Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things I miss most

1. Tokomadji!
2. sleeping outside
3. those 3 cups of tea
4.river bathing
5. sharing everything
6. regional houses
7. suli Kay!!!!
8. my heart twin
9. eating luch at someone's house...unexpectedly ;)
10.eating with my hands

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Culture Shock

1. Children are not revered/spoiled/tolerated in Mauritanian culture the way they are in the US: its more of a "be seen and not heard or I'll spank you" culture.

2. Big is beautiful. Enough said.

3. Since coming to America I'm not asked a)if I'm married/where my husband is. b)Why I'm not married yet. c)If I want to marry the guy/a brother/a husband/a son. d)If I'll marry a man to take him to America.

4. Random people have stopped asking me for money loans.

5. Dogs are loved instead of chased away.

6. In Mauritania nobody sleeps alone; I don't sleep next to my mom outside any more!

7. There is more than just Akon, 2Pac, or Bob Marley available to listen to.

8. I haven't eaten rice in weeks!

9. I was walking through the store and suddenly thought to myself, "Where are all the black people!?!"

10. Toilet paper. Toilets. Wow.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New Blog!

With the change to Peace Corps Rwanda there's a change in Blog, too! My address to follow along the African Adventures in Rwanda will be:

Bololam (say it: bowl-ol'-umm) is Pulaar for my road, my path, or my journey. I'm very excited to take the next step, feel free to come along and/or visit my blog on Mauritania.

Yo Allah wad laawol.

Monday, August 10, 2009


From tester

If you read my last post you'll know that we were consolidated in Senegal to allow the Washington, DC Security team time to evaluate Mauritania. Today we found out that due to very real threats to the safety of Westerners in the country, we are suspending the Peace Corps Mauritania Program. It has nothing to do with Muslims. Nothing to do with Mauritanians. Nothing to do with the villages we know and love. This is a result of outside influences working in Mauritania, slowly but surely chipping away at some of the naturally loving, united, giving social structure, thus necessitating our removal. Hopefully this is only a temporary removal of the Peace Corps Program.

Every one of us were totally still inside and out as the acting Peace corps Director told us the news, and most of us teared up as we immediately thought of villages, work, families and best friends left behind in our Mauritanian homes. In any case, the 51 of us that have stuck it out to the very last day are grateful for every minute of it. Alhamdoulilahi!

Sunday, August 9, 2009


What with the Al Quaida targeting an American missionary, refusing to give Americans Visas into Mauritania and all that we the Peace Corps Volunteers of Mauritania have been pulled into Senegal while a Safety and Security Team evaluates the viability of continuing in Mauritania. On our way to our extensively planned "Eco/Health Camp" for young girls, we were called together, cancelling the camp, and busing us to Thies (say it: ch-ez) in Senegal. Well Saturday was the last day of the Security Review and also the day that Mauritania's first ever suicide bomber attacked, injuring 2 guards at the French Embassy and 1 random jogger(as reported by NY Times). So, despite being away from our villages since July 27th, we were pretty hopeful that we'd all be able to go back as soon as the team was finished with the evaluation, but now we are in a huge mess of doubt.

Fortunatey, the 51 of us volunteers left (from the usual 140) after COS and IS (Close of Service and Interrupted Service, respectively) are getting treated very well at the Senegalese PCV training site, bonding like you'd never think possible, and enjoying the similarities in Senegalese culture.

Between "training sessions" (designed to keep us up-to-date, well informed, and just busy while we wait for the evaluation to be finished) and eating delicious food we're able to explore the local life and see how Senegal can be just like Mauritania: boutiques for certain objects only, like fabrics, soaps, or food stuffs. The markets are just as bustling, colorful, noisy, pushy, smelly, hot, and entertaining and still take a long time to find what you're looking for, bargain the price, then walk away with it on your head. Buses are still super stuffed, super stuffy, and lose pieces on your journey, like our bus that lost the front bumber here.

We're not only in "training sessions", but also teaching sessions, and serving the commnity. We spent the weekend at a nearby beach and worked with a local Cooperative to clean the shoreline. I love that no matter where we are in West Africa the people are (generally) warm, opening, interested, and talkative! The local jewelry maker, a woman named Adama (say it: Adam-ah), comes to the training center every day to sell her stuff to us; she's also started calling me "Bobine" (say it: bow-bine, rhymes with pine) and invited me to her amazingly artistic house. She, her painting husband, and 9 artisitc children paint, sculpt, sew, and make jewelery all for sale to the public. They've given jewelry to everyone who has bought from them, and even gave me same paintings! Samba Ly, Adama's husband, has a website with some of his work (scroll down to see "Lac Rose" the painting he gave me; keep going, there's some English, too!) Just like in Mauritania, the people are willing to give whatever they have to a friend and treat you to some of the best hospitality I've seen in the world (not that I've been everywhere, but a fair amount ;).

After the initial shock at the beauty of the gorgeous jewelery, the training center, its greenery, and the comparitive paradise that is Thies, we also went to some local points of interest: a local Monastary, the first organized Christian anything I've seen/done in over a year of being in Africa! There were a fair number of us that attended the Mass and were treated to the "Heavenly sounds" of the monks' voices and their musical instruments: a 23 stringed guitar called a kora (say it: core- ah), a bongo drum, and a hollowed out gourd... not to mention the constant birdsong going on just outside!

Later, when about 40 of us went to Popingue (say it: pope-in-gay) for the beach clean up, etc, we learned more about the Muslim/Christian relations in Senegal (in Mauritania they're tense...) Popingue boasts one of the largest Christian population and pilgrimage sites in West Africa. Locals say its not at all a problem living totally mixed with Muslims and Christians: most families are about half and half, with a few aunts and uncles practicing Christians, and a few practicing Muslims. They claim that they're all family, they all love each other, it is what it is, and they all serve One God... so it's a non-issue!

Monday we're leaving the Training Center in Thies to go to Dakar and find out if we're actually going back to Mauritania, changing all sites to be along the river, or leaving the country...

Monday, July 6, 2009

It can be really frustrating ...

My aim is to work WITH the people to help them realize their own goals, use their own resources, and promote their lives. Which is perfect for helping a developing community enable itself to develop when I'm no longer there.

When first assigned to my village I was told to work with the women's cooperative. No problem! Except that they have stopped working.

As of June 20th or so I've been in this country for one year. That's one year of putting up with ridiculous travel arrangements, being called racial names in city streets, asked for money because I'm a "rich white person", and trying to overlook what Americans would considering general bad manners-- but are cultural norms here. Well the other day I was fed up with it. All of it. And I was wondering what I'm even doing here.

People in the village are beginning ask why I have come to Tokomadji. To learn the culture? To learn the language? Not to give them things? (Outright giving is looked down on in the Peace Corps as it may ultimately prolong the cycle of not working, asking, receiving, not working, asking, receiving, etc.) Thus furthering my exasperation with my work, role, being here... and I miss my family in the US.

After putting up with the inactivity of the Women's cooperative, seeing countless attempts at projects fail, dealing with rude teenagers and ignorant adults, I knew I needed a pick me up. I went to one of my local best friends house for lunch. Unfortunately I saw the president of the women's cooperative and thought I'd talk business with her for a second: she immediately ripped me a new one, chewing me out for a misunderstanding the day before.... well, I lost it. Totally. I not only started crying at my friend's house, but was so distraught I went into a room, tried to call another volunteer in another village, but couldn't even talk. An hour later my friend walked in to see if I was feeling better, and I STILL couldn't talk for the sobs that were filling me head to soul.

Needless to say my friends, the women on hand, and anyone else who heard about my little upset were completely indignant! One woman asked if I've been having a hard time, why I hadn't said anything sooner, why I hadn't talked to her in the first place so she could go to any troublesome child's home, talk to his/her father, and eradicate any problems I may have. She also said she'd be willing to use her immense size to settle any qualms and call a village meeting to relay any message to the villagers and/or tell them not to bother me, be more respectful, etc.

While discussing it with Penda, Neene Ba, and Salimata, they were all quick to express that I've been nothing but upstanding, willing to work, and they are in the fault for not working as a cooperative! I was shocked! And pleased! Nonetheless I told them that with the field expansion project they want me to help them with, I don't know if its worth it: they don't even work the field they already have or tend to their dying fruit trees; as such I explained that after talking it over with my boss, I would let them know if we will continue this project, find a new one they can handle, or if I should just go home.

The next day I came to Kaedi (yes, for 4 hours in the back of a short-bedded pick-up truck with about 12 other people over rocky terrain), met up with my American friends, and prepared for vacation in Saint Louis, Senegal. On our way, Sara and I found out about an American teacher shot 6 times at point blank in the face... in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania! As some already know, Mauritania has been denying visas to Americans for a few months now, and we were worried that this may be part of a growing anti-American sentiment in this Muslim republic. Turns out we were right: the killing of this known Christian missionary was claimed as an act of Al Qaida.

We made it down to Senegal in a hurry, enjoyed our vacation with a few other friends, and on the 5th day of vacation we got wind of IS: Interrupted Service is an offered to us because Peace Corps Washington has apparently deemed Mauritania an unsafe country. As such we are given the 3 choices: (1) the opportunity to end our service NOW, receiving full benefits as if we completed 2 years, (2) the option of re-enrolling in Peace Corps in a different country, or (3) continuing our service in Mauritania until completion in 2010.

As of now we have an unofficial count of about 20 volunteers opting to go home. Seriously, like 99% of them are NOT going home because they feel unsafe: we all are totally safe in our villages, and are NOT targets in this mostly peaceful society. That 99% or so is going home because they feel ineffective in their sites/villages. hmmm... sounds familiar!

After thinking about it, talking with other volunteers (especially those finishing their 2 year services!), and thinking of the possibilities, I've decided to stay in Mauritania. My boss advised me to not think of the recent events in my village to make this decision, but to consider the entire year that I've served so far. The Garack volunteer said that the one-year mark is always a low point in a volunteer's service, so look beyond the here and now. And finally another had me consider the year I've spent already....multiply that by 100, and that is the awesomeness of the second year of service. These two girls really made an impact: hearing about their own struggles and ultimate victories in this place put a great, positive perspective on my own service.

I've decided to stay, focus more on teaching the children, working with the youths, and not feeling so caught up by village "expectations" to work with a specific group (especially when that group doesn't work too well!). Hopefully I'll be starting tree nurseries with the "soccer team" (group of young men that enjoy a very individualistic game of soccer), village clean ups with the teens, health and sanitation with the young mothers, English with the high schoolers, and other projects that will encourage learning, unity, environmental education, and healthy practices. Though these projects may not necessarily continue when I'm gone, maybe the message will be lived out in their daily lives, perhaps a love of education will be born, and I know the consequences of my continuing on will reach people and places we can never imagine.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Dispensary, where people come for over the counter medicines, malaria treatment, and minor things that don't warrant a trip to the big city.

The New building at the Dispensary, donated by the Red Cross. On the left is the waiting room tent, where there are women waiting to weigh and measure their babies' in order to monitor their health and growth.

Every Thursday women come from all of the surrounding villages, up to 15 kilometers away, by taxi, canoe, or foot so that they can be sure their babies, toddlers, and small children aren't malnourished. Every mother gets to take home with her two bags full of CSB, a Corn-Soy Blend that they mix with milk, water, and sugar as a super nutritious meal for their kids.

On the far right in the brown outfit is Penda, my host mom, who volunteers with the Red Cross. As one of the more able readers/writers, she is considered a leader within the village and has her hand in everything! Every Thursday she spends the entire morning (about 9am-3pm) making the CSB mush for waiting families to snack on, teaching mothers the benefits of nursing until the child is at least 1 year old, and good hygiene.

Here another volunteer, Kadia (who won this position by taking a very challenging test comprised of math, word problems, and listening comprehension, and earning the highest score), is weighing and measuring the kids. They have to get down to their undies to get an accurate measurement...but don't worry about their puffy hair adding some height to their measurements. Go figure!

This is one of our doctors holding his nephews (about to be weighed and measured), sitting with his sister-in-law. The twins are named Alpha and Bocar, one being super outgoing, willing to greet me, and run around, and the other is really shy, afraid of white people, and clings to his mother's skirts. I don't know which is which.

Behold! The doctor's office space, storage room, consulting parlor, and experiment lab. Nifty!

These women are helping to sift through the CSB mixture given to the Dispensary by the Red Cross. I had no idea that if left alone, flours will acquire little black bugs that like to live, eat, and reproduce all right in that little space! The women take turns to help out with the flour sifters, going through several fifty kg sacks in a morning.

This is my host grandfather's third wife. My host mom's "aunt". I just thought she's got a pretty cool face.