Guinea what? Where is that?
That is the usual response I get whenever I mention Guinea Bissau.
You may have never heard of this obscure little country before, but chances are you’ve enjoyed some of Guinea-Bissau’s produce. We can’t afford to ignore this culturally-rich and vibrant country. The country is one of the world’s leading exporters of cashews – those tasty nuts that we eat by the handful.
If you visit the country in May or June, don’t miss out on the freshly-picked, hand-roasted cashews, as well as the cashew juice squeezed out of the fruits attached to the nuts. Just don’t let the juice sit for a few days, unless you want to try another local favorite: cashew wine.
With just 1.5 million people in a country the size of Maryland, it’s easy to overlook Guinea-Bissau. It’s the fourth poorest nation in the world and two-thirds of the population survives on less than $2 a day.
Despite the fertile land, Guinea-Bissau is critically under-developed. Only pockets of the capital city of Bissau have electricity. The rest of the country is in the dark. The roads are terrible, many impassable during the rainy season. Women and girls spend long hours several times a day walking for water. Many children fortunate enough to attend school spend hours walking to distant schools only to receive inadequate education. There are only a handful of doctors and medical services for most citizens is non existent. Sewage seeps into the same ground where well-water is drawn from. It’s not surprising that the average life-expectancy age is 47.
But Guinea Bissau has yet another problem. The instability of its government. With independence gained from Portugal in 1976, the country has been plagued with civil unrest, drug trafficking and attempted coups. The most recent occurred April 2012. It has been reported that the value of the drugs funneled through Guinea-Bissau each year is greater than the country’s gross domestic product.