This little piggy


This week, with no storyline like the SOMELEC Saga of last week, I am going to treat you to some random observations and encounters.

For a week, it seemed as if the littlest toe on my left foot was healing all right. Then, on Tuesday morning, 9/23 when I woke up, it was red and puffy again. I thought I had better get some medical attention.

I know it must sound like I am working for the FBI, the way I always refer to "the bureau," but that is just French for "office," and it's what we call the PC building here. (Our temporary PCMO, Lyn, who was with us during training, said that she has worked in sixteen PC countries, and that this is the nicest PC bureau she has seen.)

In any event, I live about a fifteen-minute walk from the bureau, where the medical office is open during regular business hours and available to us for emergencies. There are three nurses here. One of them is married to a doctor, and he is available to us on call when needed.

Two of the nurses who saw my toe agreed that it needed surgery, and they arranged for the doctor to do it that evening at 6:00. The only painful part was the administration of the painkiller by needle. The toenail had to be removed, but it will grow back. Just think of the time I will save by having only nine toenails to cut now, instead of ten!

The way it is wrapped now makes it look more serious than it really is, and there is a little discomfort, but no more serious pain now, and it is finally going through the last stages of healing

I stopped by the bank this week to pick up my checks. The way the checks are personalized is archaic: a typist puts my name and account number on a piece of paper, which creates a stamp that is individually hand stamped onto each check in the checkbook.

The bank said that there will be an ATM operating in October, and can I get an "Inshallah" for that?

I have slowed down my shopping for the big-ticket items. I got the refrigerator this week, and let me tell you, it sure is nice to have my own supply of cold water, at the very least.

One of the reasons that shopping is so draining, aside from the bargaining, is that my taste is so different from what is generally available. Fabrics are usually very colorful, plentiful, and inexpensive, so it was relatively easy to find something for covering the matalas that I am using for lounging about and as guest beds.

But, then, I had to put them on something rather than directly on the tile floor. The local custom is that a matala is on some sort of floor covering, and that makes sense. Not only that, but shoes come off before anyone steps on the floor coverings. Most of the floor coverings are plastic, and I decided that since I am going to be here for two years, I would like something nicer to live with than plastic.

Shops tend to be clustered in neighborhoods based on what they sell. When I had to get a fan, it was in the neighborhood with the stores that sell fans. Near the polyclinic, there are several blocks with nothing but pharmacies. There are a few hardware stores around town, but most of them are concentrated in one area.

I have seen two neighborhoods with long rows of hair salons and barbers. I live in one of them, so it will be easy to find a haircutter when the time comes.

As for the carpeting, these stores are in one neighborhood, along with the matalas. Having chosen a fabric with a pattern for the matalas, I decided that it would be best to find something subdued for the rug - something that would not fight with the fabric for attention. My initial looking made me feel that my quest would leave me without anything. Most carpet patterns look like they could be called "Explosion at the Paint Factory" - the riotous bursts of color that you see when you rub your eyes too hard.

Then, at last, I could not believe what I saw: a store that had two rolls of carpeting with solid colors! I had a swatch of fabric with me, and, sure enough, one of the two rolls was a suitable match. If I had to put a name to it, I guess it would be "Dusty Rose." If I were at home and come across this, I would have kept looking; but I decided that I will be able to live with this color for two years.

At home, a job like this would be called a special order and it may take at least a week to get ready for the consumer. Here, with the clothing, rugs, matalas, and slipcover sheets that I had made, many items were ready for pick-up later the same day or the very next day.

In San Francisco, there is a stretch of César Chávez Street where day laborers line up so that motorists can hire them to do various kinds of construction work. Here, there is an area near the hardware stores where men stand around so that they can get similar work. Whereas in San Francisco, you don't really know what kind of work the guy can do until you drive up and have a conversation with him, here the laborers take the guesswork out of the encounter; each guy holds an item that tells people the kind of work he does: a pipe for plumbers, paint brush for painters, and the like.

Tiviski is a dairy that sells its products in grocery stores around the country. They also operate an ice cream parlor - Chez Tiviski - near my house. They have two types of milk (from cows and camels), yogurt, and ice cream. The ice cream is not sold in individual portions - just larger quantities. The containers are plastic food storage containers (like Tupperware) and are in various colors and sizes, almost as you would see them if you looked in somebody's home freezer. The sizes in their freezer are not the same from one container to another, but the price is. And you pay a 500 ougiya deposit for making the purchase in one of these containers.

I went to pick up my laundry. The place was open, and everything was washed, pressed, and folded, in the big nylon bag I had used to bring it in. But they wouldn't let me take and pay for it because the guy who did the work was not there to take my money (and, I guess, negotiate the price). I was able to explain that I was out of clean underwear and handkerchiefs, so they let me take some of these to tide me over until I could come back, which I did the next day.

I don't know if this is worldwide or not, but our PC operates with a group called the Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC), which is made up of representatives from each region of the country. The representatives are usually second-year Volunteers, unless there are no second-year Volunteers in the region.

On Sunday I attended a VAC meeting, though not in any official capacity, as I am not a representative. I was simply curious about the process. I found it to be not only educational, but also a necessary meeting of the minds of two distinct groups of people: the PC administration, who are long-term bureaucrats with an eye on the budget and short-term Volunteers who need to get their work done and lives handled as comfortably as possible under the circumstances.

I have joined the French Cultural Center, which has a variety of entertaining events throughout the year, as well as a library, art gallery, and café. Last night, I went there with several others to see a group named Bembeya Jazz, eleven African musicians who played enjoyable music.

The only shortfall to the evening was that the staff of the center saw fit not to put out any chairs for the audience, which meant standing in place, jockeying for good sightlines throughout the concert. I stayed as long as my attention to the music was greater than my attention to how uncomfortable it felt to stand around while listening.

When I asked, a staff member said it was "musique dansant" (dancing music) and it's true that it had an enjoyable beat, but it would have been better to have a choice about either being able to dance or sit.

Our Embassy security office has determined that the Embassy grounds, previously available to PCVs, is now off-limits, so we may no longer use the swimming pool or other facilities. When I mentioned this to an Embassy staff person who I ran into at the Bembeya Jazz concert, she said that that was absurd, and referred to the facilities as being "underutilized."

Our previous Ambassador was a PCV, which may have made a difference in our being allowed in. I found out the other day that while the new Ambassador was not a PCV, his wife was. She has just arrived in town. It's anyone's guess as to whether or not she can influence this decision on our behalf.

In any event, our Country Director said that the current policy is more inline with Embassy procedures in the rest of the world.

The Mauritanians do like their sugar. One of the snacks that we were offered during training was popcorn, which was a pleasant surprise to me, especially since I didn't realize that they had popcorn here. More astonishing, though, was that it was sprinkled not with salt but with sugar.

Likewise, I ordered a tomato salad at one of our local Chinese restaurants. It was only tomatoes, which was no big deal. When I put a piece in my mouth, I was amazed to taste that the white crystals I saw sprinkled all over the tomatoes were not salt but sugar!

I have learned to ask that my salads not be served with huge dollops of mayonnaise on them. But how was I to anticipate that tomatoes would be sprinkled with sugar?