Archive for October, 2003

re: j: relationships

S wrote:

The other day I asked him what his hopes were for us for the future. His answer, for us to be happy. Well, sure that is nice and all but I guess I was hoping for something a little more concrete.

There’s alot to respond to here and I think it is going to be hard to make it cohesive, but I’ll try and start here…

I feel like this question and the difference both in what our answers were and how we answered it was important.

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day one hundred eighteen a

Last night we had the most amazing meal I have had here and am ever likely to have here. I have never been sitting at a table knowing that I was eating better than all the rest of you, but last night I was.

There is a Lebanese restaurant near my new house. Jay has tried to get us to go a few times, but it hasn’t worked out. Last night I took a group over there. What we discovered once we got there is it is pretty pricey. Main dishes were running about 3000um and appetizers in the 800um range.

They had something though called an assortment. There were 6, 8, 10 and 12 assortments. The problem was that it was still really expensive, starting at 2500um and going to 4000um per person. We tried discussing exactly how it worked with the guy. Unfortunately everyone was from the South and spoke Pulaar other than me. His accent was really thick and I could only sorta understand him.

Eventually we gave up and he wandered off to give us a bit more time. He came back a bit later and after a similar experience he said “don’t worry, I’ll bring you something good.”

He came back with tons of little bowls. There were literally in the neighborhood of twenty little bowls. If it was Lebanese and it was food it was in one of those bowls. Tabouli, hummus, falafel, eggplant, and many other things whose names I don’t know. It was by far the best meal I have had or expect to have here. It was so much food that we didn’t even finish all of it.

In the end he charged us 15,000um for the seven of us which really wasn’t a bad price for the quality of food. Shelagh worked out a deal with the Chinese place to give us half off and I’m thinking about taking her by to try and work out a PC special there too.


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day one hundred seventeen d

I ran across a link to some articles on peace corps safety in the blog of an (now ex) volunteer from Samoa:

USA Today: “Peace Corps security in question” Jane: “The Peace Corps Never Warned Me what I was Really in For”

Honestly, my take on it is that the Peace Corps generally does a pretty good job with safety. I do live in Mauritania though and this is a pretty safe country. The likelihood I’ll be hit by a car is several thousand times more than that I’m be murdered.

One article talks about forced taking of larium (and the associated side effects of larium). That part is decidedly not true, it is true they will send you home for not taking an anti-malarial, and that larium does have mental side effects in certain people. It is also true though that they will switch you to doxycyclene (which is taken daily rather than weekly) and that the side affects of larium are more pronounced in people who already had a susceptibility to mental illness.

I think putting it down as “forced medication” is true but an unfair slant. There was a volunteer who cos’ed in the last couple years, stopped taking the larium, didn’t take the cycle they give you to kill off the malaria and died back in the States.

As for most of physical security, they try. They agree to improve the security of one house for you. Put bars on the windows or whatever. We have started doing site locater forms now where you have to go out and list where exactly you live. They even are taking a GPS around and getting the actual coordinates of everyone.

We do live in remote places though and many of the problems are just par for the course in countries which lack basic infrastructure. Also, the volunteers themselves sometimes make it hard. Apparently the last few people who have been administratively separated here have had it happen because they snuck off to take a vacation and not have to lose the days. Along the river it is particularly attractive to sneak off to Senegal for a bit. (Which is completely forbidden.)

They make a weekly round of calls to all the sites and here at least everyone has a telephone. Out in the bush people have satellite phones and some places have shortwave radios. (Mauritanian law prohibits them from having transmitters, but they can receive.)

Anyhow, I feel like they try. It does show in the bureau that there is alot of administrative stuff that comes in from Washington. It is an extension of the beaurocracy of the American government, but all in all they do pretty well.


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day one hundred seventeen c

About half of our training class is in Nouakchott right now. Many of them for the first time since arriving in the country. In honor of this there was a little get together held for them.

I’ve mentioned before not being an especially good drinker. I try, but I end up morose of contemplative as often as happy go lucky. When we went out dancing on Thursday a few people offered me drinks and I tried them but to no real effect. I had people say they’d like to see me drunk, since I am generally reserved. Since I’ve not got anything against it, during the party on Friday night I gave it another try.

I was pacing with Mark. The problem was I ate supper and Mark didn’t. (Also, supper was a loaf of bread, so lots of absorption.) All told I did between twelve and fifteen shots depending on how you count doubles. Mark got pretty well toasted and all I got was a little more extroverted and a little less coordinated.

(I checked with sober people and they confirmed my assessment. Well, I had people give me a surprised “really” when I told them how much I’d consumed.)

I did find it easier to drink than I have in the past. Usually with alcohol even the smell is so overpowering I have a hard time drinking. I managed to drink this time without too much trouble. Shooting tequila and vodka still made me twitch a bit, but that’s normal. =)

Another thing that factors in is sitting I think. I’ve started back with it a bit and it helps keep me grounded. You know when you are getting angry and you take a minute to breathe and find some calm? Well, sitting is like that except you do it for twenty minutes. That’s a bit of an over simplication since it isn’t always calm that you find, but getting connected to the part of yourself that is not affected so much by what is happening in your world is a part of it.

So, I’ve been practicing finding mental calmness. It carries over a bit and makes it harder for me to lose control when drinking. Or maybe it was just the bread, I dunno. =)


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day one hundred fifteen b

Among the places we went shopping today were the Marché Capitol and the Marché Cinqieme. While out in the cinquieme, Miriam decided to get a rug for her dirt floor in Djajibine. We went to the row where they sell matelas and rugs and she found a nice little rug she liked and the guy wanted 25k for it.

She only had 10k to pay, but she liked the rug and told the guy she’d come back later and pay for it. We went through a few minutes of him showing us various rugs and trying to convince her, and eventually we broke away and got out of the store.

The price that he came down to on the rug was 20k before we left the store. He followed us along outside of the store and as we passed other stores he would go in and and show us different rugs and offer them to us at various prices. Miriam stayed firm and kept telling him she’d come back some time later.

He wanders off back to his store, but after a couple minutes he comes running up and tells us he’ll sell her the rug she wanted for 10k. We wander back to the store and when we get there he argues with some fellow sitting on a couch for a bit and tells us he’ll sell it to us for 15k.

At this point the guy has been working the sale for about 20 minutes and we are all getting a little tired of the whole situation. Miriam says fine and borrows 5 from Jen and I and pays the guy. I went in and got the rug for her and we go on our way.

We make it about ten minutes away and the guy comes running up to us and tells us that his boss won’t let him sell the rug for 15k, and he needs another 5. Miriam is about ready to hit him and even I, who has a pretty high tolerance for irritation, am tired of the situation. He doesn’t have the 15k with him though, so she can’t trade back. He wants her to go back with him, but she’s not going anywhere. So, I agree to go back so as to guarantee that she doesn’t run off with his rug.

We make it about ten steps and he says to me, “well, I could take 2k and let her have it for 17.” I tell him, we are all very tired of this, just give me the 15 back. He then turns back around and walks back to Miriam and makes the same offer of an additional 2 to her. She is moments away for hitting her and tells him to just give her her money back. At this he leaves us finally and we hurry away before he has a chance to try anything else.

As with most things this is all in French of course. So take all the already irritating things and add the frustration of not being able to tell someone to go fuck themselves (or much of anything else). =)

As always though, an interesting experience.


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day one hundred seventeen a

I spent most of the morning ferrying Miriam and Jen around Nouakchott. They were wanting to do some shopping, so I figured I’d try and save them the trouble I had finding anything in this great sprawling mass of a city.

Last night I finally made it over to Matt’s place. I left on Thursday planning on it but ended up staying at Marc’s after dancing and then sleeping at Melanie and Heather’s hotel the next night. It was definitely time for me to change clothes by the time I made it home. =)

The place is looking more attractive location wise. This morning I got out and wandered around and saw the boutiques and restaurants in the area. Everything is a little farther away; a block as opposed to actually in the same building, but not bad. The selection is definitely better.

When we got here Marc and I heard a talk of a black currant Fanta that supposedly tasted like Dr. Pepper. I’ve been keeping an eye out for it and so has Marc. He found a drink called “red fruits” Fanta that was apparently discontinued and contained currants. We assumed that was the mythic drink and hopes were abandoned. Today I found the real thing and bought a couple that I’m going to visit with Marc and give a shot. The many Fantas of Mauritania are:

Orange Fanta: pretty much Slice
Strawberry Fanta: very sweet strawberry drink
Green Apple Fanta: also quite sweet
Lemon Fanta: not bad, in the neighborhood of carbonated Country Time
Black Currant Fanta: rumored to be Dr. Pepperesque, a mystery
Red Fruits Fanta: only to be found dusty and flat, fruit punch sorta


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day one hundred fifteen a

We went out last night to a bar / dance club (a “boite nuit” in French, literally “night box”). It was very entertaining. I must say that a person hasn’t really lived until they’ve danced to 80’s hits dubbed in Arabic. =)

The music was really cool. There was American club and rap music. There was Senegalese rap music which has more of a calypso sort of feel. There was straight up African drumming sorts of stuff. There was European club techno. Just a whole lot of different sorts of stuff, but all of it with a good beat.

We didn’t get there until around 1am and didn’t leave until 3:30. The particular place we were at is more favored by expats, and so there were alot of French and Lebanese there. We ran into some army guys who are in town training the locals on how to defuse mines. (There are alot of mines along the border with Western Sahara laid by the guerrillas.)

It was just really neat to get out with everyone. I didn’t do much of this sort of stuff back home and I really like dancing. I am not so good with the drinking or smoking bit, but people don’t seem to mind.


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Here’s Your Bike, Try Not To Die

When I was a kid we had a little game called Frogger. The goal was to aid a little frog in crossing the road. As you’d progress farther there would be new obstacles like bigger cars and having to cross a creek with alligators.

I’ve decided to make a new videogame based on my life. It is going to be called, “Here’s Your Bike, Try Not To Die.”

Level 1: You start off as a school kid toddling around a peaceable suburban town. You enjoy the fresh air and exercise. Your goal is to get to school on time.

Level 2: You are mountain biking in Moab, Utah. You enjoy majestic vistas while attempting to avoid patches of sand. Biking in loose sand liberating you both of nearly all control and momentum.

Level 3: You’re a bike messenger in New York, you dodge traffic while attempting to dispatch your charges to their intended recipients.

Level 4: You are a PCV in Mauritania. You attempt to maneuver through a city with no discernible traffic laws and wretchedly maintained streets. For added excitement most of the streets are made of sand and those which aren’t are often partially covered with sand. Drivers’ licenses in your town are
awarded solely based on the ability to pay a fee and have nothing to do with having proven one can safely operate a vehicle. This being the most advanced level, there are the additional challenges of the temperature generally being in excess of 100 degrees and in the likely event that you are struck by a car, there are no good medical facilities for a few thousand miles. The upshot though is that you are in Africa and the time limits established in the previous levels are completely removed.

The bike is really cool though. I can make it to my house from the bureau in 20 minutes and it takes an hour by foot. I also just like getting my heart rate up a little. Walking is fine enough, but I’ve not been getting enough exercise and I know it. I’m going to try biking some in the mornings and see if I can find some routes that are off the paved roads, but which have solidly packed sand.

I’ve definitely been playing it safe. If I get to an intersection that is too crowded I just get off and walk. I’ve not broken any bones thus far in my life and I’m not wanting to start. =)


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re: I love Word-a-Day!!

S wrote:

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” -Stanley Horowitz

What is this “winter”? We have summer and more summer and summer when it isn’t so hot. =)

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day one hundred twelve a

Ahh, the glories of air conditioning. =) I’m still bikeless, but I care less when it is a balmy 89 degrees.

I was wondering as I was walking over this morning if any of you wondered where I get my numbers from when quoting temperatures like 108 or 95 or whatever. My watch has a thermometer on it and so I’m not just making random numbers up. (Just in case you wondered.)

The catch though, since there is always a catch here… They overloaded the circuit for the room with the new air conditioner. This means that the price for the nice cool air in here is that this computer will now turn off randomly. I suppose I just need not to do anything too important. A small price to pay.

I just got through wandering around on a tour with the Director of the UN Volunteers. Malick was showing her what goes on here and I went with them to take the tour again. It made about 75% sense this time as opposed to the 25% it made when I took it two months ago.

Speaking of unintelligible rendezvous, I had dinner with a friend of Malick’s last night who is the head of the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), Actions in Favor of the Environment. They do anti-desertification stuff as well as general sustainability of life in the countryside. We were doing alright initially, but he eventually got warmed up and proceeded to leave me behind. The dinner was really good. Chicken and rice with peas on a bed of shredded carrots. Much better than the cookies and reconstituted milk I had the night before. =)

I’m getting a little braver with my French, or at least a little more willing to impose on those around me with my bad French.

Our most recent development here is the coordinator for the Academy has resigned. So, our status is:
1. No coordinator. (The coordinator being the “boss” of the place and the liaison between any other organizations.)
2. No teachers. (One teacher being the now resigned coordinator and the other being in France for a couple months still.)
3. A one month course to train teachers maybe being taught starting in November.
4. All PCV’s in regional capitols (including potential teachers Matt and myself) attending conferences in sparsely populated areas the 5th-12th of November. (The national election being the 7th.)
5. The UN volunteer, Malick, the one person with a clue, having his contract come up November 10.
6. 90 students supposedly starting classes around the 15th of November.

In short it has gone past bleak to almost comically insurmountable. No one has died yet and the university hasn’t burnt down, but other than that not much else is left to go wrong. I’m not stressing over it since there’s really not anything I can do. The one possibility the worries me is that Malick will not find the money for an extension, the university will not find a new coordinator, and either the Academy will die or someone will expect me to have a clue/

I’m not opposed to being clueful, but discussing the weather is currently a challenge. Wheeling and dealing within the infrastructure of the university is so far beyond my abilities it isn’t even funny. We can ship Matt in though. Hopefully it won’t come to that.


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