The Beautiful Country of Guinea-Bissau

Scott Firestone

You may have heard us talk about the country of Guinea-Bissau here at Pit Liquor. That's because this small west-African country is dear to the hearts of our founders, Erica and Jason. They lived there, working and falling in love with this beautiful country and its people. 

Today we're going to tell YOU about this country. And in a couple of weeks we'll share more about The Tolos Project--an exciting way we're partnering with the people here.  

On the far western edge of the African continent is this 14,000 square mile country--that's about half as big as the state of Maryland with lush vegetation and hot, rainy summers. (Fun fact: I just found out that US state sizes jump from 10,000 sq miles to 24,000 sq miles, so it's hard to make a generalization!) The latest estimate found a population of 1.9 million people. 

Guinea-Bissau's history includes being part of various kingdoms and empires that ruled Africa.

More recent history found Guinea-Bissau as a colony of Portugal until they gained their independence by way of rebellion in the early 1970s. This was followed by internal political turbulence. In 1980, a coup led by Joao Bernardo Vieira shattered infrastructure and the small country is still impacted by the destruction of sewers, electrical, water, and health infrastructure. 

Guinea-Bissau was also deeply and painfully affected by the slave trade that brought so many people to Europe and America as the primary slave port for the Americas.

Despite this painful past, Guinea-Bissau is a story of resilience in the face of so much opposition because the people who inhabit this place are so unbelievably amazing. The country doesn't bat an eye at electing female officials and is striving for equality among genders in a way that we seldom enact. Not having antiquated access to electricity means people have often turned to solar power instead. While Guinea-Bissau has hurt deeply, the steps it is taking now set it up to be a thought leader on issues like environment, equality, and public health. The people we know there who work in these areas give us confidence that the country has a bright future.

There is a sense of playfulness that might do the rest of the world some good to internalize. The country added "-Bissau" to their name (Bissau is the country's capital city, pictured above) after gaining their independence from Portugal. This enabled them to differentiate themselves from their southern neighbor, Guinea, whose capital city happens to be Conakry. Each country holds tight to their status as the "real" Guinea, of course. Local Guineans in Guinea-Bissau refer to Guinea as Conakry-Guinea and the people of both countries are, obviously, Guineans.

Since their initial independence, there have been a series of coups every few years, creating instability and keeping the economy depressed. They have one of the lowest GDPs in the world. This is exacerbated by things such as drug lords running their goods through Guinea-Bissau to Europe, and the country selling its fishing rights to China which means local fishermen have to pay China for their own fish. 

Guineans are true to West African culture in that the people are boisterous, generous, and love any reason for a party. As you walk down the street, you're likely to hear, "Come, eat with my family!" from total strangers and familiar faces alike, regardless of whether that family can easily afford meals or not. When you can't find your cab fare quickly enough, someone may just toss a coin through the window of the cab for you, and be prepared to be greeted in the most exuberant morning greeting of your life...every single day. Parties can organize themselves seemingly out of thin air and on a whim, or are greatly anticipated if they're planned long in advance. Whenever a party does materialize, it is complete with loud music, sharing of food and drinks, and long, listless gatherings of people who talk about life and care for one another, with adults engaging often in the play of the children which ranges throughout these gatherings.

Another former Portuguese colony, Brazil is known for its party atmosphere. Guinea-Bissau is very similar. You'll hear upbeat trills and songs as you walk down the road, watch a group of kids make up a song and dance as other kids come running from around corners to join in to a giant flash mob of sorts, and hear conversations where laughter is easy and common.

Guinea-Bissau is home to some of the most incredible people Erica and Jason have ever met and the country is a second home to their hearts. The country is little-known in Western culture because it is more aligned with the communist bloc of the world and with Portugal and its colonies. Our news sectors don't cross over much. Go to Cuba, and you'll hear about Guinea-Bissau like we hear about Kenya: Not often enough, but with familiarity. Chinese tourist buses are the most commonly-seen forms of tourism in Guinea-Bissau, and the culture differences are entertaining to observe.

We are inspired by the people we know in Guinea-Bissau and want to support their efforts in any way we can. We want to center their ideas, amplify their work and voices, and give lift to the dreams they have for their own country in any way possible. And this has a tremendous cross-section with Pit Liquor and the company we're building here.

We'll share more about the Tolos Project in a couple of weeks. But for now, we hope you've learned something about a country you may never have even heard of. Stay tuned!

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