Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Mailing Address

Hey everyone! I hope you’re doing well. Today I have just a quick note, but promise to write more and post pictures next week after the big end of Ramadan party. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks mostly just hanging out with the people at my house because they’re super cool. I’ve taught the kids how to play spoons and go fish, plus we play soccer and any other game that can be played with a soccer ball. My partner Eric and I even managed to do some work with this week and met with presidents of all the local women’s co-ops. When Ramadan ends, we’ll be able to work for real.

The main purpose of this posting is to let you know that we got a post office box! This means that I should get mail faster than waiting for the Peace Corps to bring it us (if you’ve sent any letter recently, I probably won’t get them until the end of October). The new address is:

Corps de la Paix
BP 47
Kiffa, Mauritania
West Africa

Don’t forget to write “Par Avion” on the envelope, otherwise it will get stuck on a boat and then you never know when I’ll get your letters.

I always like to end with a little anecdote, so here you go. The lady who lives in the room next door to me had a baby boy yesterday (which means wild baby naming party at my house next week!) Anyway, I saw her at around 9 in the morning kind of just laying there, but she seemed okay, so I didn’t worry about. Then I came home at around lunch time to eat with my family, and my host sister told me that the women had gone to the hospital. I asked if she had gone for the baby, and she said yes. At about 2:30, she walks in with a bunch of other women and a baby in her arms. She then proceeds to make lunch for her other two children and her husband went back to work. This morning, she up doing chores like normal. Crazy! I’ve never gone through the whole giving birth process, so I don’t really know what it’s like, but I’ve only heard from American women that it’s pretty tough. But this lady took about four hours to have a baby before going back to her normal life. Mauritanian women are hard core.

I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the nice fall weather. I’ll write more soon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My First Week at Site

Hello, fom Kiffa Mauritania! First of all, thanks to all of you who have posted on my blog or e-mailed me. I usually just forget to publish the comments, but I do enjoy reading them and enjoy knowing that people back home are following my life here!

Things here are going pretty well. School doesn’t start until October, so it is I can’t really start working until then, but that gives me plenty of time to get to know the city, as well as meet people who can be potential work partners. I’ve been living in my new house for about a week now. I live in a multifamily unit where I have my own room, and the other people here are really respectful of my privacy. My original plan was to not have a host family in Kiffa because I wanted a little more independence. However, my landlord’s wife adopted me, and informed me that I would be eating with her family whenever I was home. She also gave me gift on my first night there. It was a pink lacy bra, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. Even though I didn’t originally want a family here, I’m so glad with the way things have turned out because they are super cool.

My landlord is Mohammed. Just a little side story about Mohammed…this is the most common name in the world, so you can imagine that in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, it is VERY popular. So during site visit, I had met Mohammed with one of the volunteers who had already been here a year and had discussed my moving into an empty room. Then when I came back last week, surprise surprise, with my amazing sense of direction, I had no idea where the house was. I knew what side of town it was in, so I set off with my friends Eric and Adam to find Mohammed’s house (I didn’t know his last name, in case you didn’t see where this story was going). So picture these three white kids walking down the sandy streets of Mauritania looking for Mohammed’s house.

We find some women on the street and I explain the problem: “We are looking for Mohammed. He lives in a big house with many families, and he works for the electric company”. They look at me like I’m crazy, and then keep asking me for his last name. After about five minutes of this we leave, hoping that if we walk around for long enough, I will recognize the house. Then one of the girls comes running down the street saying they found someone who knows the house of Mohammed who works for the electric company, so we follow the guy who says he knows, because hey, we couldn’t be any more lost than we were to begin with. Turns out, he did know Mohammed who works for the electric company, and it was the right Mohammed! So that is the story of how I cam to live with Mohammed Diallo (my new last name) and his family.

Okay, I’ll wrap this up briefly, if you are still even reading (it’s Ramadan, and I’m bored enough to write really long posts). So yeah, Mohammed’s wife is Bébé, and she is super nice, and a great cook. Both she and Mohammed are fluent French speakers. Their baby is Papa (yes, the mother is Bébé and the baby is Papa). He is at that really adorable age when is just learning how to walk. Mohammed’s sister and her baby also live with us. She doesn’t speak French, so she is a really good person for me to practice Hassaniya with. There are four or five other families who live in the house, and they include an nurse, a man who works for the forestry department, a man who used to be a language teacher for the Peace Corps, and a whole pack of kids for me to play with. So yeah, basically the perfect situation. I love it!

Okay, I’ll let you go. And as always, for those of you still leaving, I’ll leave you with a quick this-is-Mauritanians-make-me-laugh story. My host family has a TV with a billion channels, and they usually watch in French or Arabic (except when they’re watching Bollywood), and I sit and read or play with the kids. Last night they were trying to really nice and they turned on English channel so I could watch. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that we were watching an infomercial for a bathroom organizer.

Okay. Miss you all. Sorry for all the typos but it’s too hot to proofread. Keep in touch!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I have finally posted some pictures of my host family and swear-in. Let me know what you think (or if this link doens't work).

Fun Stuff

So I’ve finally uploaded some pictures, and there should be more coming soon. Thanks to all of you who have sent letters and packages. You have no idea how much hearing from home can brighten up a Peace Corps Volunteer’s day…speaking of which, I am officially a volunteer and am no longer a trainee.

Swear-in was great. We all got dressed up in Mauritanian clothes, and the U.S. Ambassador came. Then we all cooked an American dinner and danced the night away!

My Site

I have moved into Kiffa and I love it. Everyone I have met has been super friendly. I officially signed my housing contract yesterday, and slowly started moving my stuff into today. Today was also the first day of Ramadan, which so far hasn’t really changed things much, except that I will eat lunch with Americans and only dinner with Mauritanians. I’ll post some pictures soon of my house and all the awesome people that live there.

Things I think are funny…

I think language generally reflects the priorities of society. For example, in Hassaniya, the words is-subh means not only morning, but also tomorrow, making it very difficult to say things like “tomorrow morning”. But, this makes sense in a country where time is a much more elastic term than in the U.S.

However, other terms are much more precise than anything we have in English. For example, “aana sabat” means “I’m full”, in terms of food, but “anna narwa” means “I’m full of drink”. Apparently what you’re full of is very important. There is also a phrase with the direct translation of “going through tea withdrawal”. I can’t remember the phrase because I’ve never used it. I’ve had more mint tea in the last two months than I ever expected to drink in my whole life.

Probably my other favorite difference between Hassaniya and English is when it comes to insults. In English, we have some tried and true insults that one might yell if they were angry (I will refrain from typing these phrases as this is a public site). Hassaniya insults, though, are so much more creative than our own. Here are some of my favorites (in their direct English translation):

  1. May God burn your father
  2. May Gad send you snakes
  3. May God shorten your life

So next time you are angry, try saying this to someone and seeing what they reaction is.

Ok, that’s all from here. E-mail me to try to set up a Skype chat time in the next couple of months. Stay well and I hope to hear from you soon.