Archive for July, 2003


Will, rx
After speaking to your mother over the weekend I have decided to send part of the package Sandy and I put together. I am not sending everything at once but am sending medicine for your stomach, ambulance eye drops, asprin, and some lotion. Steph said it can take 2-3 weeks for you to get this so keep an eye out for it incase you are on the move when it arrives. Also, info on how to get you money would be helpful. Does the PC have a banking system set up for its volunteers? How far is it from your current location to your assignment location? Also, I thought of sending your host family a gift of diffent teas we have in the states. Since tea is so important, is this a good idea or extremely poor idea? I certainly do not want to make them sick with some of our flavored teas. I think it is always a good idea to show respect and gratitude for those that help you. Please let me know the ages of the family members. By the way, your package is being sent by regular mail and is going out today, 7-28-03. Much love from the Good Ole USA. Sharon

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day thirty two a

I started this yesterday, but didn’t finish it till today, so the tenses are off a little.


I guess it is easy to tell when my days off are. =)

Well, Wusaliman came back and we went to the beach together. It is quite a cool place. It takes about 10 minutes to get there by car from here. We never did catch up with Matt, Robert, Carl and Sharif. I wasn’t terribly troubled though. In many ways I liked it more because when we all walk around speaking English with each other it sort of pulls us out of everything. As it was I couldn’t even get as far out of the experience as chatting would have gotten me since casual conversation is still beyond my reach.

Fortunately we picked up someone else on the way and he and Wusaliman could chat. I dislike the idea of boring my host.

The place where you get to the beach is a big fish market. In true Mauritanian style it is a very dirty place. Perhaps though, not very much more so than docks in other places. There’s the usual amount of garbage, but the daily cleaning of fish has left the sand mixed with lots of scales.

The first thing that you see is the huge line of canots which are fishing boats maybe 25 or 30 feet long. They go out in shifts apparently, sit about 100 yards out and, according to both Wusaliman and Habib, just pull the fish in all day. Mauritania reportedly has the richest fishing waters in the world.

I saw quite a few fish coming in today and this is everyone’s day off.

Something else that was really interesting is apparently puffer fish suck at staying in the water. I saw maybe two dozen as we walked down the beach. There were some the size of soccer balls.

Another plentiful creature is mussels. They are not very big, 1″ – 1.5″, but there certainly is alot of them. I pulled them out of the sand during three waves washing over and I got about 20. There’s a picture of them as well.

I walked around for a bit while Wusaliman played keep away with some folks in the ocean and his friend rested on the beach. The beach was very comfortable today (though it was overcast) and once everything settles down maybe I can visit with some regularity and maybe jog or something.

There were two main parts that we visited. The fishing part with the boats and then the tourist part with all the people. Everyone was sort of clustered in together and there were soccer balls galore. Generally it seems like the games were very open and people just all played together.

I’ve never been real big on ball sport, maybe it’s an eyesight thing, maybe its just coordination. I saw something that I would love to try though. They have “combat” which is African wrestling. It looks to be just about the same thing just fewer rules about grabbing clothes and it’s not the shoulders or the amount of time that matters, only that your back
goes down.

We saw some kids screwing around and I asked Omar (Wusaliman’s friend) about it and he made it sound like a pretty common thing. Then as we were walking out we saw about 40 guys gathered in a ring. In the middle were two combatants and off to the side was a fellow drumming. I got an adrenaline rush just being on the side. I would absolutely love to try it.

The combatants were in really good shape, but their wrestling form was pretty rough. The thing is though that all that went on was standing and alot of the time poor form in wrestling could be leveraged to get your opponent on the mat on the bottom and then pin them from there. Both of the guys I was watching kept their legs pretty straight and mad their weight forward which would be good for yanking them forward and onto their knees. If you are expected to let them get back up though it isn’t good for much other than irritating someone.

Good form or no, I’d get my pudgy white ass kicked currently. The people here play hard. Sharif gave us a heads up on some places to check out for exercise though: the stadium has a pretty good gym and it is something like 1500um a month or the American Embassy has a little pool and some nautilus equipment. Also, Matt, Carl and I put in for bikes, so hopefully I’ll be able to get around town without breaking the bank.

I got some pictures of the combat as well as a couple little videos (which are in Quicktime and I spent two hours in the cyber downloading mplayer at 1.5kB/s so I could watch. It works though, mashallah.)

At the end of it we ended up walking back (about 3 miles) because apparently having a white guy along raised the price too high to find a taxi. It is by far the longest walk I have taken and I think the long walk in sandals on sand hurt my right foot some since it has been sore since.

Anyhow, the beach is very cool and I hope to go often.


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day thirty two b

Just a couple lines since it is 0:30 (12:30am) and I am developing a habitual lateness. We did reviews this morning and I got good marks overall except I am usually late and I am not as careless as Habib would like with my French. He keeps trying to get me to just talk without thinking and that isn’t even how I speak English. They’ve gone over learning styles sorts of things with us for when we develop our classes and it sort of surprises me that Habib doesn’t pay more attention to it.

I like him though and if this is the greatest of my problems then I’ll consider myself very fortunate.


After the morning meeting I went to the cyber and got mplayer for linux to play my mp3’s and movies. It took two hours to download (I did 46mb (30 up/16 down) of traffic in two and a half hours,) but I am very happy with it and if any desktop linux users are not using it you should be. =)


After the cyber I got home and I had missed lunch. The practice here is to put the food in a little bowl and serve it to the person when they get back. People generally seem to eat alot and there was literally three pounds of food waiting for me. Eating old food put Carl out for the count a while ago, but this was pretty fresh, so I ate it.

The most dangerous thing I did was drink some of the ice water with lunch. It tasted alright and hopefully I’ll be alright. The besap didn’t do me wrong and I’ve stopped chlorinating, so perhaps all is well.

Something I’ve noticed though on the hands and don’t know if I have mentioned is that the left hand thing seems to be mostly conventional. In particular I’ve seen people handling food items that will be consumed with their left hands. I was reminded today when one of the kids (1.5yr) was playing with the ice with his left hand. I didn’t have any more after he put it back.


After I ate lunch I went outside because we were having Khaedi like 95 degree weather. The breeze was blowing outside though and it felt alright. Someone brought over a checkerboard (literally a board) and I watched them play checkers for a while (called ladame or dame vinght (twenty) in both Pular and French apparently.) It was pretty much the same except the king can skip over multiple squares to make a jump. (More like a queen in chess than a king.)

Wusaliman introduced me to a game called dame douze (twelve) in French and chouki in Pular which is sort of like a cross between checkers and one of those peg jumping games you find in the cracker barrel. I took a picture of the board and I’ll just let you see it rather than try to describe it.

The thing that was the hardest for me to master was leveraging the fact that a person has to capture a piece if they can, so you can use pieces to control your opponent.


Matt and Carl came by later and through their discussion with Wusaliman I learned that the name his friends call him in Gille (his French name.) I had been calling him by his given name because that is what people close to me use, but he uses the other because there are lots of Wusalimans around.


I met half of the Nouakchott fire department tonight. He was a nice fellow. Even though the buildings are almost all stone it still seems like a bit of underkill having him watch over 1.2 million people.


The mosquitoes are out now and I have been sleeping under a net. It is the one that the PC issued and it is impregnated with DEET. I am guessing that DEET is what killed the big ass roach that I found lying in my bed. I took a picture of it with a 20um coin which is the size of a quarter for reference. It’s a little over twice a large I’d say. I have subsequently tucked my net under the edge of the mattress.

Anyhow, bed time. French is progressing, some of my prepositions I started to write in French as I was tying. =)


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day thirty one b

Yesterday we went to visit the university and the Cisco Academy. This was a particularly interesting visit for Matt and I since this is where we will be stationed.

Cisco, for the unfamiliar, is a maker of network infrastructure equipment. The things that generally help computers talk to each other. One of their biggest areas is routers, which are the things that route internet traffic to the right places.

The Cisco Academy works in conjunction with the University and the government to train people in network topology design using Cisco products. Matt and I will be working with the academy apparently teaching classes. The interesting thing about this is that neither Matt nor I has any experience at all with Cisco products. =)

They have a bunch of documentation though in English and some routers to play with, so I don’t expect it to be very hard to get up to speed. I actually like the idea of getting to learn it and getting to teach is something I am really interested in as well.

Of course I will be teaching in French, so we’ll have to see how that goes. =)

There are two other nice things I learned. We saw the room where we will have our office and we will have access to a network there, so hopefully my email reliability will be increasing in September when I go to work. Inshallah.

The other comes from a Russian expat (the term for an ex-patriot, which I am pretty sure is someone living in a country with citizenship somewhere else. It generally seems to be used for someone who wasn’t raised in Mauritania. It sounds better than tubab (“too-bob”) which is the term (Wolof maybe) for foreigner used by children when they chant at us.) Anyhow, she said that most of the students are home for the summer, so right now we have a pretty good chance of finding a place to live. I noticed some buildings near the University and I am going to start my search there.


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day thirty one a

The day before yesterday we went to one part of the IT ministry and met the national webdesigners and the fellow responsible for making the national IT plan actually happen. It was interesting to see everything, but we didn’t really learn a whole lot that we didn’t already know.

Afterward though, we went over to the bureau (the PC bureau) and Sharif was there and showed us his apartment. It was pretty nice by my standards. It had a bedroom, a living room, a bathroom and a closet that passed for a kitchen. The bathroom though had a shower in it and a European toilet. You still wash your butt with your hands, but when you’re suffering with diarrhea you can sit down at least.

He said that he pays 28,000um + electricity, but that it was also an unheard of good deal. Apparently the PC stipend is 81,000um for volunteers living in Nouakchott because the cost of living is so high. Obie said to expect to pay around 40,000 a month.

Another interesting story Sharif told while we were visiting was that he was run over by a car about a month ago. Apparently he went to the beach with some friends and during the night some of the cars moved around. In the morning one of his friends started to leave and backed his land rover onto Sharif’s chest. Everyone started screaming, so he stopped the car and got out (with the car still parked on Sharif.) He ended up having to drive the car off Sharif, but did it the wrong direction and ran over him a second time.

Honestly the guy looked really good to have been run over twice so recently. I wouldn’t have though anything at all was wrong with him. He said that he still has some back pain, but that generally he is doing well.

On the subject of cars imagine what driving would be like if you took away all the stop signs and lights and then about 80% of the pavement and allowed people to pass on either side of the road. As best I can tell there are basically no appreciable traffic laws here. At best I think there are some loosely recognized suggestions. Definitely the borders of the road are much less sacrosanct; you drive wherever you want so long as whatever is there currently can be convinced to get out of the way.

We aren’t allowed to operate anything motorized and honestly I’m surprised that we ever were. I suppose that for volunteers way out in villages a moped could be useful, but here in the city you’d have to be suicidal to get behind the wheel of a car. The one advantage to it is that the combination of chaos and unpaved roads generally slows most traffic to about 30mph, so most of the accidents are probably not serious. (As evidenced by the ubiquity of dinged bumpers.)


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day thirty one c

Today I went outside and laid around outside with one of my brothers as he was selling snacks to the local kids.

The thing that I recognized were the balbastik which I mentioned before from the cultural fair though I couldn’t remember the exact name. It is just little plastic bags of ice which in this case was either besab (which I mentioned non-frozen recently) or pandesange mixed with water.

There were a variety of dried fruits though and with the help of wusaliman (my brother) I compiled this list in French and Pular:

pandesange (boheh) – the fruit of the baobab (boqui) – it is white looking and oddly shaped. It isn’t round or any consistent shape. There look to be dark seeds in it. From speaking to another of my brothers I get the impression that it is usually consumed dissolved in water. The name apparently also translates to “donkey break” because said creatures eat the fruit.

jijib (jabe) -the fruit of the jijibier (jabuli) – they look like dried out brown blueberries.

de pain d’acacia (mourtodeh) – the fruit of the acacia (mourtooque) – bigger than the jijib if you took the fruit of a ginko and dried it, it would look like this. Sort of off yellow and about the size of a shooter marble.

petit coco (gehloreh) – the fruit of the palmier (gelorgeh) – this is a bigger fruit, maybe and inch and a half in diameter. It looks sort of like a buckeye before they are out of the husk, or if you had a little brown apple and dried it out it would look like this.

I took a picture of all of them and if I ever get the program for putting pictures up I’ll label them and put them up. =)

Wusaliman said he’d take me around and let me take pictures of the various trees later.

As for now everyone has gone off to the beach but me. Wusaliman wanted to go as well, and so I am waiting here for him to get back from praying. This is Friday and pretty much all the men go to the mosque to pray the afternoon prayer today. It was tempting to just run off, but making local friends is something I need to work at and I figure this is a good opportunity.


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day twenty six a

> his search to restabalize his understanding of the world. At one point his > fiance’s uncle puts him in a dump in Paris working in a fish market > hoping to shock him back into respect for wealth. I just remember the

i’d always perceived it as Larry being there by choice, because he doesn’t want help from the uncle or from anyone else – preferring independence, even if it means that you suffer a little bit.

maybe my interp is bad…


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Re: message from VA

On Thu, 17 Jul 2003 wrote:

> I just read your latest message and want to apologize for not sending a > letter or package before now.

It is fine. I am doing pretty well today. It is still hot as hell, but likely no hotter than your old home in Texas. I’m sitting in the shade and my thermometer reads 99. It isn’t bothering me that much though.

On the packages though, you might just wait a little. I will be moving soon to the capitol and after that moving again back to Kaedi for a bit and then again back to the capitol. Letters and pictures are the easiest things to get right now. They connect me back to all of you not living on the face of the sun. =)

> I have some funny e-mails but have not sent them because they are not > flattering and may be offensive to some of your hosts.

You can say whatever you like via e-mail. I get my e-mail on my laptop and no one reads it but me. Sending me really big stuff like lots of pictures isn’t good though because my connection to the internet is so slow and really big stuff won’t come through.

> I went to the health food store today to get something to help rebuild > your digestive system. I want you to take this and if it works I will > keep you stocked. If it doesn’t, I will try to find something that does. > Maybe a holistic approach in addition to the antibiotic will be better > than letting this thing run its course.

Mayhap. Something that I would like to look into from a health perspective at some point is protein supplements maybe. There is meat in he diet here, but a fish or two will be split among five or six people, so getting very much is difficult. I am wondering how hard it will be to keep on muscle mass in these conditions.

I will be living in Nouakchott though and supposedly I can walk over to the ocean (about 5km) and buy a fish the length of my arm off one of the boats for a few bucks.

Right now though I am waiting for things to stabilize so I can sort of develop a routine and start with some exercise. There’s alot going on to worry about and I want to wait and see how things develop to decide what the real problems are.

> Take care and remember you have a whole bunch of hillbillies here > missing you.

Hillbillies, ha. One of us has eaten a goat with his hands in the last two days. Who’s the hillbilly? =)


P.S. Messages sent to go to a bunch of people (and I think your message did.) This one is as well because your questions were general ones I wanted everyone to have the answers for.

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Re: [thfa] shoes… will and stuff

On Fri, 18 Jul 2003, Libbie Kerr wrote:

> We send you our love, our support, and most of all… an overriding > question… how will computers help?

That is an excellent question and one that I have no good answer for. There is actually a campaign back in the states called something like “we need water” which is against the introduction of information technology infrastructure when more fundamental needs are still pressing.

The main thing that I do know is that the country wants us here. I have about 30 pages of poorly translated French that I have been wading through that is the Mauritanian plan for using IT to boulster the economy, improve education, and facilitate health care.

The problem is that there is next to nothing right now. I don’t think that computers are a solution on a large scale to the problems of Mauritania, but there are a few areas where they could be really helpful (like ecnomics and some health care), but there is no skill base to support it. I really don’t see myself as offering Mauritania a panacea, but I do hope that what I do can be a part of helping to sustain the work of others.

This is a question that I would like to come back to when hopefully I learn a little more about exactly what I’ll be doing.

> Now, on to basic business. We picked up an extra pair of tennis shoes. > Blue and Gray Adidas 12 1/2… probably went in the water… let me know > where to send.

Very cool. There was an address that I had in a journal a couple of days ago and that should be the one. My physical location is going to be sporadic for a bit, but hopefully whatever you send will arrive intact. =)

Pat, just before he left, recieved a box of cookies via FedEx that left about six days before he got them. No idea on the cost with that…

> Again, wonderful visit with everyone. We got some photos back,
> wonderful ones of Mema tubing!

You’ll have to get them to Brett and have him get them on the web. I’d love to see them, but getting large things via email is a problem right now.


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RE: response

Ryan and Charlie tried to help shed some light on the e-mail (I forwarded it to them). Charlie told me he could see where I would be mad but he was withholding his judgement until you got to the more positive stuff, which he was sure you are going to send.

Did you characterize this as a recurring theme that has been a part of my personality for as long as you have known me?

Right now I am sort of waffling between feeling guilty for coming back to this again and angry for feeling guilty when I have been as upfront about this as I know how to for the last four years and every time I visit it I feel like I am springing it on you for the first time.

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