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Kids in Guinea Study Under Airport Lamps

The students at the airport consider themselves lucky. Those living farther away study at gas stations and come home smelling of gasoline.

Others sit on the curbs outside the homes of affluent families, picking up the crumbs of light falling out of their illuminated living rooms.

"We have an edge because we live near the airport," says 22-year-old Ismael Diallo, a university student.

It's an edge in preparing for an exam in a country where unemployment is rampant, inflation has pushed the price of a large bag of rice to $30 and a typical government functionary earns around $60 a month.

The lack of electricity is "a geological scandal," says Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist at Yale University, quoting a phrase first used by a colonial administrator to describe Guinea's untapped natural wealth.

The Oregon-sized territory has rivers which if properly harnessed could electrify the region, McGovern says. It has gold, diamonds, iron and half the world's reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum.

For 23 years, the former French colony has been under the grip of Lansana Conte, a reclusive and temperamental army general who grabbed the presidency in a 1984 coup. Suffering from a heart ailment, Conte has repeatedly traveled abroad for medical treatment. Mass demonstrations earlier this year called for his resignation because of his health and the deteriorating economy, but he instead declared martial law.

Eighteen-year-old Ousman Conde admits that sitting on the concrete piling is not comfortable, but says passing his upcoming exam could open doors.

"It hurts," he says, looking up from his notes on Karl Marx for the politics portion of the test. "But we prefer this hurt to the hurt of not doing well in our exams."

(This version CORRECTS Corrects light bulb reference and deletes refrigerator and AC examples)


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© 2007 The Associated Press