Peace Corps Part deux: Moroccan Nights

Mandatory Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or people, the Mauritanian government or people, or the Peace Corps.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The commencement (Camp Peace Corps)

Imagine that a clown moved into your house. The clown could do it's very best to integrate into the family and community even wear a suit and tie and sit in an office for 8 hours a day and try it's very best to learn English (translating everything in it's head from clown to English) but no matter how good at English he got or how well he is integrating you would still think of him as the clown living in your house. That is how one of the experience Peace Corps volunteers described what I will feel like tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning, I will become that clown moving into P.K. 10, a neighborhood near the Peace Corps training center in Rosso. A few hours ago we were placed into language groups and groups for our community based training. Myself and three other trainees, other environmental ed and agroforestry trainees, will be studying Hassaniya, a dialect of Arabic, with one language facilitator. We will be each living with a different family and struggling to communicate hisas the families don't speak French and we won't speak any Hassaniya. Rosso is a new training site meaning that these families likely won't have every had anyone from Peace Corps stay with them before so it should be an interesting experience. Some of the experienced volunteers performed a hillarious skit for us demonstrating the difficulty of moving in with a host family and a few of them said that this part of training is the hardest part of Peace Corps b/c you are clueless to the culture and don't speak the language at all.

Despite that challenge, after a few days of orientation, I have been extremely impressed with the Peace Corps training staff. From our brief lesson on greetings and some casual conversations in French I can see that the language facilitators are all incredible teachers and that the methodology is good. If it's possible for me to learn this language then they will help me get there. There is no better way than 7 hours on instruction a day followed by living in the community and with a homestay family and no other option for communication, not even French. The technical training seems really good to. The staff is great and most of the activities in the syllabus are practicing what we will eventually be doing including planting a garden to model the teaching gardens we will eventually be planting with our students. I can't wait to leave Camp Peace Corps and get started.

The first few days of orientation have been a combination of excitement, fun, cards, bad lectures, and anticipation. We have endured lectures, on health, safety, culture, Peace Corps policies and other topics inside the Center in Rosso. We have been learning the basics of Mauritanian culture: how to eat with your hands (only the right, and make the rice into balls), how to shower and do laundry and shower (with a bucket), and most importantly how to dress with Mauritanian style (pants, collared shirt sandals or Islamic dress (I already bought 2 pairs of Mauritanian duds)). The center consists of three huge rooms with a sandy area outside where we play soccer, frisbee, and an area under a tent where we play cards, chess, backgammon or just relax in our free time. The center is the kind of place that would be considered very basic in the States but is downright luxurious compared with the rest of Mauritania.

I have been practicing my French a lot with the language Facilitators and it kind of scary how much my French has improved in the past week. It was even good enough to pass out of studying French based on my oral language exam. My facilitator speaks a few languages including French and Hassiniya but not English. Meaning that if he needs to explain anything complicated he will explain it in French which will be pretty difficult. Two of the people in my group of 4 are pretty fluent and the other one is intermediate at about my level.

I also really like the other trainees. There are 76 of us from all over the country mostly the Midwest. There is a huge diversity of background, ranging from recent college liberal arts grads to a paramedic to a 57-year ex-EPA employee. Everyone is really enthusiastic and we have been having a great time just hanging out.

I'll leave you with one brief anecdote. One day we were throwing a frisbee around after dinner when someone (not me of course) threw the disc over the wall onto a neighboring property. With a boost I hopped over the concrete wall to get the disc. After throwing the disc back over, I couldn't summon the strength to pull my body over the wall so everyone watched my head come over the wall a few times but not my body. Eventually someone was able to give me a boost back over but not before I questioned my judgement of using help to climb a wall knowing that help would not be available on the other side.


Blogger Mauritania said...

I am Becky's mom and I want to thank you for updating your blog. I loved the clown analogy.
Ellen Robinson

June 26, 2008 at 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Child, I loved the Clown
who always had the biggest smile on his painted, colorful face,
"you know he could be swallowing sorrows underneath" but always smiling, spreading happiness

As a corps member, you are the clown
with a big big heart to help,
supporting sustainable farming one garden at a time,"translate everything in your head from clown to [Hassaniya]" never giving up,
bringing hope and love

ps. so i guess eating with hands in india was a good preparation,yeah?

June 28, 2008 at 1:07 AM  
Anonymous Bill O'Brien said...

Hi Seth,
Best of luck with this huge undertaking. I know there are few words to impart that can possibly help you get over the hard times ahead, but think of this while you're over there:

Whenever you feel like the world is just too big a place, that you're too far from the friends, family and familiarity of home, just look up some night at the moon and marvel how that same warm glow is shining down on your loved ones in the States ... You may still feel a little homesick, but you'll also feel a whole lot closer than you can imagine.

Be strong. I know your family is mighty proud,

-- Bill O'Brien

July 1, 2008 at 5:48 AM  

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