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...