First few weeks at site!

Trip Start Jun 2008
Trip End Aug 2010

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Thursday, September 18, 2008

Where to start.... As you might assume, I am back in Ayoun.  We decided to take a trip back to the big city to restock on supplies, visit the bank, and check email.  We should be here for a few days, then head back to Awaynatt for the rest of Ramadan. 
Life in our site is pretty good.  When we arrived we were greeted by the mayor and spent the day and night at the Hakim's house (hakim is like a prefect, in between a mayor and governor).  The hakim spent a few years in the USA and has a pretty good grasp of English, so it was nice to have someone who understood us in those first few days. Although, we seem to be doing pretty well with our Hassaniya.  All in all, we can pretty much understand what is going on and it at least seems as if people can understand what we are saying back to them.  We definitely have a long way to go, but Awaynatt is the right place to be; the town is predominately White Moor, meaning Hassaniya is the predominate language which in turn means the Hassaniya spoken in Awaynatt has not been spliced with much Pular, Sonike, French or Wolof and is much closer to what we were taught in training.  I try to spend an hour or two each day memorizing new words and the market is by far the best place to practice our newfound language skills.
Going to the market, by the way, is just ridiculous.  You seriously have to mentally prepare yourself for the experience, as you are pretty much bombarded by literally everyone you see with questions: "What's your name?", "Are you married? (laughter when they learn I am not)", "Do you want to marry a Mauritanian woman?" ,
"Will you teach me English", "you need to buy all of your things from me!".  Of course, before you engage in any sort of conversation, you must formally greet everyone you see, which can take anywhere from three to ten minutes.  You wish people peace, ask them about their families, ask them about their health, wish them more peace, ask them how they are with the heat, ask them how they are with tiredness, wish that nothing harms them, ask them what is new, ask them about their travels, wish them more peace.  After you ask them these questions (and more) you just go ahead and repeat all of those questions a few times until you are both satisfied the other person in good form.  Some people want to ask questions about you, others just want to look at you.  Some people try to convert you, while others want to know if you are fasting.  Everyone loves the fact that I speak a little Hassaniya and wear Mauritanian clothing and they all get visibly upset and confused when I wear anything different. I have met a handful of people who have creeped me out enough to where I will keep my distance, but by and large, everyone had been very receptive to our presence.  We have taken these market excursions to not only as a means to meet as many people as possible, but as a way to let everyone know why we are there and what we hope to do.  I have actually been a little surprised at how open everyone has been to our opening a GMC. 
Speaking of which, our GMC is already well underway.  If there is an upside to Peace Corps closing operations in Nema, it is the fact that we received a good deal of essentials for our center (tables, chairs, mats...even two sewing machines!).  Moreover, the mayor already secured us a large room at the college (middle school) for our activities.  We are still working on securing funding for solar panels, computers, and  additional supplies, but all and all, be are in pretty good shape for having only arrived a few weeks ago.  However, before we can select the girls for the GMC and start sessions, we need to talk to the teachers and parents, but we can't really do any of that until after Ramadan.
My first experience with Ramadan has been quite an experience indeed.  I really wish we were not scheduled to arrive in site on the FIRST day of Ramadan, but it just make for better stories years down the line... For those of you not familiar with the intricacies of the religious holiday, do a quick Google search to gain a better understanding.  I guess, though, that it is probably good we arrived during Ramadan, as we pretty much have the month to settle in as nearly everyone is fasting, meaning people eat at 4:00am and at sundown, and generally sleep during the day, which means you really only see people at the market in the morning or evening, and those people you do see are generally pretty grumpy...  Breaking fast with people, however, has become a nice way to meet people and exchange pleasantries, but we really will not be able to start any real "work" until after the holiday.  On top of that, many people are not even in town.  I would say the vast majority of Awaynites are either staying in the countryside (badiya) or are in other, larger towns.  We hear everyone will be returning in October, right as school starts.
So, other than that, we have sucessfully moved Jackie into her house.  It has two rooms, a large hallway, kitchen, storage closet, and a water tap and "facilities" outside.  We even put up a goat fence!  And we are just about ready to start our garden, yeah! I, on the other hand, am still without home, but the word on the street is that one will be ready when we get back from Aioun.  I have learned to expect nothing in this country, but they did show me a house before we left, and if that is in fact the house I get, it is pretty sweet!  I will save the details for later....
Well, that is it folks.  We are pretty much settled in and ready to get moving.  It is going to take a few months to get our language up to par and get the details of the GMC all worked out, but I will surely keep you updated and promise I will keep the pictures coming (p.s.  There is not much action in these pictures because I took them on a rainy day...its true!  It was the coolest day we have had, so I took a walk around the outskirts of town and by a few of the houses on the way to the market.  Next time, everyone should be back in town, so it will be a bit more lively...and dryer...and I should have some pics of the GMC and my new home!)
Also, if anyone wants to send school supplies for the GMC (or Mike supplies....)  PLEASE feel free.  We have a post box in Ayoun, and should be back here every few weeks.
Mike Jaruszewicz
Corps de la Paix
BP 4, Ayoun El Atrouss
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