West African Cultural Arts Institute wanted to take a moment to share the back story for the latest trip to Guinea and explain the purpose of the most recent Social Media Series entitled “CKY Corner”. Memorial Day weekend 2021 Alseny, Andrea, and Papa set off for a two and a half month visit to Conakry (CKY), Guinea’s capital and the hometown of Alseny and Papa. This trip was not a vacation, but rather a journey with the multi-faceted mission to continue the work on West African Cultural Arts Institute’s Guinea Land Project, fulfill some overdue family obligations, and energize in the traditional performance arts. It is through the process of documenting the day-to-day activities that led up to fulfilling this mission along with connecting how these daily activities influence the greater culture that gave rise to WACAI’s newest social media series called “CKY Corner”.
This online series has four overarching themes that will be highlighted weekly throughout the month of February entitled “Village Life”, “Breaking Ground and Building”, “CKY’s Ballet Tradition”, and “Food”. We hope that you enjoy learning more about the backstory of our trip as well as seeing some up close and personal photos and footage of everyday life in Conakry. This week we start our series with the theme entitled “Village Life” which demonstrates the traditions of the Guinean people who live and work the land next to WACAI’s building project.
For years WACAI has been working towards the goal of purchasing a piece of property to become the future home of a cultural arts center through the Guinea Land Project. Once that goal was met, we wanted to move towards securing the property by breaking ground and building a perimeter around the site. Traveling to Guinea during a global pandemic presented us with many delays and other challenges, but when it became safe to travel, we moved quickly in order to ensure that we could arrive in time to mobilize a team and get started before the rainy season really set in. The second week of the “CKY Corner” Series will show video clips of the construction process and the obstacles that were faced due to the challenges of wet weather and building in an undeveloped location.
Another challenge and delay created by the pandemic was in the form of a travel ban that prevented Alseny from returning home to bury his mother, N’Gawa who passed away after years of health complications due to high blood pressure and a series of strokes. Not being able to attend his mother’s funeral or be with his brothers and sisters during this very trying time weighed heavily on Alseny and his family alike. The tradition around mourning the death of a parent, particularly a birth mother is very emphasized in Guinean culture and despite the known implications of the COVID-19 regulations it was almost inconceivable to the community that Alseny was not present to bear witness to his Mom’s final rites or help hold his family up amidst their profound grief. The cultural tradition dictates that a community ceremony be performed at the time of death as well as at the one-year anniversary. Fortunately, N'Gawa's one year commemoration fell within a period when Guinea’s travel ban was lifted and Alseny was able to finally do right by his mother side-by-side with his surviving siblings and extended family.
Papa who was born and raised in Guinea until the age of ten when he was brought to the United States lost both his paternal grandma and his maternal Great grandma who helped raise him. They were very close and she was in fact, like a mother to him. Family members shared with us that because she was so fond of him, she would sometimes burst into tears lamenting that she didn’t want to die without seeing him again. Unfortunately, they never did get a chance to be with each other in person again and up until this time Papa had not been able to return to Guinea to mourn with his family or even see his birth Mom and his half-siblings in over 7 years. His family was desperately missing him and because Papa was losing his ability to communicate fluently in his native language of Susu it was getting exceedingly tough to keep that connection alive.
Another very important aspect of Papa returning to Guinea at this time was the issue of identity while he moves from boyhood to manhood as a Guinean immigrant growing up in the United States. The experience of immigration can cause developmental challenges to teens that can lead to negative mental health outcomes, or can result in resiliency, psychological growth, and character building. At the time Papa was at the crossroads of this intersection between positive and negative outcomes in identity development and greatly benefited from reconnecting with the culture in which he was raised, those that had a hand in raising him, and relearning his mother tongue.
Lastly, because there is no better place to go to learn or become reinvigorated than the source we needed this trip to soak in the waters of Conakry’s vibrant cultural arts scene and drink deeply from the creative well. Alseny, Andrea, and Papa were super excited to be energized in the traditional performance arts and each of them were embraced for their individual roles by a newly formed drum and dance group that practiced in a nearby neighborhood. Papa trained with the drummers who played for the dancers Andrea worked with. Alseny took on a leadership role and set new choreography, refined dance steps and drum parts, and helped the artists improve their overall technique and stage presence. One day at the end of rehearsal the group surprised us with a traditional kola nut offering and named Alseny and Andrea the honorary father and mother of the group. We look forward to sharing more about this experience in the third week of the “CKY Corner” Series segment called “CKY’s Ballet Tradition”.
We invite you to engage with this series by checking out WACAI’s website and following us on FB and IG and and to ensure that you receive WACAI's emails please add Andrea@WestAfricanCulturalArts.org to your contacts!