day one

Well, here I am. My first day of “staging” for my Peace Corps trip to Mauritania has ended and I am free to wander Philadelphia…

My family and Stephanie and Matt Estes saw me off from Tri-Cities Regional this morning at a bright and early 8:30. I had to make my way through security and have my shoes taken off and laptop sniffed for explosives fortunately no one stuck any bombs into my stuff. After about an hour trip over to Charlotte I killed an hour in the airport and then it was about an hour to Philly.

In Charlotte I noticed a girl waiting for the Philly flight writing in a journal. I figured she looked like a good PC candidate, so asked her where she was headed and she turned out to be Small Enterprise Development (SED) volunteer Audrey. The seat net to me on the place was vacant, so we chatted as we flew.

She is an economics major and interested in microfinance. Her time in Mauritania is a professional boost. I’ve run into quite a few people interested in development and international finance who are using this to build their careers.

Once we got to the hotel I started meeting so very many people. It looks like our group is down two, to 56. We all gathered together in a big conference room for about six hours and learned all about the mission of the Peace Corps.

Some statistics they listed as they were quizzing us:

| General | Mauritania
Average Training Group | 35 people | 56 people
Average Age | 28 years | 26 years
Percentage of Females | 60% | 61%
Percentage of Minorities | 15% | 17%
Percentage Married | 9% | 0% (3 couples in our class)

169,000 volunteers since 1961. 2003 budget is $295 million. That’s 1% of the foreign appropriation which is 1% of the total budget. (That’s also the cost of a single B2 bomber.) 7000 current volunteers in 70 countries.

I am really liking things so far. I am having interesting conversations with people and I am proud of myself for being fairly friendly and secure. I get nervous sometimes and don’t talk, but that’s not been happening much so far. I think having a much bigger issue of heading off to Mauritania helps push the little insecurities aside.

Keeping busy has been keeping my mind off of the fact that I left everyone I know behind this morning. I came back to the room to start to write this and it started to set in, and I took a little nap. Then a bunch of people came by and we went and had supper. (The gave us $120 to cover expenses until Mauritania.)

Most of the speaking today centered around what the PC is and what its goals are:
1. Promote understanding of the United States in foreign countries
2. Promote understanding of other countries in the United States
3. Provide assistance for basic survival skills to countries in
need.

I have been talking to alot of people and the general consensus seems to be that we all hope to do some good (#3), but we recognize that it is very difficult and so most people seem more focused on simply going for the cross-cultural exchange and trying to do the best they can at making a difference. I expected to find a bunch of idealists out to change the world, but most of these people are simply braced to face some pretty serious hardship and just try and nudge the bar rather than move it.

Well, I’ll talk more in the PC later. It is getting late and I have to be down at 7:30 in the morning to get the first round of shots. Apparently we get a set here and then they take us to a relatively disease free area and we’ll get the rest as time goes on. I understand the logistical imperative, but it does seem like certain things like malaria are going to be unavoidable. I’ll write and tell you if anyone gets it.

Anyhow, I miss everyone already and I start to get choked up thinking about it. I’m going to try some sitting and see if that makes things worse of better.

Love,
Will

P.S. One person tonight told the story of a volunteer who had a man and a woman over to his house to work on some project and it got late and he had them stay over because their village was two hours away. You are not allowed to have a woman stay the night with you if you are not related to them though and he was arrested for it.

They put him in jail and he caught hepatitis while there (though we are being vaccinated supposedly) and then he was stoned. I didn’t know there were non-lethal stonings, but apparently you can get into just enough trouble that you warrant being pelted with small stones.

This seems like the sort of place that is really easy to fall in love with.

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