Elections and Scorpions

Trip Start Jun 2008
Trip End Aug 2010

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hello everyone,
We have been quite busy out here in Awaynatt Zbill...  I would hate to jinx our work so far, but we have been moving along with the center in a steady pace.  First, though, let me describe the situation here.  Awaynatt is a small town (about 5,000) which poses one significant problem for the people here, mainly that the town does not merit a lycee (the equivalent of our high schools).  This fact has determined how we have decided to set up our center.   While a select few (mainly the ones with money) will be able to continue their studies in other towns, the vast majority of students here will effectively finish their formal education at the age of about 15, leaving no hope for them to continue on with their studies at a lycee, let alone the university in Nouakchott. As such, we have decided to focus more on an untraditional curriculum.  Instead of supplementing the girls' formal studies, we have decided to instruct them in areas such as sewing, tie-dying, arts and crafts, etc.  In addition, we hope to teach them basic math, computer and business skills, with the hope that although they will not receive an official degree, they will be well prepared to earn a livelihood, as they will have the life skills needed to open a boutique in the market where they can sell their wares.  We have met with one of the women's cooperatives, and we think we might even try to organize the girls in the classes into a similar organization while they study at the center to help maximize the resources they will have available to them while we are here.  We still plan on continuing with English lessons (there is a great demand) and sessions on heath and sanitation, but getting the girls familiar with technical skills and basic business concepts seems to be the most effective strategy for our site.
What this all boils down to is the idea of sustainability. We are not sure if we will have replacement PCVs here after we leave, so we are trying to set the center up to run itself by the time we leave here in 2010.  While we are definitely in the beginning stages, it all seems to be going well.  We have organized two classes, one of older girls and women and the other of girls currently enrolled in the college (middle school).  Our goal is to treat the older girls as mentors, basically training them to do what we do, so when we leave, they will be able to continue on running the center.  Eventually, we hope to have them with us in the younger class, like student teachers.  All and all, there seems to be a great deal of interest.  We had hoped to recruit 15 mentors, and we are currently instructing 30.  We have not started teaching the younger girls as of yet, but we have already have more girls interested than we can properly teach.  A good problem to have, but a bit disheartening as well.,,
We received four computers from Peace Corps and have set them up in the mayor's office.  While the town does not have electricity, the mayor's office is powered by gasoline generators owned by the cell phone companies, so we will have plenty of electricity for our computer lessons.  We are still trying to get solar panels, but there are a number of hurdles to get through and we are just happy to have access to electricity. 
Don't let me fool you.  This is going to be a challenge and recourses are scarce, so if anyone wants to send us a small package of school supplies, please email me.  They will be very much appreciated.
In other news, I was stung by a scorpion.  Ha ha.  No worries, though.  I am just fine. After I killed it and realized my foot felt like it was on fire, I looked in my trusty Peace Corps health manual and learned the scorpion bites here are not fatal...just painful.  After the pain subsided, my foot went numb for a day, but eventually went back to normal.  Needless to say, I am much more careful about where I step at night....
Everyone (Americans and Mauritanians alike) have been excited about the elections.  We all received our absentee ballots a month ago, so I can assume our votes were counted and we have been following the election the best we can.  Most every Mauritanian I have met has been supporting Obama.  It really is amazing to see how people from across the globe have been following our elections.  It really put into perspective the gravity of USA's place in the world and ignites a sense of pride and loyalty to our country.  I feel pretty up to date now that I have my new shortwave radio (thanks Mom!).  With it I am able to pick up English languages stations from all over the place...USA, UK, Germany, Liberia, Netherlands, Niger, Singapore, China, Ghana...even Croatia, funny enough.  Each of those stations have programs where listeners call in, and it has been really interesting listening to the viewpoints of people from Europe and Africa on issues like the election or financial crisis.  It is hard to explain, but in one way I feel out of touch with the world, yet in another, I feel like I am right in the middle.
So there it is.  All is well.  We have yet to feel the effects of the financial crisis, but I am sure they are coming.  I truly hope everyone back home (and in Australia) are coping the best they can.  I am thinking about you out here in the desert. 
Check out the photos.  I put up a few of the scorpion, of Jackie and me teaching, and of the back country (I have started running again and brought my camera with me one day).
Ok.  Check back in a few weeks!
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