Jeudi

I slept in a bit this morning and it just felt wonderful. I haven't had a good night's sleep since I've been here, but tomorrow there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm going CLU-squatting. Apparently, it's a popular activity here and one I feel very privileged to participate it. A CLU is a 'containerized living unit' and squatting means living there illegally. A Major here is leaving to go TDY tomorrow and is letting me stay in his CLU until I leave! I will have my own room! With a bathroom! Right now the bathroom is about a 5 minute walk over gravel from my tent. So this is an enormous step up and I am very excited. So excited that I agreed to meet him at 5 am to get his key tomorrow without grumbling at all.

The morning was busy talking to lots of students. I really enjoy it when I am able to help people and simplify getting an education for them. At 1700 I went to yoga, and I can tell I am getting a lot better. I am learning other fun balance moves and really enjoying it.

I rushed out of there and left for the Barbala school at 1830. This school was a bit shabbier than the others and didn't really have a floor, but the students were older and better English speakers.

Tonight's topic was "How to keep Educated people in Djibouti." We did not come up with an answer, but I did have a guy ask me, specifically, why we kept taking smart people instead of nomads. He said we could take all their nomads. I just told him his English was great and I didn't know, but it probably had something to do with money, then steered the conversation into a less accusatory area. I just cannot tell you how honred I feel to be sitting in that classroom and listening to them discuss economics, life, and love. Their world has been so different from mine and yet they are welcoming, warm, and very open. The talk openly about all their problems and the shortcomings in their society. It made me realize that Americans don't like to do this, but perhaps that has contributed to our success – being so darn patriotic and optimistic. But then again it's another story to hold these beliefs when you are completely downtrodden. Obviously, I need to think about this a little more.

I'm going to call Peaches and see if she wants to meet for a quick beer to cap off a perfectly lovely Thursday.

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And now for something completely different…

The other event I attended recently was a celebration of Guamanian liberation day, which is July 21st. There is a huge group of Army guys here from Guam and they had an enormous cook-out, featuring all kinds of indiscernable meat. They also had salads that looked confusing and strange! I fixed myself a big plate of assorted things that only looked vaguely terrifying, but said no when I was offered a fish with teeth. Apparently, the Guam guys had gone fishing and caught the fish themselves! Pretty impressive, but still NOT going in my stomach.

Here's an unattractive Marine trying to get me to eat one. The fishy is facing front so you can see all his little chompers.

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Alpha Radiation

Just got back from another successful school visit. Tonight we talked economics with the students in the class and nothing too revealing was said until one student told me that Djiboutians (and other non-Americans) will never be able to achieve success and do something new and creative because they lack the confidence. He told me if he tried to do something great, everyone would ask him, "who do you think you are?" And for this reason they will remain poor. The economy here is really bad. Khat, the legal drug here, is ubiquitous and people (mostlly men) spend all their money on it and then do nothing all day besides get high. There are also no natural resources and everything is imported. Which means that even though the country is dead broke, everything is really expensive. We went out for Indian food the other night and everyone's tab was over 20 dollars for a regular meal. It's amazing how that can be in a place where people don't have shoes or roofs.

Going to the school was really cool because we got to walk around in a sort of "shanty-town" area and I even went in a make-shift shop. Unfortunately you can't really take pictures at night without causing a raucus, so you'll have to use your imagination. I got some at the school though! Here's a picture of the chalkboard, leading up to the totally open roof. This seems to be a common style for houses. Most stuff looks like they just slapped it together with old sheets of metal.

Much like the other place we visited, the classroom consisted of simple wooden benches. I noticed none of the students had paper or pens…

Overall, it's an incredibly rewarding experience, and I am excited because I am going again tomorrow night! More learnings for me!!! My mom asked why I was doing this and going to the Orphanage, and I'm just volunteering to do it in my free time. They trips are already planned, so they make it very easy, except that the school trips are a little exclusive. I've been on the waiting list for two weeks and I only got my slot tonight as a "standby."

Making the cut as a standby always makes things so much more exciting. Especially when you find out the name of the school is "Alpha Radiation," whatever the heck that means. I just love spending time with the kids and learning more about their lives. Can't wait for tomorrow!

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Horsed School

We turned off the main road onto a tiny dirt road covered in goats and people. All along the road were crudely constructed shacks made out of sheets of metal. We had to drive very slowly to avoid rolling off the road or running over the living things that kept darting out in front of the van. We stopped and I saw the building set back a little ways from the road. It looked a bit like the set of a play, and could probably have fit on a large stage. There were three small classrooms, all in a row. Each one was furnished with very cheap wooden benches, counters, chalkboards, and not much else.

The children are friendly and excited. They're there to learn English and they take it very seriously. They've been taught to 'present' themselves to visitors, so they each come up, introduce themself, and shake my hand. I cannot understand any of their names. I smile at the girls and they giggle.

We go into the classroom and the 19 year old teacher (in the orange shirt) leads our discussion. The topic: "What type of person do you want to marry?" I have been told to let the kids do at least 75% of the talking so they can practice. They all speak English very well, but quickly and with a heavy accent, so it is difficult for me to understand. (Keep in mind most of these kids can already speak French, Somali, and probably two other languages.) Two things come across clearly: they all want to get married, and they want to marry someone rich. Some of the boys said a woman with 'good character' was more important than cash, but none of the girls. One girl said, "when hunger comes knocking at the door, love goes out the window." Dang.

 

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Taps

Loud rap music was coming though over the speakers of the Cantina and people everywhere were laughing and shouting. I was playing ping-pong and was thoroughly absorbed in the game. All of the sudden everything came to a screeching halt and I swear I heard the needle get lifted off the record. The time was 1000 pm and that is when Taps comes on over the loud speaker. Everyone outside has to stand at attention and face the flagpole until it finishes. I knew this was a thing that happened, but I have never had the chance to witness it in such a crowded, noisy place. It was literally like a scene from a movie where everything goes silent in an instant. 


The amazing part is that after it ends, a giant cheer goes up, the music comes back on, and all is back to normal.

Crazy.

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Directions for Visiting the Cheetah Refuge in Djibouti

The first thing you do when you are on your way to a cheetah refuge is climb into a very old van with 24 other people that has no air conditioning. Then you drive through piles and piles of trash on the side of the road. Some of it will look cool, like big mashed up cars and appliances, and some of it will stink, very, very badly. You may narrow your eyes as the smell becomes unbearable and realize that what you are seeing is no longer trash, but decaying animal parts. You will try not to vomit on the two people that are practically sitting in your lap and then you will grab your camera and snap a picture!

Things will get better after that. First the van will drive over bumpy ground that will make you realize that maybe you need an extra bra for your love-handles, and then realize that maybe this counts as exercise! You are jiggling and sweating… But then the road smooths out and you see a nifty little hut and a tiny little animal with horns that seems friendly. You will exit the van and bravely pet the little goat/antelope thing for another picture.

You will look around and realize that the whole place is open. For a moment you become terrified that you will mauled by a cheetah!

Then you will read the sign coming in and remind yourself not to "SCREAM OR RUN"

if you do get mauled by a cheetah. You will laugh, realize there are fences and relax. You will commune with nature and see interesting trees and animals. You will call your trip to the cheetah refuge a success!

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