I'm back from site visit! What an awesome week. The day after our sites were announced, we all shipped out. People from the same region traveled together in caravans. I was in a Peace Corps truck, which was air conditioned (woohoo!). Most people were not so lucky and got stuck in taxi brousses, which are basically 20 year old station wagons or pick up trucks that pack as many people as possible and will take you anywhere in the country you need to go. I got to ride one of those on the way home. Not fun.
We left at about 7:30 in the morning, stopped in the capital, Nouakchott, for lunch and a pit stop at the building where the country Peace Corps office is located. That was a trip. Nouakchott is nothing compared to NY or Paris or even DC, but as far as Mauritania goes, the place is heaven. The PC building is the largest in the country (10 whole floors!), and has escalators (which don't seem to actually work, but still!) and bathrooms with toilet paper and everything.It was a little overwhelming, being in an actual city environment again, and I've only been here for a month! I can't imagine what it's going to be like the first time I get back to civilization.
Anyway, we got in around 7:30 that night. Atar is beautiful. The surrounding region is gorgeous (see pictures), and the city itself is well kept since it's a big tourist destination.
Spent the night at a volunteer's house, which was like being on vacation (electricity, running water, shower head, fridge, stove, chocolate pie, illicit substances).
The next day we all did protocol, which is something you have to do in Mauritania to get anything done. You have to get permission for the work you want to do from a number of officials, in order of rank from lowest to highest, unless what you're doing involves large amounts of funding, in which case you're supposed to go from the bottom up. It seems like a huge waste of time cause some officials don't know what the hell you're doing there and some do and just don't care and some don't speak any language you speak, so it can be frustrating. Luckily, everyone I met that day seemed happy to have us and at least willing to give us the time of day, which was encouraging. On the other hand, I'm not going to be working with those guys too often since my site isn't actually Atar. But they still need to know I'm there.
After protocol, I went out to Ain Eheltaya with Beddih, one of the language facilitators, who luckily speaks French cause my community contact, Rouqaya, only speaks Hassaniya (we all have these people, either community contacts or counterparts, which are supposed to at the very least introduce us to the community and help us integrate, and at best will end up being work partners.) Ain Eheltaya is a pretty cute little village. There are a ton of palm trees (the Adrar region is famous for it's dates), and it's nestled up against the side of this canyon. And it doesn't seem to be too conservative. I think it's primarily a Moorish community, both black and white, and I had thought that Moorish communities are mostly conservative. That may be true compared to the other ethnic groups in Mauritania (Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof), but I think the Moors in the east are more conservative than in the north, which is where I am. I felt totally comfortable running in the mornings and walked around with my head uncovered. Such a relief. If I had to run around in a mulafa for the next two years I'm pretty sure I'd be miserable. I mean, they're pretty, but they never stay on right and they're hot, and when it really comes down to it, the concept of women having to cover up like that doesn't exactly jibe with my sense of morality.
We stayed with Rouqaya for three nights. She lives in a fairly large compound with her three younger sisters (they're probably about 15, 13, and 7, respectively, and she's probably 25), and her 6 month old baby. I don't think she's married, which is fine with me cause I don't have to worry about having a man around. I'm probably going to end up renting a room out of her compound, which her father owns. It's a big room with electricity, and they're going to wall off a section of the compound so I can have my own space, which is essential for me. I originally wanted to live on my own, but there aren't a whole lot of options in my village, and those that are available are pretty crappy (mud huts, no electricity or running water...not something I'm going to deal with if I don't have to). The village has electricity from 7 PM to 2 AM, which is more than enough.
I got to meet some of the village officials and other community members I'll probably end up working with. Everyone seemed really nice and excited that I was there, though I had a tough time explaining exactly what my objectives are. But at least they're enthusiastic. Hopefully the concept of girls' education won't put them off.
So I spent my three days at site meeting people, drinking tea, eating dates, laying around, reading. I'm going to get very good a killing time here. I'm thinking about starting a garden. And I'll be able to go into Atar on the weekends if I want, so I won't go too crazy.
After that I went back to Atar and met up with the other trainees and volunteers. We all went out to a little auberge (hostel type thing) in the brousse (country), which was near an oasis with an awesome watering hole where we got to swim and chill out all day. We spent the night there, but the next morning I got really sick and took a taxi brousse back into town. That was a pretty miserable day. I don't care if there's no humidity, 105 degrees is freaking hot. Luckily I had brought some meds with me and by the end of the day I was exhausted but pretty much better, for the most part. We left the next morning around 6:30, stopped in Nouakchott for pizza and milk shakes (amazing!), and got back into Rosso around 5.
Favorite parts of site visit in no particular order:
- getting to know my site mates
My site mates are all awesome, which is good considering that I'll basically be living with them for the next two years. It was kinda sad seeing some good friends being placed in regions far, far away from mine, which means I'll probably only see them every few months, but oh well. Such is life. All in all, a good week. :)