|           On Thursday,
Kristen and I went to my office at IPN to meet with my counterpart
and my supervisor. The work that they had to do - completing the
word lists in French and Arabic - was still not done.
needed to write the French and Arabic translations of the section
in each lesson that is titled "I learn about others."
This is a paragraph in which a cultural point is explained to
the students, so that they have a better understanding of the
lesson. For example, in the lesson that introduces members of
the family, it explains what Americans mean when they refer
to such people as aunts, uncles, cousins, and parents, which
have different meanings from the French vocabulary for the same
people. Africans use the word "parent" to mean any
relative who is older than s/he. The people we refer to as cousins
are very commonly called brothers and sisters, especially if
they grow up in the same area and see each other frequently.
and my counterpart needed to work together to accomplish their
work, since hers is stronger in Arabic and mine is stronger
in French. In order for them to collaborate on their work, though,
they needed to be in the same place, and that became the basis
of a new argument between them. D insisted that H come to the
building where he was, and H was adamant that D go to his office.
I was surprised
that D would have this argument on the phone in the presence
of Sidi Mohamed, our supervisor. Kristen, Sidi Mohamed, and
I sat there for a while, listening to D's end of the conversation.
Finally, Kristen got on the phone to speak to H and explained
that the job would not get done unless somebody made a move.
Shortly after Kristen and I left the building, we ran into H,
headed toward D's office.
In June, we Mauritania Volunteers received a questionnaire from
the Office of Inspector General (OIG), with a request to reply
by the beginning of July. Our Country Director informed us that
an evaluator from the OIG was planning to visit Mauritania.
The questionnaire related to several areas of concern to the
OIG; these included management and leadership, programming,
volunteer support, safety and security, and training. By early
July, based on the content of the questionnaires, the evaluator
had chosen several PCVs to interview in depth. I was one of
originally established an Office of Inspector General in 1978
in several large federal agencies. As quoted from the brochure
about the Peace Corps OIG, its purpose is "to prevent and
detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement and to promote
economy, effectiveness, and efficiency in government."
In 1988, the OIG was extended to include the Peace Corps. Because
it was created as part of the Inspector General Act and not
as part of the Peace Corps Act, it operates as an independent
entity within the Peace Corps.
OIG departments - evaluation, auditing and accounting, and criminology
- include four evaluators and a support staff who report to
the Inspector General (IG). The IG reports directory to the
Director of the Peace Corps and also answers to Congress by
submitting two reports per year. The most recent Inspector General
recently left his position after 8.5 years on the job; there
is currently an Acting Inspector General.
visits four PC countries a year. Prior to arrival in-country,
the evaluator prepares for his trip by analyzing documents to
which he has access in Washington. He also interviews PC employees
in Washington who regularly work with the region where the country
is located. He meets with representatives at the part of PCW
that is known as "The Center," which is the cadre
of specialists who represent all the Peace Corps programs, such
as education, small enterprise development, agroforestry, and
information technology, among others. (It is The Center that
serves as the link to the APCDs who head their programs in-country.)
He also speaks to the people who work at the Country Desk, which
is the administration in Washington that supports the Volunteers.
One of the
senior evaluators from the OIG arrived in Mauritania late in
July. He has done this work in six PC countries so far, most
recently in Honduras, and has made similar site visits and evaluations
for organizations as diverse as the World Bank, Arthur Andersen,
and the US Department of Agriculture. I was impressed by his
comment that his work for the Peace Corps has been significantly
different from that of the other agencies for which he worked.
What distinguishes his current job from the previous ones is
that he has seen that his evaluations for Peace Corps have lead
to influencing and changing practices, whereas in other organizations,
once he filed his report, there was not much done about improvements
that needed to be made.
process begins with a survey and is followed by a visit to the
country in question, including in-depth interviews with selected
Volunteers, and many site visits. Our personable interviewer
told me that all information gleaned from PCVs would be held
in the strictest of confidence, unless we specifically told
him that we had information that we wanted to be shared with
the powers that be. He told me that he has had enough interviews
here to see that some themes were emerging. He checked with
me to see how I had replied to the questionnaire. We talked
about support for finding adequate housing, the filing of quarterly
reports, vacation time, reimbursement of expenses, job satisfaction,
counterpart relationships, training and orientation, and medical
theme that has emerged here in Mauritania has been the quality
of work of a particular PC employee. Our evaluator indicated
to me that 41 out of the 43 Volunteers who responded cited problems
with this person's work performance. I am omitting the name
and function to protect the incompetent. The evaluator told
me that the most recent IG knows about the situation and said
that it was the first time that he has seen this level of dissatisfaction
from among Volunteers. The acting IG knows about the problem,
our Country Director knows, and the person involved knows.
A few of
us have offered the inspector written reports to chronicle the
issues we have had. I had mine on a flash disk in addition to
a paper version; he copied my document onto his laptop. We are,
of course, hopeful that something can be done to improve this
the end of the interview, when he inquired about my housing,
I told him that I lived nearby and he asked if he could see
my apartment. He liked it, took pictures, and was particularly
pleased to see that I was using a mosquito net around my bed.
to the PCV interviews, the evaluators take lots of photos at
sites and monitor the conditions under which PCVs are living
and working. They also meet with some counterparts with whom
Volunteers work. They speak to both managerial and non-managerial
staff at the PC bureaus. Interviewing includes three sessions
with the Country Director, concluding with a debriefing at the
end of the visit, in order to present findings before the evaluator
leaves the country.
in Washington, the evaluator debriefs an assortment of PC employees,
including the region in which the country is located, the Country
Desk, safety and security, health, and the specialists at The
then drafts a report with specific recommendations, including
changes that need to be made. This report is submitted to the
head of the region and to the Country Director, who then has
an opportunity to respond to the recommendations. The purpose
of the recommendations is to remedy problems that the evaluator
has observed. The OIG does not prescribe solutions - that is
left to the post to determine for itself. When the Country Director
has a solution to the problem, s/he presents it to the OIG,
which can either agree or disagree with the proposed solution.
a year or so, an evaluator from the IGO may revisit the country.
They pay particular note to any discrepancies that may exist
between the way the post officials reported that they would
solve any problems and the way they actually did solve them.
Following is my book report for the month of July.
began the month with The Best American Travel Writing 2002,
Frances Mayes (editor). It's a collection of essays that had
appeared in print during the previous year. The writers covered
a large portion of the globe and a variety of topics. This was
my introduction to the series. The same publisher also comes
out with several other "Best American" titles, such
as short stories, recipes, and science fiction. I am looking
forward to reading Best American Essays and Best American
Last Camel: True Stories of Somalia is a Peace Corps book
by Jeanne D'Haem, who writes moving tales about the people in
her village and region. Her stories show her compassion, warmth,
humor, and candor. She served in the late 1960's and did not
complete her service because the political situation demanded
that the Peace Corps evacuate its Volunteers.
Big Fat Queer Life is a book of essays by Michael Thomas
Ford, a funny and thought-provoking writer. He has evidently
been a columnist in several gay papers, but this was my introduction
to his writing. I particularly enjoyed his essay entitled "The
F Word;" the word in question is "fun." In his
world view people are divided into two camps - those who are
fun and those who are not. He sees himself as a non-fun person,
and I could greatly relate to what he wrote, since I am very
much the same way. He also wrote an enjoyable piece with ten
excellent tips for having a meaningful life.
Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert, William Langewiesche
begins in Algiers and treks across Algeria, Niger, Mali, and
Senegal. He did not visit Mauritania on this voyage, but included
a chapter about a previous visit here. From what he wrote about
the desert trek, I could confirm that this is not the
kind of trip that I would like to take! His information about
Mauritania, was accurate though dated. It was comical to read
about there being very few cars on Nouakchott streets, as they
are now choked with traffic.