March 30, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Trey Carr in Mauritania
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March 30, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Trey Carr in Mauritania
Peace Corps Volunteer Trey Carr in Mauritania
Peace Corps Volunteer Trey Carr in Mauritania
My Peace Corps Mauritania
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa. My work was in Disease Control (Inshallah!) I trained from October, 1994 until December, 1994 in Kaedi. I served as a volunteer from January, 1995 until October, 1996, in the village of Breun, 15 kilometers west of Rosso, on the Senegal River. Welcome to my tales of life in Mauritania. What you will find here is my story. This website is a result of my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa. I have published it to help new PCVs going to Mauritania or any other developing country, as well as to help myself remember who I am and how I got to be that way.I do not pretend that it is politically correct, but it is original. Enjoy!
Following Staging in Chicago, we flew to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. We were shipped immediately off to Kaedi for three months of training, and acclimation to the place that was incredibly far from home.
After nearly perishing in the desert outside of Nouakchott, I was dropped off in my village where I struggled with sickness, loneliness, and frustration.
Buoyed by some packages, a visit from my friend Ben, and my excitement about moving to a new house, the spring ended on a good note until my friend (and now Ben's wife) Sarah Selmer ET'd.
I come close to going home after extreme difficulties in trying to move to another village.
My brother Wes came to visit in July, so I got to go and see some of Africa other than the desert. It was great.
My best friend Ben left in August, which was foreboding of impending hard times.
After getting caught staying too long in Senegal, I almost went home, (Part II.)
Happily, I started to finally settle into my new home.
Eventually, the hands of fate flew me back home to Tallahassee, where I surprised everyone. My grandfather asked, "Did you get kicked out?"
Attempting to settle in after my return from the states, I got to work on the treadle pump project. I brought a guitar back with me, and it was no problem to practice around my family because they didn't know I sucked ( I don't think-they probably did and were just being nice!)
The great Treadle Pump Fiasco began, as well as "Trey Almost Goes Home" Part III.
I grudgingly give a speech in Wolof for the PC/Mauritania 25th Anniversary, was lauded as the star of the show, and got to meet the President of Mauritania.
In the end of this term, I dig a big ditch, and await the return of my brother as well as my mom's arrival to the great Sahara.
Mom came to visit with Wes, and we went traveling in the Sahara. Betsy, and subsequently I became diagnosed as infected with schistosomiasis.
After attempting to find a solution to my problem of schistosomiasis, I realized there was no solution but to go home.
Staging in Chicago, Late September, 1994:
Our introduction to Peace Corps was marked by my ability to get the hotel bar to stay open an hour or two late for us, and they gave us free drinks on top of it. We listened to the propaganda, and tried to get to know the folks we were going to be spending the next two years with. What kind of freaks were Peace Corps Volunteers, anyway?
My Chicago roommate and new friend Jim Hardy said that he knew he was going to like me when I stood up in a group meeting of us when we were explaining why we were going into Peace Corps, and referring to the Peace Corps question for letters of recommendation, "Are you aware of anything that the prospective volunteer is running away from?," I said "I know all of you are running away from something if you want to go to Mauritania. I am going because I hate my dad." I don't really remember saying that, but I guess I must have. Little did I realize then how much we would need incentive to stay.
We flew from Chicago to Paris. I sat next to Sarah Selmer, another new friend. All I really remember about the flight was that my feet were freezing, and we landed in Paris in the fog. I guess the fog confused the pilot, who didn't know quite where the ground was, and we slammed into the runway. A lot of the overhead bins came crashing down, and luggage fell out. Some of the volunteers later said that they thought we had crashed. They weren't sitting near the windows like I was, so they just saw clouds and thought that we were in the sky.
Arrival in Nouakchott, Oct. 1, 1994:
We stepped off the plane and if felt like Florida. Not too hot, and muggy. After the hassle of getting our bags, which I don't really remember, we were escorted through customs. I remember seeing Oleander trees outside of the airport, and recalled how useful they might be if I needed to poison someone. We arrived at the Peace Corps house, and there the nurse Barbara and her assistant lurked to give us our first barrage of vaccinations. They brought us some tough meat steaks and fish, both pretty good. They provided us with some nasty cookies, called Super 2, and I don't think any of us new volunteers ate them. Little did we know how those plain creme cookies would become a delicacy. They also served dates with butter, but I didn't want that crap either.
We were told to pack only one bag for our trip to Kaedi for the next 3 months. What??? If I didn't need my clothes and other stuff, I wouldn't have brought them. We all spent the night trying to reduce our items for the next 3 months. Our bedrooms were a bunch of rooms with bunk beds and mosquito nets. They told us to be sure and tuck in the nets around our beds, or we would be bitten. I slept under an old fart named Bill Kennedy, who snored like hell. I spent half the night kicking him to get him to stop. He told me later that he had offered us earplugs.
We got up around 6 the next morning, and loaded up this dinky bus/van, and headed off to Kaedi Shortly after we left town, the dude driving the bus, a moor, got out and squatted on the ground. I had no idea what the hell he was doing, and someone figured out that he was excreting waste. Welcome to Mauritania!
4 Oct, 1994
How are you? For the first time since entering Mauritania, I am listening to American music-Jimmy Buffett on CD. This place is not one he would mention as a tropical paradise. It is hot, the people are poor, and we are not sure if we are going to be able to do any good. I hope that we can, I am going to try. My French is getting better, and I am learning Wolof (a native African language).
Well, it has been interesting here, to say the least. It is hot, but not too much so. The sweat evaporates instantly, so we lose, and therefore have to drink, a lot of water. There are a few trees here, and not many plants. The town has a population of about 40,000. Most speak some French, and all speak another native tongue.
You probably all want to know, do I like it here? Well, that is a hard question to answer, while I sweat in my room and write by the light of a kerosene lamp. It is going to be very "challenging" to live here, to borrow a term from the Corps de la Paix. (When my recruiter told me where I was going to be going, she said, "It sounds like it will be challenging") By the way, if you wish to send me any packages, please mail them to Ambassade des Etats-Unis, BP 222, Nouakchott Mauritanie, S/C Trey Carr.
Packages sent to the embassy do not go through customs. They charge only $2.50 for transportation. The bugs are bad here, and hardly any of the new volunteers had a bowel movement until today (Tuesday.) We have gotten shot and pills for malaria, typhoid, rabies, Yellow fever, Tetanus, Meningitis, and others- I can't keep track. Oh yeah Papa, I did get vaccinated for Hepatitis B. Soon, we will receive Gamma Globulin shots for Hepatitis-A. These bugs are a pain in the derriere. Most of the people here are nice, but some are not. My family is fairly nice, though I have not spent much time here. At night, we sleep outside under the stars. It is beautiful! Unfortunately, it is very loud at night. Goats, cats, dogs, chickens shriek all night long. Around 5 a.m., people SCREAM a call to prayer. I belong to the Peace Corps, and I am glad it's not the military. If I had a gun, I would have killed many animals and people right now. You all know how I love to wake up at 5:00.
The toilet in my house is a hole in the floor. You have to aim for it. Instead, I use the real bathroom at the Peace Corps House. How I hold it all night, I don't know. Yesterday, I went 23 hours without using the bathroom. I guess I am losing a lot of water via evaporation.
The first night here, in Kaedi, it was very scary. One house on my street has electricity. Nobody even had lamps on. We were brought to the training center, where we were given a bunch of crappy chinese stuff, like a plastic bucket, cheap flashlight, knife, spoon and fork that bend, towel, foam mattress thing, and the worst thing of all: a "pillow." This "pillow" was a think filled with sand, and if you fill a bag with sand, it is heavy and hard as a rock. I think it would have been just as easy to sleep on a rock.
Our new "family" came eventually came to pick us all up. My family member worked for the Peace Corps as a cook or something, so they gave us a ride home after dark. We unloaded all of my stuff, and then I met all the family members. Barbara had warned us not to eat any ice or drink untreated water, so here came a member of my family beaming as she brought out some real ice water. I could tell how much of a treat it was, and faced with the uneasy consequences of upsetting the culture or getting sick, I took my chances getting sick. After the ice water, the family did tea. The temperature was in the upper 90's or maybe even a hundred, and they were serving hot tea. Bugs were flying into my face as I drank the tea from the small glasses, and I kept spitting bits of stuff out of my mouth. I figured that I was spitting out bugs flying into my tea. The next day I drank tea in the light, and saw that it was just bits of tea leaves.
As I said, the people here are very poor. Why didn't I move to the Bahamas and teach instead of coming here? Most of the new volunteers feel as I do: we all joined the Peace Corps to live life, but we are not sure if this is the life we want to live for two years. Even the poorest parts of America are nicer than here. Except more people sleep on the streets here.
The second day I was here, I was ready to leave. Before I left home, I told you all that I hoped you would come and visit me. I don't think that any of you would like it here. This place is tough, tougher than even the people who told me not to come thought it would be.
We can't wear shorts: men and women can't wear pants or skirts over the knee. All of the volunteers are preparing to wear what we want to, and the heck with everybody else.
I have my own room, where I lock my stuff up. Writing this letter is basically the only thing I have done in here. Again, it is hot.
We volunteers are becoming good friends; probably similar to the bonding between soldiers. We are all different, but we all have the same attitude about service to others and we all have been scared to death and extremely excited this week. I have been the comedian, it seems I have been able to express my hardships in a funny, and the other volunteers identify with me. The biggest joke (along with the 23-hour period) has been my lack of ability to find my house. This is my third night here, and I still have no idea where I live. I was lost in this trash dump that Kaedi is for 2 hours last night. Again, the other volunteers have troubles too, but I have it worst. All of the "houses" look the same, and no streets are named. I say "houses" because I wouldn't really call them houses. Many don't have roofs, and hardly ever is someone inside their house. I have never been inside our house. My room is an "apartment" one room approximately 10'x15'. I have two small windows and a door that locks with one of those old fashioned keys.
I hope that I do not sound discouraged, for I am not. Yesterday, I was. They say it will be better soon, and I anxiously await that moment. I am definitely learning a lot about another culture, and my French is getting better. Next, I hope to speak French to talk with these people, instead of this small talk stuff. After that, I hope to make a contribution to this place. It almost seems hopeless, but the Peace Corps people say that we will feel good even if we help only one person. We'll see. From what I hear, Mauritania is the toughest assignment. Today, my friends and I were discussing the "what comes around goes around" theory, and the fact that people who take it easy will eventually face hardship. We wonder if those of us who volunteer for hell will reap the rewards later. No, it's not really that bad, just "challenging." I love and miss you all.
PS: My Muslim family gave me the name: Ibrahim Diallo. I hate it.
I don't know if you will or should visit me, but I do want you to know how it is here. Could you please develop the film, double prints, and send me back a copy? (See new address!) I need some good pens to write with. The pens here suck! Also, fruity candies would be great. I have enough clothes. Wes, if you could, look through the solar magazines and find 3 small AA battery chargers (hold 4 AA'') (solar, of course) and send 10 or 12 good rechargeable AA batts. I will be selling the to my friends. Also could you and Drew find or make me a connection with 1 foot of wire for a 9-volt battery. And, some (4) small alligator clips.
I appreciate the $ everyone gave me, but it doesn't do me much good here. Everything is fairly cheap, but shitty.
(To sister) Keep on learning to play guitar with Wes, when I get home, we'll form a band and I'll sing sad songs about Mauritania (and happy songs.) (I may come home for your graduation after all. It is deadly hot here in May and June, and all everybody does is sit in the shade and drink water. I wonder how much it will cost to mail this letter?
By the way, everyone: I have not used the Carmex yet. (A former female Mauritanian Peace Corps Volunteer told me that I should take Carmex with me, because it is so dry there and your lips become cracked, so much so that women would have sex with me for my Carmex.)
Oct 6, 1994
I hope you are all well. I miss you, and I wish I could be there with you. Once you get used to hundreds of kids chasing you everyday, wanting to shake your hand, many of them looking like they have dreadful diseases (some do!), this place is not too bad.
In addition to the things I just mentioned, I need some other stuff: Good writing pens (if you want to hear from me),Candy would really be nice.
I also need some research done. At the end of August (8/29/94) on National Public Radio there was a story about some village in South America where they had made this society and someone had invented a water pump that was very efficient and very easy to use.
If you could, I would appreciate it if you could find some more info on AOL. Perhaps we can find something on it. You may also try the library (3rd World, water supply, water pumps…) The pump is made of plastic, I believe. This pump is very important to me, and may enable me to have clean water while here.
I love you all, and miss you.
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