On the 16th, all Trainees left
their sites to return to Kaédi. Uppermost in our minds
was the response that everyone would have to their sites. Site
visit is well known as a step that weeds out Trainees, as some
of them take a look around and say, "I can't handle this
for the next two years. I'm outta here."
We had a pleasant surprise, as
everyone returned enthusiastic from site visits, and there are
no further ETs, so we are still 47 strong (84% of our original
group, a new RIM record)!
Yes, it's a hardy bunch, as there
were adversities during the site visit week, with heavy rains
in the south of Mauritania, making some roads impassable, leading
to journeys of several days just to get to sites, or, in a few
cases, people who weren't able to get to their sites until the
day before site visits were supposed to be over!
The mud home of one Volunteer collapsed
as a result of the rain. In Selibaby, six hundred structures
Our Nouakchott crew returned in
high spirits. Some of them teased the others about the pizza
and beer we consumed in the capital. Believe me, we have lots
of people who want to visit us so they can avail themselves
of Nouakchott's amenities!
With the fleet of PC vehicles spread
out around the country to transport the other Trainees, we Nouakchott
folk and two of the PC staff facilitators were left to public
transport for getting back to Kaédi. In our case, it
was a Peugeot station wagon that we hired at the long distance
taxi stand. That meant putting the three smallest people in
the slightly elevated seat just in front of the luggage, then
three of us in the center seat, and one lucky staffer sitting
next to the driver.
As a result of the rains, there
is now grass growing in many patches of the desert between Kaédi
and Nouakchott. Parts of the scenery looked like a totally different
The trip took six and a half hours
this time, and ended with a strange and unfortunate exchange
with our driver. As we entered the town, one of the facilitators
pointed to the road where he should turn so that he could drop
us at the lycée that serves as the training center. He
wouldn't go there. He insisted that if he were to take us there,
it would cost an additional 1,000 ougiya. The facilitators refused
to pay another ougiya for the ride, so we spilled out of the
vehicle and prepared to walk down the road to the center. Just
then, a PC car pulled up, so that enabled us to offload the
heaviest bags into it.
Center days are an opportunity
to get both program-specific and whole group training. This
time, there were more cross-cultural workshops, the focus of
which was the role of women in Mauritanian society. We had individual
assessments on French progress; this time they were audiotaped.
Our health workshop, delivered by our newly arrived PCMO, was
about nutrition. In the Education program, the focus of our
tech sessions was the upcoming Model School.
These Center Days were further
distinguished by the appearance of our counterparts (homologues
in French). These are the people with whom we will be most closely
working at our jobs, the people who will smooth the way, as
it were, and be our liaisons so that we can work most efficiently.
I had already met my counterpart
in Nouakchott. He managed to make it to the first of the three
appointments I had with him there, and he ditched me on the
other two. I could see in Nouakchott that I was going to have
to prepare myself to have some - oh, let's just say interesting
- times ahead of me while working with him. The previous Volunteer
who worked with him took the Interrupted Service option that
was offered in April during the Iraq War. This guy is conceited,
lazy, verbose, greedy, and arrogant. And those are his good
We were at a session on workplace
norms. No matter the aspect of what we talked about, he had
something to say. But he saved his best maneuver for last. I
will set this up for you by saying that our suggested packing
list included two Nalgene water bottles. They are both strong
and bacteria-resistant. I got one in green and one in purple.
In getting ready to come here, I made sure to label mine. After
all, with the potential of there being 112 Nalgene water bottles,
the odds were tremendous that there would be many of them the
same colors. Labeling things made good sense.
In any event, I inadvertently left
my green water bottle at the workplace norms session. When I
went back to get it, it wasn't there, which prompted me to wonder
about the efficiency of my short-term memory. I diligently searched
every place I had been, all over the campus. Then, later that
afternoon, our counterparts went back to their homes.
The next morning, still with no
green water bottle in sight, I thought I may as well ask some
of the other Trainees if they had seen it, and let them know
that wherever it was, I had not intentionally left it there.
One of the Trainees responded immediately, "I saw your
counterpart with it yesterday. He was drinking from it."
That cleared up the mystery: the scoundrel had taken it!
When I spoke to my APCD about it,
asking him what I should do, he suggested that I drop it. I
agree. I don't see that there would be anything to gain by talking
to this guy about it. In the long run, it's a good lesson for
me to learn, both early on and inexpensive, concerning any personal
possessions that I take with me to the office.
Being together again at the center
meant yet another Town Meeting, which is a talent show. The
highlights of this show were two dance performances: one theme
was Country Western and the other was Irish. The espirit de
corps among the Trainees and Volunteers is exceptional. I can't
say enough about how impressed I am at how well people are getting
along, adapting to the society here, and doing it with such
a noteworthy combination of both good humor and dedication to
purpose. It's heartwarming to see friendships forming and deepening
as a result of the experiences we are sharing.
Model School for those of us in
the Education program started on the 20th and continues through
the 8th of September. Our only days off during this time will
be Fridays. The mornings are devoted to giving our Trainees
some teaching experience. There are fifty-minute classes at
8:00, 9:00, and 10:00, with oral and written evaluations starting
at 11:00. (For my teacher friends: just think of this as a 17-day
intensive period of student teaching.)
The nine soon-to-be-teachers take
turns doing both teaching and peer evaluating. The original
schedule involved me only in evaluating, but one of the Trainees
asked if she could see me teach, so I will be teaching one class.
Just when I thought that I had created my last lesson plan!
Local kids are brought in to be
the students, so that everyone has as close as possible to a
real classroom experience. I saw a recruitment poster in town;
there is an enrollment fee of 200 UM (67 cents). Several hundred
have signed up to improve their English this way.
At noon on all these days, we are
free to go to our host family homes for lunch. (My homecoming
on the first day of Model School was the first time I had seen
everyone since before I left for site visit. As I opened the
gate, everyone saw me, shouted, "Alioune!!" and ran
to greet me.)
As for the details of Model School,
I am going to have to make you wait until next week, as I have
already been long-winded for this entry, and there is no need
straining our good relations by testing how much you can take
of my ramblings each week.