Peace Corps Part deux: Moroccan Nights

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Saturday, February 7, 2009


So I haven’t written in a while and I apologize for keeping you all waiting with baited breath for my next entry but I do have what I think is a legitimate excuse. I spent three weeks away from site around christmas time in a crazy whirlwind trip that had me moving from Nouackhott, Mauritania’s capital for an incredible Christmas Dinner at the County Directors house, then to San Louis Sengal, the former capital of French West Africa for a New Years celebration and then back to a quiet Mauritanian village for a surprisingly useful and [plea training session. I arrived back to Tdjikja after all of this with a lot to write about only to find that the internet connection here was not working. But now just as I am about to leave for another trip to Senegal the internet is back and working (fingers are staying crossed) so I’ll try and give you a quick update of what I’ve been up to and then hopefully return to a more frequent writing schedule.

My work has been progressing rather slowly as I have taken my first couple months to focus on language learning and getting to know the people that I will hopefully be working with. However, two weeks ago I managed to accomplish the surprisingly difficult task of getting all of the unexpectedly high number of stakeholders to agree to do a tree planting at one of the schools that I work at. The lesson went really well, the kids seemed to really enjoy it while learning (I hope) something, the teacher who helped me with the planting was skeptical at first but after a while came around and seemed to be enjoying himself as well. However, a few days after the planting I returned to school, planning on doing a lesson on individual tree fences that afternoon. One little girl came running up to me before I reached the trees and said, “les garcons, les garcons, the boys have killed all of the trees.” And sure enough there were no surviving trees. Most of the students had made little rock enclosures around their trees and now the rocks were on the spot where the trees had been. One student had even brought in fencing from home and that fence was laying next to the wall of the school and there was a hole in the ground where a small tree had once been.

Despite problems with work, and general life in a country like Mauritania the the most frustrated I’ve been so far in my service has been trying to watch the Super Bowl on TV. Watching the Super Bowl in the states I always remembered hearing that the game was televised around the world and in 17 billion languages or something ridiculous so I figured it had to be on here. Despite the Steelers making it look easy with 7 Super Bowl appearances out of 45 Super bowls, it’s still a rare enough occasion to be worth staying up late and walking across town to find tv and an owner willing to indulge this Steeler fan. Unfortunately, despite the satelite dish and 100+ channels I’m still hoping to find a recorded copy of what I hear was a great game.

On a more positive note, I spent the past couple days at a wedding, “en brouse.” Brouse is the french term for the mostly unoccupied landscape which covers most of Mauritania. A rough english translation of the word would be the “bush”, or the “countryside.|” It was one of the coolest and most interesting things I have done so far in Peace Corps. Basically they set up three big tents in roughly the middle of nowwhere, killed a camel for dinner made a lot of couscous and just had a party. I was there for a few days and more and more people just kept showing until the wedding night. In the city most people know me and assume that I speak some Hassiniya. At the wedding people, everyone was really friendly, people were amazed that I spoke Hassiniya and did their best to meet me halfway by using the handful of French words that they knew.

Camels are really cool. I’m not really sure why but the afternoon of the wedding 10 men did a camel ride from our little tent city to the nearest town and back. Before the ride they did a couple laps around the tents and it was really impressive. Camels are very big and very fast and these guys really knew how to ride them. Everybody stood and watched them mount the camels and circle the tents. It wasn’t just me that was impressed The Mauritanians who have spent their whole lives around camels were more impressed than I was. The first day I was there everyone kept asking me if I was going to ride a camel. I decided to give it a try and as I said before camels are big and they don’t get any smaller when you are sitting on top of one. I went for a little walk and made a promise I’ll probably end up regretting that next time I’ll go for a little run.

Some people took me around and showed me some of the plants and their uses. Because of all of the grazing by goats and other animals Tdjikja is a biological dead zone with only a handful of trees and bushes that are goat resistant. En brousse people and animals are less densely populated so more plants can survive and I was amazed to see the contrast in biological diversity between the towns and land only about 30 miles away.