Friday, August 21, 2009


Ive been trying to work out this really depressing blog post about how Peace Corps Mauritania got evacuated, but I havent been able to figure out how to express what the past few weeks have been like. Stressful and emotionally draining and tearful, definitely. But Ill tell that story another time.

I just finished the first leg of my trip back to AMERICA! And this is just so much more exciting than any story about terrorist attacks and abandoned friends and family. (Thats not to say that Im not a little bitter, if you cant tell, ha. Ive actually been refered to as a "refugee" in the past two weeks.)

The trip is going to take about 48 hours altogether. I flew out of Dakar, Senegal at 12:30 this morning and arrived in Madrid around 7 AM. I probably got about 3 hours of sleep on the plane, and Ive been sick, so I was a wreck when I got into the airport here. Luckily a couple of people had started a little slumber party on the floor in a corner of the airport. It was kinda like a free hostel without beds. There were four or five good sleeping spots in that corner. I curled up with my bag in one of them, and a half hour or so would pass and Id wake up and there would be completely new people passed out in the other spots. Like musical spots to sleep on the floor.

After a couple of hours, I was feeling a lot better, so I decided to come into town. I literally just picked a metro stop on the map in the station, said to myself, that looks good, and went. Just my luck, the first thing I saw when I came up from the metro station was....STARBUCKS!! Yay globalization!! I didnt even get anything, but it was pretty amazing just seeing that happy green sign. I wandered around for a while checking things out. This is my first time in a Western city in 14 months. A little overwhelming, but AWESOME. I forgot how pretty things can be! People in the world actually DO build side walks and drive cars without the doors falling off of them and grow grass! GRASS!!!

I would up at this gorgeous park full of trees and fountains and benches and people just hanging out enjoying the non-sweltering weather. Not gonna lie, a tear or two came to my eye. I never realized how much I missed these things. And this is in some random city! I cant imagine what its gonna be like to be back home. CANT WAIT!

Next stop: leaving Madrid tonight around 6:30 for Paris. Hopefully Ill be able to check in from there. Let you know how it goes!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Moor Next Door

For those of you interested in the recent elections here in Mauritania, check out this blog. It also has good info and commentary on general happenings in Western-Arab relations.

I'll write more on the elections soon...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

To Mali and Back

I realized its been way too long after I read my last post. Developments between then and now include but aren't limited too: a tour of Mauritania, a trip to Mali, a World Cup qualifying match, a homemade wine festival, a girls' conference in Nouakchott, a mass exodus of volunteers from Mauritania, a hand-me-down guitar, and a new house. I need to elaborate on all of the above, but its a lot and I have pictures I want to put up so I'll probably spread it out into a few posts.

The Mauritanian tour, trip to Mali, World Cup qualifier, and wine festival are all pretty much the same trip. I spent about a week traveling through Mauritania, starting in Atar and hitting up fellow volunteer sites in Akjoujt, Nouakchott, Gerou, and Kiffa on my way east to Mali (check out the map). It was a good chance to meet up with people and see a lot of the inhabited country.

We left Kiffa around 7 PM on a bus that was completely overbooked and stifling hot. Since we didn't have seats, we spent the better part of 6 hours alternately sitting and standing in the aisle. It was a rough ride, to say the least. We got to the closest Mauritanian town to the border around 1 AM, where we had to find a taxi to take us across the border. We got there around 3, waited for our paperwork to get through and for our bags to be searched before finally getting back on the road and arriving at the bus station in Nioro (first town in Mali) around 4 AM. We had to wait a few hours to catch the next bus to Bamako, so we literally passed out wherever we could: wood benches and plastic lawn chairs on the side of the road. We were so exhausted we didn't even care, and I actually slept really well.

We finally caught a bus around 9 AM, and the rest of the trip just got better and better. By the time we pulled into Bamako, the dusty brownish yellow desert had been replaced with lush greenery and streams and rolling hills.

Bamako is beautiful. It's relatively small, but for what we're used to, the mild bustle of the lazy west African city, with its blossoming trees, star burst markets and belching taxis, was plenty of action.

One of the main inspirations for the trip was a World Cup qualifier between Mali and Ghana at the stadium in Bamako. The entire city was decked out in Malian flags on the day of the game. We went to the market to buy jerseys, and everywhere we went people were cheering and singing and cars were honking. The ride to the stadium was even more chaotic: scooters with three people piled on all yelling and waving flags, taxi cabs packed to the brim with people hanging out the windows cheering. Everyone was calling back and forth to each other between the cars and the honking was non-stop.

The grounds around the stadium were swarming with people. The first semblance of organization we saw was a huge, snaking line at least 5 people across with everyone pressed up against each other basically hugging the person in front of them so that no one could cut the line. They were all singing and bouncing forward inch by inch so it almost looked like a dance. At first it was impressive and kinda cool to see, but then we realized that we actually had to wait in it, and it was looooooooooooonnnnng. So we finally got to the end of the line (it took at least 10, maybe 15 minutes to walk the length of it) and started waiting. About five minutes later, we saw some people gathering a little ways away around what looked like another entrance that had been locked up. Before we knew what was happening, everyone near us started bum rushing the gate they had just unlocked! People were full on sprinting. There were so many of us that if you had stopped or even really slowed down, you probably would have gotten slammed into by about 7 people running behind you. Think the stampede in The Lion King. It was awesome.

Once we got through the gate, things calmed down a bit. Somehow we managed to find everyone we had come with inside, about 30 of us all together. The stadium was nice and the crowd was pretty peppy at first, but Mali was the underdog and it showed both on the field and in the crowd. Especially in the second half, the stadium was pretty low key except for this one section of Ghana fans, which was rocking the entire game. Ghana won a pretty easy 2-0 victory. Still, it was sweet being there and we got to see some well known players.

The market was another highlight of the trip. Mauritanian markets generally lack variety or creativity. They don't have a lot of crafts or artwork or much of anything interesting to look at. The markets in Bamako are bustling and full of color: wax print and tie dyed cloth, soccer jerseys, drums, leather work, silver work, wood work, paintings, the smell of grilling street food and men and women calling out. There's even a fetish market which, despite what the name might suggest, is full of dried out, rotting monkey heads, alligators, snake skins, pigs feet, and pretty much every other animal part you can think of. I never found out what exactly the stuff is used for, but they definitely don't have that in Mauritania.

A little bit on wax print: many of the black Africans in Mauritania and the rest of West Africa wear this fabric on a daily basis. Mauritanian wax print is usually pretty average looking: bright colors but no crazy patterns or themes. Sometimes you'll get a wax print with something like keys or high heeled shoes all over it, which looks even funnier than it sounds because women especially wear the same fabric from head to toe. In Mali though (and I've also seen this in Senegal - I imagine its the same in the rest of black West Africa), they have every kind of wax print you can imagine. The Peace Corps volunteers in Mali have had a PCV print made that incorporates the PC logo and Malian flag. Even better, we found Barak Obama wax print in Bamako, and a friend of mine bought it and had an outfit made! When she wears it, she has life sized images of Obamas head on her stomach, shoulders, back, and all along her skirt.

That about sums up the Mali trip. The rest was basically just partying and lounging. On the way back though, some volunteers near the border were hosting a wine festival. I might have mentioned before that a lot of PCVs here in Mauritania make their own wine. The PCVs in that area are particularly into it and and they decided to throw a weekend long party/wine tasting/competition for those of us passing through on our way back from Mali and whoever else felt like coming by. The wine was tasty, and they had bought a few sheep which were running around the house for a while until we slaughtered them and cooked them up on the last day of the festival. So yummy!

Pictures of all these happenings to follow, as well as a continued update on the events of the past few months. Check back soon!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Maintaining Sanity in Sandland

So I just got back to site after about a week off. I spent a few days in Nouakchott to get visas for Mali and just generally chill out in air conditioned hotel rooms. After that, we went to Atar for a belated Cinqo de Mayo party. One of our regionmates had 5 bottles of tequila sent over from the States, someone else made a blobby looking pinata, and a real live Mexican came! I'd say it was pretty authentic.

Like I said, I just got home. I chased a camel spider around my room, then decided that instead of unpacking and/or picking up the wreckage left behind when I left the house at 7 in the morning, I should update my blog! The hot season has officially arrived and with it, a number of ways to keep my mind off the fact that I'm sweating out water faster than I can piss.

I have developed an intimate relationship with my bath bucket. I use it at least twice a day to completely drench myself, fully clothed, and often just sit in it in an effort to preserve water. My bucket is the only thing that makes me feel remotely human between the hours of 12 and 4 PM.

I spend an inordinate amount of time examining what I've decided are mouse poops. I have never actually seen a mouse in my house, but these tiny little poops have started appearing lately and I can only assume they come from tiny little sand gnomes or mice. One of a long list of Mauritanian Mysteries.

My current reading list consists of the following: Happiness by Mattieu Ricard (geneticist turned Buddhist monk - still working on it, Mom), Rogue States by Noam Chomsky (rogue linguist, philosopher and political scientist), News of a Kiddnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Power Rules by Leslie Gelb (apparently the foreign policy establishment just needs to use a little common sense), Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (I'm refreshing my memory for the movie), and Micro-Finance and Economic Empowerment: Women's Cooperatives in Nigeria by Chineze Onyejekwe. I haven't made it halfway through a single one of these books, mostly because I currently have the attention span of an ADD three year old.

I've also decided to take up the guitar. Achieving this goal will be slightly problematic due to the fact that I don't actually have a guitar, but I spent two days fiddling around on Chelsea's and I'm optimistic. The first two songs we worked on were Since You Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson and Apologize by Timbaland. I think if I can nail those two I'll have a pretty decent repetoir.

I have come to the conclusion that in another life (in which I had style and upper body strength), I was a break dancer. This realization was sparked when I watched the complete season 3 of America's Best Dance Crew in a single 6 hour sitting and only grew stronger when I watched Planet B-Boy (break dancing documentary). I recommend seeing both, but go with ABDC first cause it'll only be disappointing after seeing the moves they pull in the documentary. Myself and a few regionmates are currently putting together our own, albeit slightly modified, break dance routine. Don't expect fireworks, but we're pushing boundaries. It's not about skill, its about self-expression. Freak the dream!

Other movies I've see recently: Religulous, which I definitely recommend (unless you're offended by the paragraph titled People Who Don't Believe in Evolution but Love Antibiotics in this article). In the past week, I've also been introduced to Eastbound and Down, the new HBO series staring Danny McBride, watched the complete 4 and 5 seasons of Entourage, Traitor, He's Just Not That Into You, a Star Trek: the Next Generation movie, most of season 2 of Arrested Development, Yes Man, and part of Home Alone.

I've been so productive, can't you tell? I'll pretty much do anything right now, as long as it helps pass the time. Luckily, work ethic in this country is even lower than usual from May through September, so I'm just being culturally appropriate. Only two more weeks til school is out, the GMC is closed, and I'm heading off to Mali!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Ugly Underbelly

(Disclaimer: this post is mostly going to be me complaining about life back at site. It's not as bad as it's going to sounds, but I got spoiled in Morocco.)

Looking back on my last few posts, I realized that I haven't posted much about site or Mauritania in general lately. I've been traveling a lot, and work hasn't been too eventful. I was back at site for less than two weeks post-Morocco before I went into Atar to plan a conference for the mentors and teachers from my regional and a couple of other GMCs. In Mauritania time, thats nothing. It took me a few days to get settled in before I could even think about teaching.

Maintaining my own house is a lot of work. In fact, just living is a lot of work. Cooking dinner in a 2x2 meter concrete box, hauling water out of a cistern for washing dishes in a bucket, bathing in a bucket, watering my bush, constantly refilling my water filter, washing my face and brushing my teeth in my yard with a plastic teapot for water. When I get back from even a few days out of site, I have to sweep a layer of sand out of my room, kitchen and two bathrooms (2x2 meter concrete box with hole in the floor for toilet, identical 2x2 concrete box with hole in the floor for shower) with a bunch of sticks tied together. And that's just my house.

To maintain friendships in this country, you're expected to visit regularly. Close friends visit daily, but as a foreigner, I can get away with once every two or three days. However, if you've been traveling, you need to catch up with everyone as soon as humanly possible. Since visiting usually involves at least an hour or two of eating, tea drinking, and/or sitting around watching TV and chatting, it takes the better part of three days for me to get all my house work and socializing out of the way. I usually get antsy to start working and gloss over the socializing part.

To get started working, I have to plan four separate weekly schedules for my college girls, my "working" women, my primary school girls, and my teachers. Inevitably, their schedules conflict. I have to get in touch with all 40 of these attendees to check their schedules and then put something together that works for all of them, keeping in mind that I have no electricity between 4 and 7 PM (which makes computer classes a huge hassle). Then I have to get in touch with all of them again to make sure they know when their classes are. And getting in touch with people is surprisingly difficult, considering that I live within a kilometer of everyone I work with. I see them pratically everyday, but when I actually need to get in touch with them for something other than shooting the shit, they don't have their cell phones on them, I don't have their number, reception is out, or I don't have the money to pay for the credit to call them all. When I actually get them on the phone, I have to explain things in my still limited Hassaniye. Eveyone expects me to adjust the schedule to meet their individual needs (but usually just wants), and inevitably, I have to redo the schedule 3 times before I can finalize it. Then I have to hope that everyone finds out what it is in time to make it to their classes.

Then I have to put up with less than half of my students showing up to classes because they didn't know when classes were or they just didn't feel like coming to class and I wasn't around to harass them about it. Right now, that's about where I am. I'm starting to get the hang of all this, but its hard to plan ahead because no one else here does.

Had my first real day of classes since I got back today, and it was exhausting. Up at 7 30 (slept through my bread delivery), spent an hour finishing my taxes, tried getting in touch with women to make sure they were going to make it to the 10 AM computer class I scheduled before I left for Atar three days ago. That class was cancelled, and only 2 out of 4 women showed up for the 11:00 class. Worked on the schedule for an hour after class, posted the weeks announcements, then walked home for a quick lunch on my own (usually I eat with a family, but that takes an hour, which I didn't have to spare today). Walking home at mid-day is already scorching, and the hot season hasn't even arrived yet! Back to the GMC half an hour later to finish the schedule and prepare for a two hour english/geography lesson. I usually spend half of class yelling at the girls to be quiet and pay attention. Its not that they're uninterested (well, sometimes it is), but they just have no discipline. After that, I spent an hour sitting in on a french class (my male teachers aren't allowed to be with the girls without a chaperone) and putting together a computer competency program. Finally started to make my way home at 6, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on who I see on the way back.

I was supposed to teach a computer lesson from 7 to 8, but I was just not up for it tonight. Another hour to make dinner, whenever I can squeeze that in, or wait until 9 and eat with a Mauritanian family. Hopefully take a bucket bath at some point, and then, if I can keep my eyes open, watch a little something (I've been keeping up with LOST - keeps me sane, ha) and then pass out between 10 and 11. Done.

On top of that, I've got a few secondary projects I've been trying to get off the ground for a while but just haven't had the time. I'm going to try to put together a project to have toilets built for my primary school. I need to get the estimate for that and then write up a grant proposal.

I'm also about to float this idea that's been rolling around in my head for a while. We have a feeding center supplied by an Italian NGO that distributes flour to local vendors for cheap (the grain comes from the World Food Programme). This same Italian NGO has been talking about starting a food program through the primary school, supplying mid-morning snacks (which would serve as breakfast for most students) and lunch. Right now, they want to serve a traditional Mauritanian porridge called inche, which has virtually no nutritional value. However, another PCV trained a women's cooperative in Atar to make a porridge called ceramine, which is a mixture of ground grains that provide a complete protein.

I want to train a women's co-op here in Ain to make ceramine, and have the Italian NGO buy it up and serve it at the school instead of inche. Most of these women's co-ops have no goods worth selling, and even if they did, there's no market for them. They mostly survive from selling vegetables from their gardens, and since everyone grows the same things (not a whole lot of options in the desert), the market is flooded and I can't imagine they make very much money. So, if the ceramine thing flies, these women will not only have a viable product but a market for it. And the kids will actually have something nutritious to eat. Should be an easy sell for the Italian NGO, but I don't know if the women will go for it. Mauritanians are very stubborn and set in their ways, regardless of how successful they are.

So, that's work at the moment. Stressful, but the end of school in June will open up my schedule a bit. I feel like a big whiner right now, ha, but it helps to vent about it. Also puts it in perspective. I can only do so much, and while all my traveling doesn't help, a lot of the difficulties I face here are beyond my control. I just have to accept those limitations. And if I choose to travel the way I do, I have to accept that it'll have an impact on my productivity at site.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


So I guess I should preface this little tale by saying that this trip was probably the most fun I've had traveling, ever. Morocco is beautiful, the people are amazingly friendly and helpful, and I'd have a hard time finding a more ridiculously fun and relaxed group of people to travel with.

We kicked off our trip in true Peace Corps fashion by spending the night of St. Patty's in Nouakchott. We had a few celebratory drinks that night (including the infamous 3,500 UM carbomb at Shenkers...we thought it was a good idea at the time), saw a full moon, ripped some pants, had a heated discussion about religion, and left the next morning to make our way up to Nouadibouh. We managed to snag ourselves an awesome driver in Nouakchott who we used for the rest of the trip. Nouadibouh is on the coast about a 6 hour car ride directly north of Nouakchott on the border of Mauritania and Western Sahara (more on that later).

We got into Nouadibouh in the evening. It has a big fishing industry and is the port from which iron ore mined from the north of Mauritania is shipped out to the rest of the world. Since fishing and mining are two of the country's only real sources of income, Nouadibouh is central to the Mauritanian economy and is relatively international (I use that term extremely loosely).

So the seven of us met up with some of the PCVs in Nouadibouh and hung out for two nights. We went out to the ocean one day to play on the beach and explore the ship wrecks just off the coast. Apparently someone decided that Nouadibouh would make an excellent ship graveyard and people started running ships into the shallows near the port. It really does look like a graveyard with all those hulking iron carcasses rusting out in the waves.

We left Nouadibouh on the 21st to make a flight out of a city called Dakhla in Western Sahara. Western Sahara is a huge chunk of territory in between Mauritania and Morocco that the two countries went to war over around 1989. The dispute was never settled, and to this day, the land is simply considered occupied territory. Morocco essentially governs the territory, but it's sovereignty isn't formally recognized. When you cross the Mauritanian border, there's a 5 kilometer "no man's land" before you actually enter Western Sahara. This strip is essentially a buffer between Mauritania and the occupied territory that Morocco claims for itself. It's mined, and the road is unpaved, so drivers have to take extra care to keep to the car tracks that wind through this desolate piece of desert. Even worse, there's actually a population that's trapped there. Citizens of neither Mauritania nor Morocco nor any other country, these people can't ever leave that little strip. They're like people stuck in an international airport or something. It's sad.

We obviously made it to the entrace to Western Sahara (Morocco, for all intents and purposes) in one piece, and crossed the border without any problems. The drive up to Dakhla was beautiful, right along the beach, and we got into the city that evening. The difference between Mauritania and Morocco was noticeable as soon as we crossed the border. Almost immediately we found delicious food and bathrooms with real toilets. And it only got better!

After a quick flight from Dakhla to Casablanca, we crashed at the airport to wait for Steph to arrive from the States. We got in at 2 AM, so we just curled up in our sleeping bags (well, those of us who had them) on the floor and passed out until about 7, when she got in. I was so happy to have her there, and she got along with everyone soooo well. She put up with all of our Mauritania talk and handled the turkish toilet thing like a champ!

So to move this story along (cause I could probably go on forever about all this), we hopped a train to Tangiers after we met up with Steph. Lonely Planet described Tangiers as a seedy port town, but we thought it was gorgeous. Maybe our judgement is slightly impaired, coming from a place like Mauritania, but we really did have a great time there. Our hostel could have used some work, but the city itself was beautiful. Each city or town we visited had a "medina" or marketplace. Usually the oldest parts of the town, they're primarily only open to pedestrians, and the tight, winding little streets are lined with street food, crafts, and some of the cutest clothes ever! We mostly just wandered around the medina in Tangiers. Chels and I got haircuts at a genuine Moroccan women's hair salon, which was an awesome way to get a taste of real Moroccan life. We went out once, but there weren't a whole lot of bars and clubs were generally super expensive. We tended to wander around, drink coffee or Moroccan mint tea, eat street food, hit up a supermarket for wine or something, and then just hang out in our hotel rooms. We were very good at entertaining ourselves.

Our next stop was Fes, which was my favorite of the trip. The medina there is the largest urban pedestrian zone in the world. It has something like 9,000 streets, and it's pretty much impossible to navigate the thing without a guide. The first place our guide took us was the tanneries, which are apparently pretty famous. Also, possible the nastiest things I've ever smelled, but it was cool seeing how they dye all the hides and all the beautiful leather goods they make from them. Our guide took us around to a bunch of other little workshops: weavers and smiths and perfumeries. It was so hard not to wander off cause there were just so many interesting things to check out!

The new part of Fes was also beautiful, but in a totally different way. It was like a modern European city. We stumbled across a real live movie theater one night (granted, we were the only people there, but still!), and went to McDonald's multiple times (I even ate fries...I know, who am I?). I could totally see myself living in that city. It has the perfect combination of old world history and new world conveniences.

After Fes, we had a day-long trek by train and then bus to Essouiera, which is a small town on the coast a couple of hours northwest of Marrakesh. Essouiera is a cute little beachy town that supposedly attracks windsurfers and hippies, but most of the people we saw seemed pretty normal. We rented out a cute little apartment for all 8 of us, and had so much fun. We found a bona fide Moroccan bar (basically a cafe serving beer to a bunch of heavily smoking men) and had some of the best seafood I've ever eaten. Essouiera is a big fishing town and you can buy fish at auction at the docks. There's a strip of shacks right by the port with fish straight off the boats on display, and you just point to what you want or give them whatever you've already bought and they'll grill it up and serve it to you right there. The boys bought some barracuda and crabs at auction, and we all went down to the shacks and had that cooked up with calamari, sardines, eel (I think) and some other fish I didn't recognize. Delicious!!

Our last stop was Marrakesh, which was cool but a little overwhemling at first. It's definitely more of a big city than any of the other stops we made, and the main attraction is this huge square in the middle of the medina. A little touristy (complete with snake charmers, acrobats, and men covered from head to toe posing as belly dancers - I think they really thought they were fooling people), but cool to see, especially at night. Twinkle lights light up the whole square, and throngs of people crowd shoulder to shoulder, wandering through the maze of food stands and performers.

We also spent a day bike riding around the city. Considering that many of us hadn't been on bikes in years, that might not have been the best idea. The streets of Marrakesh are crowded with cars, mopeds and bikers, and lanes are apparently only suggestions. Right after we all got on the road, we were crossing over and these two women on a moped totally wiped out. Rob bit it trying to get up on the curb in the chaos that ensued, and Eric fell cause he was laughing so hard at the whole situation! Ridiculous, haha. After a little while, though, we all got used to the craziness and just went with it. It was a great way to get to know the city, get some exercise and enjoy the sun.

Steph left a night before we did, and being as amazing as she is, put herself and I up in a really nice hotel near the airport her last night. It was 3:30 in the morning when she left, but I was sad to see her go. Still, our last night in Marrakesh was probably my favorite of the trip. The seven of us took over this really cool lounge room on the roof of our hostel and sang and danced and just engaged in all sorts of hooliganry. We were doing impressions of each other and acrobatics and having intense political discussions for no reason in french. Which pretty much sums up the entire trip. As amazing as Morocco is, I think we had such a good time because we were just such an amazing group! As PCVs, we've gotten extremely good at entertaining ourselves and each other with very little to work with. Putting us in a country where even the most boring people could have a good time was like giving someone who can cook fillet mignon on a Foreman a state of the art kitchen. In fact, we are so good at kicking back, rolling with the punches and having fun no matter what, the train to Fes stopped at some station, and we all sat there for 45 minutes before we realized that we had actually arrived in Fes. We read, we chatted, people got off the train to smoke, got back on the train, hung out for a while. Mashallah, the train sat in the station for so long, or we would have been on our way to Tunisia or something in no time.

So we left Marrakesh by plane and arrived in Dakhla in the evening. Spent the night in a hotel, then left the next morning for the border. The drive was fine (though a lot less upbeat than it had been in the opposite direction) until we had to cross into Mauritania. The guards there were holding everyone up trying to extort money from silly foreigners. Luckily it wasn't a problem for us (in that we didn't have to pay, but we still had to wait like 4 hours to get through), but some Portuguese suckers in front of us spent 100 euro and made in through in about as much time we did.

Once we got across the border, Chelsea, Eric and I caught the sole train in Mauritania. It runs from Nouadibouh to Zourat, north of Atar, which is where the iron ore is mined. The train really only exists to ship the ore from Zourat to the port in Nouadibouh, and most people ride for free by jumping in the freight cars. On the way inland, though, the freight cars are empty so you sit in the bottom of what is essentially a huge iron bath tub, can't see anything, and freeze your butt of once the sun goes down. And it's on overnight trip. So we opted to ride in the moldy, rotted out passneger car. It wasn't as bad as we'd been preparing ourselves for, but I think the only reason we managed to sleep as well as we did was because we were so exhausted.

We got off the train around 7 the next morning, and after 3 hours of off roading in the back of an overpacked pick up truck, we finally arrived back in Atar. So, door to door, it took us 3 days of pretty puch constant travel. Kind of intense. I spent a day or two in Atar, then came back to site four or five days ago. I'm still adjusting to the slower, more solitary way of life back in Ain. Once I start teaching again this weekend, I think it'll be easier.

Well, I hope that wasn't unbearably long. I tried to condense things, but it was a pretty eventful trip, and I had fun reminiscing. I'll post pictures as soon as I can!