Saturday, January 12, 2008

Peace Corps and Mauritania Madness

Wow! Check out this article by the former head of the Peace Corps for Cameroon. Interesting and valid. Makes me refine my answer to the question (for the 37th time!) just what is it I want to get out of Peace Corps, and in tandem, what do I hope to contribute?

All this said, I read this article within 5 minutes of hearing from a dear friend who just finished her 2 years of PC, also in Cameroon. She just opted to extend her time there for a third year in their health programs. I think the experience is what you make of a realistic set of expectations. A combination of optimistic altruism and accepting the fact that you may leave no tangible or lasting effects. I’m old enough to know I’m not going to save the world… but hope to contribute to a little corner of it.

The Peace Corps placement officer (responsible for picking the country where I would potentially spend the next 2+ years) is currently DRILLING me on why I don’t want to go to Mauritania! Whatever happened to Just Say No and leave it at that? Damn. That is my sole request! Quota filling? I don’t want to go there because it’s probably the most Muslim of the West African countries I could end up in, and it’s almost entirely rural. No even moderately bustling capital where I could hope to find more progressive views on women! I told Peace Corps from the get-go that I don’t want to go to a place where I won’t be taken seriously as a woman. In Jordan, for example, women volunteers in some places cannot leave their houses without a male escort. If a woman is not capable of walking alone in the street, how would she possibly be considered capable of running an organization, managing a project, or just making decisions? I don’t want to go where my gender will cause me to be less effective.

A little more entertainment for ya! This article sure left its impact on me. Fatty in Mauritania:

(If you're not registered for NYT... parents, just do it so you can read this article.)

I also told the PC placement officer (I had limited internet, had to respond fast, and just went with straight honesty!) that my athletic involvement is synonymous with community involvement. It’s true. I made friends and contacts, and sure learned more about France and the French when I played on my university’s rugby team there! I told PC it would be a waste to both me and the Peace Corps if they sent me to a place where there was no way a girl could kick a ball/putter around on a field somewhere. I’m not asking to go to the Olympics, and am ready to make some serious lifestyle changes, as I already have in Haiti. But don’t send me somewhere where I have no hope of doing as much as twitching in public.

That said, my friend Charles talked to the soccer team of a local university here where he teaches and plays ball. They said I can play with them. :) I might be asking for a real wupping here—I’m not in running shape! Haitians are also intense on the soccer field—no call goes uncontested and passionate arm-flailing arguments are apparently the norm. It’ll be good for my Creole. :)

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