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Histoire Sabbatique Continuée

The third day of sabbatical.

2005/06/15 Hotel Harmattan Hotel Mermoz 0:20 125cfa

The next morning we got up at a leisurely hour and wandered town a bit. Not before I played Santa a bit more and gave K the copies of Something Happened and The Brothers K that I’d brought for her. When we hung out before we discussed both aging and that she collects good books. I figured these would make good additions to her collection. I also gave Leah a little wooden Moroccan pot filled with pepto-bismol tablets. She was initially posted to Morocco before it was evacuated and so the pot was a safe bet. The pepto was off of a conversation where she may or may not have been joking about liking them. Either way, I thought it was a quirky, but not too weird gift.

I’ve found I really like giving gifts. I like shopping and the acquisition of stuff. I like hunting through the stalls of trinkets and from time to time I even like bargaining. I don’t really have the attention span though to maintain a large collection of brik-a-brak for myself. Giving gifts let’s me shop and make my friends happy all at once. Granted, certain of my friends ought make out with me upon reception of their gifts, I think, but I like doing it even without the physical expression of appreciation. ☺

We went by one of the nicer stores on the island: a fair-trade shop called Keur Fall. We were secretly hunting for something for K. They had lots of cool stuff and Leah got a very fetching orange beret.

At the pool I hid out under the umbrella for a good bit. My skin hadn’t seen the light of day for a couple months before the previous day’s pool excursion and I was currently working an very convincing overripe tomato impression. I was in a bit of a mood and sulked by the pool with The Blind Assassin and practiced my writing a bit more, this time in the key of Faulkner…

Drama flows through my veins. Melodrama to be exact. Much as I try to rid myself of it, I have been as of late unable. It stems, I think, from the uncertainty that I doubt I’ll ever be able to shake. My ideas don’t get played out directly; instead they bounce around my head for a while losing their touch with reality: becoming epic. She doesn’t adore me, she doesn’t hate me. The truth is mottled and complex, but as I sit here stewing rather than out there really living things are getting too simple. When things finally break free I can tell that they’ve come unmoored from what is, but I’m hard pressed to do anything about it.

It is apparently my job to stop the thinking and drive the action. I don’t fault her the responsibility, I just suck at at. Last night we spent far too much time talking and none at all kissing. I don’t like this drama. I don’t want my life and my feelings played out in my head and spoken on my voice. That pale shadow of reality. That reflection of the moon on the water. I just want it to fall away. Live and be consumed! Blah, blah, blah… If wishes were raindrops this’d not be a desert…

Since I knew I needed to get off my ass and go talk with everyone, I eventually did. Most of the conversation still escapes me since it concerned people and places I didn’t know, but I did manage the occasional interjection about their desert neighbor to the north. Everyone was really friendly and I enjoyed hearing the stories even if I wasn’t up to my usual loquaciousness. After we’d been there a bit a few more of the girls from the Fouta showed up and brought a good deal of energy along with them. Our crowd surpassed ten now with a combined travel time of around forty hours to be there. It was an impressive show of affection and I told K as much.

The Kaolack crew and I headed out from the pool a bit early to run a few errands. Dell headed back to Keur Fall to pick up K’s present while Justin and Leah went to retrieve the cake they’d brought from Kaolack: enter Africa’s ability to muddle the best laid of plans…

Kaolack’s cake was a wonder of American culinary skill. Easily a foot in diameter it had the shape of a heart to represent the world’s love of Kathleen. When they’d gotten it into town after a harrowing five hour ride on Leah’s lap, they gave it to the care of the hotel staff to refrigerate while waiting for the party. The ownership of the Hotel Harmattan has recently changed hands from an industrious Frenchman to an elderly Lebanese couple. By coincidence the son of the Lebanese couple also lives in Saint Louis and owns a pâtisserie down the street. When they got up in the morning and discovered a giant heart shaped cake in their fridge they were touched by what they assumed to be their dear grandson’s surprise. They must have been touched all the way down to their stomachs because they ate a good five slices of cake between them. The Lebanese style of cake cutting is a bit less ordered than our finicky Western methods, so there’s a jagged round chunk missing right out of the middle.

Sufficit to say, Justin and Leah were less than pleased at this defacing of their culinary masterpiece. I missed the initial confrontation, but Leah was uncharacteristically pissed when she made it back to the room. The contrite grandson did a bit to soothe her anger when he offered to give them a replacement cake from his pâtisserie. There was nearly a second conflict when the Lebanese couple attempted to appropriate the as of yet unseen uneaten parts of the heart cake because it was “delicious.” This suggestion was met with surprising fury on Leah’s part. The remnants of the cake were soon returned to their creatress who grumbled a bit about lesbians and frogs, but seemed to be calming.

Everyone else came back a bit after and other than some giggling that had to go unexplained as the cake was iced, Kathleen was none the wiser about the preparations for the evening. Since this was to be our nice night out donc, il faut s’endimancher, n’est pas?

Everyone was in rare form, but there were a few shining stars that come to mind. The birthday girl herself was wearing a lovely red and white floral print that did an excellent job of accentuating her finer points.The outfit was drawn together very well by a string of faux pearls that she’d received as a present earlier in the day. Leah had a light green ensemble, also in a floral motif, and with ruffled elastic back on the shirt reminiscent of her senorita outfit from the Kaolack party. She was certainly looking good, but this was just an appetizer for her true hotness which was to blossom later in the evening. Marie Elsie nearly took the prize for most striking outfit with a pink tie-back halter top than was guaranteed to leave some unsuspecting fellow with whiplash before the end of the evening. In the end modesty or good sense won out and she put on a shirt under it which did a lot to mute the effect.

The gents, of which we were two, did our best to look presentable to escort this bevy of beauties. Justin managed it with a cotton striped shirt that brought out both his height and build. He looked debonair without being aloof; a versatile escort capable of pleasuring the mind with scintillating dinner conversation and later pleasuring the body with a firm but tender touch. I myself was a bit rougher in appearance. I was wearing my traditional Saint Louis dancing ensemble of Malian print pants, gray wife-beater and a blue button down shirt worn open. I tried to leave my hair uncovered, but eventually thoughts of having been called a “poodle” and “mushroom” wormed their way into my psyche and I covered it with a bandanna.

Dinner was at La Saigon: a delicious Thai restaurant at the end of the island where we all stuffed ourselves on delicious curries and lo meins. K received a couple more gifts: a very nice handbag from Keur Fall and a fancy mulafa from myself. I’d never purchased a nice mulafa before and something that I learned is that the top of the line ones have little braids and buttons at one of the corners that are the signature of the artist.

A couple of our girls had already had a bit to drink and they’d call the waiter (with whom they were familiar) with alluring cries of “Oh Oooousemaaannn…” For a very black man he’d manage to turn quite pink. To help everyone to get on the same page we had a couple rounds of saki shots. Ever sensitive to the ambiance our proprietess provided us with little ceramic shot bowls. The base of each was a curved lens that normally distorted the light, but when filled with a clear liquid, such as saki, became transparent to reveal a nude figure lounging in the bottom of the bowl.

After dinner we headed back to the room for a bit. Marie Elsie made a very stiff screwdriver that was literally almost half vodka and she and I nursed that together. I didn’t really get especially drunk given the extent to which I’d imbibed. I think part of the problem was that I’d still not really talked to Leah about where exactly we stood. Running around all day combined with my being a chicken shit just kept it from happening. While we were back at the hotel she changed clothes into a pair of jeans that literally stopped my heart for a beat when I saw them. Those jeans combined with the addition of her orange hat purchased earlier in the day was the perfect blend of spunky and sexy. Her looking as good as she did managed to push my nearly mind numbing chatter of self-recriminations up yet another notch. I took a shot of vodka chased with Red Bull to try and quiet the damned things down.

K’s final present from Leah were a couple of glow sticks that were broken out once we got into the club. Our group was in a big circle and as the sticks would move from person to person you’d take the spotlight for a bit in the center. Tara was likely the best contestant with her flowing and sensual moves reminiscent of an arcane ritualistic dance out of ancient Egypt. The most entertaining was a random Wolof woman who joined our circle dressed in full boubou regalia and did a tawdry seduction of a distressed looking Frenchman.

The music was pretty good, but I wasn’t being grabbed by anything. I was sort of pissed that just as the glow sticks found their way into my hands the music changed to a Senegalese m’balach. A perfectly fine and acceptable form of musical expression, just one with a beat so complex that it generally just confuses me and I end up flailing like an epileptic if I attempt it for any length of time. I passed the sticks off to Ouseman from the restaurant who had apparently been captured by the Siren calls of Kim.

Eventually my courage and a good song lined up with 50’s Candyshop and managed to get in a bit of dancing with Leah. Some time after that I told her that I’d really like to get to get a word with her if she had a chance. After a bit we did head out and we did get to talk a bit. The conversation was mostly me raving and her trying not to fall asleep. I didn’t really leave with any more of a clue than I came in with other than the knowledge that we wouldn’t be hooking up that weekend and it would be best that if we ever manage to catch up again that we do so in a setting where it is just us two.

How I feel about the whole bit is muddled. I think she is beautiful and I’m definitely interested in her. We have a unfortunate tendence toward awkwardness in our group interactions though. At this point I’m willing to just let things play out as they will. I’ve pretty much said where I stand, so the ball’s in her court. I figure I’ve done a pretty good job of being both nice and cool to date, so however it works out I did what I could and that’ll have to do.

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Shake It All About

Day number two of my Saint Louis sabbatical.

2005/06/14 Rosso, Mauritania Rosso, Senegal 0:30 300um

I headed out bright and early the next morning. The border opens at 8 and the ferry crosses for the first time at 9, so I figured I hit it right around 9 and get right across since my passport was stamped from the day before. Silly me…

I get to the border and there is a guard at the gate. This is not unusual, but the 500um entrance fee he is asking for is. The Senegalese guy next to me just pays it, but I decided instead to tell him that I was in here yesterday and many times over the last two years and there is no such fee. He just grunts and stands there. I just stand in front of him and glare. After about five minutes he tells me that there isn’t really a fee, but he’s hungry and wants breakfast money. He asks me if I’m ok with giving him some money for breakfast. I tell him that it isn’t normal to pay to come in and I’m not giving him anything since he already lied to me. We then resume our standing for a bit.

Eventually he just sort of moves out of the way and I push by him. He decides not to push the issue. Amazingly the ferry hasn’t left yet. I’m quite pleased and start heading toward it when a guy with one of the guards starts hissing at me. I know what he wants and it would have been the smart thing to just walk on and make them come after me. (Since there’s about a 50% chance they wouldn’t have bothered.) But I’m dumb and so I went over to talk to them. It was the same guard I spent ten minutes discussing the fact I’d be coming through this morning with the night before. I explained it one more time and he let me go. Just in time for me to see the ferry pull out. Son of a bitch.

I go down to where people are loading pirogues to cross over and try to get in one. The guy first tries ignoring me and when I actually put my foot on the boat he tells me I can’t go. I ask why, but he just goes back to ignoring me. I really wanted to know some Wolof so I could call him nasty names. As it was, all I could do was more glaring. I went over to the bank and sulked for a bit over the bad start my day was off to.

Eventually though I made it across. The Senegalese police were no problem at all. I made it to the garage and into a car pretty quick. There was another half hour wait for the car to fill, but there were lots of beggar kids around who I entertain myself by carrying on one sided conversations in English with them. It’s sort of like talking to plants except the baffled looks make it much more entertaining.

2005/06/14 Rosso Saint Louis 2:30 1750cfa + 250cfa
Saint Louis Carefour Saint Louis Hotel de Poste 0:15 300cfa

I rolled into Saint Louis about 13h and found the hotel and the pool at the Mermoz. I splashed around for a bit with the birthday girl and another volunteer before we headed back to our hotel on the island.

Once back at the hotel we found the Kaolack crew already checked in and waiting for us. I was pleased to get to see Leah again. I’ve not seen her since the Kaolack party (at the end of the Nikola-Kolba trip I never finished writing up). Our interactions have always been interesting because we share two unfortunate characteristics: neither of us knows exactly what we’re doing and both of us deal with that by pulling back and being quiet. It makes for lots of uncomfortable silences whenever we see each other.

I’d not eaten since my nyechna the night before, so I broke out the first of Kathleen’s presents: Apple Biskrem.

Biskrem are tasty cookies from Ãœlker in Turkey. There is a chocolate variety that is pretty easy to find in both Mauritania and Senegal. In the RIM though we have other rare and elusive varieties of krems. One of our big grocery stores recently got a shipment of apple at just about the same time that K told me that was what she wanted from Mauritania. There are fig as well, but I’ve not seen them since some serendipitously showed up at a shop as I was stuffing a Nalgene with sweets to send to Leah a couple months ago.

I stole some of the Biskrem, but I was still pretty hungry and so we went en masse to find some eats. Our restaurant of choice was closed so we opted for beer and waiting. I grabbed a sandwich from a street vendor since dumping beer into my empty stomach would have been less than bright. We sat around and I mostly listened to stories about people I didn’t know. A couple times the conversation would turn to parties I’d been to, but it was mostly gossip.

After an hour and three beers our restaurant was open so we got cleaned up and headed out. Beers generally run about 1000cfa apiece, so I had already spent 3000cfa ($6) or about double my daily budget in Nouakchott. Our restaurant was pretty nice and so I asked the waiter for the cheapest most filling thing. He apparently only get the cheap part since he came back with a few pieces of lettuce and some emaciated popcorn shrimp. Fortunately, I split a bottle of wine with K which, when combined with the previous beers, kept me from caring very much.

We went back to the bar that we were at before and met up with an Englishman and his friend. Mostly it was more talking. K and the Englishman set off on a discussion of development that was interesting, but decidedly not my cup of tea at that point. The truth of the matter is that lots of people were starving to death right at that moment and there’s pretty much nothing that can be done about it. Different development and aid programs are going to change things, but some people are going to die in any case, and any solution is both complex and time consuming. I try not to think about those people when trying to have a good time because though it is important, it is also horribly depressing.

After a bit and me wandering out for fresh air a couple of times I went and got my CDs. I’ve got a mix that started with the St. Paddy’s Day party and has been evolving since. The dance moment of the evening definitely belonged to K with her moving performance to that hallmark of the early 90’s: Sir Mix Alot’s Baby Got Back. It was amazingly entertaining and inspiring to the point that I even got up and danced a bit to Lil’ John’s Get Low even though I was with a bunch of relative strangers; an environment where I generally try not to make a fool of myself.

The rest of the evening is a bit fuzzy. I remember paying for four more beers (which is who it’s fuzzy) and heading back to the hotel. I managed to corner Leah in the bathroom and chat for a bit. Being slightly lit helped me with my whole lack of confrontation thing and we talked for a bit. She was a little miffed at the frivolity of our recent correspondence. I apologized and told her I’d been shooting for frivolous because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I yet again professed my cluelessness and got her to beat my head against the wall a bit. This was entertaining for me and I’m pretty sure confusing to her.

I went to bed cursing both my complete inability to be suave and her attractiveness which made the situation significantly more depressing.

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You ever search for your name on Google? (I’m the entire first page.) I was piddling around tonight and turned up some shots from the Honors costume ball in 2003.

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Chemchoune El Arab

I’ve been a bit remiss in getting updates written. This means that memorable events such as the tcheub-u-jen eating contest and my subsequent failed attempt at bulimia will be left to no better record than my abysmal memory. Oh well, so it goes… ☺

Chemchoune El Arab, l’un des grandes, one of the greats. Chemchoune is the Arabic form of Samson, and the man is fixture in the mythos of Mauritania. I’d heard tales of his feats of strength from past volunteers, but had given up hope of actually seeing him perform. Much to my pleasure did I notice a poster featuring a big man with a handlebar mustache performing feats of strength and fortitude. In one corner he was buried under a pile of rocks, another showed him pulling a car with his teeth and a third with him swarmed with children. My pulse quickened, as this looked like the Chemchoune of lore, but the poster was in Arabic, so I couldn’t be sure.

A short time later though, I saw the same poster, but this time in French. It was Chemchoune and he was going to be performing at one of the local basketball courts on Saturday! So, 16h Saturday saw myself and a group of interested volunteers at the Stade Sebkah.

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I really need to work a bit more on this trip journal. I’m forgetting it all even with the notes I took on the road. (1 : 2 : 3)

2005/04/26 Dar Salam Hotel Simenti 1.5hr 15000cfa

We got up bright and early the next morning. We had asked our contact in the village to let the hotel know to come and get us

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Épreuve des Fatayers

This past Wednesday, May 25th, was Africa Day. It is a celebration of the various African nations’ independence from colonial rule and marks the day in 1963 when the Organization of African Unity was formed. The OAU has since become just the AU, but we’ve still got the day.

School was out and the Peace Corps bureau was closed in celebration. So, seeking to find an activity that properly embraced the Africa Day ideals of freedom, liberty and self-determination, we decided to have a fatayer eating contest. Fatayers are a magical food that, much like the peoples of Africa, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. What unifies them all together is their ground meat filling and fried doughy exterior. The meat can be camel or goat or even beef. The bread might be light and fluffy or dense or crispy and flaky. It all makes no difference; if there is meat, bread and frying: you’ve got a fatayer.

The particular fatayers for our challenge were from Snak Irak. The dough is fairly light, about the consistency of a hotdog bun. The meat is goat, I think. Triangular, about four inches on a side and at about a pound of well-greased heft; they are a hearty meal. They are sort of big though and a bit intimidating, so we only had three contestants:

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Wow, COS conference was quite an experience… Supposedly if you are a monk at certain monasteries in Tibet, you have a trial that you have to undergo in order to pass into the inner sanctum of he brotherhood. I feel about that battered without the benefit of any real reward for having survived.

The purpose of the COS conference is, at the least, threefold:

  • Introduce volunteers to the various administrative procedures associated with closing service
  • Discuss with volunteers their plans for after their return to the United States
  • Allow the whole of the group a final opportunity to reconnect and see one another before we disband

For me the important part was by far the third. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on job hunting and grad school applying. I can read well enough to understand a manual on COSing. This is the last time that I may see some of these people, and that meant a lot to me. I have said it before, and perhaps it sounds overly sentimental, but these people have become a sort of family for me.

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WAIST 2005 — Part #4

Ahh, all done: one, two, three and this is four. A grand total of:

Words: 7717
Paragraphs: 100
Characters: 40177

Jesus, I’m long winded…

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WAIST 2005 — Part #3

Almost to the end of this. This one is about as long as one and two; it’s amazing.

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