The beginning of the new year found me participating in the training of the new volunteers for their 6 month evaluations in Nouakchott. I also found it my job to have to travel by taxi brousse back to Kaedi with a desktop computer. Not a fun experience. Moving a computer from taxi to taxi and trying to haggle with the garage mafia about the price of my ticket did not go well. First of all, how could I convince these people that I was a poor volunteer when I had a computer, second I was buying all of the backseat tickets so they wanted me just to pay for the whole car. It was a disaster. I was lucky to have two other volunteers with me to help.
The computer was for our Peace Corps bureau in Kaedi. There had been some mix ups about getting the computer to Kaedi on the PC vehicles so the Regional Coordinator, me, was left to fix the situation. Added on to that task I was also preparing for the biggest meeting I had ever planned and facilitated. It was scheduled for the 10th. I had to gather community members who were interested in the future of the GMC and explain our Goals and Objectives. On top of all that I was excitedly planning for the arrival of my friend Jenny to Casablanca where I was to join up with her for her 3 week tour of my Africa at the end of the month. My month looked very busy and thankfully the days passed quickly.
My meeting went great and I was so pleased with the reaction of the community members of Kaedi and the director of the school that I planned another one for the end of February. After the meeting and the holiday break the GMC opened up once again but this time to a very new program. I created a member committee of 4 girls who were to be representatives of the 30 members we had chosen at the beginning of the month. The 7 day a week program was cut down to 3 days of health lessons, computer trainings and a class on Saturdays for the young primary school aged girls, fully managed and taught by the high school aged members of the center. Everything was up and running smoothly without me and I hope to be able to leave the GMC fully operational without the PC by July.
Now I am preparing to go to Nouakchott again, this time to take a plane to Casablanca, Morocco to meet my friend Jenny for an 8 day adventure in a new country.
I started December off in Mali, the country straight East of Mauritania. I went with my friend Brooke and we celebrated her Birthday, December 2nd, in style in the capital of Bamako. Many people who visit Mali go to Dogan country to see the beautiful desert rock formations but Brooke and I wanted to see green, not desert. We get enough of that. So we headed down south to Sikasso, near the Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast borders. We saw waterfalls and and jungle and experienced the Africa I had envisioned before coming to Mauritania.
Before I knew it, I was back to Kaedi and back to work with not very much time before the Christmas holidays. I wrote Christmas letters in time to send with my friend Nick, who was going home to America for the holidays. I was very jealous and made a promise to myself to always in the future make it home for the holidays if possible. I hope to never be away from my family on Christmas again. Once was enough to cure my independence. Twice was ridiculous. I've proved that I can survive the holidays without my family, there's no reason for me or my family to suffer again.
I left for Nouakchott the 23rd to prepare Obie's house (our Peace Corps director) for the big celebration of the Christmas Eve party and the Christmas day dinner. I alone was in charge of the decorations and all the other volunteers there at the house were working hard preparing all of the food. I worked the night of the 23rd and all day the 24th and was very happy with the way the house looked and felt. When Obie went to the US not long before, he picked up 100 red ornaments at Sam's Club and with all the lights and other decorations gathered from years prior I had enough to make an impression. My main priority was to bring a Wow! to everyone who walked in the front gate, so this meant the front of the house had to be spectacular. I hoped all the new volunteers would feel at home as soon as they walked through that gate.
Christmas was nice because I was busy and from Nouakchott I traveled 5 hours by bus up north to a city I hadn't visited before. Nouadhibou was big and modern with two story buildings and restaurants. The volunteers' homes had electricity, TV's and hot water. I stayed with a new volunteer, Maylen, in her Melrose Place style apartment and watched TV for straight 10 hours. We also walked to the famous ship graveyard, where ships from around the world come to die. Nouadhibou was much colder since it was surrounded by water and very windy and I enjoyed the New Years with the familiarity of struggling to keep warm.
The GMC was opened and I was busy 7 days a week. Instead of choosing members the doors were opened for every high school aged girls who was interested. It was chaotic. The loonde (Pulaar word for the clay pot we keep water in) was always empty and it was very hard for me to get the girls to refill it. The members were tired of having to be there everyday and the new girls were coming too sporadically for me to have regular lessons. It was time for a change, but with Thanksgiving coming up and me preparing to go on vacation to Mali, I had to wait.
Things were changing at home with my host family though. We had new tenants, 3 Moor Female teachers (Moors are the white Mauritanians who speak classical Arabic). They brought with them good food and lots of noise. I cannot communicate with them because they do not speak French or Pulaar, but we get along with hand gestures and translations from my host brother Oumar and sister Mariam. Although my host brother, who comes for the month of Ramadan, was now preparing to go back to the big city of Nouakchott to continue his studies.
I had tried to get him a job with the Portuguese who are in my part of the country building a road, but things move slowly in Africa and we are, as of now, still waiting for the job for Oumar to start. The interesting thing about this road is that 30 years ago Americans built it. It's a sort of dirt/rock road that still exists but 30 years is a long time for a road to go without maintenance. Our Portuguese friends are making wonderful progress with the limited resources here and already the road to Lexhiba (before at least an hour from Kaedi) is only 30-45 minutes. This makes for a faster and less bumpy more enjoyable ride. It is also the road I take to go to Wadio, the village of my host family, so I have benefited as well as other volunteers who live along this road.
On November the 10th I took a group of 25 young primary aged girls out to my friend's village, Ganki, along the above mentioned road. We arrived to a group of singing girls and learned from the Kaedi Sage Femme (wise woman/midwife) about the dangers of female genital mutilation. I was very happy with the response from the girls and when asked if they thought they would still practice this when they had children they responded with lot's of no's and clicks (the sound mothers use here to express a disgust with a child's bad behavior). The day went fast and returned back to Kaedi in our rented "prison van" before the sun set.
I stopped writing. It was mainly because I felt there was not much happening in my life that others would want to read and because a new volunteer told me she read my blog before she came to Mauritania and found it boring. So I quit, but my mother said I should just keep writing and that many people found it interesting. I think mainly they are her friends, but with encouragement from some others and some time today I will enter the events of the past couple of months and hope not to bore too many of you.
October started off with me in America! I was preparing to fly from Indiana to Texas for the wedding of my friend Shelly. Mom and I went for 5 days to spend our time navigating in our rental car around the strange highways of Texas. What is with those extremely confusing off and on ramps attached to the highways! We spent a lot of time making U turns underneath the overpasses.
We thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of the Elam's in Wichita Falls. And the wedding was for us a week long party full of food, drinks and friends. I honestly wished that I could do it all over again. I also ate so much I could barely fit into my bridesmaid's dress that mom had brought over to Mauritania the February before for me to try on. At that time we thought we might have to take it in a bit, but I am so glad we didn't.
I was so happy to have my family and friends come visit me while I was at home, but the time was exhausting and I literally ate everything I could fit into my mouth and by the end of my time at home I was semi ready to get back to my life in Kaedi and finish my service with the Peace Corps.
I arrived in Kaedi just in time to prepare the GMC (after school program for girls) for the annual opening. In Mauritania we start school in October. This year I let the girls plan our party. They hired music and prepared speeches and and food. Everyone had a fabulous time and so did I. There were about 70 people there and we had snacks of popcorn and bengues, the same thing we had the year before only this time the members of he center had made them and I didn't have to pick them up from the market. It was less work for me, in fact I did barely anything and I was not nervous at all like I was the year before.
I'm so excited that it's finally September. I've now officially been here in Mauritania for one year. Right now things are very slow because the training for the new volunteers will end on Thursday, September 6th and then Ramadan will start around the middle of this month. I still have the GMC open 5 days a week but few girls are here in Kaedi because of vacation. I'm focusing on making contacts for mentors and preparing my site for the 3 new volunteers who will be joining. I also starting painting my room. White makes it look so clean.
I am also preparing to go home in 20 days! Just for a short vacation, I'm coming back. I'm so looking forward to picking up coffee at a drive through window and eating a big salad, without meat. I'm so tired of Chebujan, rice and fish. I hope to also enjoy watching cooking shows with my mother and sleeping in a bed and brushing my teeth over a sink and not my toilet/shower.
It's started to rain here for long periods of time. Other than the leaking in my room the rain brings nice things. The whole desert seems to turn into a green jungle. The grass pops up through the sand and it looks as though a golf course has just been laid. It seems to happen overnight. The rain also cools everything down. I've been able to sleep inside for the past 4 nights and my morning coffee doesn't make me sweat. Although my new Rainbow flip-flops aren't very pretty anymore because of the sandy mud.
I hope to have a chance to see most of you while I'm home.