About 200 people gathered last week to do their part in lifting the hypothetical laddle with monetary contributions at the Girl Scouts of America Headquarters. LaVera invited me to the envent, and after only about 3 hours of socializing and free food and drink, the event surpassed their 12,000 target with a whopping $21,000 dollars raised. They were benefiting the largest soup kitchen in NYC which serves thousands of homeless and low-income individuals each week.
The silver subway cars that move below the city transport millions of passengers a day. They read N, 7, L, Q, S, etc. The express cars zip by the local stops. Who expects all 468 stations to be visited by every single car? Surely not the fly by the seat of your hat New Yorkers. It truly never sleeps. It never stops. It goes up and down, up and down, left to right, right to left. Efficiency and intimacy of subway travel flirt as riders go to work, home, or play. At night, the subway cars are emptier and lonelier. They come less often. During rush hour, even when you’ve stepped inside a car filled to the brim, 10 more people find their way inside behind you. The car sways, you all lean. The train jolts, you all skip. The subway is famous. On TV, in movies, in dreams, in words, in paint, in gelatin silver. For the most part, the dingy decrepit portrayals are wrong. The cars have AC, they are clean aside from the random cups that rolls down the aisle, dripping the remains of someone’s last sip of coffee across the floor, or some scattered newspapers. It’s public. It’s cheap. It doesn’t discriminate. It bonds people. It has no boundaries, no car classes. Equality. Public transport is vital in making sure people remember they are part of a bigger community. Public transport doesn’t permit bubbles. Those bubbles pop the moment you step off the platform onto the train. You may carry plasma-thin shields in your earphones, or on your smart phones, but, you are still subject to seeing a local subway performer in your peripheral vision, to smelling the homeless man who’s had days or weeks since his last shower. Public transport is acceptance to being one in a billion. Subway riders are not islands. You are at the communal mercy of countless other souls’ behavior. Every trip you take with your fellow city dwellers puts you at liberty and risk of interacting and being part of their life. Of them being part of yo
After much delay and procrastination, I’ve finally committed to signing up for a half-marathon. The Philadelphia Marathon. The race starts at the Museum of Art, winds through the historical city, down to the river, and then comes back to finish on the glorious “Rocky” Victory Steps. I can’t wait for that moment, when I cross the finish line in November, as the theme song from “Rocky” is my usual pump it up, glory song when I exercise.
I started training this morning at 7am. Ran/Walked 4 miles along the East River. The views coming uptown were incredible as I gazed upon the Manhattan skyline, and it didn’t seem quite real. I can’t believe I’ve taken the plunge and am living in this most populous East Coast city.
Just moved to the Big Apple. That’s right Manhattan. Weeee. Here I go!
Greetings from Mozambique! Where I’ve been for about the past almost four months! I made a few video blog entries that are on my flicker page, but after my camera died week 5 into my service here, I gave that up. =( Internet has also been a lot more spotty than I would imagine, but then again my site placement and job are also a lot different than what they were in Mauritania. Let me start from square one.
After being told I would not be able to return to Mauritania after being at home for vacation, I worked my little butt off to get myself back into some other country to serve, since I had essentially been displaced from everything I was expecting within the upcoming year, and dumped in the American unemployed pool. Knowing that this climate in American right now is still not so favorable to those searching for jobs, I figured my best bet was to continue on with Peace Corps if possible. I also wasn’t ready yet to be living back in those United States of America. So, after much ado, Peace Corps informed me five days before my departure, before I even knew I was going to actually continue with Peace Corps, that I would be going to the tropical southern African country of Mozambique.
A little bit about Mozambique: Mozambique is about the size of two Californias stacked ontop of eachother. Yup, that means a lot a lot of beach. Population 20 million. RIM(Mauritania) had 3 million.
My Site: Carapira, Monapo District, Nampula Province. I’m way up in Northern Mozambique, about 3 days overland travel from the capitol Maputo. The site is a new site, and I’m serving there alone, so I’ll be the very first volunteer to interact with the people. They speak Makua and Portuguese. It’s been kind of a drag that I didn’t get local language training, during Pre-Service Training, like I did in Mauritania, because now, I feel pretty out of the loop most of the time around my village. I’ve gotten the basic greetings down, vakani vakani, little by little, but those Portuguese did a pretty good job, because most everyone speaks Portuguese, when they aren’t speaking Makua. In terms of appearance, the site is Gorgeous. It’s greeeeeeennnn. It’s tiny, about 2,000 people. It’s right on the main road from Nampula City to the Ilhe (island) of Mozambique, and you can spot where it is, but looking down the main big road that you turn left onto from the main road. At the end of this main dirt road, there is a massive church with towers and bells. The people here for the most part are all really friendly. The all have a cheery sentiment to them, laughing when I take water from the well and try to cart it home on my head, because as I walk, I’m pretty much showering simultaneously, loving hearing me attempt to speak Makua, helping me with whatever I need around my house, sharing food, explaining to me how to cook the beans that they grow here. Most of them couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to hire an empregada to help me with cooking and cleaning, especially since I am a teacher. I’ll admit, my neighbor Hericulano brings me water and sweeps the dirt (I guess that’s a thing common to Africa) around my house every morning.
My Job: English Teacher. Yah, to be honest, I’m not crazily excited about this placement, and if it weren’t for the fact that Mozambique has English speaking neighbors in every direction, I probably would feel a tiny bit imperialistic. However, it’s a whole nother thing to finally explain to those eager excited students that the pimps just want to slap the hoes in all those rap songs they yearn to know the meanings of. I’ve never formally been a teacher aside from the arts bridge stint I did my senior year at UCI in which I taught art and academics combined to second graders. I have 6 classes here. Two of eighth, ninth, and tenth grade each. For the most part the students are thrilled to have an “American” teacher, teaching them English. I’m a bit of a novelty to them.
My School: Some volunteers like to call it Hogwarts, some like to call it Mini Portugal/Italy. It’s an industrial missionary school, founded by Italian Combonian missionaries (although it’s a governmental public school now (most schools in Mozambique were started by missionaries, that’s why so many people can only write in Portuguese, as opposed to in one of about 45 local languages they speak here)). The school only has 132 students this year, which is TINY, and all students live at the school. Most of my fellow volunteer friends have to teach to classes of about 60-80. I heard of one school director even bragging that one of the turmas(classes) at his school had 125 students…. My largest turma is 30, and my smallest is 16. No complaints here. So the school is divided into serralharia mecanica and auto mecanica. The latter includes carpentry, welding, lumbering, and more. And the former, well, everything to do with cars basically. I believe it’s mainly fixing and maintaining cars though, I don’t foresee Mozambique busting out with a car industry anytime soon. The school is beautiful…..
They also have 22 hectares of machamba land, aka, fields in which they grow agriculture. I mean I even got a brochure in my site placement packet for my school. This school is no joke.
My House: So this is the first time in my LIFE I’ll be living alone. Not only living alone, but I have a whole house to myself,(if I don’t count the one week, my last week spent in Mauritania)! It may be the size of a Polly Pocket house, but, regardless, it’s still all to me. It’s just a square house, with 4 rooms, cement walls and a metal roof. Since houses like these share many similarities to ovens, I had an outdoor gazebo made out of hay and bamboo. It’s perfect during the midday since the sun is really what is so damn hot in Nampula Province. I didn’t have a fence built around it like PC said they would give me money for because I’m a bit of someone who doesn’t love a wall. I don’t have any chickens or cows, and when it comes down to it, I feel safer not having one because then my neighbors and I are in the same space, and they are more likely to watch out for me than rob anything from me. Plus, this way everyone in the neighbor who always passes by me can say hi and come and talk to me. I’ve kind of gone to town on decorating the inside by painting any piece of cardboard I can get a hold of and nailing these pictures to my walls. I also just planted sunflowers outside. One great thing about teaching at a school that has a carpentry department, I can get wood for free! So so far I’ve made shelves, a counter, and benches to make living inside a little more comfy. It’s quite the step up (literally!) from all the on the floor living done in my previous term. =D
All in all, Carapira is panning out to be quite a nice compensation for my abrupt leave from Mauritania. As for Mauritania, and the GMC there, Zeinabou, my former counterpart still calls me, Africa to Africa. She said that the Girl’s Mentoring Center we worked together to run is still up and going, and more successful than ever! She said lots of teachers are helping. The local officials are working with her to figure out ways to bring funding in for programs. She even made a film about what the Aleg GMC is doing specifically. I just gotta say knowing that a project like a GMC that you helped work to develop, is succeeding and sustaining with your absence, has got to be one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve had in my entire life.
It’s true. Even though there were many signs that this wasn’t completely out of the cards for us, finding out on Monday August 10, 2009, that it had become official the previous day, was overwhelmingly shocking.
My experience to the end of my Peace Corps service was also quite different from the majority as I was finishing up my month long vaca in the states, and had to deal with all the implications away from anyone who really understood what I was going through. I am so thankful that one of my closest volunteer friends was also at home and therefore we were able to share some of the pain together through frequent phonecalls.
I can’t really stress what it felt like to know I would not be going back to Mauritania, to say a final real goodbye to the people who had made this past year one of the most interesting and exciting years of my life. To leave without real closure is one of the harshest things one could face, and to leave behind people, best friends, who I had told, I will see you in a month.
Aside from the whole never coming back aspect, the high hopes I had for next year that had made me value my trip home, but also make me yearn to get back to RIM, were completely dashed. One year in a completely foreign place may seem like a long time, but it was just enough time for me to come back and make me feel more expert in what I was doing there. I could now fairly proficiently speak the language. I had established good repore with the people. I had made many mistakes the first time around, and was now going to correct them this second time, and make my projects even better.
There’s nothing really positive for me that comes from leaving my service early. I’m currently hanging in limbo as to what is next. I’m struggling to complete an overwhelming amount of paperwork sent from Washington, and am trying to figure out if I should re-up for another go.
I will keep everyone posted to my final decision, but I thought it was time for an official blog post on the current situation. Hopefully in writing this post, I will also find some inner closure to all that was Peace Corps Mauritania.
I want to give so so so many thanks to all those who read this, who sent me short comments that kept me going despite many struggles I came across. Thank you to all my letter senders, and package senders. You all will never go unrecognized in my eyes, and I can’t quite put words to how appreciative I am.
Bowing out (for now)
I’m sitting in my old university’s library right now. I love libraries. A few thoughts I’ve had lately:
I’ve now been back in the US for one week and one day. How am I feeling? Well, one week is about what it takes to start to reacclamate, but at first I was head over heels overwhelmed. By what? By how much stuff exists in this country. Coming from the Sahara,–Aleg even, which is especially sparse on vegetation. California has, just in its state boundaries, rivers, lakes, deserts, mountains, beaches, islands, valleys, and that’s just commenting on the landscape. Aleg is also home to a group of people who were once Nomads. What does this mean? That in my room I had more things that I brought with me and had accumulated than the four members of my family had in their whole house. Now come back to America…and well I just couldn’t help feeling almost dizzy from all the different kinds of things people have invented reasons for needing here. I can’t fully criticize this though. When I said plenty, I meant it as both good and bad. I would call socal saturated. For example the variety of food that we can so easily access here is simply amazing. I’ve eaten 11 different kinds of fruit within the past 8 days. There are so many things to do here to. I’ve seen two concerts, been to a handful of restaurants, been to a fair, been to the beach, a lot, been to an art gallery, been to the gym, swam in my pool, and been to the movies. This might not make sense to a lot of people, but while I love going to all these places and seeing different things, I feel like, at times constantly being distratcted inhibits people from just sitting down with other people and getting to know them. That’s all I’ve really done these past 14 months, so who knows maybe its just habit and that’s why I miss it. But like I said, having all these resources has its ups as well obviously. For example, the library I’m in has 12 books just on how to learn how to write arabic.
The same day I got back my cousin and mom arranged a welcome back party for me, so I want to say a big thanks to everyone who came to that and brought delicious things to eat and talked and caught up a little bit. It means more than you know to know I have that support.
All the volunteers in Mauritania will be in Senegal shortly if they aren’t already there for a practice evacuation. If everything goes smoothly, we will all go back and continue working. That’s what I’m hoping for. Teresa is back home right now as well and we keep telling each other that we are so mentally prepared to enjoy our time here, our break, but also to get it in our heads that we have another year ahead of us in Mauritania. I just really hope that next year gets realized.
squeaky clean amanda
So, i’m writing this entry after so much has gone down with Peace Corps in this country, so much. Reports of bad news have just been pouring in since at least a month ago, and this is all aside from the choas of elections, although it seems, that those elections may actually finally take place now after countless delays and setbacks.
First, I found out my grandmother passed away, so I rush flew to Peru to be with my family for the funeral, which actually turned out to be a pick me up trip, considering the circumstances; seeing family does wonders. While there, I found out the new class of trainees had been delayed to come to Mauritania because no Visas were being issued to Americans by the Mauritanian government. This news eventually worsened, and became, no new trainee class was slated to come in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, a Mali/Mauritania PCV soccer game was canceled, which I was especially bummed about, because I haven’t been able to play soccer since stage. Right before I went to Nouakchott for the Annual Girl’s Education Conference, an American was shot point blank there in the capital. Within the next days, while we were in Nouakchott for the conference, the US embassy advised all U.S. citizens to remain indoors after they had received an unconfirmed (but what they deemed credible) threat of a possible kidnapping attempt. Shortly after this, our country director sent out an email offering the possibility interrupted service to those volunteers who did not want to continue their service in Mauritania. That brings us to today. About half of my very good friends are taking that interrupted service, and will be leaving around the same time as all the second years who are Closing out the second year of service. What that means, is that approx half of my really good friends are leaving quite suddenly, in addition to no hope of new volunteers, soon, and also, a significantly reduced population of volunteers who will stay in country. Needless to say, most volunteers who are staying have our reasons, but, we are all significantly taking a huge hit on our spirits.
today i left aleg for 3 weeks of upcoming travel. tomorrow morning i’ll be celebrating my birthday in the lovely beach town of saint louis senegal, and from there, i’ll make a big pac man shaped circle. First up will be Selibaby, supposedly one of the most beautiful and green sites in Mauritania. From there, I’ll head down to Bamako, Mali to check the scene there and also to watch Mali and Ghana face off for a World Cup qualifying match. Next up is Noiro for the Olsen cup. That’ s where PCVs will play soccer against eachother. I cannot wait to play. From Noiro, I will re-enter Mauritania through Aioun, and then make my way down to Kiffa, for the first anual Kiffa wine fest. It’s going to be a lot of traveling and a lot fun. All the traveling will be done with other volunteers.
The GMC annee scolaire finished off strong. We had a huge closing ceremony with lots of teachers and directors and even radio personel, but most of all we must have had close to 80 students come. We held it in the newly remodeled and opened Maison de Jeune. There were speeches, and skits, and certificate giving. I gave the introduction in French, and Zeinabou was pretty much the host. Overall, my girls worked very hard to put a lot of work into.
Other than that, Mauritania is in the midst of Elections right now, and right before I left Aleg, campaigning had kicked into high gear. There were huge full color photographic posters draped over the banks and motels, in the windows of peoples cars, etc. Last night there were even these lazer neon green lights pulsating through the sky. People have put up Khymas allover random places in Aleg. It’s pretty intense, and on the ride from Aleg to Nktt today, it seemed to be the trend in all the cities we passed. In Aleg, Azziz is the one being promoted, which is slightly ironic, since the president he overthrew, Sidi, is from just outside Aleg Proper (he’s still under house arrest there right now too).