25 August 2008

One Day as a Trainee

Since Katie has filled everyone in on what is going on, I thought I might take a different approach with this post. So, without further ado, a day in the life of a Peace Corps Trainee*:

Usually, you wake up between 5:30 and 6:00 whether you want to or not. Alarm clocks: donkeys, birds, the call to worship or the family stirring throughout the house (which is comprised of cinder-block construction, 2-3 rooms, a courtyard and lots of mats/pillows to sit on) wake you up very efficiently.
The next part, hygiene, can vary. Is the water working? Do I want to take a shower now or later or both? I'm still tired, I'll just throw on my same clothes as yesterday and head to class. As an education volunteer, most mornings consist of model school - the Peace Corps finds students who want a head start on the school year and subject them to the first lessons written by foreign teachers. And don't worry about morning exercise; you get a 30 minute walk to and from school everyday! A typical English lesson focuses on vocabulary, reading comprehension, conversational use or a grammar point. It can be one or two hours long. The rooms are filled with rows of benches and a blackboard to write on. You, chalk and a bunch of students snapping their fingers and yelling "teacher!" (I'm sure this will get old later, but they are so anxious to participate, and I kind of lucked out because my class was small and had some great students, cinqieme class rocks!).
After model school (11ish), you head to the PC center and evaluate the lessons with volunteers and Mauritanian teachers. You also get a pause (break) with some truly excellent sandwiches. Next, you plan tomorrow's lesson and head home - the hottest walk ever! Once home with your host family (13ish) you can sit and sweat or shower and then sit and sweat. Lunch comes next, usually chebugin (rice, veggies, fish). After lunch, you could practice your language skills (I stress could since it is usually to hot to do much of anything). At 15:45 you head to language class (still hot) for two and half hours.
After language class it is up in the air. You could head to a boutique and get a cool drink, visit a friend, work on a group project or just head home. Occasionally, you will have a party, wedding or baptism (baptime in French, and it's just a big party for a new baby - dinner, music, dancing) to attend. Cool air comes with nightfall and dinner next, between 20:30 and 21:30. If there is no party or visitors, your family will often place a mat outside under the stars and you just sort of hang out. Eventually - due to mosquitos or a hard ground - you get in your mosquito tent and fall asleep trying not to sweat yourself awake.

That's about it. I hope this is an insight and doesn't come off as overly pessimistic. It is interesting, challenging and multiple things occur everyday that are just...different. I saw a goat head-butt a cat. Another trainee witnessed a human birth in her home. Many people flip out over storms and eclipses. There was a coup! Internet is acting up again, so I'm posting while I still can. Talk to you from Nouadhibou (NDB) -Mike

*I can't speak for every trainee or even every sector, so I'm drawing mainly from my own experiences (and some stories that just have to be mentioned)

24 August 2008

Last Phase of PST

After what seems like forever (and in reality has only been a little over two weeks), we are finally back at the training center. We are getting ready for the fourth and final phase of pre-service training after which we will be sworn in as offical Peace Corps Volunteers...Inshallah!

Despite continued political upheaval in RIM, Peace Corps is operating pretty much as usual from what we've been told. There has been one public rally in support of the coup here in Rosso. During that time we stayed safely at home with our host family. We will be sure to post more in the coming weeks or if anything develops. However, rest assured that Mauritanians are very passive even during times of political unrest, and we have never felt threatened in any way.

On August 30th we will be moving to our new location of Nouadhibou and should have much more regular access to Internet as well as time to post. This year September is the month that the Islamic holiday of Ramadan will occur. That's where Muslims fast during the daytime (including no water), and not a whole lot gets accomplished for about 30 days.

We promise to post more soon and respond to emails too. We have received several care packages...thank you very much to everyone for sending them. We are aware that the international postage can be very expensive and we really appreciate it. From what the other volunteers have been telling me, the cheapest option is to purchase a flat-rate box or envelope and then you can stuff it with as much as it will hold (making sure that it won't burst open of course).

Today is Debbie's wedding!
I miss you guys!

06 August 2008


So...we haven't posted in a while because we've been pretty busy. Last weekend we went to Nouakchott for the married couples retreat and had a wonderful time. We got to stay at our country director's mansion, cook our own food (pizza, Mexican & artichoke dip), and sleep in air conditioned rooms with beds. It was AMAZING!

Now we are back in Rosso and back to our language classes/technical training sessions. Mike has started teaching at "Model School" which is basically a classroom of volunteer students who pay to come in during the summer and get taught English by the Americans (yeah, they are pretty well behaved compared to a normal classroom). Mike has taught two lessons so far, and although he was nervous, he thinks they went over pretty well. He's gotten good feedback from the other volunteers and trainers about his teaching.

I was planning to do my next blog on the trash situation in Mauritania...especially here in Rosso it is VERY bad. However, with the coup d'etat that many of you have been seeing in the news, I think most of you are more interested in hearing about our safety. We are fine. The coup has been very peaceful so far...and we are very isolated from everything too. I think the worst thing that's happened has been a couple stink bombs being released in Nouakchott (the capital city), but that's just heresay and not confirmed. We're pretty uninformed here, but we're safe with our host families, so don't worry. We also have an incredible safety and security officer here in Mauritania and he and his staff is constantly monitoring the situation for any changes.

I also want to post our new address for Nouadhibou. You can send any letters and packages here from now on because by the time they arrive (3-4 weeks) we will be there! (All the Nouadhibou PCVs share a P.O. box so that's why you have to put c/o and another person's name)

Mike & Katie Yunghans
c/o Maylen Rafuls
B.P. 1341
Nouadhibou, Mauritania
West Africa
Par Avion

As far as we know everything has arrived safely without anything missing. We've loved getting all the letters, pictures and packages. Thank you all so much! We miss you tons. Our swear-in ceremony will take place on August 28th and we should be departing for Nouadhibou on August 30th. After we move we should have a lot more access to Internet, because hopefully we'll be getting 24-hour access at our apartment...yeah! (24-hour access may be a little bit of a stretch since I've heard the service goes out frequently...but I'm sure it will be an improvement from what we have now).

We're thinking a lot about Susan and Debbie this month as they prepare for their weddings...so sorry we can't be there with you! We also hope you will keep us updated with Olympic coverage since we probably won't be able to watch it very much. (There are no Mauritanian Olympians to my knowledge and our family seems more interested in the Brazilian soap operas than sporting events.)

So...stay tuned for my next blog post on TRASH...I'll have pictures too!