30 July 2008

Site Visit

I wasn't really going to say anything about site visit since PC has been known to switch people around last minute.  However, there are only so many Pulaar sites and I'm going to a village that has had a volunteer for the last two years and are really excited to have another, so it isn't that likely that I'll be moved.  I'll be pretty sad if I do get moved last minute.

I really like the village and the people are amazing.  My biggest challenge is going to be finding my own niche.  Laura, in her two years, became a part of their community and they really love her.  Also, she did some amazing things with and for them.  Other people are going to spend the first part of their service explaining what PC is and what they're doing in Mauritania.  I'm going to spend the first part finding my own way and my own project(s).  I'm sure it'll get annoying hearing about the past volunteers (they've had two that they really liked), but right now I'm happy to have this problem and not the other.

My site is the village of Garli in the Gorgol region right along the Senegal River and it's absolutely beautiful.  There's no road once you leave the regional capitol of Kaedi and during the rainy season the non-road gets washed out or flooded.  It's kind of nuts to contemplate, but it's also kind of amazing.  This is what I thought I was getting into when I joined the PC.

The think I didn't consider when I joined the PC was that I'd be getting a cellphone.  And it's going to be kind of complicated since where I am gets Senegalese reso (bars...I'm not sure how to define it) better then Mauritel, so I'll be getting a cellphone that can be on two networks at once so when I travel I won't have to switch out sim cards.

It's amazing to think that PST is half over.  My Pulaar needs a lot of work in the next five weeks to be able to get by when I get to Garli, but I'm ready to continue this adventure.  I've finally gotten used to Tekess, but I want to do real work.

More sessions right now, but I just wanted to say keep the mail coming and I miss you and love you all!!!

16 July 2008

I tease

There will be more information forth coming...I've been writing a lot of letters and when they arrive in the States, I 'm sure that those people who get one or more will be nice enough to share by e-mailing any information to my parents and then my parents can send the information around...if you would be so kind.

This post is going to have a lot of lists and I'm sorry that that isn't a lot of information, but I don't have the time or the space to go into a lot of detail right now.

My family is amazing...they're always so happy when I bust out a sentence in Pulaar.  Eventually everyone hears about my new trick and they want me to repeat it over and over again.  The best example I have is that I could tell them that I was going to Rooso today and that I would be back tomorrow morning (Mbede yaha Rooso hande subaka.  Maa mbede ara jungo kikiide...there are actually a few funky letters in there, but I don't know how to put them in).  People kept asking me where I was going, when I was going and when I'd be back even people I had already told.

My language skills are improving at an amazing rate.  Mbede haala Pulaar seeda (again the funky letters...both d's are special..."I speak Pulaar a little").  The thing is that I understand a lot, but I have a lot of trouble getting up the courage to speak.

My French is also improving at an amazing rate.  Our language teacher doesn't speak much English, so between the three of us we have to construct sentences in French to ask about things in Pulaar.  We have had three language conversations and we are perfecting the language of Frengulaar (sound it out; it is what you think it is).

Mail makes me super happy and thank you to those who have written and those who will write.  I know that it can get expensive to send a lot of things internationally, but I got six letters yesterday and it made my day...it still makes my day today.  That was the first mail I've seen and it made me feel a little bit more connected.

The BAD:
I feel really disconnected from people.  The world could end and if Tekess is still standing, I wouldn't know about it.  I get no news because my family listens to Pulaar radio.  That's why the mail yesterday was so amazing.  Just to know that other people exist was great.

The language is hard...it's amazing what I've learned in only 2 1/2 weeks, but pronounciation is really important and I'm having trouble and I end up saying things that I really don't mean.  there's a list, but it isn't appropriate to post here.  It will be forth coming probably eventually.  

Also, I'm not an assertive person and I need to talk to my family more, but that's hard for me.  My family talks to me a lot and sometimes I'm able to respond.  But I really need to start using the language without prompting.

Misquitoes and flies and the heat

I hadn't looked in a mirror since the last time I was in Rooso...I feel very limp after that glimpse I got.

Everything is overwhelming.  I've come to a point where it's still overwhelming, but I'm getting used to the idea of being overwhelmed.  It's just my state of being right now.  I'm learning a lot and enjoying learning a lot.  

Send more mail and send more US stamps because by the time they get to me, I may be getting low...no joke.  I've been writing about one letter a day and I'm sending them all through people going to the States.  Also, send e-mails, please...I won't get them often, but it'll be great to have stuff waiting for me.

Love from Mauritania!!!

03 July 2008

Pulaar and Tekess

Tekess is super small, as I mentioned yesterday. There are about 200 people (if that) in the entire village.

There are established parts of the village and there are parts that are made up of UNHCR tents. In 1989, there was a problem between Mauritania and Senegal that was taken out on the people living along the river. Black Africans (a lot of Pulaars and Wolofs) in Mauritania were told that they didn't have the proper family background to be truly Mauritanian and they were shipped across the river into Senegal. And so Senegal reciprocated by sending people of Mauritanian desent across the river in the other direction. Tekess, which is exclusively Pulaar, was completely cleared out since we're so close to the river. The established parts of the village have only been back for a few years and the families living in the UNHCR tents have only recently been repatriated.

The rainy season is coming and we've already had a few hard rains at night. But before the rains really come, the weather gets sweltering hot and then the wind picks up. For our morning session, the weather is sweltering, but in the afternoon the wind blows the chalk board over.

I wanted to say more, but the power shut off so I don't want to use up too much of the battery and I want to make sure this posts. The water and the electricity is hit or miss even in Rosso. But I don't have electricity at all in Tekess, so I'm not too worried. Having electricity at all is great.

02 July 2008

En Brousse...w/goats and monkeys

I'm going to try to make this coherent, but so many things have happened that I'm not sure I can...sorry.

We've been at our homestay for about 5 days and now we've come back to Rosso for two days of Technical training. Rosso seems like the lap of luxury after these last 5 days.

I literally live in a grass hut and us a hole in the ground for a latrine and a shower. I wake up to the sounds of goats eating my house and the boys herding the cows out of the village for the morning. The experience right now is basically what you would expect from the Peace Corps. A village of about 200 or fewer people, grass huts, goats, cows, chickens and sheep, and only about 7 total people, including the three of us, who speak any French. My host brother speaks some French, but we have a lot of trouble understanding each other.

We have class under a tree sprawled out on mats with our teacher in front of us at a chalk board. I saw PC promotional pictures like this before I left. I can say that it's all true. At least en Brousse (we had to off road to get to our site), it's true.

Before I say the next part...I want you all to understand that things are going really well now.

However, my first few days I was absolutely miserable. I semi-seriously thought about going home. I was too hot, I got a terrible sunburn on my back, I felt isolated and lonely, sand got into everything, I felt lousy (kind of sick to my stomach). I just didn't understand why I was there. I wondered what the point was if I was going to be miserable for 2 years. I was seeing all these amazing things and experiencing things that were so far removed from what other Americans see and do, but it just wasn't registering.

I was laying in my hut at lunch time feeling sorry for myself and thinking about going home two days ago and I made a pact with myself that I would stay for at least three weeks. We've been told that the first two weeks of homestay are the hardest so I wanted to make sure that I got through that before I made a final decision.

That decision to stay just made something click for me. I guess I just realized that I'm here and this is where I'm going to stay. Now everything is amazing. It's hard and it's going to be hard and I'll probably be posted to a rural site and that'll be hard, but it's also so amazing. The next morning, my host mother was upset because there was standing water in the shower area and it was kind of gross and I'm the only one who uses it so she was basically upset with me, but not even that phased me.

My host family is amazing. They are truly happy to have me here and do everything they can to help me learn Pulaar. The kids love to greet me, which in Pulaar culture is very important, so they're really helping me learn the greetings. I don't know how to express my gratitude yet and I feel bad because they've been so nice and I've kind of just been there.

My host sister Isa takes really good care of me. I eat with her for every meal and she taught me my first phrase in Pulaar..."Rugí (that's my name in Tekess) ñaam!" Rugí eat!! She's also been trying to get me to carry a bucket on my head, but that's just not happening. Isa is shorter then Claire, but can carry a bucket, no problem, that makes her as tall as me.

This is getting kind of long, so I'll say mballen e jam (peace for the morning...Pulaar parting for the night) and hopefully I'll be able to write more tomorrow before we head back to Tekess.

04 June 2008

August, 2010

Reading the newspaper, everything seems to be about to change. We're at the beginning of historically significant times. Big changes are coming and they may seem gradual to those who experience them, but they seem like they will be major events. It seems an interesting time to be out of the country for any extended amount of time. I predict right now that a lot of things are going to be different in two years when I get back. So much so that it's going to be a shock.

I don't think I would really shock anyone to predict that there will be economic hard times, harder then we're seeing right now, and that that will effect everything from what people do and do not buy and drive, to the kinds of jobs people have, to where people live. I'm not talking science fiction here, just based on the closing of the Janesville GM plant yesterday and other similar moves in the industry, the price of gas and the fact that the minimum wage is out of line with the cost of essential everyday items means that I can make a few predictions.

The most obvious is that transportation is going to get an overhaul. We're already seeing this with more people taking advantage of public transportation where it's available because they can't afford gas. This also means that cities, counties and even states will start to see the economic upside of funding and maintaining and in some cases building or expanding more reliable public transportation.

Second, people will rethink where they live. Most likely this means more urban living. People who are moving to find work because the limited number of manufacturing jobs that we have left are shrinking will start to opt to live closer to the essentials, work, school, grocery store etc. because they can't afford gas. Being able to walk or get public transportation to get to where you need to go is going to become a big factor in buying a new home.

Finally, new industries will be created. So many people in this country work in service industries right now, but when fewer people buy, these are the people who may lose there jobs and then they aren't receiving paychecks and buying goods and it's a terrible cycle. I'm a pessimist and since my limited knowledge of economics means that I view the economy as circular, it's hard to see how this ends well. But I'm not writing sci-fi so I'll stop short of predicting a total economic collapse and a post-apocalyptic future where everyone has computers, but uses horses and farms their own little plot of land.

I know that things will seem gradual to people experiencing them first hand. We've already had many changes over the last five years, but they seem to be a normal progression. But the one prediction I'm almost 100% sure of is that things will seem very different after two years of being away.