Holdays and St. Louis!

Trip Start Jun 2008
Trip End Aug 2010

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hello again and happy belated holidays!
I arrived in Aioun yesterday and am getting myself ready to head back to Awaynatt, but thought I would catch up with you all and let you know what has been happening these past few weeks.
Right before Christmas, a few of us took a few days to work ourselves over to Nouakchott for the annual Christmas feast.  We made stops in Kiffa and Aleg and had the chance to catch up with friends we had not seen since we all swore in as PCVs.  Then, on the 24th, we all set course for the capital.  While I am sure for the casual observer Nouakchott is not the most memorable of capitals, to us, it is a veritable wonderland; a place where you can find just about anything you want.  There was a BIG Xmas party, and I am pretty sure just about every American in this country was there, with the cooking committee concocting quite a spread for Xmas Eve and Xmas Day.  It was a nice start to a great little vacation.
After Xmas, we all started working our way down to St. Louis, Senegal for a week of relaxing.  I wish I had more to tell you, but that is pretty much all we did.  I stayed in a cabana on the beach and spent my days by the water and my evenings in town frequenting the local drinking establishments. 
Once we returned to Mauritania, we were met with a week of meetings and sessions in Nouakchott.  In Peace Corps terminology is called Early Term Reconnect, which basically means we all meet up after four months at our respective sites to share experiences and attend a variety of sessions pertaining to our respective fields.  I also had the chance to meet with a Rotarian from the Rotary Club of Nouakchott.  We had a nice talk about my scholarship experiences as well as the work on which their club is working.  Hopefully, over the next year or so we will be able to collaborate on one or two projects.  After that I started working my way back east....and here I am!
Now that I have been here for a while and had the chance to see and speak with everyone again, I am starting to realize what this experience means for me.  Like everyone else, I joined the Peace Corps for altruistic reasons, but it is a great feeling to realize my work is actually accomplishing something.  I think Jackie and I are luckier than most in that the people in our site have wholeheartedly embraced what we are there to do.  While Mauritania and Peace Corps have long had friendly relations, some communities are definitely more receptive than others. And while there is most definitely a long way to go, it seems as if what we are doing there with the GMC will have lasting effects.  Over the coming months, we are going to continue in the same manner as we have been, with the goal of sustainability, as well as incorporate a few new ideas and sessions we picked up in last week's meetings.
In addition, Mauritania itself has proved to provide quite an experience so far.  On the whole, once people know who I am and why I am here they could not be happier to meet me.  My experiences have shown me that the people of Mauritania (especially the younger generations) are keen on learning as much as they can...they are just looking for the opportunities.  I will not lie, it is not the easiest country to live in, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
In terms of politics, this seems to be one of the most important (and exciting times) in recent history.  No on really knows what is going to happen and are basically just holding their breaths. While we all stay far removed from Mauritanian politics and political discussions, it is clear the people here have politics on their minds.  The change in the world economy has begun to affect us here, with clear downturns in the fishing, minerals, and petroleum industries.  Seeing that those are the backbone of the economy here, there are bound to be consequences, but none of us really know what it going to happen right now.  The past month has been marked by a number of protests around the country, concerning a variety of issues and a meeting of 1500 influential Mauritanians just concluded, announcing there will be presidential elections on 30 May 2009.  Long story short, it is an exciting time to be here.  In terms of security, we are all plenty safe, so no worries there. We are all just taking in the experience of being curious bystanders in a curious time.
That is about all I have for you.  Thank you all for your holiday greetings, and I hope you all are well.  I posted a few pictures for St. Louis for you.  I am starting to realize I am a horrible photographer in that while I always carry a camera, I never seem to take any pictures...  In any event, enjoy!
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