Do Guinea Pigs come from Guinea? and Other Pressing Questions

Recently when researching news for Guinea, I realized something quite lamentable, yet not surprising: people don’t know very much about this majestic green country. Allow me to enlighten you…

boats in Guinea

Guinea ranks 178 of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. It is not very well known in the developed world because while things here are bad, they aren’t quite bad enough. Despite corruption, stunning absence of healthcare and immense poverty, rarely will you find this nation of 11 million people on your nightly news. In the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies, NBC took a commercial break during Guinea’s entrance. By my rough estimate, approximately 1 American viewer was dismayed by this: me.

can you find me?

the blue dot can’t even find it.


This French-speaking Islamic nation shares borders with Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Guinea is right outside spotlight, hosting thousands of refugees from its neighbors’ civil wars while remaining above the rock bottom situation that would attract significant international attention and aid.

In the anticipation of upcoming elections, political tension in Guinea has mounted in 2013. Demonstrations in late February and early March turned tragically violent, resulting in the death of at least 8 civilians. If you are interested in learning more about Guinea’s current political climate, I encourage you to give it a Google while keeping in mind that those of us volunteering here are quite safe.

A frequently confusing aspect of Guinea (formerly French Guinea) is that elsewhere in the world you will find countries called Guinea-Bissau (formerly Portuguese Guinea, it’s also in the Gulf of Guinea), Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, French Guiana and Papau New Guinea.  When I said my goodbyes I don’t doubt that there were at least a few intelligent people who thought I was bound for the South Pacific. It’s just that confusing.


"Where are we? Is this the right Guinea?"

“Where are we? Is this the right Guinea?”


By one explanation (which I can’t exactly prove, but I want to share nonetheless), in some version of old English the word ‘guinea’ meant ‘unknown land.’ In the early days of exploration, European voyagers sailed to and fro constantly pioneering, well, lots of unknown land.  Lack of creativity was one of the many shortfalls that befell these explorers (or at least those who survived the malaria, typhoid and yellow fever to arrive at a destination worth naming) – so they called everything Guinea. 

"Yep. This looks like the right one."

“Yep. This looks like the right one.”


Other people who know things about maps will tell you that all of this discombobulated guinea-ness has no exact explanation, but I like my version more. 

Photo courtesy Mercy Ships (Debra Bell)

This photo courtesy Mercy Ships (Debra Bell)


Guinea Pigs are not native to my Guinea. Nor are they related to pigs. (Disappointing, isn’t it?) To be honest, my research on this topic ended there because I had other things I needed to do. I can say with confidence, however, that the hashtag #Guinea will no doubt lead you to some pretty epic photos of Guinea Pigs, some in Halloween costumes.

This country I’m living in is quite good-looking, what with its myriad of islands, waterfalls, rolling green hills, jungles and pretty pink sunsets and all.

Catherine Clarke Murphy; Waterfalls at Diomaya

a west african sunset

CM Photos, Africa 2012 - 06

Flora and fauna aside, here are some quick facts about Guinea, courtesy Wikipedia:


Capital: Conakry

Official Language: French

Vernacular Languages: Fulah, Malinke, Susu 

Ethnic Groups: 40% Fula, 30% Mandingo, 20% Susu, 10% Other

Government: Presidential Republic

President: Alpha Conde

Prime Minister: Mohamed Said Fofana

Independence from France: October 2, 1958

Area: 245,857 km2 (94,926 sq mi)

Population (July 2009 estimate): 10,057,975
(***more recent estimates I’ve seen are around 11 million)

 GDP (PPP) $11,464 billion ($1,082 per capita)

Currency: Guinea Francs. This is $50, which comes out to 360,000GF that only come in bills of 5,000. Yippee.

Currency: Guinea Francs. This is $50, which comes out to 360,000GF that only come in bills of 5,000. Yippee.


So there you have it: my current home sweet home. Thanks for reading!

Class is now dismissed.


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