Guinea-Bissau, a tiny country on the Atlantic Coast of West Africa, is one of those places where days easily turn to weeks and before you know it, you have practically become a local.
15 signs you have been in Guinea-Bissau for too long:
1) You treat power cuts as a normal part of everyday life. When the all the lights in the house suddenly turn off sometime between 7-11 p.m., you’ll just casually flick the switch of the flashlight that is permanently glued to your hand, and go on with your business like nothing happened. You know perfectly well that the lights will come back in an hour or two, or by the next day for sure. And a power cut is really just a good excuse to go out for a caipirinha!
2) When someone asks you what goes into a caipirinha, you automatically say it’s made of the Guinea-Bissauan spirit of “cana” and is a local classic. (I have personally dubbed Guinea-Bissau as mini-Brazil!). Also, “Baileys” now refers to a mix of fuel-tasting cana, condensed milk and coffee, poured into a 1.5-liter water bottle and drank nicely luke-warm because nobody has a fridge.
3) You think it’s totally normal for freshly-roasted cashew nuts to be sold straight out of the vendor’s hand into yours. While a few thousand germs do switch owners in the process, not much money does: 200 CFA ($0.50) gives you about two palm-fulls of yummy, if slightly sandy, cashews.
(You can also buy fresh cashew fruit and make juice out of it! The nut part comes from the roasted the stub of the fruit.)
4) When someone offers you wine with lunch, you know better than to ask “is it red or white?” Cashew wine only comes in one color: gray. At least the taste varies from fresh and sugary to overly-fermented sourness.
5) In one sentence you’ll use words from Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and Creole. You also feel bad about not speaking fluent Portuguese creole, a language you didn’t even know existed before setting foot into Guinea-Bissau.
6) When the phrase “hit song” automatically refers to the catchy slow tunes of local pop star Americo Gomes:
7) You come to realize the bars you frequent are all located within a two-block radius of each other, meaning that Bissau is not at all the metropolis it seemed to be during the first day.
8) You drink your water out of small plastic bags that you buy in the corner shop. You also know the perfect technique: bite a small hole in the corner and squeeze hard.
9) You think it is totally normal for the airport bar to be a little shack by the road, crowded by people with suitcases, and for the check-in time to be whenever you see the plane arriving on the runway.
10) All the expats you speak with have had malaria or are currently fighting the latest bout of it. Most people seem to think it’s just an extreme case of the feverish flu and don’t even bother with mosquito nets.
11) You no longer wonder how it’s possible that you are in one of the world’s poorest countries, and yet bridges and roads are in great shape, people wear nice clothes and there are fancy mansions sprouting up all over. That’s just how it is. (Surely it has nothing to do with the Latin American drug lords using Guinea-Bissau as a transfer point, right?)
12) You know better than to buy the 5th ticket to a “Sept Place”, one of the converted Peugeot station wagons that serve as Guinea-Bissau’s only mode of public transportation. While these rickety cars do somehow seat seven people, the fifth person ends up sitting on top of the back wheel, crouching uncomfortably the whole way.
13) You have abandoned all your long sleeves and ankle-length skirts – way too conservative for Guinea-Bissau! Here the look is more along the lines of tank tops and miniskirts, especially in the buzzing nightlife scene of the capital city Bissau.
14) You have learned to take a nap before going out dancing at the local hotspots like Bambu or Sabura, as it will surely be another long night. You know that Bissau is called a “24-hour party place” for a good reason – the fun never ends (before 6 a.m. anyway).
15) You have lived through a coup d’etat or two – Guinea-Bissau is famous for not having a single president complete a full term since 1994.
Disclaimer: After spending nearly a month in Guinea-Bissau, I finally left a week before the latest coup – clearly too early! I’ll take that as a sign that I need to go back some day.