Center Days once more


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 were destroyed!

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 country!

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 points!

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.