It has been a LONG time since I reported about our Peace Corps friend Adam, all is relatively well and he spent a lot of the “holiday” season outside of Kiffa, in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott. While it may not be 5-star living, apparently it’s much much nicer.
after living in squalor for the past 7 months you can imagine what bliss it was!!! paved roads, non-mud brick buildings and restaurants with pizza (and beer if you no where to look)!!!
To remind y’all, alcohol is not officially allowed in the country, but I’m assuming, like all other banned substances in all other countries — you can find it if you know who to talk to.
Speaking of drinking, Adam then headed to St. Louis, Senegal for New Years which he describes as a “run down version” of New Orleans’ French Quarter… ahhhh, that’s the only way I’d want to experience the French Quarter anyway, right?
Adam’s training in Nouakchott was then cut short when protests broke out in Mauritania over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
our plans were unfortunately upended by the breakout of the gaza war and the mass violent protests which ensued in Nouakchott for the remainder of our time there … while it was definitely an unnerving experience it was also one of being holed up in our hotels or stuck at the peace corps offices the majority of the time. again, some pictures of the protests can be seen when i get around to post[ing] photos.
The riots in the heavily Muslim country were, apparently, sparked by the ongoing violence in Gaza — a conflict going on half a world away. In response to Israel’s apparent aggression, Mauritania has closed its Isreal Embassy — a weighty decision considering they are “one of only three Arab League countries to have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.”
With that, perhaps it’s time to quickly update you to what’s going on in Mauritania…
After the successful “bloodless” coup in which acting president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was removed and arrested, military leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has become the spokesperson for what the press has begun referring to as a junta. Generally speaking, a “junta” is “a government ruled by committee,” but the word is also used to describe rule by military dictatorship.
From what is being reported, the interim government is in the process of reorganizing the state, and setting up a democratic election; promised for June 6th of 2009 (6 months after the coup to the day). Junta leader Abdel Aziz has yet to confirm if he plans to run in this election. In the meantime, there’s a lot of other things going on in the West African nation. The African Union (AU) has decided to impose targeted sanctions on junta leaders as they view Mauritanian leadersship a “rebellious regime”.
The sanction includes enforcement of a travel ban on civilian and military members of the ruling council, freezes their bank funds but avoids restricting that aid that Mauritanians (and Adam?) surely need. The official AU statement asked the military administration to “co-operate fully with the AU… to return to the constitutional regime and swiftly resolve the political crisis in the country.” The Magharebia news site also notes that Ahmed Bemba Ould Baya, President of Mauritania’s ruling High Council of State, in turn “accused the AU of refusing to acknowledge the achievements of the military administration,” including the “organizing general forums for democracy, arranging elections within [...] six months, in addition to reducing prices in general”.
Relief Web is also reporting today that a Libyan delegation was in Nouakchott to mediate discussions between the ousted political party and the ruling junta. Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, just elected the as the head of the 53-nation African Union, had recently imposed these new sanctions.
In other Mauritanian news, an Australian-based company, Baraka Petrolium, is looking for exclusive rights to build an oil pipeline throughout the country. Oil & Gas Journal mentions Baraka’s interest in Taoudeni basin and Mauritanian oil adjacent to the Mali. The investment could also become “… a major source of employment and, [...] a catalyst for the exchange of technology and knowledge [and] a source of income through transit fees, royalties, and taxes … apart from revenue gained from the sale of oil and gas produced from the region.”
Now, consider yourself updated and here’s Adam’s full letter:
well, it has been some time since i have written so i figured i should let everyone know what i have been up to the last month. this last month has been a lot of travelling…for the holidays! in mid december i headed off to the lovely capital of Nouakchott for xmas.
this was my first time in the capital and it is the most developed part of the country. therefore, after living in squalor for the past 7 months you can imagine what bliss it was!!! paved roads, non-mud brick buildings and restaurants with pizza (and beer if you no where to look)!!! but most of the time was spent at obie’s house (our country director) and boy what a house it is! there was plenty of food and drink for all and it was great to see our ‘classmates’ that we hadn’t seen since september. after that, on the 26th, the volunteers went there separate ways for new years. most, however, went to saint louis, senegal. i was included in this.
i will say this: after 7 months of mauritania, saint louis, senegal seemed like a dream! it is amazing what a difference merely crossing the river makes. saint louis is similar to a more run down new orleans french quarter. but it is great. right on the pacific i spent 6 days here eating and drinking to my hearts content and basically doing as little as possible. it was also a better way to work on my french since the french spoken there is much more ‘grammatically correct’ we shall say. nonetheless, i urge you to check out photos when i get around to posting them or try and check them out through some facebook friends of mine. it was absolutely relaxing.
new years was a blast too as most the volunteers converged on ‘the tavern’ a tiny crummy hole in the wall bar where we all counted down the new year. afer that, it was, depressingly, back to nouakchott for another week for in-service training. this should of been a fun experience and an opportunity to explore the city but our plans were unfortunately upended by the breakout of the gaza war and the mass violent protests which ensued in nouakchott for the remainder of our time there.
while it was definitely an unnerving experience it was also one of being holed up in our hotels or stuck at the peace corps offices the majority of the time. again, some pictures of the protests can be seen when i get around to posted photos. aside from that, training went off without too many problems and afterward we all departed back to our sites until mid february when most of us will depart to dakar, senegal for WAIST (west african invitational softball tourn).
back at site, i am now concentrating on work again. i currently teach a myriad of health lessons at different locales both in english and french. i do about 3 lessons a week usually at the regional hospital here in kiffa or in conjunction with my sitemates at the GMC (girls mentoring center) or the maison de gens (kind of like a YMCA). these are on a wide range of topics like malaria prevention, AIDS prevention, malnutrition, etc.
in addition to my lessons on a weekly basis i am attempting to accomplish a secondary ‘larger scale’ project. this involves the distribution of ‘clean birthing kits.’ while they are not too useful in kiffa itself, mauritania on the whole has a problem with infection rates at birth. especially in rural sites where bad roads and distance make it impossible for women to get to hospitals or health posts with proper birthing equipment. therefore, birth is done on the ground in the persons home.
i am trying to setup a region wide distribution and teaching ‘initiative’ where i go around and distribute these birth kits (which include a clean blanket, razor, saline, plastic to between the mother and the earth, etc.) to rural sites and then teach mothers or the local health representative how to use them. these types of distributions have already gone on in places like zimbabwe and papua new guinea and have been shown to cut infection rates dramatically. anyways, currently i am in talks with united nations family planning on donating me a bunch of the kits and then i will apply for funding to be able to ship them here (if all goes as planned!) but besides that, life goes on here the same as ever.
lots of tea and chebijin (rice and fish). the weather is winter weather. so it gets to the 50s at night and about high 80s or low 90s during the day. its great! but almost over and come may we will back in the 110s 120s…ugh. i will try and post photos as soon as possible. our internet connection is something to be desired but i will try and post soon. thanks for bearing with the disjointed and quick email. just wanted to give a brief synopsis of the last month. hope all is well! adam
Just reviewed Passion Pit for UR Chicago here.
Will re-post the article below, and extend it with some more rambling commentary…
In a giddy fit of keyboards, falsettos, and saccharine dance beats, Boston newcomers Passion Pit are charming their way west during their first national tour. P.P. bounced their way through a congenial but criminally short set last night at Schubas, as Michael Angelakos engaged the audience with the same disarming manner and sky-high vocals that seep through every track of his debut EP, Chunk of Change.
The set started out playful and keyboard-heavy with Angelakos’ ear for pop melody pushing to the forefront. Flanked a guitar, drums, two Rolands, a Moog, and sitting behind a Yamaha synth himself, Angelakos’ dare-you-to-sing-higher-than-me octaves pierced through riffs, piano lines, and programmed back-beats. Espousing sentiments that in lower vocal ranges might be cringe inducing diary entries, the proper set ended with the dance-happy electropop of “Sleepyhead” and “Better Things” to which the sellout crowd lost their collective brains to, bloggers and ALTBros alike.
Angelakos apologized repeatedly for the abridged set, but, the audience couldn’t blame them for succinctness – Passion Pit just haven’t been around long enough to have a full set.
In a backstory that’s impossible not to repeat; Passion Pit’s origins couldn’t be more endearing: Originally a late Valentine’s Day present for Angelakos’ g/f, the “Chunk of Change” CDR made the rounds at Emerson University, made waves in Boston, and made headlines after some stellar sets at this year’s CMJ music fest in New York. A few months later, after some east coast practice gigs, they’re on tour backed by new label Frenchkiss, playing the six songs that everyone knows and road-testing a few new ones.
Passion Pit’s sincerity and DIY style fits with just a few other bands who somehow dodge be criticized for being goddamned “sincere” all the time — people have seemed to get really sick of that recently. (The fact that, as 20-something culture consumers, we already have issues with earnestness is fodder for a different blog).
I see Angelakos along side other singer/songwriters like Khaela Maricich (The Blow), Ben Gibbard (a-la The Postal Service), and Robert Wratten (Field Mice) as artists that manage to be shmultsy but nevertheless loveable.
Let it be a lesson to those aspiring coffeehouse guitar wankers… if you’re inspired to put your love / breakup letters to music and share it with the world, do two things:
You’ll be a blogosphere hero in no time.
In their ongoing efforts to become a “non-typical” venue for the arts, The Viaduct Theatre on Western Ave has been hosting an exhibit called “Exquisite City“… a play off of the art game “Exquisite Copse” in which different artists depict parts of a body without seeing the whole — E.C. invited artists from across the city to depict their view of the city completely in cardboard, and then compile them together as individual, miniature city blocks. Lots of great work, including from one of my favorite poster artists Dan Grzeca, musician/artists collaborator Sally Timms and TONS of others.
The finished product of Exquisite City is very interesting… some abstract, some apolcolyptic, some detailed down to sidewalk curbs and little dramas taking place in little aprtment windows… wonderful stuff.
I’ll upload more photo’s later, but here’s an impressive foot-tall appropration of The Hideout:
and the real one c/o the blog “The Inside Clam Digger“…
As much as Chicago likes to tout its greenness I was very saddened this morning to walk to my El Stop and see that our fine city workers in the “City That Works” cut down all the trees on the plaza. Granted, it wasn’t the prettiest of grottos but it was nice to have some greenery around. What gives?
I only now regret not taking a good summery picture of them, because as I peruse Flickr (google maps) there’s really not a good photo. There are some great photos of the EL Stop, just not of the trees. Ah well… enjoy what once was:
I got the most curious email from our Afro-resident Dr. Adam Fiebs a few weeks ago. Turns out, the second-hand emails I’ve been posting from him have found their way up the ‘ol Peace Corp totem poll… eventually they approached Adam about the blogging going on here on ArmsDistance, and Fiebs himself was unaware that I was posting. I’ll let him explain it:
mr. battle! (ed. note: That’s me!)
well, because of my sheer obliviousness and/or stupidity, i had no clue you were doing updates on a blog! apparently, it is being read by a plethora of PCV (peace corps volunteer) parents and friends alike, and came to hear of it through some current volunteers here. you are famous! anyways, thank you so much for keeping people up to date because i don’t keep a blog and my emails are only sent to friends/family. the fact that most (if not all) PCV parents are eager to read it is great, so thank you more than anything. it has even gone so far as i have been approached by obie shaw himself (the country director of peace corps mauritania) at swear-in. he informed me as to the U.S. government enlightening him to your blog (because i forwarded emails from him to you). whether that is disconcerning to you, you can judge for yourself..but i find it hilarious because i was utterly clueless as to what he was talking about at the time! anyways, i hope you looked at my photos (i put a link on my facebook page) and hopefully i can keep updated semi-often. please keep it up. i am lazy and far less apt a writer than you are so i hope you do keep it up as i am sure plenty of friends and family will appreciate it!!!
i hope all is well and once our t-shirt is made for mauritania (i hear its in the works!) you will be the first recipient! hope all is well. miss all of you tons! i will keep you posted and will write an update in the next couple weeks as i settle into kiffa…
thanks again! its great and i love it!
Huzzah. Disconcerting? Yup, a little bit, but I’ll keep posting. Mind you any news reported on this site is third-hand but I’m thrilled that I can help share info about the Mauritnian PC efforts, and will keep blogging away. Hi Obie! Hi CIA! (eek.)
Oh, as for the headline, Adam has gotten around to posting images up on his own photo site over on Picasa. I’ll be putting a few up to share every blog, but far be it from me to deny anyone else from checking out the whole page here.
Hmmmm, do I want Summer Susy or Winter Susy to be my ‘space friend?
(photo by Ruthie Hauge)
I see a bit of Sally Mann here, and a bit of the awkward with attitude posing that reminds me of Rineke Dijkstra. Hauge is employed as a newspaper photojournalist, but her journalistic endeavors also give us a chance to see some impromptu slices-of-life. When you think about it, both a photojournalist and a photographer try to capture the moment, except that a photojournalist can’t tell you to do it again.