Archive for September, 2003

day ninety eight a

I’m sitting the the Cisco Academy Office and the mouse pad in front of me is an ad for the academy. It says “Geniuses Click Here.” I thought it was cute. It reminds me of the score that Marc Valentin got on his French test (his father is French). He was certified as being “superior.” Other people might think privately that they are better than other folks, but Marc has a piece of paper verifying it. =)

I have a mixed memento for yesterday evening. I found a little bakery while walking from the bureau. It has just opened and it sold little piece of cake and eclair-esque sorts of things. (They looked more like a thin cookie wrapped halfway around some whipped cream.) I got a little piece of cake, a muffin (which turned out to be coconut) and three cookies. I took them back to my place and bought a little box of camel/cow milk and had a pleasant treat.

En route I saw a store I had seen before and I wandered in. They had Pepsi of all things. I’m not a huge fan of Coke or Pepsi, but another little piece of home was cool to see. There is supposedly a black currant Fanta somewhere in this town that tastes like Dr. Pepper. Maybe I’ll happen across it today.

There is a social stigma against eating while walking here. Last night I discovered at least a pragmatic reason for it as I was sneaking bites of my cookies walking home. It really kills the taste of your cookie when you walk by a bunch of people in wheelchairs who don’t have anything to eat.

On the food subject I had another piece of the cheese I got a little while ago for breakfast. I did it with bread and orange marmalade this time and it was quite tasty.


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day ninety seven a

Disturbing realization for the day: if you were in the desert and you were going to be crawling around on your hands and knees the sand is going to be hot. One thing you could do to deal with the heat would be to wear flip flops on your hands.

It is an over here in the middle of the day. Yesterday I was walking to the bureau in 105 degree heat and saw a fellow who looked like the lower quarter of his legs had been sort of rolled sideways. It was symmetrical so I assume it was a birth defect that had been like that all his life.

I walked for a bit just trying to imagine living like that. Can you? To be poor illiterate and have a birth defect that kept you from walking. This guy was crawling down the side of the street in weather I was lax to go walking in.

On the way that I walk to work there is a girl who is maybe 12. Her mother who is sitting with her must carry her out there and lay her out. Her legs are misshapen and the shape of her face suggests some sort of mental retardation. She lies there as an incentive to give a little money.

I haven’t seen the same stigma with begging here. There’s maybe five minutes between when I can see the girl and when I pass her and I have never seen less that four people give her money. I was walking the other day and a taxi just sort of slowed down and the passenger tossed out a little bag of rice. I don’t know if it is the religion or something else, but the people here are far more giving with the little bit that they have than I saw back home.

I mentioned that one of the questions during my language exam was “the U.S. has so much money why are there so many poor people there?” I think that is a question that is going to stick with me for a while.

Nouakchott is not only my first time living in the third world, it is also my first time living in a big city. There aren’t really beggars in Bristol or Cookeville. So this is just alot of new and disturbing sights for me.

I had something cute to write about I think but it has slipped my mind. Really I am starting to like this place there is just an edge to it that I’ve not experienced before.


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day ninety six b

On Sun, Sep 28, 2003 at 11:50:03AM -0500, Jennifer M Cloud wrote:

> I have been enjoying reading your journals from Mauritania. I am a > bit new to them, however, can you explain to me why you’re speaking > “From the Rim” — is this a geographic reference??

Since some other people might not know this as well… The official name of this country is “The Islamic Republic of Mauritania.” (It is the only Islamic republic where Peace Corps is serving currently.) The name in French though (since they switch the position of adjectives) is “République Islamique de Mauritanie” or “the RIM” as it is affectionately called. =)


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day ninety six b

Disturbing anecdote for the day. Yesterday while I was sitting talking with the Gambian fellow a car runs off the road and into a stand across the street.

Normally this would be at least slightly understandable. Traffic here is just crazy. Today I had to cross a busy highway and I eventually managed to make it across. I was then almost squished because a taxi decided that the traffic was too heavy and so he was going to drive on the side of the road.

Things close down here for a little siesta in the middle of the day. I remember a comedian making fun of Mexico for approving a national siesta time. They’ve never lived in a desert without the benefit of air conditioning obviously.

So, we were at the tail end of break time and there were hardly any cars on a big paved road. This guy goes driving off the side, over a bunch of African drums and into a big glass fronted bureau with some art in it. He managed not to hit anyone, but he completely destroyed the stand.

This in itself was not really disturbing. It sucked that all the stuff was broken, but no one was hurt. Well, then the driver just backs up and drives off. I asked the guy I was sitting with, “What’s he doing? Doesn’t he need to give the guy some information or money or something?” To which he replied, “He’s white [Arab], he doesn’t have to do anything.”

I’ve not really been seeing the racial differences here much other than when I’m walking home or to the bureau (I now walk pretty much all the time) I see alot more black faces on foot than white ones. Definitely when a pass a bunch of guys out digging a ditch they’ll be black 99% of the time.

I think there’s alot more thinking and writing to be done on the topic or race, but for now I’ll leave it at the anecdote.


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day ninety six c

Just a little job update…

Last time I checked in we had two teachers. One in France for the next three months and the other with a new job at the UNDP. Well, today I learned they have 90 students waiting to take classes. Also that they are going to be able to send us to Dakar to get trained (and before classes begin even). =)

The catches (there are always catches):
1. There are four semesters of Cisco training to become a Cisco
Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Each semester is 3 months at
6 hours a week. To pass our training exam we have to pass those
CCNA exams as well as some other exams. The teacher trainings
last one week per semester (that would be three months
compressed into a week). Generally teachers have already had the
class, so this is just a week of pedagogy and review.
2. Classes start on October 28th, so there’s only time for us to
take the training for semesters one and two.
3. The University needs semesters two and three taught. There are
people who can’t graduate because these classes aren’t being
4. Matt and Carl are in Nouadhibou right now working to get some
micro-finance institutions on-line. They are pretty occupied and
they’d rather not leave right now.

So, the plan right now is to try and find someone to teach the semester three and for just me to go to Dakar. It’ll have me teaching 12 hours a week which is just fine with me.

To spice things up a bit I got a letter from the Country Director of Senegal detailing recent robberies. It includes hints for avoiding trouble like “common trouble signs are things like seeing crowds pulling people from cars and the smell of tear gas in the air.” Yippee.

Honestly I know that Nouakchott is a safe place to be all in all and my behavior reflects it. From what I have heard of Dakar I could find serious trouble there, so I will be alot more careful. I’m hunting now to find some Senegal volunteers so hopefully I can learn a bit before arriving.


P.S. A couple interesting links:

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day ninety five b

So I now own a set of tye-dyed African threads. How I ended up with them is an interesting story…

I have recently added the people from another journal group to the list of people who get these journals. It just about doubles the number taking it to near sixty. I’ve had something of a writers block for the last couple days because I want to find something interesting to write about so as to entertain my new audience.

I was walking and thinking about it and realized that most of my writing to date has been bitching about various things. I’ve also realized that, particularly now that I’m living in Nouakchott, I’ve not got much to bitch about. I decided this in itself was noteworthy and was planning on writing a bit on the plasticity of the human mind and how many things that I had previously thought were so strange now seem mundane.

I was walking along thinking this as I was headed to pay Matt’s rent (since he is in Nouadhibou). I noticed a line of guys selling African art. There were carved masks and little sculptures and drums and stuff. It was cool looking and the guy who saw me looking told me about a couple and said some of them came from Kaédi and the wood was from the garden at Rinjau (which I can’t remember if I mentioned).

Down at the end though there was a fellow who started talking to me in English. He said that he was from the Gambia and that he’d like to have some tea with me.

(As a side note, my current barometer for how well I am integrating is how often I drink tea. Expat’s drink almost none and nearly any Mauritanian social function will include some.)

I am always up for a little bit visiting, so I sat down and had some tea with him. Since you have to boil the water in the little teapot each time and it is impolite to stay for less than two rounds this is an investment of at least twenty minutes.

I sat and chatted with him a bit. I could largely understand his English and was only really tripped up when he asked me if I were Christian or Muslim. He used the French “Chrétien” and something slurred for Muslim and I thought he was just asking me if I were Christian, so a couple times I answered “yes.”

At the end I was checking out some of his wares. He had some more “African” looking patterns. Most of the fabrics here are either tye-dyed or very intricate “busy” patterns. He had some stuff that was the bolder lines and primary colors that I think of as African.

I was looking at a pair of pants when he showed me a tye-dyed outfit that was green and black. It was nothing special, but the colors looked alright and I told him as much. He said I should try it on, and I told him that didn’t have any money. He insisted a couple of times and I acquiesced. Once I tried it on he wanted me to come out and see it. When I did he told me that I couldn’t take it off now since that would be bad luck. =)

I reiterated that I didn’t have any money and he said that was fine. “We are brothers, we are friends. You can pay later. You can pay what you think it is worth; 500 or 5000.” At this point I was largely alright with how this was going down. I was definitely being pressured into the sale, and I definitely couldn’t walk away since I was now wearing the clothes. I sort of liked the clothes though and I figure I can go away, learn a good price and come back. It forced me into making a purchase I was uncomfortable making.

So, now I have a new suit. =) I’ll have to get a picture taken so everyone can see it.


On the subject though of getting integrated I do think I will be in for a period where the newness is worn off, but I’m still not integrated enough to really be at home. Hopefully enough interesting things will happen to keep my audience entertained. So far Mauritania has been more than willing to provide interesting things.


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day ninety five a

Interesting sights for the day:

Donkey carts are used frequently for either cheap transportation or carting things across town. One particular type has old fifty gallon drums strapped on and take water around to different places. (Some of these fill from a well right below my house. Nice braying wake-up call each morning. Sometimes donkeys are struck with fits of braying for some reason.)

When donkeys are not being used to work though they are often tied to something and hobbled by having two of their legs tied together. Today I saw a donkey who had somehow gotten loose and was wandering down the street. The funny part though is that its two front feet were tied so closely together they were touching. So, it would bring its back legs up and then hop its front legs forward a step. Watching this hopping donkey wandering through the heavy traffic put a smile on my face.

I think I’ve mentioned the toilet back in Kaédi. It was a pit that had sort of a roof built over it and a hole though which to deposit you leavings. When I would come and visit I would look down in the hole and think of the eighth circle in Dante’s Hell where flatterers spend their time wading in a sea of shit.

I have since revised my opinion of hell and have decided it is being reborn a Mauritanian donkey. “Animal rights” is a completely foreign concept here. Animals are useful objects, but I’ve not really seen any concern though about causing them suffering. I’ve seen carts loaded with 30-40 bags of cement and a fellow beating the donkey pulling it hard enough to get its knees to buckle.

They’ve all pretty much got places around their backside where they’re raw from being hit. I’d say of the stuff I’ve seen that makes me the saddest this is it because it is so needless. It was like seeing Omar being hit before, it just makes me cringe. I’ve wondered if I will eventually be sensitized and not be bothered when I see it. I hope not.


The other sight for the day was some graffiti which had someone’s name an equals sign and a Star of David. I’ve not even got a good enough understanding of the tensions involved to discuss that, so I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader.


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day ninety six a

Interesting sight for the day:

In France, I have heard, that it is permissible for a guy to stop and pee on the side of the road if the spirit moves him. Well, the same is true here as well. The twist is that the guys crouch down like they are going to poo in order to do it. I have had the behavior described to me as both pragmatic (there are strong winds in the desert) and religious (something about wanting to keep everything close to the ground for some reason).

It is not something that there is any sense of uncouthness associated with so far as I have seen. If you walk by some playing fields all along the wall every three feet or so there is a little patch of wet sand.

The odd sight for the day was seeing some fellow crouched in a lot peeing. The odd part wasn’t the peeing, it was that he was peeing in a bottle. After he was done he picked the bottle up and took it with him. What is going to happen with the contents of said bottle is something I would be curious to know.


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day ninety four a

I’ve been doing alot of eating out in the last couple days. We are in Nouakchott and several sites got a little layover. Since this was many people’s first time out of Kaédi there were alot of people wanting to go out to eat.

I’ve been to most of the major restaurants in town over the last few days and I’ll just run them down…

Chang Hwong – There is a Chinese place within walking distance of the bureau. It is run by a Chinese family and the food is pretty good. It is definitely a step up from the stuff you get off of a buffet. The one problem I have is they don’t use the Chinese names, the menu is translated into French. So for instance the other night I had something like “soup with little raviolis,” but it was really wonton soup. Something that is very cool about this one is that they give PCV’s half off.

Il Capriccio – I went here both during site visit and again the other night. I had a calzone and some sorbet the first time. The calzone was thin crusted and tasty, but nothing to write home about. The sorbet was a religious experience and on my return trip all I had was the sorbet. =)

Pizza Lina – One of two pizza shops. During site visit, I had some sort of spaghetti with cream sauce and ham. It was tasty. I went back the other night and has an American Pizza. In America our pizzas have ground beef, ham and green peppers. Not bad, though like the calzone all crusts in Mauritania are thin.

Ma Pizza – Another pizza place with basically the same choices but a deal for two pizzas at 1000um apiece. I’m not much of a connoisseur, so this place works well for me too. =)

Chez Tiviski – This is the local extension of the Tiviski Dairy. I mentioned before that you can go here and get passable ice cream. (I think it melts between where it is produced and this freezer, so it is refrozen ice cream if you’ve ever had that.) The other interesting thing is the containers. It’s all random tupperware and I went by last night and saw that they had a container twice as big as the one we got the other night. One of the things that they have that I’m gonna try soon is camel milk.

Burger Hot – There are a chain of “Hot” restaurants. So far I have seen Burger Hot, Pizza Hot and Chicken Hot. I had a burger from Burger Hot and it was on par with what I’d get at a diner somewhere in the States.

La Palmarie – Last but certainly not least is La Palmarie. It is a French restaurant with a really nice looking terrace and a little café area where you can have pastries and coffee. The food is pretty good. When I went I didn’t have enough money to get anything more than ice cream.

And therein lies the problem. I need to spend about 1000um a day to get my budget to work out. A meal at any of these places ranges between 1000um – 2000um. I have started just having ice cream most of the time and that is still usually around 800um. It is going to be tempting to go out alot when everyone is coming into town and wanting to go out. (Since this is about the only town with “expat” restaurants like I listed.) I’ll rapidly be begging for money if I do this though, so I’m going to have to save these places for special treats.


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re: j: gold-diggin hussy

On Tue, Sep 23, 2003 at 03:27:50PM -0500, S wrote:

First, let me explain the title. See, that is one of Will’s terms of endearment for myself- along with lesbian, freak-ho, and drunk.

Each of which she garnered appropriately. (For the record I called her “lush” and not “drunk,” and if you’d see her…) “Gold-digger” was during her stint as a kept woman in Huntsville.

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