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 Update

August 18, 2008

I’ve noticed there’s a few people checking Arms, Distancefor updates on the Mauritania Peace Corp  situation, and although there’s no personal news from Adam to report, everything is going as well as could be expected in Mauritania during the on-going coup there.  Although the democratically-elected President is still imprisoned, other major figureheads, like the Prime Minister, have been released and as Obie points out, day-to-day life has not altered that much.

The international community has widely criticized the coup, and in less-great news, “the leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” has publicly announced his wish that Mauritania be transformed into a “Caliphate Style” Islamic state.  For those (like me) who do not know exactly what that means, here’s one of MANY definitions

caliphate(kăl’ĭfāt’, -fĭt) , the rulership of Islam; caliph (kăl’ĭf’), the spiritual head and temporal ruler of the Islamic state. In principle, Islam is theocratic: when Muhammad died, a caliph [Arab.,=successor] was chosen to rule in his place. The caliph had temporal and spiritual authority but was not permitted prophetic power; this was reserved for Muhammad. The caliph could not, therefore, exercise authority in matters of religious doctrine.

So, things are going along in Mauritania, with no Peace Corp-specific news.  Though, I can gather by Obie’s comments late in the letter, that they are still going ahead with the swearing in of the Trainee’s to full Volunteers — Adam being one of them.

Good luck to everyone, our thoughts are with you.

Hello Volunteers and Trainees:
 
I hope this eMail finds you doing well.  There has not been a great deal of change in the political situation here in Nouakchott over the past few days with the exception of the release from custody of the Prime Minister and a number of other government officials who had been held by the military junta.  The democratically elected President of Mauritania remains in custody.  The coup continues to be strongly condemned by the international community.  The U.S., E.U., African Union, and other countries have all joined the chorus (including Algeria this afternoon).  Most nations have cut all non-humanitarian aid to the country pending the reinstatement of the legitimate government.  The Arab League has not yet taken a collective position on the coup.  The online mainstream press has been relatively good at following the situation in Mauritania.  I would recommend Google News as a good over all resource for news.
 
Press reports quoted the leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as having called for the establishment of a caliphate style state in Mauritania.  I want to assure you all that PC staff members in both Nouakchott and Washington are following the situation closely and your safety and security is our primary focus.  I am in daily contact with the U.S. embassy.  If you have any concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me (648-1783).  I would be pleased to answer any questions you have.    
 
I would also stress that the mood in Nouakchott remains calm and businesses are operating normally both in Nouakchott and in the regions as well.
 
To the trainees, we are moving forward with your swear-in as scheduled.  At this stage, we are expecting to keep the ceremony low key (no press and no government authorities).  Ambassador and Mrs. Boulware will be joining us for the celebration.
 
I would like to remind you all of the importance of keeping your family and friends informed of your well-being.  Please keep in contact with them! 
 
Thank you all again for your professionalism and positive attitudes.  It has helped a great deal in our ability to manage this situation.  It is my sincere honor to be serving with you.
 
Best Regards — Obie

Back on the home front, Adam was not able to attend out annual Man’s Weekend (for obvious reasons), so we poured a little out to give him mad-props.  That’s how we do.


Worst. Coup. Ever.

August 8, 2008

Man walking in Nouakchott

Well, if you check back a few blog entries, you’ll note that my pal Adam “Fiebs” is currently serving as a Peace Corp doctor in Mauritania.  Also, if you’ve checked the news recently, you’ll note that Mauritania is currently under a military coup.  This is scary, but as history (and Adam) will inform us, this is a very common occurance here, and he’s pretty well insulated from the stuff that going on in Nouakchott — closer to the coast.  Adam writes:

yes. all is well here. you just  cant get in or out of Nouakchott. but being in Rosso, thus far, i have been unaffected. if it turns violent, which by Mauritanias past history of coups shows it wont be, peace corps is pretty good about pulling us right away. but the saying here goes, 
 
Mauritania…worst…coup….ever.

they tried this in 99 and nothing changed and i suspect this will be similar but i guess only time can tell…we will have to see about the aid.

anyways hope all is well. heading to senegal in two weeks for a couple days and to have my first beer since ive been here. damn these dry islamic countries. hope all is well in chicago. the alumni reunion looked like a blast! wish i couldve been there.
fiebs
ps farve is a jet…wtf!

Indeed, Fiebs, indeed.  Obviously the coup isn’t that bad (and the internet must be better than I thought) for a Wisconsinite in 3rd-world Africa to be more concerned about a Packers trade than a Military Coup.