Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Continent, New Job, New Experience

Yes, that's right. I'm moving to Ukraine. Much to the dismay of my parents, after the evacuation from Mauritania, I decided re-enroll for another two years of service. I have just received my placement as a youth development volunteer in Ukraine, leaving at the end of March. So now for some frequently asked questions (okay, they actually haven't been asked that frequently since I just got my placement yesterday, but I know how your minds work. I know these questions are on the way).

You were evacuated in August. What have you been doing since then?

Well, I’ve been doing some baby sitting and will be doing some dog sitting soon. If anybody has any odd jobs that need to be done before then end of March, I’m your girl. I went on a month long road trip with one of my best friends from college through California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Besides that, I’ve been doing a lot of something I NEVER did when I was in college before I left for Peace Corps: hanging out and relaxing. I know, six months is a long time to “hang out”, and I agree, but right now is not a great time to find a job, and at least I know I have a job at the end of March.

Two more years? Really? That sure seems like a long time.

It does SEEM like a long time, but it’s actually not that long. My first year of service flew by. Peace Corps did give all the evacuees the option to take a one year posting in another African country. However, I decided that I either wanted to do two years or nothing. The way I see it, I spent my first year of service trying to get a handle on language, the community, and my job. I was so excited to start my second year and really be able to get something done. So basically, if I took a one year posting, I never would have gotten to that second year. I will have to do that first year over again in Ukraine, but I will also get to make it to that second year, and that will make the two year commitment completely worth it.

What made you pick the Ukraine?

Well, first of all, I didn’t pick it. Peace Corps did. I did, however, request to be in Eastern Europe. There are two main reasons for this. The first is about trying to move on from Mauritania. I really did love it there, and it was devastating to have to leave my host family. It would be very difficult to take a post so close geographically to Mauritania but to also know that I couldn’t go back there. The second reason is just about my own personal experience. I spent a semester studying in South Africa and was able to travel quite a bit around the region. Now I have also spent a year in West Africa. Peace Corps is able to provide me with a great opportunity to live a place I never would have considered before.

At the end of the day, I see it like this: Mauritania was a huge surprise. It was not at all what I pictured when I heard I was going to Africa. I didn’t know anything about it and really hadn’t heard of it at all. But I loved it. So I can’t imagine there is any other country that I will not find a way to love. I’m sure the Ukraine will be no exception.

What will your job be?

My job description sounds pretty similar to my job in the RIM. I’m working with at risk youth. As in Mauritania I’ll be working with extra curricular programs, except unlike the RIM, I won’t be working exclusively with girls.

So that’s about all. Nothing else that interesting going on. Feel free to e-mail if you want to meet up before I leave (but you have over three months!)

Have a happy holiday!

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's Official...Evacuation

All of us boarded buses heading out of Camp Peace Corps. We arrive at a very nice hotel in Dakar with a pool and air conditioning. We are told we have an hour or so to settle in, go for a swim, and then head into a meeting with our country director. We walk into what we think is going to be a meeting just with Mauritanian Peace Corps staff, and end up being introduced to "the security team". As soon as I heard the word "team", I knew all hope was lost. One member of the team is actually the head of the national Peace Corps program. Though she had the unfortunate job of breaking the news to us, I think many of us appreciated that she is spending with us about half of her last ten days in office before Obama's new pick takes over.

As you've noticed, there has been a lot of instability in Mauritania since the beginning of my service last year. As I suspected, they have decided we will not be allowed to return to Mauritania. Today was obviously a very sad day for all of us, but I'm trying to remember that this also opens up a whole world of possibilities for the future. I will be back in America (again) probably within the next week. I've got a lot of ideas about what comes next, but I'm pretty sure it involves more Peace Corps service. I'm not going to write all the details here, because I don't know them all, but I'll be sure to keep you all updated.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcome to Camp Peace Corps...anyone up for a game of limbo?

Hi everyone. I wanted to give you all a quick update, because a lot has happened in the last week, and a lot will continue to happen in the weeks to come. Since coming back from America, I’ve been at “Camp Peace Corps”. It is actually the training center for the Senegalese volunteers, but they have kindly offered to let us use it while the Washington security team checks on the safety of Mauritania. It really does feel a lot like camp. There are group volley ball games, cabins, and a mess hall. We even went on a little excursion this weekend, and we all rented a house on the beach. So yeah, it’s been pretty awesome…that is except for the dark cloud over all of our heads.

There is a very real possibility that my two years in the Peace Corps will be cut short. In addition to the events I described in my previous entry, last night, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in the capitol, killing himself and wounding a few others. We still have not heard final word about our future in the Peace Corps, and though I am trying to hold out hope, I also know that the Peace Corps will always hold our safety as a top priority.

This has been a somber day for Peace Corp Mauritanian volunteers. Not just because it puts our future in jeopardy, but also because a country that we have grown to call home will now be thought of by the world as a dangerous and unstable place. We are always reminded that terrorists are extremists and do not represent the mainstream thinking. It will be very difficult for me to leave all those people who have done nothing wrong, although those that I have spoken to do understand.

Anyway, I wanted to let you all know what was happening here, safe and sound, in Senegal. I will post again as soon as we’re out of limbo. Thanks again for the great trip home!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hey America, Thanks for the Memories!

Hello friend and family. Today is my last day in America. I'm so glad I got to see so many of you in the last three weeks. I had a great time! I know many of you have asked if it will be difficult to go back, but I actually feel pretty ready. I'm ready to dive into year two and getting to skip over that period when I didn't understand anything.

Just a little update for you all. I know I've explained to many of you the issues going on in Peace Corps, Mauritania. For those of you who don't know, I'll give you the brief summary.
  1. August 2008: There was a coup is.
  2. May/June: The Mauritanian government decided to stop giving visas to Americans.
  3. June: An American missionary was killed in the capitol by terrorists.
  4. June: Peace Corps decided not to send a new training class.
  5. July: Peace Corps decided to offer my training class "interrupted service", which basically meant we could end our service after our first year of service. Of our class of 70, 21 people decided to leave. I will be staying.
  6. July 21st: General Azizz, the leader of the coup, won the election.
What does this all mean? It means that I will not be going straight back to Mauritania. Instead, my vacation will be extended by at least a week for a training session in Senegal. Yay! As always occurs in Peace Corps, there have been many rumors going around, and since I am here, and all my Peace Corps buddies are there, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt. We are going to Senegal so that Peace Corps can do a security check on our sites in Mauritania. Also, I like to think, Peace Corps wanted to give us a little break since we've had kind of a rough year.

Here is the main thing to remember. I am perfectly safe in Mauritania! If it weren't safe, we wouldn't be there. I know it may seem like it's not, but I am safer in Mauritania than I would be in any other Peace Corps country. Because Mauritanians don't drink alcohol, that means there are no drunk driving accidents, but more importantly, it means people in general are less aggressive than they would be elsewhere. Mauritanians are very passive people, and I've never felt unsafe in Kiffa.

Okay. That's all. Again, I had a great time with you all while I was in town. I'll see you next year!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Pictures!

Hey everyone! I'm back in America the beautiful. One of the benefits of America is quick internet, so I did a picture upload. Check them out here: Spring photos.

I'm sure I'll see most of you soon. Again, I'll be here until the 31st, so call me!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July, everyone! Do you know why the 4th of July is amazing? Reason 1: It celebrates the independence of the home of Doritos, deep dish pizza, and Panera. Reason 2: July 4th is six days before July 10th, and July 10th is the start of my amazing mid service three week vacation.

Anyway, this blog entry is just to remind all of you that I will be home in less than a week. For those of you in Chicago, I would love to hang out. For those of you not in Chicago, at least give me a call so we can chat.

Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Life is Tough When You're Famous

In many ways, my life now resembles that of a celebrity. I’m not talking about anyone on the level of Brad Pitt or Oprah. Those celebrities are so high up on the famous scale that I would think most people would be too afraid to even approach them. No, I’m more on the level of a second rate reality TV star. People recognize me and know my name, but I’m not so famous as to be intimidating. In fact, most people have no qualms about coming up to me to discuss absolutely whatever, although, most of the strangers just give me some cliché lines. The most popular are, “You need to find a Mauritanian man. I know this guy…”, “Here, take my baby in your suitcase back to America,” and “Ah, America, Barrack Obama”. Every time someone says these things, they think they are being witty and original.

Here are the ways in which I think my life is similar to someone famous:

1. I only know about two percent of the people who know me.

2. Everyone and their mother knows where I live.

3. People love to watch me do mundane things, like buy tomatoes, do laundry, and read books.

4. People will “secretly” take pictures of me with their cell phones and send them to their friends. Cultural note: The first thing people do here when they come across some money is buy a super nice cell phone. Most of them have nicer phones than I do. However, they can never afford to call anyone on these super nice phones.

5. Parents on the street with their children will send their kids over to us to say “give me a gift” (I assume movie stars get the equivalent with “can I have an autograph”).

6. Whenever I wear new clothes, which is not all that often, everyone seems to notice, despite the fact that basically all my clothes looks about the same.

Okay, so I’m sure there are more reasons, but that’s all I have right now because it feels like it’s about 120 degrees today (just an estimate). Speaking of which, here are the ways in which I am not like a celebrity.

  1. Celebrities have air conditioning and I have a hand held fan.
  2. Celebrities have perfect complexions and I am covered in heat rash.
  3. Celebrities make millions of dollars and I do not.
  4. Celebrities have the paparazzi following them around to the most exclusive clubs and I am followed around town by hordes of kids on my endless search to find an ice cube.
  5. Celebrities had do to something that requires talent (but I guess that’s arguable), and all I had to do was be white.

Now that’s really all. Too hot to proofread (if you’re a regular reader of mine, you’ll notice that’s a trend). And guess what! I’ll be home one week from tomorrow where no one will stare at me and all I have to do is walk to the kitchen if I want ice!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 29, 2009

On Language....

Hey, everyone ! I hope you’re all doing well. Things here have slowed down quite a bit (who knew that was possible ?). We have closed the center for the summer, I don’t really do that much work. I’ve been spending most of time reading, hanging with my fam, and of course, causing some mischief with my fellow Americans.

But anyway, to get to the point of this blog entry...I have a quick note on language. One of the great yet challenging things about Mauritania is the diversity here. In my house alone, there are Moors, Pulaars, Bombaras, Wolofs, and of course, me, the American. On a daily basis, I have conversations in English, French, and Hassaniya. Even more than that, people love it when you greet them in their native language, so on an average day, I greet people in five languages. Kind of crazy.

I was discussing this with my site mate, Edna, and we realized that Americans and Mauritanians feel very differently about language. Here in Kiffa, everyone can greet in Hassaniya, and can also probably do a basic greeting in French. Yet, even though they know I don’t speak Pulaar or Wolof or whatever other language they may speak, they insist that I greet them in their native tongue. With strangers, they expect us to look at them walking down the street and know what language to speak to them in. However, this is the opposite in America. As Edna and I were discussing, if I saw someone walking down the street and greeted them with a nice, friendly, “hola”, they would most likely be insulted. Why am I greeting them in Spanish? Is it because I am making an assumption just by looking at them that they are Hispanic? Or would it be my way of saying that I don’t think they are intelligent enough to learn English?

This is, of course, just one of many differences I have noticed since coming here, but it is also one of the biggest. In America, we are focused on creating unity between cultures. Here, people love to celebrate their differences. Both ways have their trade-offs.

I guess that’s all from here. I’ll be home in a little over a month! Yay! I’ll try to get some pictures posted soon. I hope you’re all enjoying the summer weather.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Sorry I haven’t written in a while. But, as of today, I am writing from my newly fixed computer which has been broken since November. But mostly, my lack of writing has to do with the fact that many of the things I used to think were worth writing about, such as cute children and weird superstitions, are becoming more normal for me and thus do not seem noteworthy. It was fun getting used to all of our cultural differences, but it has now started to get a bit boring. So in the spirit of boredom, I have decided to dedicate this blog entry to all of the things I (along with my site mates sometimes) in order to fend off death by boredom.

Peace Cops is good for many things including fulfilling work (depending on the day), learning a new language, cultural exchange and self discovery. However, one of the least advertised benefits of the Peace Corps is that it finally gives you time to do all the things that before, if you’d heard someone did it, you would say “you’ve got way too much free time on your hands.” Well, I do have too much time on my hands, and here is what I’ve done with it (this is just a sample)…..

  1. Read Warren Buffet’s million page biography
  2. Learned to make the following from scratch
    1. Cheese
    2. Pretzels
    3. Fermented juice we like to call wine
    4. Chocolate filled doughnuts
  3. After many rounds of watching, I learned to make three rounds of Mauritanian tea
  4. Watched almost four complete seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, something I never would have watched at home.
  5. Spent countless hours cleaning dirt out of rice (this one of the only jobs I’m allowed to do during Mauritanian meal preparation. I’m also allowed to smash the garlic from time to time)
  6. Translate songs from my ipod into French in my head, and then into Hassaniya if I’m feeling extra ambitious
  7. Taught my host sisters to thumb war and arm wrestle
  8. Perfected French braiding my own hair
  9. Watched Mauritanians try to sing along with English music
  10. Watching ants! Sounds stupid, I know. But have you seen what they can carry? If you kill a fly, within in two minutes there will be a clan of a hundred ants ready to carry that thing off and eat it. It’s amazing!

Things on my agenda for the summer are to learn to whistle and gut a fish for the first time.

Anyway, I hope this has given you a closer glimpse into my life. It isn’t always glamorous with crazy Pulaar weddings and empowering young ladies and all. I have plenty of time for nonsense. If you have any ideas for stuff you would do if you only too much free time, please pass the ideas along. I will try them and let you know how they go, so you don’t have to waste time from your busy lives in America.

Speaking of America….I will be coming back to the most wonderful place in the world in two months! Yay!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Community Help

Hi everyone. I know, two posts in one week. How lucky are you? Anyway, I'm writing to let you know about a project my site mate, Mike, is working on. Classrooms here are incredibly crowded (up to 100 students). There is always a vast portion of the students forced to sit on the floor, making it difficult to take notes as well as making it difficult for the teacher to answer students' questions. Mike is trying to raise money to buy more desks for his middle school where he is an English teacher. Donations can be made through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, a non profit organization. Any donations, even just a few dollars, would help a lot!

Thanks so much. I hope you are all doing well. You can find Mike's project here: Help Kiffa Schools

P.S. On an unrelated note, mark your calendars! I will be back in America between July 10-31. My plans so far include eating ice cream, going swimming, and sitting in the air conditioning!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Women's Day and Pictures!

Hey everyone! Things here are going great in Kiffa except, of course, that is already incredibly hot but the Mauritanians are still telling me it’s cold. But anyway, last week was Women’s Day, and I would say it was a huge success. There were tons of activities going on all week, and our girls did skits about the importance of girls education and the dangers of forced and early marriage. In all, and would say they had an audience of about 60 people! We were really proud of our girls. They wrote and organized their skits completely on their own. Basically all we did was make sure they kept their skits under the 15 minute time limit. In general, it was just a festive week where I got to spend a lot of time hanging out with cooperative women I usually only see at the Women’s Ministry.

More importantly, I have posted some new pictures. Some of them are repeats because my mom couldn’t get them printed off the new program, so I’m back to the old one. So yeah, enjoy pictures of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Tabaski, and Women’s Day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Okay, so here is the deal. People always say that being in Peace Corps changes you, but for me, it just has not changed me exactly in the ways I was expecting. After five years of heavily resisting the idea of joining Facebook, I have recently come to realize that it is slowly becoming a necessary part of life, and it is inevitable that I will join eventually. The longer I wait to join, the more pride I will have to swallow before I do it, so I guess it is just time to suck it up and join. So yes, I am now on Facebook, which means you can now come find me.

I hope you are all well! Can't wait to hear from you soon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

WAIST and More!

Hello my good friends. Sorry I haven’t written in so long. I am also going to apologize for not having any pictures. I forgot to bring my camera to Dakar. Here is a brief update about my life.

I spent the last week or so traveling, with my final destination being Dakar, Senegal, where I went for the West African Invitational Softball Tournament. I was lucky enough to get to stay with an Amazing family in Dakar. The husband works for the American Embassy in Senegal and their house had everything I could have wanted: stocked fridge, toaster, microwave, washer/dryer, and real mattresses. Even if I had never left their house, that would have been vacation enough for me. The softball tournament (which our team won, through no help of my own) took place at the American Club, which has a pool and is full of English speaking Americans! It was awesome to get to meet volunteers serving in other countries, though some of them are afraid of us because the Mauritanian volunteers tend to take over any place we go en masse.

Now I’m back at site and will probably be sticking around to the end of the school year. However, unlike in America where you always know when the end of the school year is, here we’re not quite sure. There is supposed to be an election here in early June, which means schools will close probably about a month before that. From what I have heard, the month before an election here it is impossible to get anything done, so it will kind of be like Ramadan Round II.

Work has been going well. The girls at the center are crazy, but that’s not unlike teenage girls in the states. We just started a class for women who have not been able to finish school, and we’re also working on the program for Women’s Day on March 8th.

I think that’s about all from here, but as usual, I have some funny stories to share.

Story 1: I don’t actually live with my host family, but eat many meals with them. After dinner, it’s usually pretty late so two of my sisters will walk me home. There is a short way to go, but we always take the long way. One night I decided to ask my sister, Rama, 17 years old, why we always take the long way. She said it was because the short cut has a lot of dogs and she doesn’t like it when the say “ho ho” (this is what they think barking sounds like). The she told me that dogs in Mauritania eat people, and asked if dogs in America do too. I couldn’t just let an opportunity like that pass me by, so I said “Dogs in America don’t eat people like me. They only eat Mauritania girls.” She got a very worried look on her face, and I kept it going for about two minutes before I told her that really, dogs in America don’t eat people (and neither do dogs in Mauritania). I guess she believed the lie more than the truth, because a month later Rama’s mom told me that Rama never wanted to go to America because she was afraid dogs would eat her.

Story 2: I was hanging out with another branch of my host family (they have various members living in different houses) when I found myself alone with a four year old who only speaks Pulaar, Shohamar. Normally when I’m with kids who don’t speak French or Hassaniya I just speak to them in English because they don’t understand anyway. I said the word “yes” to him and he repeated to me “Yes we can!” I was very surprised, said “Where did you hear that?” His response was: “Barrack Obama. Yes we can!” I think this is an accurate representation about how Mauritanians feel about the President…even non English speakers can recite his motto.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Top 5!

After living here for over six months now, I have developed a love-hate relationship with this country. Here is a list of some of the things I like and dislike, which I hope will give you all a little snapshot into my daily life here.

Hate (I don’t really hate anything here. These are more things that on a good day I can laugh off, but on a bad day, really push me over the edge).

  1. Prayer Call: There are several Mosques surrounding my house, and they all do prayer call at a slightly different time, which means between 4:30-6 AM, I’m kept awake. How Mauritanians manage to sleep through it is beyond me. All the Mosques have loud speakers and there is one guy who sings into it. Without fail, he always clears his throat into the microphone. Why he doesn’t do this before he presses the “on” button, I’m not sure.
  2. Zrigg: Zrigg is a mix of water, sugar, and some kind of milk (sour, condensed, powdered, or normal). Mauritanians LOVE this stuff. I was never a big milk drinker in the states, but there are two reasons why it’s even more terrible here. First, imagine on a really hot day when you’ve just walked all the way across town and you’re sweating bullets, usually all you’d want is a cold glass of water, but instead you get handed a big cup of full cream milk. Yum! Refreshing! Reason two is that Mauritanians will usually only have two or three cups to serve million people in the house. Because I’m the guest, I always get served first, which means everyone is waiting for me to chug my cup-o-cream so they can use my cup. So it’s 120 degrees, I’m covered and sweat, and chugging full cream milk. You’d hate it too (Note: I only know two Americans who enjoy zrigg).
  3. Stomach lining: Yes, they eat this here. It tastes like eating a towel. Stomach lining, by definition, was not meant to be digested. Plus, when you’re watching them butcher the goat they just slaughtered, and you see the stuff that comes out of the stomach, eating its lining is that much less appealing.
  4. Men on the street who want to marry me: I’m guessing this needs no explanation. I walk around with an airplane to America tattooed on my forehead, so many men feel that it could hurt to at least ask. I’ve been experimenting with different responses. “I’m already married” does little to deter my suitors unless I happen to be with an American guy at the time. “My bride price is $1 million”, usually gets a laugh and then I can be on my way. And when I’m feeling particularly sassy, “You are the 7th person to ask me to marry you today. Why should a pick you?” This response usually shuts them up, and then I can walk away.
  5. Brutal honesty: Mauritanians are brutally honest, beyond the point of anyone I’ve ever met in the states. They’ll say things like “You’re other American friend speaks better Hassaniya than you do,” or “hey, why do you have that zit on your face?” (these comments just come out of nowhere too). It can get a little awkward. On the plus side, when they give you a compliment, like “you look pretty today,” at least I know they are telling the truth.


  1. Kids: There are many reasons why I love kids in Mauritania. I will list just a few.
    1. They’re always happy to see me. Whenever I walk into my family’s house, the kids chant “Noura jeyt, Noura jeyt”, which means Noura’s back. They then run at me full force to give me a hug. This always brightens my day.
    2. “Porky Pig”: I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but it refers to kids wearing shirts but no bottoms. Seriously, kids here hate pants. They’ll wear shirts, shoes, and even parkas now that it’s “cold”, but their butts will be completely bare. My friend’s daughter goes to kindergarden and the first things she does when she comes home is takes off her underwear. It’s pretty hysterical.
  2. Greeting: Here, you never just say “how are you?” and then continue on. You must always ask how someone is in at least ten different ways, and the answer is always, “thanks to be God”. But the real reason I like the greetings is because if you’re ever sitting in a room and there is an awkward silence, you can just start the greetings over again. It helps with the language the barrier.
  3. Dance Parties: This is a daily ritual in my house. Mauritanians love to dance, so I don’t feel like such a freak when I start bobbing my head along to the music. One family in my house has a DVD player, so I made the kids a dance CD for their Tabaski gift, so now they can all sing along with some English music. Even the little two year old will sing “Jump On It”.
  4. Sleeping Outside: Because when else in my life will I spend every night on the roof under the stars?
  5. The “Bismillah” attitude: “Bismillah” means “welcome”, and Mauritanians take this very seriously. People really do go out of their way to make sure I feel at home with them. They always ask me if I would rather eat with a spoon than my hands (which I decline even though I really would rather have the spoon), and they’re always wanting me to take naps and showers at their house. Everyone here just wants me to think of their house as if it were my house. This attitude has really made the difference in me feeling comfortable in Kiffa.

So there is just a little glimpse at my everyday life. Besides that, work stuff is going well, as well as stuff with my family. I’ll be in Kiffa for about another month before we all go to Dakar, Senegal for the West African Intramural Softball Tournament. Should be pretty fun. Thanks for reading this far. Stay in touch!

Friday, January 16, 2009


Hey everyone. I would like to apologize to those of you out there sitting by their computers waiting for me to update (I'm pretty sure this applies only to my mom). To tide you over, here are some pictures. I've starting posting on a new site. These pictures are from Thanksgiving, Tabaski, the Girls Mentoring Center, and a bunch of others I take because my Mauritanian family asks me to. Pictures are really expensive to print here, so having someone back home get them printed (this would be my mom again) is a good way for me to thank people here for always giving me stuff and never asking for anything in return.

Anyway... enjoy the pictures, and stay in touch.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's been a while...

Hey everyone and Happy New Year! So I know I haven't written in while, but I just wanted to let you know that things are going well. I've been on vacation in Senegal and the capital for the last couple of weeks, and now I'm back in town.

I'm going to make this short, but I promise to do a full update with pictures by the end of the week. Thanks to everyone who has sent letters recently. I really appreciate them!

Stay well and keep me posted on your lives!