Thursday, May 21, 2009

Women's Day

March 8th was International Women’s Day. I happened to be in Awinatt Zbil to help Mike and Jackie celebrate. Mike and Jackie opened up a Girl’s Mentoring Center in Awinatt, so this was the first year the mentors got to celebrate with Peace Corps.

In true Mauritanian fashion, we had lots of zrig (milk and sugar), tea, and dates. It was one of the ways we can show our appriciation for the girlies in town and have fun!

Jackie and I with some of the women.

No party is complete without a bucket of zrig!

Some of the women helping Mike and Jackie set up.

Tea for everyone!

Snack time! Dates and cream. Yummy!

Musical interlude.

Some of the mentors. And one all henna-ed out.

The aftermath... Mike's pooped. Who needs more tea?


My friend Whitney came to town to visit for a day and took videos and more pictures. The first video is a tour of our market, the big hub of our village. It was quite lively that day...

The second one is how we travel in Mauritania. Basically stuff as many people as you can into one car. And children under 6 don't count as people because you can just throw them on top of your lap. They've gotten this down pretty well. Eight people in a 5 person car is not unheard of. The car we took into town had a total of 7. Roomy! And one of my students says "Hello!"

More Glimpses of my town...

This is Toutou and I. She works at the school with me. She went with us into town and is sitting next to me in the car. You might catch a glimpse of her viel.

We're loading up the car. Complete with donkey cart on top. The wheel was broken so they had to take it into Aioun, my regional capital.

This is one of the main "roads" in Agjert.

Obviously, we are very keen on renovating property...

Butchers slaughtering meat. You can only buy meat in our town Mondays and Fridays. And with no sort of refrigeration, the entire goat needs to be sold that day. Unless you make goat jerky and dry strips of meat. This guy here just lost his head...

The mosque closest to me in town. I've gotten used to this guy's prayer call, he's my favorite.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Welcome to Egjert!

Our market to buy whatever your heart desires... not!

The primary school.

My house

A fellow Peace Corps volunteer, our horse, and my host brother.

Camels in the dunes right outside of my house.


Party bus on the way to Dakar.

The Pirates scaring the competition.

Me and Josh doing our best to show Mauritania spirit.

Spectators watching the team.

Colleen and I cheering the Pirates on.

Practicing before the big game...


Hair party to take all of our braids out.

After our big fiasco in Nouakchott, going back to my tiny site was a welcome change. The vacation really motivated me to come back and integrate more with my family and community. I actually missed them, so I spent a lot of time at home and hanging out around town. I started going with my neighbors to the gardens picking beans and berries to munch on. One of my favorite days was going out to what villager's consider the country side to find a certain kind of tree because the seeds help with respiratory problems. In the cold season, everyone comes down with something, so a big chunk of my family got sick. We basically walked out past the town for about 30 minutes through small animal trails and sand dunes until we found them.

Everything was fine and dandy like sour candy until about two weeks in, I got pretty ill. We are all issued water filters, and especially in rural sites where we get our water from a well, they are life savers. After a couple days of multiple bathroom visits and throwing up, I realized my filter was not cleaning my water properly. I had been drinking untreated well water. Issues that are all too common in Peace Corps service. I had to cancel a week of class and go into the regional capital just to get access to drinkable water. But after a week of antibiotics, everything was back to normal.

However, in the middle of February in Dakar, Senegal, there is a soft ball tournament, WAIST. West African Invitational Softball Tournament. We go every year and dress up as pirates. So everyone at asks for pirate gear such as swords, eye patches, hats, etc in our packages from home. Since Pirates of the Caribbean, we're lucky that pirates have been a pretty popular costume. My sister even sent me a parrot. Mauritania usually has a pretty large turnout and this year was no exception. With three teams and about 50 spectators, we had over 120 people attend.

We chartered 2 buses from Rosso, our community based training site, to Dakar. I thought Nouakchott was amazing... Dakar is a real city. Huge markets, metropolitan, a history. Buildings stretch all the way to the shore line. You can see the ocean all around you, with people running in the sand and walking along cliffs, it is beautiful.

All of the softball games were held at Club Atlantique, right off of the coast. We had three days of softball ahead of us and lots of us to intimidate the competition. Apparently Peace Corp Mauritania has a reputation. You can always tell which Peace Corps kids live in a dry country because they go a little overboard with the alcohol. Then they tend to cheer a little too much for the team, even if we're not playing.

So we all showed up at the fields with full pirate gear on. Lots of girls braided their hair and boys grew out bears and shaved their heads into mohawks. I combined the two and braided my hair into a mohawk. A purple one. Our A team, The Pirates, had a good line up. After each game, the team gained more and more confidence. We won all the games the first day and by the middle of the second day, the championship was in sight. The third day, we did qualify to play in the final game and ahumdillilah, we ended up winning!

Needless to say, that night at the banquet we celebrated. And hopefully we managed to uphold our reputation. All in all, WAIST is definitely a nice vacation to see a great city and win softball tournament.


Macarie, our safety and security officer takes care of us. Hotta!

Christmas Dessert, YUMMY!

Fishing in the Senegal River.

The street our hotel was on.

Happy Holidays!!!

December was a busy month. When we are posted to our site we have a three month travel ban when we are required to stay in our regions. Our first day to travel around the country was the last week of November. So a lot of first years packed their bags to start visiting friends we haven't seen since August. My first visit was to Kiffa, a town 3 hrs away to visit my buddy on his birthday.

I spent a week in city, had a fun little birthday celebration complete with too many desserts, and just hung out with a bunch of friends I missed. After my vacation, it was back to school in Agjert for the trimester tests. Ahumdillulah I had a handful of kids that actually did pretty well and studied English. It's always nice when you can actually see and hear your hard work pay off.

After tests most of the volunteers go to Nouakchott, the country capital. For our class, it was our first time in the city. Restaurants, super markets, spas... it was paradise We spent Christmas Eve at our country director's house, (I.e. our main boss) where we finally got to see all of our friends. And meet the rest of the 2nd years.

Christmas Day, we went to one of the three churches in the country to attend mass... in French. But I'm pretty sure I got the jist of the message. Baby Jesus was born. At the end, the choir sang and danced until a big chunk of the congregation joined in clapping and stomping. Christmas African style. We had a blast.

After that I had a nice Christmas lunch at a creperie. Yum, cheese. By late afternoon, all of us returned to the country director's for the big Christmas dinner. Total, there are about 150 Peace Corps volunteers in the country. My estimate is volunteers, plus friends, and help there were close to 200 people at dinner. Needless to say, I don't know if I have ever seen that much food. And even though it was a Christmas pretty far from home, being surrounded by so many close friends, we made it a good one.

For New Years, it is PC Mauritania tradition to head down to Saint Louis, Senegal. It's a lively beach town and one of the bigger cities in West Africa. The hotels were amazing... luxurious compared to what I am used to. Hot water, a shower, a toilet, air conditioning (yeah, we did kind of need that in January), an actual bed. It was heaven. And the beaches had white sand and clear waters. I did a lot of relaxing in St. Louis.

The second week of January was ETR (Early Term Reconnect) in the capital to go over some of the basic points of Peace Corps Mauritania- in case we forgot. I was just happy to be in the city again. Unfortunately our meetings happened to be scheduled at the exact time the whole conflict between Hamas and Israel started escalating... so what do Mauritanianians do best? Riot! It started off as a protest towards the Israel embassay. A couple thousand people marched through the city, but then younger people started getting involved. High school kids left school to throw rocks at no one in particular, all clinging to their copy books. (Which I found a bit hilarious as a teacher.) People screaming “Allah Akbar” and cursing Israel and it's supporters. (America is the biggest one, if case you weren't aware.)

Then the fires started. The police had to use armed vehicles to attempt to control the crowd, so what's the best way to piss off authority? Light tires on every street corner downtown. Even when tear gas is thrown at you and rubber bullets were being shot. We were put on lock down, a state of emergency in where we are not allowed to leave our premises and be as vigilant as possible With the scenes going on outside, no one had to tell us twice. I happened to be in a hotel a couple blocks away from the Peace Corps main office. We saw lots of action from the windows. Even the cleaning ladies watched with us. It went on for a good 3 hours and then died down. Then for the next couple of days we went on with our meetings. But for those few days, the police presence in the city was huge.

Our first introduction to Nouakchott was certainly an experience we will keep with us for a while.

Riots in Nouakchott!!!

Watching the city burn...

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Our center piece, the festive rock turned turkey.

The cooks, Chris Paul and Anna!

Mike approves of the food! Time to eat.

Josh is ready to eat!

Thanksgiving with friends and food! What more can you ask for?

This year for Thanksgiving, Aioun, the regional capital of yours truly in the Hodhs hosted a huge Thanksgiving feast. Our guest list included a good 20 people. Thanks in large part to Chris Paul and Anna, quite possibly the best PC cooks, we had an awesome day. It was comparable to a Thanksgiving in America. We started the day off with home made cinnamon rolls. Followed by lunch which was salad and cheese bread. Vegetables are hard to come by here, I think this was my second salad in this country. The cheese bread was Velveeta. Cheese is a rarity too, so processed cheese spread is one of the best things ever.

Dinner consisted of corn bread, biscuits, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, squash, glazed carrots, chickens to replace the turkey, cranberry sauce, and gravy. Not to mention 9 pies. Pecan, apple, pumpkin, and chocolate. It was amazing. I have not eaten that much food since America. Needless to say my body went crazy. I am so underfed and used to eating bland foods that my stomach physically could not handle it. The bath room became my best friend the next day.

However, living here for almost six months now, a meal like that makes you thankful for things you take for granted at home. Without hesitation I can say that was the most I have eaten since home. I definitely appreciate food so much more, since our choices are so limited here and there is no such thing as a Wal-Mart down the street. I am also thankful for clean water that comes right out of a kitchen sink. That I have not seen since America, but I know it exists somewhere. Just not here. Toilets and toilet paper are also beautiful things. And of course, friends and family. Being in a town of 2000 people makes you realize how important friends are and your relationships with people. Most of all, I am thankful for this experience and that I live in a town that has really accepted me and does their best to take care of the resident American English teacher.

You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the girl

Big Halloween Celebration- Check

Lots of creative Mauritanian costumes- Check

Obnoxious Texas Fan- CHECK

The Eyes of Texas are upon you. Even in Mauritania.

Cultural Exchange

Two guys walking around my market

The stalls in the market.

Me in front of my school.

My site is an oasis village so we produce lots of dates. It's quite scenic at sunset.

My job as a teacher has been lots of fun and very rewarding. My class are comparable to US class sizes, sometimes even smaller- which is amazing since the opposite is usually true. Large cities can have upwards of 70-80 children in a class. Try that for crowd control. I actually feel like I can teach these kids English and it makes it all the better when you can see how excited the students to learn.

Lately, however, I have been having many conversations about cultural exchange. Which incidentally is one of the three goals of a Peace Corps service. There are many aspects of a Mauritanian culture that is very different from the Amerian life. For example, marriage is a very important expectation for women. Depending on their culture, girls can be married as young as 14 years old to men well into their ate 20's and 30's. So when people meet me and realize I'm 23 and single, but not looking for a husband to take care of me, they are flabbergasted. I then go on to explain that in America, girls just like boys like to get an education and wait until they have some money saved up to get married. Or there is always the choice to stay single. They may think I'm weird, but right now, as long as they know there is more than one option, I am happy.

Since girls here are not expected to get any higher education beyond high school, many of them are not treated equally in society. For example, in class, while teaching, if you choose a girl to answer a question, boys will ask why and insist they are stupid and would never know anything. Often times, girls are not able to do their homework because once they go home, they are told to cook for the family, clean, watch the smaller children, etc. To combat this attitude, Peace Corps is involved with Girls Education and Empowerment. There are classes meant to give girls a better education then what they might have and offer more resources and options. Activities include learning about finance and co-ops, perfecting English, art class, or in Aioun, they girls have sports hour once a week. You can tell the girls really enjoy doing something they never get to do, such as jump rope and play soccer. A lot of the time, these girls don't realize there are others out there that feel the same, and bringing them all together in an open and non-judgmental environment really helps them turn into more confident women.

There is also a lot of social tension here. The country is made up of Moors, who are of Arab descent, Black Moors, who are Black Africans that have adopted the Moor culture and have lived this way for centuries, along many Black African groups, such as Pulaar, Sonike, and Wolof. White Moors, especially, tend to stir up racial tensions. The things I have heard them say... sometimes I feel like I could be in Alabama in 1950. Granted, not everyone has this mindset, and I do not want to generalize, but it is definitely enough to notice. There have even been reports that the coup t'etate was staged because the population of black Africans is growing and by seizing power without elections, the White Moors could keep their hold on the country. It is most obviously a power issue, but hopefully by treating everyone equally and explaining that no one is better because of the color of their skin, I can change a few minds at a time.

Nutrition is a major issue here. Since the people here are culturally nomadic, it is expected to eat all you can at each sitting because they are under the impression that you never know when your next meal will be. If you are full, they will tell you to push through the pain and eat until there is nothing left. Large women are also see as beautiful, so the more you eat the better looking you are. There are fat camps here, but unlike in the States where you send little chubby kids to loose weight, here, you force feed women until they are 200-300 lbs. Of course there are health issues that come with this. I have see women that cannot walk more then 100 feet because they are so out of breath and their body aches.

On top of that, the food they eat is not entirely nutritious. Where I live, lunch everyday is rice and goat meat while dinner is plain cous cous. Vegetables and fruits are almost never seen. Mostly because they are just so difficult to get. You would have to get them from the city. We have a market only once a week. And I use the word market sparingly, you could get twice as many things at the CVS then in my town. (Check out the market pics.) I have seen squash twice and potatoes about every other week, but you have to hunt for them. Since I get tired of cous cous for dinner every night, market days I buy macaroni which means we have that plus onions for dinner. And believe me, its like a feast. But with no electricity and no refrigeration, you can have perishables, and you have to make do with what you have and make sure no food goes to waste.

Milk is also an important aspect in the Moor culture. Every night I get a nice fresh bowl of milk from our cows. We even have a milk man named Sidi. I have learned to love fresh milk. After a big bowl of nasty, unflavored cous cous, milk is like a big dessert. However, they also make sour milk. What is left over from the night before, they pour into a container. By container I really mean goat skin that has been sewn up with its neck as the spout and legs tied up so no liquid gets out. Called a gerbe, its a big goat carcass. So at night, you pour the milk into this, it sours and curdles and in the morning you add water and sugar and have a nice big glass of sour milk. I personally don't like it, but they adore it here. The goat skin actually gives it a little flavor too. You can also do this in a plastic bottle if you do not have a goat skin, but they flavor is not the same, or so I have been told. I could live without trying either sour goat skin milk or sour plastic bottle milk. It's not exactly my thing.

Thankfully, while talking to people, I have meet Mauritanians who are very open and even share some of my views. I had a conversation once with a taxi driver who said he knows obese women are very unhealthy and it is not good for them. He also told me this as I had to sit next to a 300 lbs woman in a car, so maybe he was trying to make me feel better, as she is three times my size. I met another person who thinks women covering their hair is sexist and doesn't see a point in it. I saw a 14 year old girl wearing jeans and playing basketball. That was exciting because I had just had a conversation with a woman in my town that said girls that play sports need to be hit because they should be cooking. Not that the West should force its culture down other people's throats, but the longer I am here, the more I realize that cultural exchange is a huge part of a Peace Corps service.

Friday, October 24, 2008

School's In!

School was officially supposed to start on October 12th. However, that doesnt mean we are going to have class. My first clue? My community counterpart, who is also a teacher went into the capital.

So I walk there, meet the director, and have tea with two other women who work there for about three hours. Then go home because everyone decides its too hot and they need naps. Repeat x5. That was my first week of school.

The next week, we actually had classes. I teach 1st-4th year of middle school, so the equivelent to 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Each class is 2 hours for a grand total of 8 hours a week. However, the English teacher they have had for the past two years has a limited amount of English. He is really a French teacher. So I'm pretty much starting from square one. On every class. This includes, alphabet, numbers, pronunciation. Everything.

My first class was a 3rd year class and I was interrupted in the middle of it by my bosses. The Peace Corps education director came out to see me. He also brought care packages and my absentee ballot, so it was a welcome distraction. With that, class was over within an hour and I got a pimp ride home with the entire town staring at the new teacher in some huge ass SUV.

The kids are really excited to learn English though, and it seems like everyone I meet is happy I'm here. It feels nice to finally start doing the job I was sent here to do... Yay!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Adjusting to life at site....

Lots of hiking to do in Aioun. There are lots of scenic views around the city.

Showing off my henna I got for Eid. And notice the Longhorn on my right hand. TEXAS FIGHT!

It has been two weeks at site and this is my life so far...

It's surprisingly easy to get used to not having electricity. There are no convinces like a/c but I've lived without that since leaving America, so that's not a big deal. Now there is no TV or a way to charge my phone. But it has lead to me reading a lot of books... and one of my region mates is giving me their solar charger, so it is definitely do-able. The only bothersome thing is not having light at night, but that is easily remedied by going to sleep around 9.

Integrating into the community is so much easier in a small site. There are less then 2000 people in my village, so everyone knows I am the first American in town and they all know who I am and want me to come over. Of course the first thing anyone asks is if I want milk or tea. Milk is huge in the country side. It definitely takes some getting used to to chug a bowl of milk from the cow about 20 feet away from where you are sitting.

Water comes from wells. To have a readily available supply, we fill up big bidons with water which are big plastic barrels. When the water gets low, we go to the well and fill up our bidons again. Thank god it's a kid's job to keep the water full, so I never have to actually lug the water up w/ the rope and bucket. However, when you get towards the bottom of the barrel, the water becomes really dirty and sandy. I almost had a break down the first week because my bath water was literally brown. And I'm lucky if I get a bath once a day. So the water situation is going to get some taking used to.

The sun here is ridiculously strong. I took a walk for about 10 minutes one day and got a sun burn on my face. First of all, it was around 5 when the sun was not strong and getting ready to set. And I have never burned on my face, my freckles just darken. Apparently they have reached their melanin capacity because I walk in the my family's compound and they asked me why I was so red.

Eid was the other day. It's the big holiday at the end of Ramadan. All the family comes in so I met so many people. And they were all jolly because of the holiday and you could eat again. We had awesome food and just partied. I got henna-ed and got my hair braided and everyone was so impressed with me because I suddenly became beautiful. It was a pretty awesome experience.

School officially starts on the 12th, so I'll be lesson planning soon and getting the kids prepared to speak in English! I'm really excited and can't wait to be doing my actual work as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

The Glorious Return

The Hodh Ech Garbi, my region is a two day travel from Rosso. So being cooped up in a car for multiple days can take a toll on anyone. As volunteers, we are accompanied by a Peace Corps staff who is in charge of making sure we are posted. Some more competent then others.

In theory, when you get to your region, the volunteer spends a couple of days in the regional capital, mine being Aioun, to go house shopping. We need things like matelas, which are small mattresses that Mauritanians sleep on, buckets for showers, mats, kitchen supplies- pots, pans, plates, silverware, etc. Since my site does not have a daily market or electricity, I also need canned food, oatmeal, coffee, etc. After we buy all these things, we are taken to our site by Peace Corps and dropped off.

Of course when put in practice, rules are bent. We get to site a little before noon, and that very day I am told to have everything ready by 5 pm . The morning was spent doing protocol and the markets are closed for the hottest part of the day so I had absolutely no time to do shopping. Nothing would have even been open. For some reason I was the only one to leave at a moment's notice. On the first day of posting a staff member is required to stay overnight. I have an inkling that mine wanted to get it over with, get to site and be rid of his duties.

I was told to hang out without any house wares and go back to Aioun by myself, go shopping, and return with everything alone. However, this is of course easier said then done. Travel is done by taxi brousse. Drivers go between cities and stuff as many people in a car as possible for a fee. Four in the front and four in the back is a very common sight. Sometimes you can't tell who the driver is because there are two people in his seat. They also charge for baggage. So having a mattresses and huge rugs and multiple bags is going to cost me. Add to this that I am American, which makes it ok to rip me off.

I make it to Aioun without a problem and stay with the other volunteers in the regional house. I do my shopping, etc. and hope I didn't forget to leave anything out. Here is the hard part. I plan on going back to my site in the same car with another volunteer, Jackie who lives in Awinat Zbil. (Loosely translated to cow shit.) She came into town to go shopping also. Since we have so much baggage, we have to go to find a local driver to drive to our house, load up our baggage, and take us to the garage where we can find cars that are going east, to other cities.
We make it to the garage and then have to haggle to get to our sites. All the while paying huge amounts for our baggage. Here's the fun part...

My site does not have a road, it is all sand. And my house is about a kilometer and a half away from the paved road. So the taxi stops at my town, the driver looks at me and says, “Agjert, this is your stop,” and leaves me on the side of the road. Literally. With a mattresse, my big traveling backpack, a normal back pack, my purse, and two buckets filled with food. I obviously can't carry all these things, so I ask to take him to my house. But no, I am crazy for asking him because can't I see that his tires can't drive in sand? Imagine being abandoned on the side of the road in the middle of Africa, feeling almost completely helpless. I was about to flip my shit. So I say good bye to Jackie who looked as freaked out as I was, and wave to her with all my shit.

What's a girl to do? I literally walked up to the first house I saw and told them about my problem. I was an English teacher and I am new to town, but need help getting me and all my stuff to my house. Fortunately they were nice about it. They said to wait there and if they saw cars going in to town, they would stop them. The offered me milk and tea. All of which took a little over 2 hours. But hey, I had time to kill and I needed to integrate in the community. It was getting dark and there were less and less cars and they all wanted to charge me outrageous prices for driving less then two kilometers.

I called my counterpart and told him where I was and he came with a car to come get me. Of course I had to pay him too. I should have known, anyone is willing to rip off the American, even your adopted family. With that, I said my good byes to the family that took in the crazy American for an afternoon and promised to come back for tea.

All in all a thirty minute drive back to site ended up taking almost four hours. This just goes to show how flexible you have to be, and not to be weary to ask for help from those around you. Otherwise you might go a little crazy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Culture Shock

A list of things that need some getting used to...

Fish bowl syndrome
You are different and everyone knows it so they pay attention to you. There is no anonymity like the big cities in America. People know your name and you have no idea why and they all want to know what the American is doing. They will follow you and ask you for gifts and assume you are the richest person in the world. Although you are the richest person they have probably ever met just by being an American.

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic. Since no one in our group was Muslim, we are all just "The Nassarani," or Christian. My family was good about respecting my views but a lot of other people kept going through conversion attempts. I certainly don't like having my identity boiled down to my religion. Although I know many American's do the exact same thing...

Women are very limited in what they can do. Your hair should be covered. If you are not in a skirt you are not seen as a woman, I would be seen as a man. There is no physical contact between a man in a woman. I can't shake someone's hand unless he offers it to me first. Her main purpose is to grow up and get married to make lots of babies. It is a very restrictive culture.

The heat is pretty much unbearable between the months of May through October and the hours of 11-5. This is nap time for a big bulk of the country. Triple digits are normal and expected every single day during these months. And since there is no air conditioning and a lot of the time no fans there is no where to run to cool off. Beads of sweat falling down my face by just moving 3 feet has become a daily occurrence for me.

Going to the restroom is an adventure. My toilet is a hole in the ground with two stones that you step on top of. You have to squat and balance to aim into the hole. Then you use a makaresh, which looks like a big teapot to clean. Always use your left hand to wipe. Which is why you only offer your right hand to greet. Otherwise you'd be offending them. Toilet paper is pretty much non exsistent. You do get used to that shower fresh feeling, though!

Depending on where you are and what season it is, not all food is avaliable. How I wish I had a Wal-mart. I live so far inland I would never eat fresh fish. However, carrots are popular here. :) And since I live in a village, goat is the main subsistence. Which is quite hard for a vegetarian.

Just a small list of things that would be hard for an American to get used to. But hey, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger! Just be grateful of running water, electricity, and supermarkets!

I Swear... By the Moon and the Stars in the Sky

The last week of stage, we had more sessions at the Peace Corps Center to prepare us for site posting. The last day as trainees was reserved for our fun day. We had Stage Olympic where we broke up into multiple teams and competed against each other for glory. However, we were rudely interrupted when we started to notice a stenchy smell in the refectoire. Turns out the septic tank had flooded and filled the dinner room which was conveniently where we were going to hold the Swear In ceremony with sewage. Because of the obvious delimma, we were going to hold the ceremony in the dorm rooms. Which also meant we all had to make our baggage disappear by the next morning at 8.

Along with the Olympics, we had our last talent show that night. To set the mood off, Eli and Phillip did Tai Chi for a good 5 minutes. They hosted along with Amanda and Sam. I did my part to make it an awesome talent show by doing a nice step routine with 4 other girls. It was a fun ending to our life as trainees.

The next morning, August 28th, everyone woke up excitedly. We all stuffed our bags in the storage rooms and watched as the staff transformed our dorm room into something presentable. The ceremony started a little after 10. All 76 of us were seated on the floor. We are the largest class in this country and made it through training with only 1 early termination. We're kind of a big deal. Obie Shaw, the director spoke and introduced the US Ambassador. We also had a trainee give a short speech in each of the 5 languages spoken in the country- French, Hassaniya, Puular, Sonnike, and Wolof. We all swore that we would uphold the United States Constitution and the Peace Corps goals and values. It almost felt like graduation where you get that big pat on the back and the culmination of your work is recognized.

My favorite part was by far seeing all the faculty and staff cheer you on. They have put in as much hard work as each trainee to see us reach this point. The language facilitators, the directors, all the model school teachers, and a lot of the second years were there to commend us. Afterwards we had a nice lunch with refreshments.

The rest of the day was spent cooking for our big Swear In party. We had lots of food and I got to sneak little tastes of cheese before it went in the dishes. The party was held at a hotel about a 10 minute drive away. We got to meet a lot of the 2nd years and made for a very entertaining night.

The next day was reserved for packing and saying good byes. We all actually left on time for posting. The Hodh ech Gharbi all climbed into a big SUV and got ready for our big 2 day journey to Aioun.

My language class with our Hassaniya Facilitator.
L-R Diego, Moctar, Austin, Lindsay, and I.

The main road in Rosso.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Site Visit

It was the last week in July when we were going to find out about our site placement. All the trainees packed up to go to the Peace Corps Center for sessions. The morning of site announcements- everyone's energy was just sizzling. There are three big days for trainnees. Home stay announcement, site placement, and swear in... so it was a pretty big deal.

Out on the sand, the staff created a huge map of Mauritania, with a label at each site a volunteer was going to be placed at. As each name got called out, we all cheered and ran to our site. This way, you could geographically see who was close to you and where you were in the country.

I am in a village named Agjert. It is about 40 kilometers from the regional capital Aioun El Attrous. My region is Hodh Ech Gharbi. Currently there is only one site further east then me, so I'm pretty much on the fronteir. Mali is an hour south and 2 hours east.

From Rosso it takes 2 days to get to site. We stayed overnight in Kiffa, which is the region's capital just west of us. It seemed the farther east we went the prettier it became. There are sand dunes, lots of camels, donkeys, date trees, etc. It is quite picturesque.

The first thing I noticed about Aioun is how rocky everything is. When i found out about my site, I told my host mother and she said the houses were made of rocks. And they are. Everything is stone cut in multiple shades of red and orange. There is a lot of hiking, caves, and beautiful rock features everywhere.

My site, Agjert is known for its date trees. I would describe it as a small suburb of Aioun. There are about 300 families which makes the town about 1500-2000 people. Every Monday villiages from all around have a market at our site.

I am living with my community counterpart who is another teacher. I have my own room in a family compound so I have enough privacy. I am going to be the first Peace Corps Volunteer at the site, and the first English teacher at the middle school. I am really excited about that.

We spent a little less then a week at site, and then returned to Rosso for more training.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tea Under the Tree

My family and I. L-R Selma, Hejarah, Jacob, Boba holding baby Summer, Ali, and I.

Ilne, Ali, and Billel.

My neighbor Boita, Austin, and I.

Neighborhood kids. Me, Halima, Minetou, and Aicha.

My friend's host siblings, Mohammed and Mama.

My neice, Ilne and I.

Our first week in Africa was spent doing orientation. We had lots of cross culture, technical sessions, and ice breakers to just meet all 77 of us. We met with our facilitators and got to tell them specifically what we wanted and expected out of our two year service here. My biggest expectation was to be fluent in Hassaniya, which is the local dialect of Arabic. And of course- become a kick ass English teacher.

At the end of the week we got our announcements for home stay training. Or to be correct, community based training. This is the first time since the 1980s that training is done in Rosso. Every other year it has been in Kaedi. I got placed in a neighborhood of Rosso called Satara. I am also in a language class with three other PCT's learning Hassaniya.

The first day out of the Center, we get dropped off at our facilitator's house and met one member of our family. My sister Selma came. We actually thought we had the same name for a couple of minutes because Mauritanians have a hard time pronouncing Summer and it kept coming out Summa, which was mistaken for Selma. So we had a good laugh and my sister took quite kindly to me.

We take a walk home and I meet the rest of my family. I live with my mother and 4 sisters. My mother is Boba, and my sisters are named Habus, Dalah, Selma, and Coumba. Habus and Coumba have their own families. Dalah was pregnant and Selma is engaged.

It was just a bit awkward the first week. I'll have to admit, the culture takes a lot of getting used to. Plus add the fact that I cannot communicate with them... there was a lot of charades going on for a couple of weeks. Turns out in my neighborhood there were a good amount of Americans living near me, so I wasn't too lonely.

Home stay, while we are officially trainees is broken up into three sections. The first third, is meant to focus on learning our language. About a month into it, I felt comfortable enough to communicate. Peace Corps does a good job of making sure we have a handle on our language. My facilitator has been doing this for 11 also, so he is an awesome teacher. Plus we are in class 6 hours a day, and 5 days a week.

We are also supposed to integrate into the community and work on learning the culture. Some how I became the best American girl in Satara because I wore mulafahs, which are the veils that Moor women wear and I got my hair braided. My family is really nice and we had our own jokes and mannerisms that we would all laugh about. My sister that was pregnant had her baby and named it after me, so her name is either Summer or Marieme, just like me. Names are pretty interchangeable and I have certainly learned to answer to a lot of things.

In Mauritania, when a child is born, a big party exactly one week after the birth. It's a naming ceremony, so that's when she was officially named. My family went all out with the festivities- it was quite exciting. People from all over the country- there were even a few people that came all the way from the Algerian border. It was also the first time I saw a camel in close vacinity. He was hanging out in our yard because we were going to eat him for lunch. YUM!

The first 3rd of orientation ended on July 22nd when did site placements and visit!!