18, 2009

14 Guinea Stories Plus Petite

1] I'm going to the Imam's house for lunch. I cut through a neighbor's compound, jump a creek and bushwack my way back to the path. I surprise a pack of monkeys who scramble back into the bush.

2] Phil had a bot fly larve living under his skin and Kevin was bitten by a spider while he was sleeping. Both injuries resemble the entry wound of a 9mm bullet except they also ooze pus.

3] I watch a bush taxi carreen around the bend. There is a driver, two people in the passanger seat, four in the middle, three in the back, a bunch of baggage on top, another person on the roof, and a live goat sitting placidly.

4] I'm still getting my squat toilet technique down. I imagine it's approximately as operating a diver bomber during World War II. Sometimes you're not terribly accurate and your bathroom stinks for a couple of days.

5] The village doctor (hell of a guy by the way) has a fat little third grade son. He tells me to give him my bike ("Yagouba, donne moi ton velo") and I tell him to give me his dad's TV. I tell him to give me his shirt and he demands my sandals. It's a nice little game we play and it goes on for hours.
6] I have tan lines from my thong sandals. Really bad ones. I know there's a joke in there somewhere about me, tan lines, and thongs but I can't tease it out right now.

7] We're getting evacuated to Bamako tomorrow. We were told to pack one bag of "only essentials." Did I pack my Cole Haans? Yes. Yes I did.

8] I've got a brick of Guinean Francs in my bag. One point three million Guinean Francs actually. Official exchange rate is $1 to 5,000 GNF. You can do the math. Be sure to include the annual 15% inflation.

9] Carrying around bricks of rubber banded currency makes me feel like a drug runner.

10] Mr. Dioulde Barry (fluent in three languages, Oxford educated, director of the Peace Corps Education Program) and I are climbing a mountain to test out my cell phone coverage in village. He's dressed impeccably and wearing fine Italian loafers. He's in front. He looks over his shoulder and says, "Jake, when you write your memoirs" he gasps for air "make you sure you include this." He gasps for air again and thinks then adds, "But run it by me first."

11] Still haven't read any French poetry. Sorry Bruss. I'm looking.

12] "I'm not wearing this funny hat. It makes me look ridiculous." I said that while wearing a full on formal traditional Guinean boubou. I know there's pictures floating around somewhere. There's a video too.

13] I don't want to leave. I love it here. It better work out. I hope it works out my way.

14] Poop.

September 25, 2009


sworn in like sin

I'm officially a full fledged volunteer. I'm not sure what else to say about that. I'm in Conakry right now and I'm set to leave for my village on Sunday.

I'm not really in a blogging mood right now so I'd like to direct your attention to the Failed States Index website. Do notice that Guinea clocks in at a respectable #9 overall behind Somolia, Iraq, Sudan, and A-Stan. Tough competition for sure. Happily Guinea is a more failed state than Pakistan and North Korea. Take that Kim Jong Il!

It's kind of an inside joke with the other volunteers (we feel like we get hardcore points!) and I don't want to trivialize the very real issues that Guinea needs to confront...and here it comes....BUT there's so much that's wonderful about where I am and what I've seen/done/lived and the people I've met. I'll try to get a more coherent thought down to paper sometime soon.

I'll be out of email/phone contact for the next month or so. Take care! I love the letters and care packages! You really don't know how good it feels to get something/anything from home.

August 13, 2009

it's alright ma (i'm only bleeding)

i got hit by a motorcycle. no joke. full head on collision. me on foot verses a speeding motorbike. i didn't even hit the deck, just a gash on the leg and a limp for a couple days. it's alright ma! i'm only bleeding!

there are two malaria medications. one is taken weekly and gives you night terrors and pale skin. the other is taken daily and makes you a lovely shade of sunburn pink. it also causes the birth control i'm not taking to cease function. anyways, i'm a well rested pink skinned volunteer.

they say you always forget to pack something. i forgot a headlamp and a shamwow. c'est la vie.

after two separate tours in asia and one month in country, i lost my squat toilett virginity today. i was originally going to store "it" for a couple days but...well, i guess i couldn't.

Barak Obama's face is everywhere here. everywhere.

i'm out.

July 5, 2009

Larson: AWAY!!!

Greetings friends!

I'm leaving tomorrow early in the AM for illadelphia, PA for my staging event. They'll vaccinate me, re-affirmate me, and caffinate me for one day and then it's off to Conakry via Brussels.

I'll keep you posted.

What am I bringing? A linen dress suit, some clothes, toilettries, a bottle of single malt scotch, a basketball, a football, some reading materials and some notebooks.

One day you're here (baby) and the next day you gone!

June 21, 2009

founding principles

This is where I'll post updates, clever witticisms, and half baked insights collected during the coming years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea.

(I) Brevity.
I don't like writing long posts and you don't like reading them. We can build on that.

(II) Humor
If you can watch this Journey video straight through without cracking a smile...I dunno. You probably won't get this blog.

(III) Input
I do not intend for this to be a one way conduit of information.

This blog serves limited purpose if my writing isn't worth your reading.

Leave anonymous comments telling me I'm a boor and a hack when it's deserved. Likewise send flowering praise or clever haiku for a particularly inspired dialogue.

And that's that.

May 24, 2009

i am back but only shortly.

Here I am. It is good to see you old friend. I will be here momentarily. Only momentarily. Then I will leave. I may be back but then I'll be gone again. I will not sleep. Soon I will purchase a dog. I may name this dog Cunningham. Or perhaps Juan-Pablo. But not right now. I don't have time. I won't stay long.


Thank you for your hospitality. Now I have to go.

April 17, 2009

g'd up (from the feet up)

Guinea'd up actually.

This man is Linus Pauling and he is a hero in chemistry.

So what I'm really going for here is that I received my invitation from the Peace Corps and I'll be teaching 7-10th grade chemistry in Guinea. I leave July 7th. Thar she blows.

March 8, 2009

comin' out hard

Taken from the 2007 Playoffs where Mr. Davis was doing this to the hapless Russian Andre Kirlenko after completely dismantling number one seeded German marshmallow Dirk Nowitzki* and the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

*shamefully also the regular season MVP