We had two
surprising bits of news from Peace Corps Washington during the
all, there will be worldwide decreases in the number of trainees
for all PC countries. The Peace Corps budget cuts indicate (to
me) that U.S. expenditures for war are obviously a higher priority
than those for peace. This is sad, not only for our country
but for the other nations with which we are trying to build
friendships. In the case of our program, we were originally
expecting to have 72 new trainees in June; one round of cuts
trimmed that to 59; then, last week, it was reduced further,
to 41. Factor in the inevitable ET's and it's hard to know how
many people will be left to swear in by September.
the office in Washington has asked that our Country Director
take over the program that is both larger and in a bit of trouble
in neighboring Mali. She has agreed to do this. One of our APCDs
will be the interim Country Director. We probably won't be getting
a new CD until June.
be a loss for us, as it is hard to know who will replace our
CD. She maintained a delicate balance that is not easy for an
administrator to pull off: she is both a competent bureaucrat
and a good listener who took to heart the concerns of the staff
and Volunteers in her charge.
Babah took a look on my kitchen wall, where I have put up postcards
and greeting cards that friends and family have sent to me.
He said that he wanted to create something for me to put up
there from him. I gave him a pad of drawing paper and he is
now creating masterpieces to put up there.
by during the last week when I was making soup, so I put him
to work cutting carrots. It's a black bean and wild rice soup,
with lots of onions and garlic. My cooking motto is: If you
put in enough onions and garlic, you can make old sweat socks
I had a few shaky moments at home with a new leak. One evening
I saw a puddle between the bathtub and the toilet, with no clear
indication as to the origin of the water. I still don't understand
the reason why it is the tenant's responsibility to pay for
these repairs, but that is the way they do things here. So I
went to sleep with the thoughts of either having to pay for
an expensive plumbing repair or, if it was going to be too much,
morning, I did a little mopping up and found the source of the
leak. It was not from within the wall, but from a pipe leading
to the bidet, which is between the toilet and the sink. I sighed
with the relief that this would be much less expensive to repair.
The plumber's time and materials cost 1,500 ouguiya -
less than $5! Whew!
Two embassy employees invited me to their homes over the weekend.
One event was a happy hour on Thursday evening; the other was
a dinner on Saturday evening. It's a very enjoyable group, with
people who have worked all over the world, mostly with the Foreign
Service. Conversations included mentions of living and working
in Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Burma, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Cape
Verde, Sierra Leona, South Africa, Peru, Germany, France, Ireland,
end of the Saturday dinner, the hostess asked me if I would
like to take home some of the leftover food. It's hard to say
no to hummos, tabouleh, babagnoush, and pita bread. She fixed
up a huge pan of it. Now, I thought, what am I going to do with
all this? It was more than I can eat before it spoiled.
had an influx of Volunteers arriving in Nouakchott, so I brought
it to the PCV lounge. Just like the faculty room at school -
any food brought in is happily and quickly consumed!
It's a funny thing about some books and the way that they have
been appearing in my life recently. I was visiting one of our
Volunteers in the Peace Corps' medical apartment (where out-of-towners
stay if they are here with medical problems), when I saw The
Dance of Life: The Other Dimensions of Time by Edward T.
Hall on the top of a pile of books. I could see from the description
on the cover that it was about the way that different cultures
perceive and use time. I lost no time in reading it as soon
published in 1983, explained a lot about the way different peoples
around the world relate to time. The author's references are
predominantly Americans, Europeans, Native Americans of the
Southwest (Hopi, Navajo), Japanese, and Arabs of the Mediterranean.
Most significant for me is his explanation of the differences
between cultures that operate on Monochronic Time (M-time) and
Polychronic Time (P-time). My understanding of these concepts
have helped me to have a better grasp on the way that people
relate to each other here, especially in comparison to home.
Americans use M-time, in that they do one thing at a time. At
a business meeting, all those in attendance are focused on the
work at hand, with interruptions being kept at a minimum. In
M-time cultures such as the USA, it is scheduling that orders
life. M-time is oriented to tasks, schedules, and procedures.
Time is seen as a continuum with a past, present, and future.
It is seen as a commodity that can be managed, controlled, spent,
wasted, and saved.
Polychronic people such as Turks, Arabs - and certainly Mauritanians
- tend to do many things simultaneously, such as hold a meeting,
give and take phone calls, and permit interruptions for greetings
and tea. I used the word "interruptions" because that
is the way that an M-time person would see all the things going
on that stop the course of the meeting proper. But they clearly
do not see these other activities as interruptions.
writes about members of P-time cultures, "Their involvement
in people is the very core of their existence." They are
oriented toward people. Because they value people as highly
as they do, they listen when others speak, they do not cut them
off, and, above all, they do not subjugate the needs of others
to something as arbitrary as a schedule that has to be followed.
a long way toward explaining what I have been witnessing as
meetings that are chaotic, where not much work (or what I would
call work) is getting done. And there is more:
that P-time people "are almost never alone, even in the
home" and that they are "so deeply immersed in each
other's business that they feel a compulsion to keep in touch."
This information helps to explain all the drop-in visitors I
have complained about. Since the Mauritanians themselves do
not spend time alone, they have evidently not placed a value
on solitude. As for their incessant visits to my house - they
want to make sure that I am not lonely, and they need to be
up-to-date on what is happening in my life. It all becomes clear
that there are both tight and loose versions of M- and P-time
cultures, and that there are occasions when people flip from
one mode to another. For example, an American parent can have
spent much M-time in the office, but once s/he is home, cleaning
up, watching after children, and making a meal, there is a decided
shift to P-time (what we have come to call "multi-tasking").
I was waiting for a meeting to begin and was reading The
Dance of Life. Somebody in the office saw the book and told
me that he had another one by the same author, which he would
lend to me if I was interested. That is how I came to read The
Silent Language, which was written earlier (1959), and is
an explanation of the many features that create culture and
through which culture is transmitted without the use of language.
It, too, was fascinating, along the lines of an Anthropology
a reference in these books to yet another one: The Hidden
Dimension, the author's book about the way different cultures
view space. This could be useful, too, and I have ordered a
copy; it's on its way to me now. Hall is an anthropologist who
pioneered the field of proxemics, the study of people and their
relation to space. I am looking forward to greater understanding
when this book arrives!
I was in the office of the PC's cross-cultural coordinator,
when I saw yet another of Hall's books, Beyond Culture
(published in 1976), sitting on top of a stack. I asked to borrow
it and have just completed reading it. The information in his
books tends to overlap, which I find useful, as he writes about
concepts that he may have covered in a previous book I read,
but is now reinforced for me as I read it in a new context.
In Beyond Culture, he makes a further helpful distinction
for me between Polychronic and Monochronic cultures:
cultures (Mauritania), the completion of a job has lower importance
than being sociable to others with whom one is working. "To
be obsessional about achieving a work goal at the expense of
getting along is considered aggressive, pushy, and disruptive."
Yes, then, it is clear to me: my Mauritanian co-workers are
decidedly not obsessional about achieving their work goals!
that working in a Polychronic culture "can be almost totally
disorganizing" to a people from Monochronic cultures, saying,
"The two systems are like oil and water - they do not mix."
I can sum
up what I have learned from him in this quotation: "The
reason man does not experience his true cultural self is that
until he experiences another self as valid he has little basis
for validating his own self."
the different approach to time as displayed by people here (and
especially in contrast to American society), I may also now
have a better understanding of some other aspects of the local
my most recent session of the English Conversation Club at NEC,
we read an article from a business magazine. It was a story
about an employee of Les Schwab Tire Centers; he stopped and
changed the flat tire of a middle-aged woman, brought her to
the store where he worked, where they fixed the flat for free,
and said that that was just the way their company did business.
The story claimed that this company gives away $10 million in
business every year by changing flat tires for free. They also
earn more than $1 billion a year!
in the class couldn't quite understand why a company would do
so much work for free, if it was in business to make money.
That brought up a conversation about long-term benefits. I explained
to them that yes, they do give away a lot of business, but look
at how much more they gain as a result of their grateful customers.
me wonder if this is related to the local perspective about
time. People's schedules here are short-term. You may remember
how hard it was for me to get a date book for 2004. Advanced
planning is not a strong suit of this culture.
through my apartment and the homes of most people will reveal
that painters did not use drop cloths when they did their work.
You can see shoddy workmanship everywhere. How did that come
as I extrapolate on what I have learned recently, is that the
focus of the painting and other workmanship, is to get the
job done as soon as possible. The focus is obviously not
to have a nice appearance for many years to come. It appears
to me to be the view toward the short-term results rather than
the long-term benefits.