It’s been about a year since we purchased property in Guinea, Africa and started a gorgeous project there. Unfortunately, we recently received the terrible news that our builder, the one in charge of the entire project, died of sudden illness. He was such a friendly, healthy and extremely strong man in his early forties. It’s hard to believe that when we go back to our wonderful, village friendly Guinean island, he won’t be there to wave and greet us in the morning as we walk down the dirt path through the palm trees. At this point, we have no idea what we will do with the project because we already paid for the work that he will never be able to complete. In tribute to our builder, I’m going to re-post the blogs I wrote of our trip to his beautiful country, Guinea and our short time together. Life can be unpredictable and this just reinforces my belief that you have to live each day to the fullest. Don’t WAIT to follow your dreams or do the things you love because who knows what tomorrow will bring. May he rest in peace
Our time in Guinea
Remember that little comment I made about Kees surprising me every day? Well one of those surprises was a few years ago when I first heard he’d bought a piece of land on Kassa, an island off the coast of Guinea. I admit I shook my head at him, especially when I found out it was only a 15-20 minute boat ride from the chaotic capital city. What kind of absurd idea is this!? It didn’t make much sense to me. I considered the work ethics, reliability and corruption in Africa but the bigger question was, who on earth GOES to Guinea, one of the poorest countries in the world?! I’d been on an island not far from there called Bolama just off the coast of Guinea Bissau which is the country north of Guinea. Although it was a nice experience and had its charm, it wasn’t what I would call a good investment or a “holiday excursion”.
This little project of Kees’ was only a couple thousand euro gamble so I figured, “let him have his fun”. Despite my reservations, when I heard he was going to fly there in February I was too scared to be left out of a good adventure, so I jumped aboard. Plus, I like to stay close to him. The last time Kees saw the island was nearly a decade ago when he first talked about buying land there with his Guinean friend Keita. Though we’ve technically owned the land for 3 years already, this was the first time either of us would actually see what he’d bought. Whenever I told someone the reason behind our trip to Guinea, I shrugged my shoulders, just as confused as them. Well, BOY WAS I WRONG! I seriously love our island! Yes, notice how I’ve snuck that our word in there.
From the narrow, concrete pier of Conakry’s bustling harbor, Keita helped to arrange a private boat to Kassa. With the honking, shouting and many indistinguishable smells fading behind us, I set eyes on the island ahead as it got bigger and bigger. I immediately felt excited as the palm trees and sands got closer. The sun was shining down warming my back, a wonderful change from the slushy, cold rains in Holland.
It was a super short trip, only 15-20 minutes from the capital city, yet it seemed a million miles from it. You could probably get there in 7 minutes with a good boat and motor, but they tend to go at a snail pace to save money on fuel. It’s surprising that despite being so close to civilization, the island feels very remote and untouched. With such easy access to this beautiful island, how come it hadn’t been claimed or built up sooner?
Landing, we walked across the width of the island directly to our piece of land in less than 5 minutes! Keita showed us the way and I was absolutely blown away when I set eyes on our home away from home. It is much bigger than I expected and already there are three of ten huts in the process of being built and we have our first well which Keita started on a previous trip, but this trip was about getting our hut built.
The entire property which is owned by Keita is 1,000m2, 10% of which we own. With this we already have big plans. I immediately went from thinking Kees was crazy to believing him when he said, “This place is going to be in the Lonely Planet”.
A beautiful rocky area covered by palm trees and banana plants will be the future bar/restaurant. We’ve got lots of beach front property which with some work will be great! We can build a pier and get a boat. Checking the perimeters, Kees pointed out the spot where he wanted our hut to be, just in front of the big baobab tree, with a stunning view of the ocean.
I immediately saw the great potential in this property and am so excited to see it all happen. I absolutely loved it and couldn’t stop thinking about mom and how much she would have absolutely loved this whole experience. After seeing the island, our property and choosing the spot, we took a boat back to Conakry to get to the drawing board. In about 15 minutes, Kees drew the sketch of our future house. You could say he got carried away just a little, as our little hut turned into a giant platform with two larger huts, including an entire storage floor underneath.
The next morning the architect came to our local compound to see Kees’ drawing. After Kees’d explained his sketch the guy left, and came back later that day with the real blue prints. Wow, a dream takes the first step! Next, we needed to meet with the builder. In the meantime Kees and I had moved over to stay on the island at a nice place which mainly attracts French military and serves as a getaway for charity workers etc. in the country. Though there are few actual tourists/backpackers at this point, there are definitely more whiteys or as they call us, “footays”, than I’d expected. Crazy as it sounds, with tourism spreading down from Morocco to The Gambia, I can actually see Guinea becoming a tourist destination in the next ten years. We met with our builder, and showed him the blue prints and our chosen location. With a measuring tape and his crew, he jumped into the bushes to get his things together. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing as these topless “bushmen” immediately got to work, dealing with the most rural, basic conditions. I was immediately impressed by them! Being the only girl among at least a dozen guys, I watched as they made a small sample idea in sand with sticks and twigs. The builder drew up a list of the material we needed to arrange and bring to the island before he could start.
Keita, Kees and our builder (left photo: topless on the left), stepped to the side to discuss in private the conditions, price and schedule. When Kees came back and filled me in, my jaw fell off when he ended it with “and he promises he can get the house up and finished in two months!”. And so it begins!!! As Kees and I stayed and enjoyed a tropical holiday in one of two resort/hotels on the island, Keita fought the heat and stress of Conakry as he arranged wood, iron, wheelbarrows and cement to be transported by boat over the following days. A dream starts to take shape! We watched each and every step with excitement that week.
Two boats arrived the first day with what seemed an endless amount of supplies being loaded onto the worker’s heads. Load after load of 50k sacks of cement were put on the heads of shirtless guys with muscles that could put washboards out of business in Africa. In just flip-flops they balanced through the muddy shores and climbed the bank, making a chain like ants across the island to our tropical paradise.
While the material was being hauled, the builder was busy making measurements, making notes, clearing the land of bush and trees. Each day we were greeted either with respectful handshakes from the workers, and/or Kees being called “patron” or “master” and me “Madame”. Each time we visited, the frame was becoming more and more of a reality as we watched them cut out entire boulders, pour cement and build wooden boxes for the pillars. Sweat poured off chocolate skin in the heat of the day. With shirts wrapped around their heads, muscles shined with the gleam of their sweat. Though at times it felt a bit weird being the “Madame”, for reasons I don’t think I need to explain, I know that realistically they are more than capable of this hard, physical labour and I had to think of the sherpas in Nepal. They must be thrilled to have secure employment for the next two months.
The boss builder was funny when we arrived, he’d yell at the guys taking a break in the shade of the palms, anxious for us to see them in action. I did feel bad if they had just sat down for a breather.
I kept thinking of Mom and how much she would have loved to join us on this trip. Last year when Kees tried to go to Guinea, he insisted it wouldn’t be worth it for her to come because it wasn’t a “holiday” trip. Next time she HAS to go because I know she will love it. In the shade of the palms down the slope from our small construction site, the temperature was purely perfect with a slight breeze coming in from the ocean, birds singing overhead and the workers picking fresh mangoes and coconuts for us from our own trees! Kees was right that it wasn’t a relaxing holiday, it was so much more. It was a trip that had all my senses screaming at me, fighting for the next note to be written. Though sometimes I was sunburnt, felt exhausted, and had to shower with cold bucket water after hours of dust sticking to my sweaty skin, I experienced something new and wouldn’t trade that for anything. What is more beautiful on this earth than watching a dream become a reality?
I even started to insist that I would stay on Kassa and watch the entire building process. Though, even if I was serious he would never let me because, “What would I tell Mom? I left you here in Africa? Ya, right!” And he’d made it quite clear I had no choice when I tested, “but I could stay if I REALLY wanted.” “No you couldn’t.” “Why not?!” “Because of these,” He said, flashing his bicep. “LOL. Okay, okay, you win.”
I feel privileged to have been part of this and to see the start of such a project. We could never have done any of this without the help of Keita who spent days running around arranging everything. It was so exciting to see the progress each day. I love the atmosphere of our “Little Holland”, which the locals have started referring to it as. What started as a fun little idea has turned into a big project that I think, with time, could be a hot spot for backpackers. We envision round huts, palm leaf walled toilets where you can gaze at the stars while you shower, suspension bridges crossing between trees, torch lit pathways to individual huts and a small but lively bar. A little getaway to the tropics with a special atmosphere. Whatever happens though, we know we at least have a house being built for us that we will definitely be able to enjoy. I know I have already. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought I’d have a topical holiday home in Africa let alone GUINEA. Life continues to surprise me. I can NOT wait to see how Kees’ 15 minute drawing looks in REAL life, overlooking that big, sparkly ocean…
Take the step forward and follow your dreams!
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