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I first considered joining Peace Corps during high school. Why? Well- the challenge, the service, the adventure. I wanted to live and work in a way that I never had before. I knew I wanted to see what Africa was really like (and not just what we occasionally see on TV.) But first, I had to get through college. So, my junior year at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, I began the year-long application process. It wasn't until graduation that I finally discovered I was invited to serve as a water sanitation/community health volunteer. For the next 2+ years I would be calling Mauritania, West Africa home. "Where?" I thought.
Just a few months later, in July 1996, I was in Washington D.C. There, I met the 30 other volunteer trainees, got shots, met the Mauritanian Ambassador, endured seminars, and had my first glass of Mauritanian tea. A few days and several airline delays later, I touched down in Nouakchott- the capital of Mauritania. My first impression? I thought I was in the Middle East, not "Africa."
In Washington D.C., ready to go!
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Second day in Mauritania, just outside of Nouakchott.
The next day I travelled with a few other trainees to a Wolof village along the Senegal River. We stayed with the local volunteer for a couple days. This was my first real exposure to village life: the food, the people, the pace, and the incredible night sky. Unfortunately, I was also exposed to schistosomiasis (caused by blood flukes) by swimming in the Senegal River. I was later treated.
For the next six weeks after the site visit, we called the town of Kaedi home. This was our training site. Here, we lived with host families, learned local languages, technical skills, and cultural mores. Specifically, I learned the local language of Hassaniya (a dialect of Arabic), worked with masonry to construct wells and latrines, and learned different aspects of health care and disease prevention. We toured local hospitals, visited rural villages, and made new Mauritanian friends. I attended my first wedding celebration, took my first bucket bath, and survived my first sandstorm. For me, the hardest part of training was getting used to Mauritanian food-a challenge that became one of the most difficult for the next two years.
Renee, Gary, Ann, and Robyn studying hard under the neem trees
Taking the oath. It's official!
Finally, on October 12, 1996, we were officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers at the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott. Before we were posted, we spent a few days in the capital for motorcycle training, as some of us were given Suzuki 125s to use at our sites. (One of my favorite memories is riding along the surf at the beach, with a pod of dolphins swimming along side me.) Then, after buying supplies, partying like rock stars, and saying goodbye to each other, we each began a whole new life on the edge of the Sahara.
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Click here to go to the next page detailing my life as a Volunteer!
Click here to go to the next page detailing my life as a Volunteer
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