Thursday, July 9, 2009

GEE Conference, IS Option, and Camels Camels Everywhere!

Firstly let me dispel the myth that I am allergic to camels. There is no evidence for any animal allergies on my part. Let any who would contradict me please offer satisfactory evidential proof to the contrary rather than allegations of "defensiveness" or any other such bunk.
Okay, now on to the show. Hello world, how are you? Here in dusty Mauritania things are progressing on a rather unexpected track but before we come to that let's start at the beginning. With the rain. Greenery has come to M'Bout ladies and gentlemen, it's a regular donkey paradise if your ass has a chance to escape his/her bindings and obligatory beatings for a chance at a real smörgåsbord. Also, on a minor side note, with the rain has come a seasonal river which all but encircles the town of M'Bout cutting us off from the Kaedi- Selibaby road. "Not so!" say you "There's a bridge over that troubled water!" oh but loyal reader, let me inform you of the genius that is modern day construction engineering. The former bridge was so well located that the Portuguese road crews saw fit to replace it in the very same spot with a bigger, better bridge. Of course to build a bigger, better bridge in the very same spot necessitates the demolition of the old small-but-functional bridge. "Well how far along is the new bridge now that the seasonal river has returned?" you ask, and I'll tell you. There are two completed pylons plunging forth from the raging waters. Two of four. Upon which a road must be built. So long story short, it rained the day we were going to leave for the girls' conference and while the Selibaby girls and escorts were able to pass (through lengthy trials) unharmed from Selibaby to Kaedi (only 17 hours for a 240k trip!) they were unable to take those of us in Mbout with us as planned. The next morning we had the pleasure of wading the receding river for a whole day trip to Nouakchott.
We arrived a bit delayed for the girls' conference, missing the opening ceremony, but I was informed it was no great loss. The conference passed smoothly for me, less so for my unfortunate colleague who had the less than desirable job of staying with the girls. Cortney, I'm sorry you had to be on duty 24 hours a day with the girls whereas I got every night off for beer and pizza. Last year the organizers of the girls' conference made the unfortunate mistake of putting male PCVs into home stays along with their girls. There's nothing like an awkward sleeping arrangement to accomplish change. This year we were housed in the nearly-vacant apartment of a third year PCV who lives in Nouakchott.
Around the end of the girls conference, things really started to get interesting. Apparently enough parents have perceived a heightened level of danger to their babies serving in the Peace Corps and called our country director to gripe about the program not being closed that PC Washington and Obie decided to offer Interrupted Service to our class of first years. This was basically an ET without penalties offer. If you're miserable or feeling unsafe or whatever then you can go home now with all the benefits you'd get as a COSer at two years. Minus half the money. We lost 20 out of our 71 volunteers for numerous reasons. To all of you who are going, you will be missed. Now let's get this perfectly straight, this was a matter of perceived danger, not actual danger. I personally feel safer walking the streets of M'Bout late at night than I would feel acting the same way in any major US city.
With regard to the missionary who was killed in Nouakchott a few weeks ago, there's very little known about it. Al Quaida did claim responsibility for his death but I think it's noteworthy that they did so four days after the actual attack when they're usually so punctual about claiming credit for their own activities. Personally I find it regrettable that he died, but I don't see how it has much to do with me. I'm not in the same business.
Next. While I was off searching for replacement luggage for one of my GMC girls with a broken bag, Siham held a GEE meeting. When I came back from my errand with some grocery sacks that the girl was definitely not pleased to see, I was informed that sites with two GEE PCVs were asked to surrender one to the needs of the country, meaning that there's so many empty GMCs right now that it's selfish to leave two of us in one site while other GMCs fold up. After a week of agonizing over the decision while I was on a camel trek and realizing I'm one of two remaining GEE pairs, I decided to move to Selibaby.
Naturally many logistics of this remain and I don't intend to actually move until I return from the states in August, but there it is. If I can find a decent house where I can live with the puppy Maggie, I'll be completing my remaining year in a regional capital 120k south of M'Bout. In many ways I think I'll feel more useful there, but M'Bout really has become my home now and it's a hard thing to just pick up and go when I've been so set in a completely different mindset.
Now to the camel trek. It was excellent. None of the four of us fell off of our respective camels, though by the time our legs had felt the camel saddle for a few hours I'm sure a few of us were willing to. Chinguetti was a gorgeous little town in the middle of the desert and it's sad that tourists don't frequent it so much now as they once did. Our friend Carl is a SED PCV there and he set us up with the guides and camels to take us on our little overnight. We had two destination options: the Oasis, or the Singing Dunes. The Singing Dunes sound like a tuba when you slide down them on your butt, but the Oasis has... drumroll please... SHADE!! So naturally we chose the Oasis. Maybe the Singing Dunes can happen in the cold season, but it just wasn't happening now. At the Oasis we lounged, we drank tea, we ate day-old pasta, and we sandboarded. The first attempt at sandboarding was at 4 in the afternoon. Wearing sandles, I was pretty sure my feet were well done and ready to eat after the cooking they received in the dune the two times I climbed it. We returned at 7 and the landscape was considerably more forgiving, and I even managed not to fall too much! That night our guides cooked us bread under a fire on the sand in much the same way that I would guess it has been cooked for thousands of years. They served it in a bowl of water and oil, it was very tough, but good. We returned to Chinguetti on the 4th just in time to jump in a car and go down the treacherous mountain path to Atar for a little Independence Day party. Happy Belated Birthday America!
And now, as I sit here in Kaedi writing all of this to you, my thoughts are drawn to seeing you when I come home. I'll be visiting our lovely land of fast food and fun August 3-16th. I'm excited :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It was only two months, I don't know what you're all complaining about...

Oh alright fine. Due to excessive grumbling to the complaint department from many sectors of my apparently loyal readership I have decided to write an entry to fill you all in on the recent updates of my life, Thrills-Ville that it is. I suppose after the lovely baseball debate last time I was just so enthralled it took me a while to recuperate. Though I have to say… my dad’s comment makes sense. I think I could really get behind a team named the “Brewers”. Particularly if they bring that mascot back…
Firstly, and most heavily weighing on our collective first year mind these days, is the cancellation of Stage due to difficulties regarding the visas for the trainees. Stage, for those of you who don’t know, is that magical time when lots of pale Americans show up speaking English and learn what it’s like to have diarrhea for 3-6 months straight while understanding little or nothing of what happens around them. The cancellation of this joyous time has caused us quite a bit of turmoil as I’m sure it has caused distress among those very same pale Americans (though they do seem to be handling it well what with all the camping trip planning and whatnot). The official terminology right now is that Stage (stage with a long A because it’s French, not a short A as in “The stage-coach ran over the cliff.”) is postponed, not cancelled. But some of us are of the mindset that this thing just isn’t going to happen because if you try to have a Stage in August, you’ll overlap with Ramadan which means you’ll have lots of cranky fasting people teaching languages and running the trainings as well as having our future ED, GEE, and EE volunteers all arrive at their sites the day that school officially starts. Now if you’ve been following my blog you know that the day school officially starts is usually quite different from it’s actual commencement of classes, but this is a stressful possibility nevertheless. No, it seems likely that there will be no new class of volunteers this year – which leaves my class here alone without our second years and no newbies to make us feel competent and knowledgeable. It also means we will have to revise our situations with the regional capitals and where brousse volunteers can stay when they travel in. It means many sites will go a year between volunteers both this year and next year as PCRIM tries to get back on a normal stage schedule. We even speculate that it could mean some volunteers getting moved around this year for the sake of sustainability of some projects such as GMCs. Some people even go to the extreme of our unmentionable subjects and discuss the possibility of being pulled from the country. Let’s hope not. To any of you newbies who might be reading this – we’ve been thinking about you since January and we’re enormously disappointed that you’re not here… really. Bummer. So that’s where we are with that… now moving on.
So since Emily and I were on our way to Rosso to greet the new Stage class when we heard the news that Stage was postponed, we ended up just crashing in Kaedi for about a week. It was nice to have some time to catch up with the puppy dog Maggie who is taking a short vacation to visit her buddy Kelbi before Kelbi goes on a trip to Texas in July. Now I’m back in M’Bout, living the life. The rains have started, which wouldn’t be such a big deal (it lowered the temperature maybe 20-30 degrees on average but raised the humidity level by 50%... I’m ambivalent) if it didn’t have such a drastically negative effect on the possibility of road travel in the Gorgol and Guidimaka. I’m specifically referring to the fact that when it rains a dozen small to medium size raging rivers spring up across the yet unfinished road from Kaedi- M’Bout -Selibaby and traveling has the potential to turn into something resembling one of those “Raging River Rapids” rides at a theme park. At the least, the condition of the dirt and gravel road/path degrades noticeably and in some places severely. On the other hand, a good chunk of our desolate desert sprouts to a lovely lush looking green in the course of about two days. Bonus.
At the end of this month is the Girls’ Conference in Nouakchott. Each GMC picks three girls to go to Nouakchott courtesy of Peace Corps for four or five days. They talk, they do yoga, they go see the ocean (it’s pretty impressive if you think about the enormity of the ocean compared with the water scarcity that’s a fact of life for many towns here) they see impressive women from Mauritania speak and it’s generally a good time had by all. Last year, the male GEE PCVs were placed in home stays alongside their charges and mentors. Not the best idea if you think about it. This year they’ve wizened up a bit and put us in a currently vacant apartment normally occupied by third year PCVs doing their third year in Nouakchott. The apartment is conveniently located close to the best milkshakes in the country. The conference is the 26-30 of this month and with uncertain travel conditions Cortney and I will be leaving M’Bout (hopefully with the girls and mentor from Selibaby) on the 25th to spend the night in Kaedi before making the final leap on paved road from there to Nouakchott the 26th. Hopefully it goes smoothly, cross your fingers for us.
After the Girl’s Conference we’ll be doing a short science experiment “camp” for the M’Bout GMC girls for 2 or 3 days. We’ll try to bring science to life a little bit the way it was brought to life for us. Science classes here lack funding, time, and motivation for demonstrations of the sort we hope to do. Suggestions are welcome. After the science camp we hope to go on a camel trek way up north around Chinguetti and then just after that I’ll be headed home! Alright, I think this is about enough of a blog entry to satisfy for a few weeks or months, good luck to all of you with whatever you’re up to. I like emails, letters, phone calls, and packages (I even like comments on my blog…)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I'm actually busy these days...

It’s HOT! I don’t know exactly how hot because I haven’t seen a thermometer lately but I’m guessing around 120-140 range in the past couple days. I know I’ve been a terrible blogger lately (and by lately I mean for the past four months or more) and I know that this is pretty much the same opening line I’ve been using in all those terrible blog posts I’m now referring to as terrible. Since I’m writing this on Microsoft word I haven’t really got a clue what I’ve already written about so I’m just gonna dive right in. Maggie’s stitches from getting fixed last month in Nouakchott have healed up fine and she’s back to keeping me up all night by barking at the feral cats who live in the cinderblocks in my yard. The GMC opening was a dud but that’s okay because we never have to do one again and we’ve also finally got the damn thing running (with a brief intermission so that the presidential guard could stay in the GMC for his visit and make us remove everything and then filthy the place up so that the mayor made us lose another week of classes while he got the place cleaned, but I’m not bitter…) In any case, we’re now in session five days per week thankfully doing computer classes for both adults and girls, as well as English club for adults and one other random session a week for the girls (health, English, math, etc) We’re also thinking of opening it up for study hours during exam week. Undecided.

Now on to the why. As in “Why am I finally writing a blog post even though I’ve been slacking off on that front for months?” The answer is simple oh faithful readers, I’m bored. I’m in Mbout alone for a week without my dear sitemate or anyone else who speaks English and the limiting factor this has on my conversations means that I’ve found another outlet. You.

Yesterday I taught computer classes for four hours with a couple potential mentors from town. One is the Hakim’s (regional governor) secretary and the other is the local Condition Feminine representative. The Hakim’s secretary sat at one computer with a girl and helped her individually whereas the other, Haye, took a cue from me and walked around trying to offer help where needed but not being too hands on. Interesting. If there’s a mentor’s conferende this summer I think I’d advocate taking the CF lady and maybe as a chaperone to the Girls’ conference in Nouakchott too. I also had adult English club yesterday for a few of the more dedicated people who asked for English classes. Today is computer classes for adults, which might start to get out of hand seeing as how there’s only four computers, one of me, and a lot of potential students. Oh well.

Also to keep me busy I’ve been trying to concoct a recipe for an African opaque beer (made from millet and sorghum) from Mali that will work on a micro scale here in Mauritania for the volunteer circuit. It’s gonna be interesting though, with no hops or barley or any of the other things normally found in beer…

Well I’m off to do a bit of prep work for the classes this evening, maybe I’ll write again soon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Consistency? Don't talk to me about consistency...

Variety is the spice of life, from the variety of flavors you could sample everyday in your tour through the incredible diversity of American food to the simply elegant melange of entertainments that present themselves to you every evening. So don't complain that it took me more than two months to write in my blog. Delay is good for you. It makes you crave what's coming, making it seem better than it ever really was.
So we've opened our GMC. Finalemement. Finally. And I think in French a little bit. Sometimes. Finalement.
The opening ceremony was many things, but what it mainly is, is over. Is that grammatically correct? It should be if it isn't, it's the kindof thing I'd say in conversation.
Work has finally begun. Finally. Not that arguing and acculturating with town officials wasn't work (it was) but this is different. Simpler, somehow.
Okay, so moving on. My sweet new puppy is named Maggie, she's a white-with-brown-spots dog with a sweet and pliable disposition who tries to play with the feral cats in my yard by barking at them. You'd love her.
WAIST was fun and decadent. We found an incredible milkshake/pizza shop blocks from the hotel with absolutely incredible food at reasonable prices. I played softball and I wasn't terrible. Not even bad. (see mom? I told you I knew how to play...) I've been shopping for graduate programs, some of the interesting ones I've been looking at that are probably out of my league are at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Don't pretend, I know you were wondering.
My niece was born. This was really the first piece of news for this blog post, but I figured most of you knew it. She's gorgeous and perfect in the Tyler tradition (the fact that she's not actually a Tyler doesn't diminish this in the least) and I'm going to do my absolute best to be as irritating an uncle as possible for my sister's sake. By this I mean lots of noisy and mildly dangerous toys, firecrackers, and good advice when she gets older :)
So I know this is disjointed and rather small but I felt I needed to get back in the habit of writing blog entries so that I could write good ones later on. Tough luck for you this time around, my faithful readers.
Hope you're all basking in the spring goodness of the states, and if you're not... just think that you could be where it hasn't really precipitated for six months and it's 105 degrees in the shade.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Late again, but trying

For the last week Cortney and I have been buying materials in Kaedi to bring to Mbout to try to start this GMC. Today we're going back. We rented a truck for the adventure considering we have a rather large pile of stuff to bring with us. This means that I could very well be riding inside the truck as opposed to on top of the pile of stuff in the back. I can't wait to get this underway but I'm still apprehensive. We met with the mayor and Siham (my apcd, keep up now...) when we were in Nouakchott and he was less than enthusiastic about moving out of his building and giving us the keys. Maybe today will be better, I don't know. I hope to get this thing rolling in time to have at least a few sessions before the end of the school year you know? Well it's been a nice week in Kaedi and a nice little vacation before that but I suppose it's time to go back, though I will miss the running water. I'll be back into town on my way through for WAIST in three weeks. Thanks to everyone who sent me messages or packages or called on my birthday, sorry if you got grumpy travel John on the phone, we had 8 hours in a car after four hours of sessions on my birthday. No worries though, the joint birthday party the next night made up for it. Okay, so I apologize if this entry is somewhat less comprehensive or comprehensible than expected... I'm not a morning person and I procrastinated doing this until the morning I have to leave. Happy early inauguration day everyone, I wish you all the best of luck in coping with the blizzards and cold and stuff. It's cold here too. Got down to about 45 the last few nights ;)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Yeah yeah I know

Firstly, Happy 2009! Secondly, I'm well aware that this is way overdue and all that nonsense, but I'm not going to apologize so you can just relax and be happy with what you get. That was me digitally sticking my tongue out at all of you, so you know. Alright, any death-defying adventures this time? Well there was the usual harrowing trip into Kaedi on the back of a truck, the lovely little party in Aleg to christen their new region house (not as cool as Kaedi's or Selibaby's by the way), Christmas in Nouakchott was a blast with cheese and food and stuff, and then there was the brief running from the police thing when our taxi driver got in a fist fight with a gendarme captain and the man inexplicably held a grudge. After that we went on down to Rosso for a night, then St. Louis for some sun and surf and some lovely relaxing beach sitting. Now I'm back in Nouakchott and I'll be here for some four or five days for ETR and then after that back to Kaedi for a few days followed by a trip to home sweet Mbout. I'd make this longer and more detailed but there's a line of people waiting to use these computers and so I'll just put off the real blog entry thing until I get back to Kaedi, maybe sometime around my birthday :) Happy new year everybody!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turkey day without the turkey

Alright ladies and gents, no spine-tingling tales of death defiance today, just the run of the mill details of my everyday life, hope they suffice. First of all, I'm visiting my wonderful girlfriend which is groovy. We've now seen each other two more times than we expected to in this particular four month period, which is great but not enough. So it goes.
Selibaby Thanksgiving was spectacular and by seven o'clock there were fifteen people writhing on the floor in food comas. Literally. Those of you who called in that time, no I wasn't drunk, just full. Very very full. Okay a little drunk. ;)
Our funding for the M'Bout GMC has gone through, we asked for the stars and got the moon which was about what we expected. We should have four laptop computers arriving with our APCD the day after we get back in M'bout and we'll finally be able to say we did something! I was kindof looking forward to telling you that we were finally handed keys to a building for the GMC but, surprise surprise, no luck as of yet. The minister has to come and approve the move to the new building for the mayor's office which would default the old one to us, but he hasn't seen fit to visit yet.. despite saying he would come the past few weekends.
We've had a positive response from the school teachers and director which mostly makes up for the trouble we've been having with the mayoral office. Hopefully we should be able to get the GMC up for an open house in January when we get back from Early Term Reconnect (ETR) and before we leave for WAIST (West Africa International something or other.... Emily says Invitational Softball Tournament) So I hope everyone had an amazing time with Thanksgiving and lots of turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and candied yams... yum... sorry I'm not putting up any pictures, I know I'm a horrible son :P Cortney and Emily are both a lot better at pictures than I am, Cortney posted pictures of my house and Emily will have tons of pictures of Thanksgiving adventures involving baobab trees and way too much pie very soon. You can get ahold of those by going to their blogs which are linked on the right hand side of the page.
So happy holiday season and I'll be back online probably sometime in the next month or so when I'll have another excuse for having no pictures (I'm just being honest..)