24 March 2009

Froc and roll

Taking advice from my sister, I'm introducing this PROM with a 'guess what it is' idea I'm sure she stole from World magazine.  As a child, she got that cool subscription while I was stuck with Highlights.  Yeah, thanks mom and dad.  I'm only 1 year behind Gina; not a perpetual 4 year old!  Those pictures where you had to find the missing objects, hmm...I'm pretty sure that guy's head is missing.  Anyway, I'm just venting.  Highlights, give me a break.  Here's the photo: 


Some of you may know straight away or have a pretty good idea, especially if you are another volunteer.  This is the embroidery on a traditional Pulaar outfit for males called a Froc.  PROM #6: My new Froc (material: 5,000 UM, tailoring: 3,000 UM)

Hopefully it is obvious, but I had our gifted tailor sew a guitar into the already cool design.  We met this tailor, Bala, through a mutual friend (Katie's counterpart, Mariam).  He did a great job and I'm looking forward to wearing it during the next fete.  I want to save this outfit for a special occasion, it's not for everyday "around the house" wear.   

Clothes are an important part of the Mauritanian culture in many ways.  There are different styles for different ethnic groups, people buy new clothes for special occasions, clothes are often used as status symbols (I've heard stories about people spending upwards of 50,000 UM or more on a tradtional Hassaniya Bou-bou [similar to a poncho]), and the making of these traditional clothes can be a beneficial source of income for your family.  For instance, El Hussein, my host-brother, is Bala's apprentice.  One day, he will become a tailor and this will provide a good source of income for his family.

That's about it for this one.  Pretty cut and dry.  No funny story about getting the material.  No embarrassing anecdote of me doing anything culturally inappropriate.  No froc-induced riots.  Sorry to let you down.  Next time, maybe I'll yell jibberish at Bala when he takes my inseam.  That would make for an interesting blog...
Mike (frocin') out.

23 March 2009

So what's a sensibilisation anyway?

Sensibiliser in French means "to sensitize." Sensibilisation is therefore the word Peace Corps Mauritania uses to describe the frequent educational activities performed by many of its volunteers in the health sector.

So as many of you know (and tease me about endlessly), I like to research. I just get this weird urge to find out as much information as humanly possible when I'm first starting a project. So for the past six months I've been doing a lot of reading and researching about health education, health standards for developing nations, and how to go about evaluating needs and motivating action.

One would think that with a background in nursing I would know quite a bit about health education already...and I do. However, arriving in Africa, I felt completely out of my element. Medications are called by completely different names, health standards here are by no means the equivalent of JCAHO, the entire structure of the health system (who runs hospitals, how health professionals are educated, etc) is completely different, and we're dealing with a whole host of health problems that are rarely, if ever, seen in the United States health system (malaria, nutritional deficiencies, etc.).

Of course, Peace Corps Mauritania does its best to train health volunteers about all these issues during pre-service training, but the spectrum is so broad and our backgrounds so varied that it's very difficult to cover everything. Additionally, culture and language learning are a very high priority early on, and therefore have a tendency to take precedence over sector related training.

So now, after over nine months of living in Mauritania, I feel that I'm finally gaining an understanding of the broader picture, although I still have a LOT to learn. I am now able to give "sensibilisations" in French on a variety of health related topics. I understand the general strengths and weaknesses of the Nouadhibou health system. I also have tons of project possibilities floating around in my head. So hopefully, after all that research, I'll actually be able to turn some of those ideas into realities. Inshallah!

13 March 2009

The English Club of Nouadhibou (E.C.NDB)

English Education volunteers in the RIM (and elsewhere, I'm sure) are expected to produce secondary projects in addition to their hours of teaching at a public school. One such activity that has been popular and successful in the past is an English Club. Basically, an English Club is an extra-curricular class for the more advanced/motivated students. So, after administering the first exam of the year (in December), I used top test grades, good attendance records and homework participation as prerequisites to be invited to said club.
Out of my 7 classes, I chose between 4-5 'advanced' students and 2-3 what I will call 'bubble' students (students who are motivated and work hard but may not know the difference between hot and cold or spell 'she' as 'che' ["oh so your subject is not a pronoun but a militant, Argentinian revolutionary, I see, yeah...Che DOES like tea."{this is just here because I wanted a parenthetical reference inside a parenthetical reference inside a parenthetical reference...what was I saying?}])
Before I go into the details of my club, I thought this an appropriate time to relate yet another story of my recent past in the Bou so you will have a better idea of just what after-school groups are like here.
Okay, first trimester, mid-Decemberish, still getting my feet wet to the routine and just massacring the local languages. After finishing classes one long 6-hour Monday, a student approaches me with a tiny slip of paper. On the slip of paper was nothing but typed Arabic save the handwritten Roman alphabet letters: "Maykee"...my name apparently. After a confusing conversation in which the non-English speaking student switched between Hassaniya, French and even Spanish, I discovered this was an invitation to an after school club. "Cool!" I thought, "People want to invite me places! I'm making connections at my school!"
On Saturday, the day of the monthly club meetings, I finish my classes and head to the meeting. Keep in mind, I have no idea what this club is for AND I've been working in this city for a whopping month. I arrive to the reserved classroom 10 minutes early for the noon meeting and sit near the back. After greeting many students and attempting, unsuccessfully, to discover the nature of this club the meeting begins at around 1:00 with the arrival of 2 other teachers. These teachers, along with me, are ushered to the FRONT of the class and are seated at a table FACING around 100 students. Okay, no big deal. Good seat for watching, right?
One student begins singing a "call to prayer" type chant through a PA system crafted by Thomas Edison and we're off. The first teacher stands to thunderous applause and proceeds to deliver a 20 minute prepared speech in Arabic. I'm sitting right next to the guy and can see his speech papers with the bullet points and everything. He's speaking at somewhere close to the speed of sound because I could swear I heard a sonic boom, no wait that was my heart beating. "Am I supposed to speak here?" I kept thinking. During this man's oral thesis (which receives more applause and laughing, with not at) the other teacher, a friendly, popular man named Mohamed Vall, quietly saunters over to me and whispers something in my ear. "Je ne parle pas Arabique!" I stammer. So he switches to French, and all I think I hear is "introduce yourself...speak...5 minutes...donkey...easy...sports...hassaniya." Without hesitation I just nod and await my impending doom.
Next, Mohamed Vall speaks with more gusto which generates even more applause. Their first meeting of the year is getting off to a raucous albeit flawless start. Two, what must have been, great speeches and now a visitor from America! Let's pass the mic to the white guy, you know, Maykee! I stand up, grab the mic and speak. The mic is dead, almost as if it knew I had no chance of saying anything meaningful. Off the hook? No, they set up another mic, one of those small mics that clip on to your shirt. I of course just hold it and proceed to say, in French, "I'm not sure what this club is, can someone tell me?"
Mohamed Vall pipes up, "I just told you Maykee!"
Then, a student stands up and says, "Just talk about culture and sports!"
"Of course! Why hadn't I thought of that?" I thought.
I said, "En francais?"
To which the student says, "Non, en anglais!" ("let me interject here briefly: Maykee is completely STUNNED that they want him to talk in English," says Maykee's foreign language area of his brain, now with hurt pride)
So I spend the next 5 minutes talking about culture and sports from America in English. Longest 5 minutes of my life. I start ranting about my high school knowledge bowl for god's sake! I don't know what the hell I was saying and I guarantee they sure as hell didn't. Impromptu speeches, awesome. And that was it. A club of 100 students that meet and just listen to speeches of teachers about culture and sports.
After this bizarre experience (and yes I have been invited back to this club, and yes I did go, and yes pretty much the same thing happened again) I started to debate whether an after school group was the greatest idea or not. After receiving some great advice from other volunteers from around the country, I proceeded and am so glad I did. The English Club is just a great way to interact with the better students on a higher academic level and teaching a language makes that level more personal as well, I think.
We've met 4 times. Here's a quick overview of what we did:
Meeting 1: Critical thinking riddles (i.e. Fati is taller than Selma but shorter than Khadija, Sofia is taller than Fati but shorter than Noura...), advanced vocabulary, and nominations of club officers and names for the club (which included ECNDB, the Perfect Class, and Club Obama)
Meeting 2: Election of club officers and name, Adverbs/Adjectives, "build an interesting sentence" exercise
Meeting 3: Syllables, suffixes, lists of rhyming words, how to write poetry: limericks and haikus (thanks Rob for the haiku suggestions, they worked so well!)
Meeting 4: Practice Bac #1 (this is just a practice exam resembling their end-of-year test that determines if they go on to university or not.)
The club has run smoothly so far. All but 4 students showed up the first time and it has slowly ebbed to around 15 or 20 which is expected of any organized activity here.
Another interesting side effect, other students, not many, are trying to improve their performance in regular class to get an invitation to the club. The day I passed out the invitations, you'd have thought I was giving out visas. These kids went ape. It was actually kind of awkward since I had to turn down so many students and so many wanted to come. And most just wanted the slip of paper and nothing more.

 I guess that's about it. This club is keeping my sanity together through the regular classes, we're almost at the end of the 2nd trimester, and I'm counting down the Mondays (I hate Mondays)
Maykee out.

Our family,
7 children, 2 parents
excellent people