Escape, then Back to Reality

February 12, 2009

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 countryOil & 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

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Mauritania: Soccer, Power Outages, and Holidays

November 12, 2008

“if you meet the right people and dont get too discouraged you can actually do things here”

Such are the encouraging words from Adam volunteering in Mauritania. It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from Adam — part of this might have to do with them being without power for the last 9 days. Ouch. Overall, everything seems to be going well. Dr Adam has some ideas on HIV/AIDS awareness that links into youth soccer programs which would be really cool, as I know Adam is a big soccer (aka “football” for the rest of the world) fan.

Perhaps, if the UNICEF/FIFA thing doesn’t work out, we could try to donate t-shirts and soccer equipment for him. That would be really cool.

Otherwise, it sounds like he’s making Holiday plans like the rest of us, some of which focuses on drinking (like the rest of us).

Check out all of Adam’s Peace Corp photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com/adam.fiebs

The Full letter:
hello!
well it has been a bit since i have dropped a line. it has been a bit busy around here as of late. aside from visiting some parts of mauritania i have yet to visit i have made some strides on the work front. mainly ideas mostly and a lot A LOT of talking about them with members of the community. among them organizing a community soccer tournament for kids on world aids day, dec. 1, and educating them about hiv/aids. i am trying to do this in conjunction with UNICEF and FIFA which would be awesome because they can donate sports equipment and the like as well as t shirts etc etc. UNICEF has this thing called sports in a box which donates a ton of equipment to third world countries needing them. so cross your fingers and all will be a success. aside from that talking about a traveling vaccination program for children in more rural sites and maybe something on clean birthing kits. but more details to follow.
 
 my language is getting better a little bit each day so i dont make a fool of myself nearly as much as i did when i first arrived. but i feel it is part of the territory as a peace corps volunteer. aside from that, all is great! only frustrating part is trying to explain that you are a volunteer and that no, you wont be bringing any money into the place. but if you meet the right people and dont get too discouraged you can actually do things here. again, ask me this question in 6 or 8 months and i could be less or more enthusiastic on this point.
 
but in all. things are good. i am looking forward to going to nouakchott for xmas and actually having a beer!!! whoo! and then saint louis in senegal for new years which i hear is eden among peace corps mauritania volunteers. those senegal and mali volunteers have it good 😉
 
i will try to post new photos soon. our electricity has been out for the last 9 days and it came on for 3 hours last night. enough time to charge a computer. hope all is well and thanks to everyone who has sent me packages! they are great!
 
adam fiebs