Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Day Bliss

Literally all I've been doing for the past 48 hours is eating, drinking, and cooking more food. Glorious. Breakfast this morning consisted of cold pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes, followed by warm pancakes and something vaguely resembling syrup. Yum.

I really wanted to post a good update on how work is going, but obviously I've been distracted, ha. My proposal was approved, and apparently I'm getting computers on the first of the month. I have no idea what to do with them, which is one reason why I didn't see the point in rushing to get my proposal off to begin with. The room isn't ready for me to start setting anything up. I'm still waiting on the Mayor to verify that I can have the room I want, and it still needs to have electricity installed (also the responsibility of the Mayor). Hopefully all that will get resolved at a meeting on the 30th.

I have managed to start signing up teachers to mentor, and I should be able to find one or two women from the local co-ops to teach things like sewing and dying. Finding mentors is probably the hardest part of this job. Volunteerism isn't a big part of Mauritanian culture. People generally expect some sort of compensation for their time, even if it's in the form of English or computer lessons. Which I have no problem doing, but I'm only one person and this job is already pretty demanding.

Still, I'd rather have too much to do than not enough. My next moves are going to be making sure I have a core group of committed mentors and planning out a schedule. Once the room is ready, I'll be working on purchasing furniture and other supplies in Atar, shipping them out to Ain and getting it all set up.

I've got some other ideas that have been germinating the past couple of months. I want to run a gender in education workshop for my mentors before they start teaching at the GMC. I also want to set up a program during the week for young women who either already finished or dropped out of school. At this point, the basics of getting the GMC up and running are dominating my time, but hopefully once things settle down after Christmas, I'll be able to start thinking more about these smaller projects. What with Thanksgiving, a trip down south, Christmas, New Years and training right afterwards, things are going to be a little crazy over the next month or so.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Solar Powered Oven

I forgot, how cool is this, my mom is sending me a solar powered oven! I'm pretty stoked; I've been missing being able to bake. Now I feel like I'm going to be baking non-stop. Maybe this will help me win over some Mauritanians to American cooking, ha. I'm also thinking about maybe starting a project involving these ovens. It's just an idea at the moment, and what with the center, I don't have a whole lot of time for secondary projects at the moment, but I definitely see some potential here. I can probably tie it into the GMC program pretty easily. Thanks, Mom!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a quick note: Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I'm in town for a couple of days, just for the big day tomorrow, then I'm heading back to site cause I have to teach on Saturday. But I got in this morning, and already it's getting pretty crowded at the house. We're expecting somewhere around 25 people for tomorrow, all PCVs from the region and nearby. It's been awesome catching up with people, and the food tomorrow should be delicious! Chicken and mashed potatoes and PIES! So exicted. :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aaaaaaaand I'm Back!

Some of you may be aware that my Google account was recently hijacked by some company, since said company was sending out spam from my address. I wasn't able to access my account at all, and I thought this blog was lost forever, but I contacted Google yesterday and they restored everything (so it seems) in record time. Props to Google for proving once again how awesome they are. And sorry to those of you who thought they had gotten a nice email from yours truly and opened some nasty spam instead.

I was just looking back at my last post and thinking, if I thought the end of October was madness, I don't know what to call the past couple of weeks. Busy, to say the very least. Stressful also, but it feels good to be doing work. Last week I held three needs assessment meetings with different groups from the community: college (middle school) girls, co-op women, and teachers. Basically, these meetings are a chance for me to formally introduce the GMC concept (I now have an awesome DVD that explains in all in Arabic!), to interview people about how the program can address specific community needs, and to (hopefully) recruit mentors and other community members to help get the GMC open and keep it running.

I came into Atar a few days ago to work on my proposal. GMCs and other gender-related projects are funded by Gender and Development (GAD) grants, which come from USAID and World Education (an international NGO). I have to request money for every item I want in my GMC (tables, chairs, floor mats, computers, water jugs, get the picture) and send it to Nouakchott for Peace Corps to approve. So I've been working on putting that together the past few days. My APCD (the Mauritanian woman who coordinates all GEE activities) arrived in Atar the other day to make sure all the GEE volunteers in the region are doing alright. She's coming out to site with me tomorrow.

The last couple of weeks have given me the chance to really start developing a concrete idea of what my GMC program should look like. It's a good feeling. Of course, I won't have the whole thing planned out until I have a set of committed Mauritanians, even just a few, to sit down with me and plan out the particulars. Unfortunately, there's a lot of pressure to just open the thing and get it over with. We were lectured incessantly during training about the need for sustainability in whatever projects we implement, so I was surprised to get some of this pressure from the same direction those lectures came from. Creating a sustainable program takes time, getting acquainted with your community, gathering the language skills and cultural knowledge to develop an appropriate project. In all honestly, I still don't have the skills to do that to the best of my abilities, but I'm only going to be here for two years and I'm here, after all, to work. Like I said in my last post, it's been trial by fire, but it's a great learning experience.

Also, I may end up with internet at site! I'm not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, my life will be a lot easier in terms of work. I'll be able to get in touch with people whenever I want and unrestricted access to information for planning lessons, etc. On the other hand, I'm going to be tempted to use it all the time. And everyone in the village is going to want in on it, and I don't know how I'm doing to handle that.

On another note, my birthday was last week! I was at site, and while I didn't make a fuss about it, I had a great day. The happy birthday wishes were overwhelming. I wish I could put into words just how much it means to have such wonderful people in my life! Thank you, all. Mauritanians included, even though you probably will never read this. Memorable moments from my birthday: teaching the Happy Birthday song to my english class, being swamped at the wedding I went to immediately afterwards, and trying (unsuccessfully) to make birthday pancakes for myself and a few Mauritanian friends. They were unimpressed with my cooking abilities, which is unfortunate cause I'm trying to promote good nutrition. Oh well. I thought they were good, though decidedly unpancake-like.

I'm not sure what my next couple of weeks will look like. I'll be in Ain tomorrow but may end up coming back up to Atar with the Peace Corps cars to finish my proposal. I still have some things to price, and I'll need to email it to Nouakchott. My APCD wants it in by the weekend so it can be approved by Tuesday's meeting. Not that it really matters, since my GMC probably won't be open for another three months. But anyway, then it'll be Thanksgiving! We're planning a feast here in Atar, should be a good time. :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Halloween/The Madness that was the End of October

So can you believe I've been at site for two whole months? Crazy. And I've been in Mauritania now for...drum roll, please...five months! I have no idea where the time is going.

I came into Atar a few days ago for Halloween. About ten of us were here, and we had a pretty sweet little holiday bash. We got costumes at the dead toubab store. My outfit: neon blue spandex pants, a light blue, super sparkly collared shirt and a pink sash. I wouldn't say I dressed up as something specific; it was just generally ridiculous. Good times. :) A bunch of people went to a big party down south. Kinda wish I could have gone, but us newbies are not allowed to travel for another month!

What else is going on...since the last time I wrote, I went down to Akjoujt. Spent an awesome couple of days hanging out, eating good food (fried chicken! pork chops! BEER!), sang some karaoke, you know, the usual. And I got to pick Hayley's brain about starting up a GMC. Her situation was very different from mine. She's in a regional capital, with lots of resources (human resources, most importantly) that I don't have. Still, it was a good opportunity to see what I want to do with my situation, and what I need to do to really get the ball rolling.

In terms of work, I've had a rough couple of weeks. I've been trying to get some English classes started as a secondary project, just so I'll have something to do while I get the GMC up and running. And everyone wants them, so why not? What I thought would be a relatively simple process turned into a huge ordeal. Figuring out who to give lessons to (I obviously can't teach the whole village) and who to involve in that decision was complicated enough. On top of that, I had some issues with my counterpart, who was charging money for books and other supplies without me realizing it. And to complicate matters even more, I found out that the two people I work the most with are barely on speaking terms. Kind of sad that it took me two months to figure that one out, but it's not like anyone explained the situation to me. Everything here is very hidden, covert, almost. Relationships are masked by protocol and the necessity of formalities and respect for elders/gender differences/familial/tribal ties/etc. Needless to say, it's going to take me a while to learn the politics of my village and to figure out how to navigate them. Trying to get this English project off the ground made me realize just how ignorant I am of it all and how difficult that process is going to be. Trial by fire!

Anyway, I ended up having a big meeting with as many of the interested parties as I could round up and started signing girls up. When I get back to Ain, I'll finish that process (just need to hit up the local college - that's the equivalent of middle school) and get started!

I'm off to site tomorrow. I was supposed to go back yesterday but got a little held up, mostly because my best friend in region is in town and she only gets to come into Atar every once in a while cause its really expensive for her. I was going to go back today but had some issues at the bank, so tomorrow, finally, I will be back at site. Sorry this isn't a more substantive post; things have been pretty hectic and I've been more than a little stressed. I've been relaxing since I got in and haven't really had the brain power to write much. Also, my power strip out at site busted, so I wasn't able to type up any posts while I was there, but I bought a new one so I will get back on that.

Miss you guys!