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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Mauritanian Peace Corp! Now with Photos!

September 25, 2008

Adam -- Amateur cartographer

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!
fiebs

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.

"site mates mike, eric bell, eric metcalf at my house"


Baby-Kissing Protocol

September 2, 2008
It’s been a while, but Dr. Fiebs has gotten back, and he’s a full-blown volunteer — i.e. “locked in” for 2-years of do-gooding, baby-kissing (apparently) and sporadic email contact.  Good news is he’s going to be sending photo’s so I’ll no longer have to image search the word Mauritania for visual stimulation.
well the time has finally came! i am a full blown volunteer in the united states peace corpsand am officially a government emloyee!!! watch out! we were sworn in this past thursday in the heat and this week has been pretty fun due to seeing all the other trainees again and the anticipation of going to site is too much. swear in party was great and i will soon have photos to upload. i am in kiffa; my home for the next two years and have moved into the regional house!!! it is great! i will also post pictures when i figure out all the logistics. my first few days in kiffa are bound to be busy with protocol; which basically means shaking handsand kissing babies; but after i am sure to settle down and have plenty of free time especially since ramadan starts next week.
 
but all is well here! miss everyone back in the states. now that i am at site i hope to be more on top of my game with emails and the like so hopefully i can write more in depth ones or at the least give you an idea of what my life is like through photos…
 
adam
As far as the coup situation goes, I can safely assume that no news is good news.

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.


Military upheavel is benign, bordering on boring

August 12, 2008

Adam “Mauritania” Fiebs is doing just fine in Africa.  The coup going on there is, in so many words, “boring”.  Meanwhile, it’s been generally agreed that Mauritania Peace Corp work is the least-desierable of all assignments.  Yay Adam!

…as you can see, as predicted, the coup is boring and goes with the saying “maritania…worst…coup…ever.” oh well. … i guess peace corps took an unofficial poll and has concluded mauritania is the least desirable, if not hardest, service in peace corps. hilarious! hope all is well

adam

Adam (Right)

Adam then reposted the email he’s received from his P.C. director, of sorts, Obie.  (I’ve edited it for brevity and entertainment value).:

Hello PCV/Ts:

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to say hello and provide you with a brief update on the political situation in the country.  Not that I am counting, but this is now my third coup d’etat since arriving in Mauritania!  As happened in 2005, this looks to be a rather benign coup … At this stage, there are no indications that you (or other foreigners residing in the country) are in any danger as a result of the recent action taken by officers of the Mauritanian military.

The airport has remained open and business and government offices seem to be functioning as usual.  The U.S. has suspended all non-humanitarian aid to the country.  Peace Corps is considered a “humanitarian” agency and as such is not immediately impacted by the cut-off in U.S. aid.

Hmmm.  I would think that a coup just might shake-up a government.  Apparently not.

…Some things to keep in mind as we move forward:

  • In order to protect the integrity of Peace Corps’ mission, it is imperative that you do not engage in sensitive political discussions concerning Mauritania.
  • Please avoid large gatherings or demonstrations.
  • It is very important that everyone respect out-of-site policy (please keep your APCD informed of your whereabouts).
  • Do not allow yourself to be interviewed by any media outlet without first clearing it with me.
  • Keep in contact with your family and friends in the U.S., it goes a long way to reassuring them of your well being. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call or eMail any of us.  The after-hours emergency duty officer number is xxx-xxxx.

Very Best — Obie

P.S.  With all of this great material, I would think that a pretty good PC Mauritania tee-shirt could be designed!

If they do eventually make a t-shirt, I will insist Adam send one my way so I can put it up for sale at TeeCycle.

Don't know if that's food or something else, but it's gross.


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.