Archive for September, 2004

Off Again

Just a quick “not-dead” note. I am in fact (not dead that is). I have been working furiously trying to get a set of computers up and running for one of our solar powered computer labs. The requirements of supporting three different language groups which are mutually exclusive are very taxing.

These computers are going into a Hassiniya speaking village, so the volunteers who will be working with them speak Hassiniya and no French. Unfortunately very few volunteers can read Arabic, so they need to be able to work in English. Since there are also some Francophones in the village it needs to handle French as well. Windows XP has some very nice support for multiple languages, but it is characteristically unstable and tempremental.

I am headed home now to pack and at 5am (in 3 hours) I’m due at the airport to fly to Bamako. Yippie!

Just wanted to check in since I may not be here for another week and a half depending on Mali.


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Les Jeuxs Que Les Gens Jeuent

I’ve been spending time this summer (when not locked out) preparing my lab for next semester. Most of it is just getting all the operating systems standardized and setting up a domain controller and what-not. One of my more illicit projects though has been getting the place set up to host a lan party.

For the uninitiated, a lan party is a simple thing. You get a big open space, everyone brings their computers and you connect them together. The most common sort of lan party centers around gaming, but there are other sorts as well, such as hackathons and installfests.

The trick in Mauritania is that no one owns a computer. To aid my poor deprived friends, I am getting these computers set up to let them play on. I just finished installing this morning the second major representative type of game. Already present, to represent first person shooters, is Unreal Tournament 2003. To compliment it in the category of real time strategy is WarCraft III. This lets people choose to spend their time running around blowing their friends into little meaty chunks, or building armies, fortifying cities and waging ceaseless war.

The really entertaining bit for me though is that they are both in French. So in UT when I electrocute my hapless opponent, my character cries “c’est chez moi” or “ça doit faire mal.” That entertains me as much as the game itself. I spent a good 15 minutes in W3 finding different characters to irritate and hear their various exclamations. Being able to speak French would kick ass; everything is just cuter in French.

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Seriously Though, Calendars?

Ok, that last post seem a bit boring? Calendars? From a shell script? Umm, ok, that’s something you can use Will, but what about the rest of the world?

Well, I didn’t want to post the rest of the story publicly. I’m gun-shy since TTU kicked me off the Honors Server for copyright violations.

The neat thing I discovered while fixing the calendar getter is a bug in their system. I was doing my working and getting different calendars and then I realized that my account wasn’t supposed to be able to get at the calendars I was downloading. It turns out that I can download any calendar I want to.

This means that I can resurrect my old page-a-day lists. They should start back up tomorrow. (They’re named in honor of the Word-a-Day (AWAD) list.)

So, if you feel like getting some wisdom or testing you knowledge, feel free to sign up. You can tell people too, just don’t post it on the web because I’m much afeared of getting in trouble now-a-days.

There are a couple more I’d like to make lists out of, like:

The issues though are two fold. For each calendar I want to access I have to have the four letter code assigned to it. It is something that makes sense, like ZENN for the Zen calendar and MENS for the Mensa one. For some of these though I don’t know the code and so would have to put in some guessing time. Secondly though, since I no longer have a server, I can’t make new lists. I’m thinking about looking into a mail to Livejournal gateway program. (A free one since I’ve not got even $15 to my name right now.) Maybe I’ll serialize these to a LiveJournal or maybe Matt‘ll get his privacy options built into Panopticon.

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Projet du Jour: Calendriers

I woke up this morning feeling like I wanted to do something, but not really wanting to much about with setting up the lab which is going to be a really involved process. So, I decided to repair my old calendar getter.

It goes on the Page-a-Day Calendars site and can download any calendars you have access to and send them to you.

A goal of mine over the next year is to clean up a good many of the partially finished programs I’ve got lying around and make a useful website presenting them.

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> looking over my notes and writing it out, I was looking over his > shoulder and trying to remember how to conjugate the pass? simple. > (Which, in a highly questionable move, he taught me before covering the > conditional or subjunctive; that I could actually use; unlike the pass? > simple.)

i vaguely remember that i learned those three tenses twice, in two different orders, in two different levels of french courses.

learning the passe simple first made sense about a year after i’d done the work – i realized the reasoning behind it sort of made a demented kind of sense.

don’t remember exactly why, now, though.


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Said by Catherine in chapter IX of Wuthering Heights (my favorite romantic novel and book for the day):

I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. — My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and …

Now, this is bad right? All of my training to date labels this as nothing more than extreme codependence. It does sound nice though. I think it is just the push toward the annihilation of the ego coupled with absolute connection. I lose who I am in you and at the same time find myself there.

Is it maintainable though? Is it a illusion destined for collapse?

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Travelin’ Man

I have actually communicated interactively with Steph again. We did a couple emails back and forth a couple week ago, but yesterday we AIMed for a bit. It was entertaining.

One of the things that came up again is my life of leisure since I am headed to Mali in about two weeks for an excursion into Dogon Country. Newsweek ran an article on on Dogon a couple months ago and ranked it their top eco-tourism destination, but said to go now because it is changing under the influence of tourism.

This trip does come on the heels or my trip to Morocco and France, and the pig roast in Senegal. I definitely do travel a lot here. We get two days of vacation a month or 24 a year which isn’t bad. I definitely want to use them all up.

They do come at a cost though. Since I have no appreciable savings I have to save any and all money I want to travel on. (Or beg it from my mom, which I don’t like doing.) Fortunately everything here is really cheap, so it is not impossible, but it definitely takes sacrifices.

For this Mali trip I needed a budget of about $400 to make it through a week and a half. Hiring a guide for Dogon pushes the price up considerably. So, I’ve changed all but 7000um to dollars and I have enough. That leaves me about 500um a day to eat on.

500um is about $1.50 a day. Even here in Mauritania that isn’t a whole lot of money. If I was eating communally with a family it would be fine. Living on my own though it means, for instance, that my meals for today will consist of pasta with sugar and cinnamon for breakfast/lunch and dinner will be probably a sandwich.

I’m pretty sure most anyone in the world living in a 15’x10′ apartment with a bathroom and eating largely pasta could manage to save enough to take some trips. Especially if the trip was to go camping like this one is. I’m sort of looking forward to being back in the States because I feel very comfortable getting by on very little. I’m hoping I can keep up the travel thing. I just have to find a job flexible enough to let me do it. I suppose at the high end that is contract work and at the low end temp work. Maybe my dreams of professorship will some day come true.

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Today is the end of Stage for our new group. Sometime around noon our number of volunteers should have gone from 40 to about 80.

Everyone is getting sworn in at the high school in Ka?di. We, the old volunteers, wanted to do a little something special for our new brethren; namely, get them drunk. The problems though are twofold.

First and foremost Mauritania is a dry country, or at least mostly. As an Islamic republic there is no distinction between religious and secular law. It is therefore against the law for Mauritanians to drink. We heathens are permitted to do so, but only in the confines of private residences or restaurants. It is illegal for us to give Mauritanians alcohol or to even transport it.

You are supposed to do any transporting of alcohol in private vehicles. Our not being allowed to drive presents difficulties in this arena. We have actually had a couple of volunteers picked up and driven around by the police under threat of arrest for carrying alcohol. They police would wait outside of some place where you could buy alcohol, like the Congolese Embassy, and search their bags when they came out. The point was for the foreigners to get scared and bribe their way out of going to jail. Unfortunately for these police, the foreigners they got were impoverished Peace Corps Volunteers and so after driving them around for a bit they gave up and let them go.

A second problem is that the administration doesn’t like the idea of a bunch of drunken volunteers wandering around Ka?di, and so they have further forbidden alcohol from the party.

Being Peace Corps though has taught me little if not a marked flexibility toward the following of rules. I was not surprised therefore when I got a call this afternoon asking me if I was coming down to Ka?di and if I could bring some booze. Unfortunately I’m on a pretty tight schedule (and budget) until I go to Mali in two weeks, so I had to say no.

A little while later I got a call saying that one of the female volunteers had a friend at the embassy who was going to help them out and I was to act as courier. I went to a really nice house and met a man completely uninterested in me (didn’t do anything other than shove some bottles at me), but who told me in a lascivious voice to let my female friend know that she “owed him.”

I took my stash of whiskey bottles over to Jay’s house and tried to package them so as to disguise the nature of my parcel. For, besides being illegal, whiskey holds a special place in the Mauritanian mind. It is something along the lines the mythos of marijuana during the times of “reefer madness.”

Ofttimes when you will hear mention of “the whiskey” when someone is talking about any general sort of moral turpitude. For example, “she was cheating on her husband… and they were drinking the whiskey.” Or perhaps, “if I drink the whiskey I will get in fights and kill people.” Sidi Habib, during Stage was sure that if he ever even smelled the whiskey it would make him drunk and he wouldn’t be able to walk.

(Completely off subject, did I mention Sidi has been sent to China by the ministry of culture. He is taking classes in computers. The twist? The classes are taught in Chinese, which he doesn’t speak. So he is learning “mostly by gestures.” I find this revelation surprisingly not surprising. Have I mentioned life here being similar to being on some serious drugs most of the time?)

After Jay’s, with my highly dangerous supply of the whiskey well concealed in not one, but two plastic bags, I delivered the bottles to a fellow at the garage to Ka?di who told me they’d arrive tonight, inshallah.

I did that at 4:00ish and it is 10:20 now, so, inshallah, the newest volunteers for Mauritania are getting a little more grove in their dancing thanks to the whiskey. Makes me wish I coulda been there. =)


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If, for some reason, you’re not getting enough Will in your diet, I have recently started a blog:

This list is for interesting tidbits from Mauritania, primarily anecdotal cultural stuff. The blog is whatever random flotsam happens to wander through my head on a given day. I started it because my life here is settling down. I’m running out of striking things to write about. I’m trying to deepen my friendships and hopefully get to a new level of that, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Be warned though that when I’m blogging I write pretty much whatever comes into my head, so you might learn things about my life that you weren’t especially looking to know. =)

One recent entry was on the subject of personal betterment and my desire not to have WAIST completely destroy my body like it did last year. WAIST isn’t until next February, so there ought to be plenty of time.

To this end I hauled my butt out of bed this morning at 6am and went for perhaps the third run I’ve been on since I’ve been here. Even at 6am, an hour before the sun comes up, it is in the low 80’s. So, it is bearable, but a brisk refreshing run, it is not.

I jogged a couple miles out to stadium where I discovered I no longer can do anything resembling a pull up. I managed, employing a flailing imitation of vertical swimming, to get up one time, but I was too embarrassed to try any more. So, I just hung there contemplating my frailty. After walking around the stade a couple times and resting I jogged back home.

Since I was nearly melted by the time I arrived back home I promptly stripped down and took a cold shower. It was quite pleasant other than the fact that my apartment had heated up enough that I was still sweating when I got out.

I had about an hour before my French teacher was coming over to give me an exam, so I made some tasty vermicelli with cinnamon and sugar, and set to studying. By “studying,” I mean “reading Wuthering Heights until I fell asleep.”

My professors knock on the door woke me and I quickly clothed myself and let him in. He didn’t have the exam made out yet. So, while he was looking over my notes and writing it out, I was looking over his shoulder and trying to remember how to conjugate the passé simple. (Which, in a highly questionable move, he taught me before covering the conditional or subjunctive; that I could actually use; unlike the passé simple.)

As I was taking my test, I discovered the danger inherent in staying up till 1am reading then going for a morning jog. It can cause one to lose consciousness at random times. I had a couple times that I dozed off in the middle of writing a sentence. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), my French is such that it didn’t really show as he was grading my paper.

After he eventually left, I flopped back down and slept for another hour; blessed sleep.

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