Back to Rosso!

Trip Start Jun 2008
Trip End Aug 2010

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Monday, July 28, 2008

Alright!  Back safe and sound in Rosso after quite a little trip....  The last week or so is kind of a blur, but I will try to give you all a little idea of what we saw out on the other side of Mauritania.
Our first day, we split up into our respective regions and boarded the ubiquitous Peace Corps Land Cruisers in search of our destinations.  For some of us, it took only a few hours.  For others....a few days.  We fell into the later category.  Our first travel day started riding through the desert and ended riding through the desert...  We ended up in Kiffa for the night, knowing we had another full day of travel to come.  Much to our surprise, however, we were put up in a hotel....with get this...sit down toilets!  That's what I am talking about.
Our second day was when I really started to get excited, as we were starting to get a feel for the eastern landscape.  Still plenty of sand and heat, but there was substantially vegetation and beautiful rock formations.  By evening, we made our way to Aioun and were met by the current volunteers and spent the night telling stories and feasting on pizza!  While technically not my regional capital, Aioun is actually closer than Nema (one hour, as opposed to two), which I think will work out to my advantage as I will have not one, but two large cities visit when in search for respite from Awainatt Zbill.  Although, I think I am going to be pretty happy in my new home....
When Jackie and I reached Aweainatt Zbill, I must say I was a bit overwhelmed.  The info sheet they had given us was evidently for the wrong town, as there were no palm trees and there are only 4,000 people instead of 8,000 people.  Soon enough, though, the other redeeming features became clear.  For one, don't let the name fool you!  It is actually quite a nice little town compared to pretty much everything else we drove through... In fact, there is a pretty interesting story behind the name...
Many years ago, a neighboring tribe had made it known they were interested in moving into the area on account of the copious amount of trees and fine grazing land.  When the local peoples eventually found out about this underhanded scheme, they devised a plan to ward off the ensuing conquerors.  When word was out that the scouts were on their way, the village chief took an amount of cow shit (Zbill) and placed it into the water supply (awainatt).   When the scouts reached the town they did indeed find the trees and grasslands, but much to their chagrin, the water tasted like...shit!  Ha ha.  The name stuck, I guess....
After a few hours, the shock of our new site wore off, having much to do with how genuinely happy the people seemed to be knowing we were going to work in their town.  We were immediately greeted by the mayor and his brother (a medical student in Algeria) and ended up staying at their house in town and in their hyma (like a big tent) out in the mbediya (countryside).  While lacking in palm trees, the area is full of a variety of other trees and believe it or not, grass.  During the rainy season, most of the town lives out in the mbediya in their tents, attending to the goats, cows, camels, etc.  I will tell you right now, I can definitely get used to that as it is both cool and extremely comfy out there.  It will also be a nice place to go for a jog!  While we will not have electricity (I am kind of excited about that) our houses should be hooked up with running water.  Although, we have already been talking with one of the other volunteers in the region, and it seems like we could get access to some cheap and efficient solar and/or wind generators for town use if we can get our hands on some grant money.  One of many future projects....
More than anything else, though, I think we really have the chance to make a pretty serious impact there.  In our first meeting with the mayor and the city prefect, we tried to get a feel for what they wanted out of us and their response, translated through our trusty language facilitator, Bilal, was that they were going to give us the freedom to make our own assessments and priorities and that they would help us in everyway they could.  This may be a bit early to make assumptions or predictions, but I think once we get our language skills up to par, we might be able to move things along at a decent pace.  I guess it is better to be optimistic.... The town is big enough where we will have a fair pool of resources, but small enough where we should be able to meet just about everyone there in a few months.  The town has two primary schools and one college (like an American middle school), a women's cooperative, as well as a medical center (built for the town by the US Army a few years ago).  We were both told they wanted us to help out in any way we could, so we both have a feeling we will be able to expand our services past just opening a GMC.  Our sector director also encouraged us to travel around to the other established GMCs throughout the country, once we get settled, to get a feel for what they are doing in their towns and to bounce ideas off the other volunteers about starting up a new GMC.  Needless to say, we are both really excited to get started....
So, after our first taste of Awainatt Zbill, we were picked up and worked our way back to Aioun to set up our bank accounts and to spend another night with the volunteers.  While we didn't get to meet the volunteers in Nema (technically our regional capital),  Mike K, one of the other trainees, said they sent their regards and look forward to meeting us in August.
We made back to Kiffa the next day, spending the night at the home of one of the language facilitators.  We also had the chance to meet the volunteers posted there.  The next morning, we headed out to Rosso and decided to take a 'shortcut' though the desert with turned out to be a devil of a good time for some (myself included) and quite a bad time for others (those pucking).  We pretty much just drove through a mixture of desert and unpaved road until we reached Rosso.  It really reminded my of the overland trip I took form Cambodia to Thailand, except here, in addition to cramped quarters and a ridiculously bumpy ride, we had frequent camel crossings, vomiting, and frequent stops for prayer call and mint tea......
We will all be here at the training center for the next few days to debrief, then we are back to our host families for a few more weeks of languages!
Ok.  Time for a nap.
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