I didn't get to talk to all of you on the phone around Christmas, so MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Being away from family and friends for the holidays was a little weird. You were all in my thoughts, and hearing from some of you was one of the best Christmas presents ever!
Even though I wasn't at home, I had some awesome people to spend Christmas with this year. All the volunteers got together in Nouakchott and had a huge party on Christmas Eve. Everyone was so excited to catch up with people and cut loose after a rough few months for us first years. Most of the past two weeks was carefree good times, but we also got to vent to each other and realize that we're dealing with similar issues back at site.
We spent Christmas day at our Country Director's house in Nouakchott. Some of the volunteers spent days before putting together a huge feast with all this American food. Yum! After that we went down to Rosso for a couple of days, so I stopped off to see my old host family. They were so excited to see me! I wasn't really expecting that because we didn't have a close relationship or anything, but my mom was all about me coming back to visit over the summer. They were all impressed with my Hassaniye now, and it was pretty awesome seeing how much I've progressed in the last four months.
After a couple of days, it was time to start vacation for real. We hopped the ferry across the Senegal River in Rosso and caught a taxi down to St. Louis. Taxis in Mauritania are usually packed four people across in the back seat and two in the passenger seat, maybe another three or four in the very back seat if it's a Peugot station wagon. It's one of the most painful experiences ever. Inevitably you're squished between two massive Mauritanian women who think that because you weigh less than 200 pounds, you don't need any room, so you end up crushed sideways between them for a six hour trip. Luckily, you kind of go numb after the first two hours. In Senegal, though, they let everyone have their very own seat! Our car traveled at a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour the entire way down, and it kept running out of gas and we kept having to get out and push, but none of that mattered because I had my own freaking seat. It was awesome.
Eventually we made it into St. Louis, which is an old French colonial town at the mouth of the Senegal River. It spans the coast of the mainland and two other islands, one in the river and the other on the ocean. I've never been to New Orleans, but a lot of people said that's what St. Louis looked like. Lots of old colonial architecture, thick old trees, and bougainville everywhere. And the cool thing was you had this vibrant, beachy African culture mixing with the European vibe. And it's a fishing town, so you can see all these brightly painted wooden fishing boats lining the banks of the river. The whole place was awesome.
A bunch of us stayed in a hotel right on the beach. It was a little far from the center of town where all the restaurants and bars and clubs are, but we managed to get around pretty easily. And we spent most of our time partying on the beach anyway. It was heaven. The beach was gorgeous, despite some trash (we're all a little desensitized to garbage now) and some creepy Senegalese dudes. Mostly they just wanted to scavenge floating beers, but some of them would sit down and stare at all of us like we were putting on a play or something. One cracked out dude came over in nothing but a tank top and sat next to us and sang at the top of his lungs for hours. He kind of ruined that day, actually, but for the most part it wasn't a huge problem.
We had a big bonfire on the beach one night, which was probably my favorite of the trip. For New Years a bunch of us had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and then met up with people in town. It was almost like being back home, but better. Not only did we have a social scene to enjoy, but we were on a beach in Africa! I like reminding myself of that fact every once in a while; it still blows me away when I really think about it :)
We were kind of a force to be reckoned with that night: this rowdy group of 70 or 80 deprived PCVs showing up at the bar together. I think we might have frightened some of the Senegalese PCVs we ran into. First of all, Senegalese and Malian PCVs have apparently been banned from traveling to Mauritania because of extreme culture differences and the political instability. And yet, we're allowed to live here. Badass. Second of all, we're all just a little crazy. PCVs in Senegal can just walk into a bar and chill out with a beer, go to pools, wear pants, whatever, whenever they want. We can't, so being in Senegal after six months of social oppression was pretty much like letting a kid into a candy store after nothing but broccoli and spinach for six months. I think it's safe to say that we got a little crazy on New Years, but luckily everyone made it out alive, with only a few scrapes and bruises to show for it :)
After that, it was back to Nouakchott for a few days of "training", and now I'm back in Atar. I'm heading out to site tomorrow with Chelsea, and hopefully my house and GMC will be all set for me to start moving into both. Yay! Also, I just picked up a stray cat. I'm gonna try and keep her, so I'll let you know how that goes. The next few weeks should be pretty busy, but I'll be around. Hope you are all doing well. I love and miss you!!