Archive for March, 2004

day two hundred seventy eight c

Tea is a big thing here as I’ve mentioned. There is a guy employed by the university who comes by our class with the requisite three glasses. The tea here is really strong.

My discovery of the last five minutes is dumping three glasses of the stuff into a stomach containing nothing but skittles will make a person feel quite ill.

There is a very good reason that I am not working as a nutrition volunteer. The fact I’ve consumed nothing but tea and about a pound of skittles in the last twelve hours gives a good sense of my dietary intelligence.

When I woke up at ten today I had to choose between my warm and comfy blanket with my book and skittles, and hauling my butt out of bed to go to the bank (which closes at noon) so I’d have money to buy food. “Carpe diem” I said to myself, though to to untrained observer it may have sounded like a grunt as I rolled over and fell back asleep. =)


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day two hundred seventy eight b

This journal has an audio/visual component. Go and watch:’Brien%20-%20Seinfeld%20Auditions.mpeg

It is a Conan O’Brien skit where they are holding mock additions for a new Seinfeld. There is an Indian fellow who has a hell of a time with the word “cornnuts.”

That is me pretty much exactly except the word is “yaourt” (“yogurt” in French). To the best of my knowledge the pronunciation is something like “yah-wohur.” For the life of me though every time I say it people either don’t understand at all (90% of the time) or they laugh at me and say, “oh, you mean ‘yaourt.'” It is frustrating, but unfortunately making and eating yogurt is one of my favorite things to do here, so there’s little avoiding it.

On a related note, George Mason University has a project with native speakers of 306 different languages read “an elicitation paragraph written in English, [which] uses common English words, but contains a variety of difficult English sounds and sound sequences. The paragraph contains practically all of the sounds of English.”

The paragraph is: “Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.”

Interesting stuff:


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day two hundred seventy eight a

Today has been a good day. It was another meeting of a lovely care package from Sharon with a free morning and a good book.

Last night Katerie had the volunteers in town over for a dinner. The group before mine that will be leaving in a couple months is having their close of service (COS) conference in a couple days and so there are alot of people in town. Dinner was a pair of lovely sheep and I gorged myself well.

On my way back home I picked up some sci-fi books from the bureau. I woke up about ten this morning and spent the day eating skittles and reading. Every so often I’d nap a bit. I had a couple of those moments spent in drowsing comfort wrapped in my blanket where I wasn’t concerned about anything.

I really needed a day like this. I’ve been getting my schedule back on track, but I’ve felt restless. Right now I started a book on neurochemistry (_Descartes’ Error_ by Damasio), a book on economics (_Small is Beautiful_ by Schumacher) and a book on gender identity (_Fire in the Belly_ by Keen). Good books all three, but I’ve been doing too much thinking.

Schumacher divides the problems of the world into two classes. He uses the terms “convergent” and “divergent” to describe problems that do and don’t have solutions respectively. (In math sums that “converge” add up to some real number while sums that “diverge” add to infinity.) He says that the only problems that really have solutions are human devised ones. Reality is too complex to be managed completely by human conception and so the issues surrounding human interaction (he is dealing with economics) cannot be reduced to a science with definitive answers.

He talks about a businessman who is riding home from the office and who relaxes by doing a crossword or reading a detective novel. He points out that though this is mentally active work it is considered relaxing. He suggests that it is because it is calming to find solutions and escape from the divergence that is reality.

I tend to agree. I think I’ve overexerted myself a bit trying to tackle intractable problems. A little bit of a break is a good idea.


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day two hundred seventy seven a

> Ken Wilbur – _Sex, Ecology and Spirituality_ > Read some essays by Wilbur which were interesting. I’ve been hunting > for this book for a while which I heard described as an extended form > of _A Brief History of Everything_.

_ABHoE_ is a completely inadequate (and relatively atheoretical) book. SES is the real mind-baker. 🙂 it should take at least several months to read.

wilbEr, btw.

i have been reading bits of wilber’s _no boundary_. that particular book,
almost 30 years old and only 150 pages, is the only one of his that i’ve read in which it would be blindingly obvious to most readers that he and connie are gnawing on the same set of problems.

[i think i’ve now read all but one of the books wilber has written – why anyone would be interested in reading _Boomeritis_ completely eludes me.]

> GRE Study Guide
> Need to take this before I come back. According to the news all the > jobs will be in India by the time I come home. I either need to get > in a good grad school or learn Hindi.

it all depends on which segment of indian society, i think. one of my
indian officemates speaks better english than most of the native speakers i know- complete with euphemisms and slang-words like “grok”.

> Herman Hesse – _Magister Ludi_
> I know nothing about this book other than having liked _Siddhartha_ > and it is in the third tier of the mentor reading list: >

i really liked Magister Ludi. it is a very ENTP-ish book, in my opinion. the most important bit of it that i can remember is his struggle for his own humanity.


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day two hundred seventy seven c

While lying around Kiffa I was perusing an old copy of The Utne Reader. There was an interesting article on water consumption. According to the article the average household in the first world with a dish washer, washing machine, sinks, showers, sprinklers and what-not uses an average of 1000 liters of water a day. The average household with a distant water source uses 5.

I think perhaps they were exaggerating a bit. The five liters is low I know because in Kankossa I was pulling water from a well and I was drinking probably four liters a day. (The hot season is once again commencing.) Saying that the differences are along orders of magnitude is probably true though. When you take a shower out of a bucket you use maybe fifteen liters. Washing clothes in a bucket uses maybe forty. The simple fact that you have to go get it and carry it to where you want to use it makes a big difference.

Interestingly a report recently published by the UN says that it takes 1.8 tons of raw materials to produce one new home computer. About 1.7 of those tons are water.

I really don’t know enough on the issue to know if the world really is shaping up to start having water problems. I figure it’s something to keep in mind as you go about your life though.


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day two hundred seventy seven b

I’ve been back in town for a couple days.

I pulled an all-nighter working on the Aioun lab and then we left town and drove 14 hours through the night to Nouakchott. The only sleeping I did during a 36 hour period was sitting up in a car seat. I, naturally, spent my first day back asleep. Yesterday the internet was dead here, so I didn’t get caught up on much.

Here I am though and with my handy list of interesting things to mention.

The thing that has been foremost on my mind other than sleeping since I got back has been Molly. I spent about a week in Aioun and the other half in Kiffa and Kankossa with Molly. We spent some time together right after WAIST as well.

I enjoy being around because she is bright and playful with a tinge of angst which resonates with me. Unfortunate incompatibilities in what we seek in a significant other precludes the possibility of romance, but hanging out with her and talking is entertaining regardless.

Sadly this time it was less fun since Easter is two weeks out and I am still practicing my rutabaga imitation. The word that comes to mind to describe her attitude toward my language problem is the French verb déranger means “to bother.” The reason it comes to mind though is its more dramatic English cousin derange meaning “to make insane” or in this case “to piss off severely.”

I was staying at Molly’s house and she accused me of violating the sanctity of the English safe zone within its walls. She did have an excellent point. Kankossa is a three hour drive across sand dunes from the nearest paved road. There’s only one other fluent English speaker in town (the other volunteer) and they don’t see each other all the time. Whereas I, in the big city with many people around, have to work at practicing my language she has no choice. The one place she gets away from it is with her friends and in her home and I came and despoiled both of those.

She also had some good points about “by what right” did I get to choose to make the lives of those around me more difficult by rendering myself unable to communicate all but the most basic thoughts. I had discussed my desires to be less detached and more connected to those around me and she said this seemed to fly in the face of that.

My position was that a big part of the point with Lent is to choose something and see it through. Jesus didn’t go hang out in the desert for a week, say “Damn I’m hungry, I could sure go for a hamburger,” and leave. He was there for forty days even though, as I can vouch, the desert is a rough place to hang out.

(There is also the counterpoint I’m not Christian by any traditional definition, not that a Christian would likely give up English anyhow for Lent.)

The French thing has been probably one of the harder things I have done for Lent. Not talking at all was easier than this since it was both for less time and in a place with more distractions. While it forced me to seem a bit odd, it didn’t force me to do something I am actively bad at.

In the end with Molly I took a couple dispensations and started reading and writing in English as well as recounting stories. With the everyday talking I decided that even though was extremely tiring and exasperating I was going to stick to it.

Molly, like others in my life before, got a taste of the fact that there are a variety of things more easily accomplished than getting me to change my mind once it is made up. These things include: going faster than the speed of light, blotting out the sun, walking on water, and teaching an old dog new tricks. In short, I wouldn’t budge on the issue and we subsequently passed the next two days largely in silence broken by brief rehashes of our positions.

I wrote her a letter before I left apologizing for the whole violation of sanctity thing and expressing a desire that we could be friends in the future. I really do respect that she has a much harder time that I do. I made the decision to go back out to Kankossa not knowing that it would be a problem. Lent is important to me though and I felt like I had adapted some and that she needed to work a little harder to adapt to my desires.

Honestly, I’ve got hope. My sense is that our personalities are well suited even if we do have a lamentable quantity of stubbornness in common.


To briefly touch on another issue in the key of women put off by Will’s personality, Steph’s journal today included this tidbit:

“Justin is not Will and I need to stop my fear in its tracks that he
will become him. When I compare, when I expect things to happen- I
so shortchange Justin and how he makes me feel. And that is simply
not fair and something he doesn’t deserve.
“I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop- but it hasn’t.
“I keep waiting for the moods to kick in- but they haven’t.
“I keep waiting to be ignored- but I’m not.”

Again, I know that some of my beloved readers dislike what they perceive to be an unhealthy habit of continued attention on Steph when distance would likely give me time to recenter. I respect the position, but as you’ve likely noticed from the increasingly introspective (and depressive) tone of my journals, I’m working on some identity stuff and she is someone who knows me better than nearly anyone else. Even though all she sees is not clear, it is an important way for me to be able to see myself.

I don’t think I’m a good match for a whole lot of people. The things I’m looking for in my life are a little bit different from alot of people. I’m ok with not making everybody happy. The hope is still alive though that I will find someone who is looking for the sorts of things I am. At this point I’m more content to wait than to try and become someone new.


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I’ve been contemplating reading for the last couple days. I’ve been getting back into it here with little else to do. I was in the process of HTMLizing an old mentor reading list:

When I remembered vaguely that Pat had done something with one linking to Amazon. I had tried various searches on “mentor reading list” initially with no results, but going to Pat’s webpage turned up:

I was already most of the way through the list I was working on and Patrick’s was a regular structure, so I just pulled it into the one I was working on, ran a couple scripts on it and culled the duplicates. The result of the combination is at:

I was wondering if anyone had any books that they considered to be really illuminating and worthy of consideration for inclusion. I think I am going to go back through the list and comment out the entries not included on Patrick’s list since there are 175 right now.

One thing I’d be interested to hear comments on are films. Most of the movies here are from the 50’s and 60’s. Classics are wonderful things, but has no meaningful cinema been produced in the last ten years?

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day two hundred seventy seven a

I’m working on a list of books for my mom to bring to me in Paris. So far I’ve got:

Neil Stephenson – _Cryptonomicon_
Already read _Snowcrash_, liked it and heard this was a good book.

Ken Wilbur – _Sex, Ecology and Spirituality_
Read some essays by Wilbur which were interesting. I’ve been
hunting for this book for a while which I heard described as an
extended form of _A Brief History of Everything_.

David Payne – _Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street_
Started this before I left, was getting into it and left it sitting
on top of the car when I left Cookeville. It is now somewhere along
the side of the road much to my disappointment.

David Richo – _How to be an Adult_
A couple people were reading this before I left. Looked pretty
fundamental, but also perhaps insightful.

Benjamin Hoff – _Tao of Pooh_ / _Te of Piglet_
Want to try and firm up my understanding up Taoism a bit. I have
listened to the _Tao of Pooh_ and liked Hoff’s synopsis using the
painting of the three philosophers.

_American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language_
My already struggling grasp of the English language is slowly being
weakened by the degenerative influence of French. There are lots of
French dictionaries here, but not English.

GRE Study Guide
Need to take this before I come back. According to the news all the
jobs will be in India by the time I come home. I either need to get
in a good grad school or learn Hindi.

John Gribbin – _Schroedinger’s Kittens_
Read _In Search of Schroedinger’s Cat_ a little while ago and liked
it. This is supposed to cover the twenty years since the first was

Robert Bly – _Iron John_
I am reading _Fire in the Belly_ by Sam Keen right now and really
liking it. I’d like to have some other sources to compare to and
this is one of the canonical books on “men’s liberation.”

John Gray – _Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus_
I expect for this book to drive me crazy. Gray’s positions are
almost diametrically opposed to my own, but I feel like I ought to
read it and respond to it for thoroughness sake.

Don Richard Riso – _Personality Types_
This is an enneagram book recommended to me by my uncle as very
educational. I’ve not looked at any more than the basics of the
enneagram thinking I’d just find a restatement of the MBTI, but
given the strength of the recommendation I want to give it a read.

Daniel Boorstin – _The Discoverers_
This is a big fat book that has been sitting on my shelf for a
while and it seems like now would be a good time to read it.

Martin Buber – _I and Thou_
I am thinking this book deals with the concepts of dialectical
and dialogical thinking. They are concepts I have a fuzzy feel for,
but would like to learn more about.

James Joyce – _Ulysses_
Much like Eco’s _Foucault’s Pendulum_ this was one of those which I
attempted and kicked my ass. I’ve got time for a rematch now.

Albert Camus – _The Stranger_ (in French)
This book is used alot in intermediate French classes for learning.
I already own it in both languages, so I figure I’ll practice with

Jean Paul Sartre – _The Wall_ / _No Exit_
I have had Sartre’s _No Exit_ recommended to me. I’ve never read
anything by him and always figured it would be too thick for me.
I’m willing to try though.

Coleman Barks – _The Essential Rumi_
I like Rumi’s writings and have had a couple poems come to mind I’d
like to be able to reread.

Herman Hesse – _Magister Ludi_
I know nothing about this book other than having liked _Siddhartha_
and it is in the third tier of the mentor reading list:

Roberts et al. – _A Saint in the City_
When you are in Senegal there are pictures of Amadou Bamba painted
all over the place. This book was recommended by a cousin of mine
and it is on his life. Ahh, in looking up the author I find the
subtitle is “Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal.” It makes sense though I
never thought of it. Divergent religious leader causing
transformative experiences in his followers; could easily be a
mystic. In predominately Islamic West Africa; probably a Sufi.

Andrew Harvey – _The Essential Mystics_
Another one of those I own and never got around to reading. More in
the general spirituality vein.

That’s where I stand right now. If anyone has any suggestions for interesting things to read, or if I’m confused on the nature of any of these books, let me know.

Also, does anyone have suggestions on what they would consider to be a children’s story that captures a good picture of American life. I am working on the translation of _Raja: Le Chamelon_ into English. It’s a children’s book by a Mauritania detailing the adventures of a baby camel as he voyages across the desert. I’d eventually like to try and take a story the other way (which is orders of magnitude more difficult). Doing a story about America would let me share it with people here wanting to some English and make it more interesting.


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day two hundred seventy four a

I have been all over this country in the last two weeks. I’m back in Aioun again trying to get the lab I was working on finished. If all goes as planned I’ll be back at home finally in another couple days.

For the last few days I’ve been back in Kankossa. During my brief sabbatical in Kiffa I learned that if I waited a couple of days I could catch a ride back on the shuttle that goes around delivering mail to the volunteers once a month.

Before heading back I had the opportunity to be a guest author in another volunteer’s blog. I was more pleased with this essay than the one I wrote for the school paper a while back. I like a little bit of bite to my writing. Not quite jaded, but not all fuzzy and happy either. This particular piece is a comparison of volunteers to cockroaches in as flattering a way as possible.

Her entries are pretty entertaining in general. Her audience includes family members and first graders she taught back home, so the tone is a bit different. She has “respect” for her audience, whatever that is. =) I’ve requested payment in kind and told her that we’re all adults here so she should spice it up a bit for you all.

On the subject of readings, I ran across this the other day:

This is a journal entry from someone in the first ever group to go to Mauritania in 1966. Interesting to read the story of someone with such a different experience of this country and the Peace Corps.


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day two hundred sixty eight a

I’m back in Kiffa. I left Aioun two days ago with Pascal, a Frenchman who works with the Ministry of Education. We did the three hours to Kiffa on paved roads and then the three to Kankossa over the dunes. I got stuck for the first time in Mauritania when the ruts in the sand were so deep that the car was stranded on the hump in the middle. We dug it out though and continued on our way.

I was hoping to get to spend a little time in Kankossa and visit, but unfortunately the volunteers I was going there to visit were leaving the next day, so I just got to wander a bit and had to leave. Kankossa is a pretty city. There is a big lake on one side and a standing dune on the other.

I did get a nice tour of reportedly the two most interesting places in Kankossa: the garden and the slaughter yard. The garden really was impressive. I’ve been to Rinjau outside of Ka.di which is bigger, but most of what grows there are trees. The garden here had just about every type of plant I’ve seen in this country. Everything from eggplants to habeneros to cabbage and moringa. I had lunch with the gardener who was a really entertaining old guy named Yaya.

The slaughter yard was interesting in a more morbid sense. It was after hours so all there really was to see were many many piles of bones and hooves and horns and the occasional discarded skin. We did run across a group of cats devouring a cast aside fetus which, along with the pervasive scent of blood, gave the whole experience a surreal post-apocalyptic feel. A sense that was broken a bit when I was asked to take a picture of the volunteer I was with alongside her young Mauritanian friend and a pair of horns perched on her head.

Kankossa was fun though. Another first was I got to pull water from the well. The “bucket” is just a piece of a tire inner tube stitched closed. As resilient as you would think that would be I managed to break the stitching on mine and had my water pulling privileges revoked. Even reduced to a mere water bearer I couldn’t really do the job properly since as a guy it isn’t kosher for me to carry stuff on my head in true water bearer fashion (and as my friend was doing).

It is difficult for me to come up with an adjective with sufficient descriptive depth to describe my ride back to Kiffa. Hmm. How about “suck?” As in “my ride sucked donkey balls.” Yeah, it is a bit subdued, but you get the idea. For those of you who know Wayne, his truck is a Dodge Dakota. It is a pretty standard size (half ton?) pickup truck and about the same size as a Toyota Hilux. How many people would you imagine could reasonable be expected to ride in the back of a truck that small? Ten? Ten seems a bit much doesn’t it? Well how about twenty? Four sitting on the tailgate, three sitting on top of the cab, five along each side and three in the middle. You think perhaps that I am mistaken as to the size. That it was bigger than a half size truck. If it is was it wasn’t by much.

A lesson learned about riding in a truck like this is don’t pack breakable things. First they throw in all the luggage then the pile in all the people on top and packed in like sardines as they are there is no place to sit but on the luggage.

I still get the sense you think I am exaggerating. You know those pictures you see of boats coming over from Cuba with people literally spilling over the sides or you hear of a bus crash in India which somehow kills a hundred and fifty when the bus was only big enough hold thirty? This is the reality of third world travel and not the exception.

There is a school of meditation which says “it doesn’t matter what you do so long as it hurts. Follow your pain and control how you respond to it.” Well, I got to practice that alot. Unfortunately my butt was sitting on my backpack (compressible) and my feet were on the spare tire in the middle of the car (noncompressible). So, little by little the side of the truck got to work its way over half my vertebra as my ass worked its way lower and lower. I ended up with my knees touching my chest and today the lower half of my back is a bruise.

Ok, but enough whining. It sucked, as I mentioned, but I made it in alive and well. We had a couple volunteers whose were in a truck that rolled a couple weeks ago so things could have been much worse.

I’m going to do it again on Sunday. The Peace Corps car will be going though Kankossa and I can catch it there to get a ride back to Nouakchott. This time though I’m riding up front. It costs an extra 500um, but for the three hour ride across the dunes it is a $1.50 I am well worth. =)

Anyhow my internet connection is sporadic for the moment and will continue to be for a bit. I ought to return to the big city in another four or five days. Until then I’ll do my best to keep in touch.

Hope all is well for you and yours.


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