March 11, 2005: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: 2 the Advocate: Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Daniel gets an education while working in Mauritania

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mauritania: Peace Corps Mauritania : The Peace Corps in Mauritania: March 11, 2005: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: 2 the Advocate: Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Daniel gets an education while working in Mauritania

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Sunday, March 13, 2005 - 1:04 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Daniel gets an education while working in Mauritania

Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Daniel gets an education while working in Mauritania

Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Daniel gets an education while working in Mauritania

Peace Corps volunteer gets an education while working in Mauritania
Advocate staff writer

Like many people who travel overseas, Jessica Daniel wanted to do more of it.

"Studying abroad in Ireland for three months and also in France for six weeks really gave me the chance to see how different a culture appears when you are a part of it or when you are just a tourist," said Daniel. "I also wanted a challenge and to do something different."

She found it in the Peace Corps.

Since June, Daniel, who is from St. Francisville, has been working in Mauritania, a country in northwest Africa. She is on a two-year assignment teaching a variety of subjects, including computers, and working as a trainer at a women's sports center. After 10 weeks of training in Kaedi, she lives in Atar, a city of about 30,000, in the northern part of the country.

It took no time at all for Daniel to see that Mauritania -- which includes the western edge of the Sahara Desert and whose population is entirely Muslim -- is nothing like anywhere she'd been.

"In ways it is hard to remember those first days, but at the same time, there are so many things about them I will never forget," said Daniel, who responded to questions by e-mail. "Getting off the plane to immediately be greeted by kids asking for presents, seeing unbelievable amounts of trash in the streets -- there is very little organized trash disposal system here -- seeing the goats and sheep run around in the street. Then arriving in Kaedi, our training site, and having to eat with my hands and have oil drip down to my elbow then to have to use a Turkish toilet and use my hand instead of toilet paper!"

The cultural differences confront Daniel in almost every aspect of life. Some children cry when they see her, terrified by someone with white skin, curly red hair and different clothing. Because she is an American, Mauritanians commonly assume she is a spy or a Christian missionary.

As in many non-Western countries, there is no set price on anything that is for sale. Everything is subject to bargaining, and it is routine for locals to ask if her own possessions -- like her bicycle -- are for sale. The cultural differences make it easy to unintentionally cause offense.

"I am constantly making cultural faux pas," Daniel said. "Asking people how many children they have here is rude, and saying that a child has grown up a lot since the last time you saw them can be a cultural faux pas if you don't say something like, 'Thanks be to God' or the like after this comment. Also, I have to be very aware not to schedule things at prayer times."

Actually, Daniel had expected the religious difference to have a greater impact than it has. People ask about her faith and if she wants to become Muslim, but when she tells them she is happy as a Christian, they usually let the subject drop.

Mauritania has its share of diversity. The north is influenced by Mediterranean countries like Morocco, while the south has a more black populace, including immigrants from Senegal. The country's development is spectacularly uneven. Everyone has a cell phone, and teenagers do Internet dating at cyber cafés, but paved roads are few.

One constant -- tea. It is a big part of Mauritanian life, quite sweet and flavored with fresh mint. People drink three glasses at every meal, during breaks on long trips -- they bring travel tea sets for the occasion -- and to welcome guests.

"It is also done when you arrive at someone's house to visit," Daniel said. "If you allow them to start, it is considered rude to leave before all three are over. Also, it is used as a courting type activity for young girls who are of marrying age. Her family buys her a very fancy tea set, and when suitors come over, she entertains them and impresses them with her tea set and her tea-making skills."

The people's hospitality impresses Daniel, who said she could walk into a stranger's home and they would greet her and start making tea without asking who she was and why she was there. To do otherwise would be rude in their culture. She has learned not to compliment women on their clothing or jewelry because they will insist on giving it to her -- and expect the same in return for their compliments.

"The people here will give you anything -- seriously, the shirt off their back if you ask for it," Daniel said.

Daniel's computer students at the technical college range in age from 16 to 40, and she teaches mostly Microsoft Word and Excel. She teaches three classes a week, each to a different group of students, only about a third of whom are literate in the Latin alphabet. After lunch, most businesses close from about 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. After 4, Daniel performs various jobs -- teaching geography and culture at the Peace Corps-run Girls Mentoring Center, working as a fitness trainer and teaching English to adults two nights a week.

Daniel has done a lot of learning herself, much of it by creating relationships across vast language and cultural divides. She hopes the reverse is true.

"I think most of the results will come long after I have left Mauritania, but I do feel like I am making a difference," she said. "I think I show the girls at our mentoring center than a woman can be young, unmarried, well-educated and have a job and not have to focus on a family and home life at such a young age. I also think I teach people to be a bit more organized, professional, efficient by my actions and the way I prepare lessons and interact with others.

"I also think my presence makes people interested in traveling some and seeing the world. Many people never think about getting out of Mauritania, but after getting to know me, many are more interested in what's out there. Many people here think that all white people come from one place and don't really understand the difference between America and France, so small conversations regarding things like that definitely make a difference. I think most of the differences I make or changes are small, individual and might not mean a lot, but perhaps one day there will be a girl from one of my classes who remembers me, my headstrong ways, and a few conversations we had and decides she too can go to college and get a job, etc.

"In general, the experience is so rewarding, and I think once I am gone, I will realize that much more. I have met some amazing people and had the chance to experience a culture from a perspective most people will never dream of. Also, it has been very rewarding personally. I have learned a lot about myself and my limits and my abilities to change."

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

The Peace Corps Library Date: February 7 2005 No: 438 The Peace Corps Library
Peace Corps Online is proud to announce that the Peace Corps Library is now available online. With over 30,000 index entries in over 500 categories, this is the largest collection of Peace Corps related reference material in the world. From Acting to Zucchini, you can use the Main Index to find hundreds of stories about RPCVs who have your same interests, who served in your Country of Service, or who serve in your state.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

RPCVs in Congress ask colleagues to support PC Date: March 5 2005 No: 482 RPCVs in Congress ask colleagues to support PC
RPCVs Sam Farr, Chris Shays, Thomas Petri, James Walsh, and Mike Honda have asked their colleagues in Congress to add their names to a letter they have written to the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, asking for full funding of $345 M for the Peace Corps in 2006. As a follow-on to Peace Corps week, please read the letter and call your Representative in Congress and ask him or her to add their name to the letter.

March 5, 2005: RPCV Groups in the News Date: March 5 2005 No: 483 March 5, 2005: RPCV Groups in the News
San Diego RPCVs host reception with Gaddi Vasquez on March 6 4 Mar
Alaska RPCVs speak for dividend 4 Mar
Western North Carolina's RPCVs sponsor Africa Night on March 6 3 Mar
Maryland RPCVs lobby their Senators for Peace Corps 3 Mar
Connecticut RPCVs hold fundraiser on March 5 3 Mar
Charles Baquet speaks at Louisiana PC Breakfast on March 4 28 Feb

RPCVs: Post your stories or press releases here for inclusion next week.

March 5, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: March 5 2005 No: 476 March 5, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
Senate FR Committee approves $345 M PC budget 4 Mar
RPCV's "Kennedy's Kitchen" records second CD 4 Mar
Sam Farr asks Army to reconsider burial policy 3 Mar
Bayanihan jewelry designed by Philippines RPCV 2 Mar
Todd Vetter receives calling during PC service 2 Mar
Sargent Shriver still on Washington's A-list 2 Mar
Photographer Bill Owens publishes new book 2 Mar
Crisis Corps to open new program in Sri Lanka 28 Feb
PC wants new stories for "The Great Adventure" 28 Feb
Ukraine PCV asks "Is Bush right on Iraq?" 28 Feb
Carol Bellamy defends "feminism" in aiding children 28 Feb
John Bridgeland discusses role as Bush assistant 28 Feb
Paul Theroux recalls high times with Hunter Thompson 28 Feb
Elaine Chao Leads Delegation to Uruguay 28 Feb
RPCV reunites with friend after 40 years 27 Feb
Kay Muldoon-Ibrahim's photography on exhibit 27 Feb
Jim Doyle displays political brilliance on tax cuts 26 Feb

March 1: National Day of Action Date: February 28 2005 No: 471 March 1: National Day of Action
Tuesday, March 1, is the NPCA's National Day of Action. Please call your Senators and ask them to support the President's proposed $27 Million budget increase for the Peace Corps for FY2006 and ask them to oppose the elimination of Perkins loans that benefit Peace Corps volunteers from low-income backgrounds. Follow this link for step-by-step information on how to make your calls. Then take our poll and leave feedback on how the calls went.
Coates Redmon, Peace Corps Chronicler  Date: February 26 2005 No: 457 Coates Redmon, Peace Corps Chronicler
Coates Redmon, a staffer in Sargent Shriver's Peace Corps, died February 22 in Washington, DC. Her book "Come as You Are" is considered to be one of the finest (and most entertaining) recountings of the birth of the Peace Corps and how it was literally thrown together in a matter of weeks. If you want to know what it felt like to be young and idealistic in the 1960's, get an out-of-print copy. We honor her memory.
Make a call for the Peace Corps Date: February 19 2005 No: 453 Make a call for the Peace Corps
PCOL is a strong supporter of the NPCA's National Day of Action and encourages every RPCV to spend ten minutes on Tuesday, March 1 making a call to your Representatives and ask them to support President Bush's budget proposal of $345 Million to expand the Peace Corps. Take our Poll: Click here to take our poll. We'll send out a reminder and have more details early next week.
Peace Corps Calendar: Tempest in a Teapot? Date: February 17 2005 No: 445 Peace Corps Calendar: Tempest in a Teapot?
Bulgarian writer Ognyan Georgiev has written a story which has made the front page of the newspaper "Telegraf" criticizing the photo selection for his country in the 2005 "Peace Corps Calendar" published by RPCVs of Madison, Wisconsin. RPCV Betsy Sergeant Snow, who submitted the photograph for the calendar, has published her reply. Read the stories and leave your comments.
WWII participants became RPCVs Date: February 13 2005 No: 442 WWII participants became RPCVs
Read about two RPCVs who participated in World War II in very different ways long before there was a Peace Corps. Retired Rear Adm. Francis J. Thomas (RPCV Fiji), a decorated hero of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Friday, Jan. 21, 2005 at 100. Mary Smeltzer (RPCV Botswana), 89, followed her Japanese students into WWII internment camps. We honor both RPCVs for their service.
Bush's FY06 Budget for the Peace Corps Date: February 7 2005 No: 436 Bush's FY06 Budget for the Peace Corps
The White House is proposing $345 Million for the Peace Corps for FY06 - a $27.7 Million (8.7%) increase that would allow at least two new posts and maintain the existing number of volunteers at approximately 7,700. Bush's 2002 proposal to double the Peace Corps to 14,000 volunteers appears to have been forgotten. The proposed budget still needs to be approved by Congress.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: 2 the Advocate

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mauritania



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.