The Republic of Guinea is a country of multiple contrasts. It is rich in resources, including minerals and water. However, Guineans are still among the poorest people in West Africa. Guinea is at a crossroads. Since a decade, the country has made significant progress in strengthening democratic institution and the rule of law. But the nascent democracy remains fragile. The country is regularly engulfed by social and political tensions. Elections are often marked by violent protests and the use of excessive force by the security forces. Guinea has been continuously facing a strong ethnopolitical polarization.
Guinea, a polarized country at a crossroads
And polarization is lurking everywhere, even in scrap dealers neighborhood of the capital, Conakry.
For the foreign traveler experimenting Guinea from an aesthetic and necessary more futile perspective, there is also a visible contrast between the capital and the countryside.
Outside the capital, the traveler will be astonished by the beauty and the poetry of the various Guinean landscapes.
The unexpected appeal of Conakry
At the first sight, the capital Conakry is not much appealing. Its crowded streets have not particular charm. They are dirty and dusty during the dry season and flooded and filled with mud during the rainy season. They are lined with concrete buildings under construction that proliferate in a chaotic way.
The spatial distribution of the communities across urban areas of Conakry reflects also the ethnopolitical polarization of the country.
“La Casse”, a neighborhood of the capital crowded with scrap dealers
Close to the “Madina Market”, the biggest market in Conakry, there is a place called “La Casse”, which is full of scrapped vehicles. Its inhabitants have been accused of supporting the ruling party and even of having taken part in clashes against opposition supporters. Some say there are scrappy people in the scrap.
But sometimes it is worth setting aside politics and focusing solely on the beauty, poetry and humanity of people met in such controversial places.
Because Conakry is full of hidden treasures for those who take the time to discover them. And you do not need to enter luxurious houses of the Guinean bourgeoisie or to wander among some of the historic remnants scattered in the capital.
Even in unnoticeable or least accessible places, you can find treasures.
And “La Casse” is among those places.
When scrap metal and urban waste are transformed into noble materials
“La Casse” is a paradise where scrap metal and urban waste can be transformed into noble materials in the gifted hands of the “scrap tailors”.
With an infinite patience and thoroughness, the scrap dealers spend the whole day in recycling unimaginable mountains of car wrecks. Most of them are male. But they patch the sheet metal as a female tailor would have embroidered a lace.
One of them is using carefully a sewing machine to fix the protective padding of car doors. Another one is forging car spare parts with the support of a quite basic but very clever hand-made forge machinery. Another one explains he is coming from Sierra Leone. After years in Guinea, he speaks with a strong English accent. He looks like a Rastafarian and seems rather disconnected from politics. He shows me with a huge smile his brick-à-brac shelter made from a pile of heterogeneous car wreckage pieces. The entrance of the shelter is surrounded by a car hood showing a logo from the Peugeot brand.
These scrap dealers are genuine “scrap-tailors” with golden fingers.
Children play amidst recycled car wrecks. All live together in community in the middle of the scrap.
And they are so proud of their craft that they welcome the stranger with a heartfelt attention.
Definitely Guinea deserves to be among the lands of discovery.
Solange Paradis, Conakry, pictures from January 2014, text from May 2020