week I mentioned parenthetically, "Jigar came with a suitcase
full of food, much of it from Trader Joe." One of my website
readers wrote that I had to be exaggerating about the amount
of food Jigs brought with him.
and Jigs' kind permission, I took an inventory of the comestibles
that he brought with him. This is what is left of the Trader
Jigs stash: instant miso soup, spicy onion cashews, dried Portobello
mushrooms, macaroni and cheese, 17-bean mix, black lentils,
lightly salted pistachios, black peppercorn cashews, sun-dried
pesto, salsa mix, dried peaches, dried raspberries, raisins,
dry toasted pine nuts, almonds, dried mango slices, dried cranberries,
dried cherries, organic wild rice, dried sun-dried tomatoes,
dried ravioli, dried tortellini, fruit jellies, chocolate caramels,
and dulce de leche candies. Of the non-Trader Joe items, there
are: Daily Green Tea and Darjeeling Nouveau 2000 from The Republic
of Tea, Earl Grey tea from Peet's, several boxes of Jell-O gelatin
and pudding mixes, packages of sauces (sun-dried tomato pesto,
spaghetti with mushroom, parma rosa creamy tomato, pesto), spice
packets, Kool-Aid packets, three bottles of hot sauce (Tabasco,
Tabasco Chipotlé, and Tapatío), powdered hot mustard,
and powdered wasabi.
Trader Joe: ultimate purveyor of the non-essential. My TJ shopping
cart was usually filled with tofu, produce, sparkling water,
and entrees for school lunches. It's not that I don't eat any
of the other items that he stocks on his copious shelves - it's
mostly because I don't trust my willpower when I know that the
Trader's tantalizing treats are tempting me. As soon as the
bag of nuts, dried fruit, or other heavy-carb snack is opened,
the contents manage to find their way into my mouth! My approach
is to avoid having it in the house in the first place. All the
same, Jigar's purchases are a welcome diversion as he, Annika,
and I are having a good time enjoying it.
immediately after I received a package of food that my friend
Barb from Palo Alto sent; she mailed it in March and it arrived
in July. I can only imagine the faces on the postal employees
when they opened Barb's box for inspection to see if there was
anything worth taking - only to find bowls of Annie Chun's miso
and udon soups and Tasty Bite meals of Punjab eggplant, Madras
lentils, Malabar mixed vegetables, Kashmir spinach, and Bengal
lentils. These are not items that appeal to the Mauritanian
palate. The typical diet of the local population depends on
both the region and ethnic group. In any event, seeking variety
is not a hallmark with regard to food.
are most comfortable with items that are readily and consistently
available. People's attention with regard to food is focused
on items that are necessary, utilitarian, economical, repetitive,
and simple. The population is descended from generations of
people who led a nomadic existence, moving frequently and covering
long expanses of land in pursuit of water and grazing lands.
Practicality, rather than variety, governs their purchase of
food and other consumer goods. Staples include bread, couscous,
rice, tea, macaroni, fish in some areas, camel, goat, and sheep,
all of which defines the diet for the overwhelming majority
of the population.
me pause to consider the abundance and variety of food and other
consumer goods that we have in the USA - something that many
of us take for granted. In stark contrast to the long list of
consumables that made their way here with Jigs, there are parts
of Mauritania where vegetables and fruit are simply unavailable.
In a few regions, people may have carrots and tomatoes for a
few months, then mangoes for a scant two-week period. In Nouakchott,
even without this TJ shipment, there is a much larger selection
of fruit, vegetables, and other products - delivered here mostly
from Europe and Lebanon, consumed predominantly by workers employed
here by embassies and aid organizations.
On Tuesday, my counterpart D called to ask me to come to his
office to go over some changes in our textbook. He wanted to
show me what needed to be done, and then send me off to the
Peace Corps to do the work on the computer. I told him that
it made more sense for him to come to the Peace Corps so we
could work on it together. He agreed. It was about 9:30 at the
time he called, and he said he would get to me by 10:30.
when D had not yet shown, I called to see what was keeping him.
There was a crowd in the PCV computer room, so I was going to
need to give up my computer for a while, to let others use it.
He said he was a little delayed, and would be there by noon.
after noon, some of the Volunteers were going out to lunch and
asked me if I wanted them to bring something back for me, since
I was stuck in the office waiting for D. They were going to
Snak Irak, where my favorite meal is the falafel plate, so I
asked them to bring back one of those for me.
until 1:10 to call D to see what was holding him up. He told
me that he would definitely be there by 3:00. By that point,
I was not only waiting for D to work, but for lunch as well.
Melanie and Jeff came back with lunch around 2:30. When it got
to be 3:00 and there was still no D, I decided that I had to
hit the road and do some errands before teaching my 5:00 class.
when I was already out in the street, D called. He wanted to
know when we could meet on Wednesday. I suggested 9:00 at the
PC bureau. A few minutes after that, I got a call from S, one
of the other people on the team writing the textbook. S said
that 9:00 wasn't very good for him, but that 8:45 would be much
better. Would that be all right?
would be all right! But what were the odds that it would happen?
Annika and Jessica, two PCVs who taught English in small towns
during our first year, went to my English Conversation Club
with me on Tuesday evening. They particularly enjoyed conversing
with people who can speak English at the intermediate and advanced
for the week was about a man who every year wrote a list about
what he wanted to accomplish in his life, and then shared it
with his grandmother at Thanksgiving. Some of his goals were
easier for Mauritanians to understand than others, and we talked
about the simple pleasures of walking on a beach under a full
moon at midnight or seeing the sunrise on a tropical island.
Other items on the list elicited lengthier discussion, though,
like wanting to earn the respect of intelligent people, the
unconditional love of children, or doing something that would
have a positive impact on the world.
On Wednesday morning I was tending to a new houseguest, PCV
Jeff from Senegal, and was running a few minutes late getting
to the bureau for the meeting at 8:45 with S. At 8:44, when
I was no more than two minutes away from the building, S called
me to say, "I am at the Peace Corps. Where are you?"
S and I
went upstairs to work on the computers. It was only then that
something dawned on me: if I made any changes to the book on
the copy that is stored in the bureau computer, we would then
have the logistical problem of getting the new version of the
book to M, the typist, working at the IPN building. It doesn't
make sense to have two different versions of the book - one
at the PC bureau and one at IPN. (I wrote about M in the post
of 1/26/2004; he was the one concerned that my having started
typing this work onto the computer would mean that I was putting
him out of a job.)
with S lasted only fifteen minutes, as I realized that all of
the changes that needed to be made were well within the workload
of M, back at his computer in his office.
was still a little confused about why Kristen and I had not
yet finished the teachers' manual for the book. We have tried
on several occasions to explain that since the teachers' manual
is essentially the students' book, but with a lot of extra directions
added for the benefit of the teachers, any changes made to the
student book would the have to be made again on the teachers'
edition. For efficiency, Kristen and I wanted to make the changes
only once. Our idea was to wait until the student book was completed
and approved. Then, all we would need to do was add the necessary
directions to one copy of it, thereby creating the teachers'
still eludes our counterparts. I did get a call on Thursday
evening, though, from D, to tell me that their work was finished
on the students' edition. We arranged for me to go to IPN at
9:00 on Sunday morning, transfer the now-finished student book
to the flash disk, and then Kristen and I will be able to turn
it into the teachers' manual.
the transfer all right, and D told me that our supervisor would
like to have the work completed as soon as possible. I went
to the PC bureau to find that the electricity had been off for
most of the day, so I was unable to get access to the computers
That call from D came while I had a record-breaking houseful
of people for soup, bread, and fruit salad. Fifteen people showed
up, and it was the first time that we ran out of soup. Some
of the people were there for the first time, spending a night
in Nouakchott before they went on vacation to Morocco. One of
the people there was Janine, whose mother regularly reads my
website and has asked Janine if she had ever come to my house
for dinner. Yes, Donna, Janine finally made it!
I paid a visit to Babah's family's house in the outskirts of
Nouakchott. They have wanted me to come back ever since I went
there the last time, and I have been resisting, mostly because
of how uncomfortable it is. They are nice people and are very
kind to me. I have been in many Mauritanian homes, and do not
need to have a luxurious setting in order to visit people. In
this house, though, the matalas where we sit are the
same ones that the kids sleep on, and they have been permeated
with the children's urine, which has an overpowering stench.
Maybe the people in the house don't notice it anymore.
also see, by the filthy condition of the toilets, why Babah
likes to take a shower at my house when he comes by for breakfast.
communal lunch platter came, nobody washed hands before digging
right into the rice and fish. Babah's sister had prepared a
delicious meatless soup for me and Babah; when we were finished,
one of the older sisters picked up one of the spoons we had
used so that she could polish off the last drops of soup.
The flies were persistent, landing all over me, the matala
around me, and the food.
the other homes I have visited, there has been a wide range
of amenities, but the families generally pay scrupulous attention
led Jessica and Scott to signing their apartment lease. He was
there when they handed over a deposit of three months rent to
the owner. He immediately received his commission for the deal:
a cool 50,000 ouguiya. He liked getting that quick money
from this business transaction, and has begun to ask around
for other people who need to find housing. Looks like Mamouni
has a new second career going for him!
negotiated some work reduction at Gallerie Tata. The owner of
the store likes him and has raised his salary to 30,000 ouguiya,
which is comparable to what many teachers earn. He is thrilled
to be procuringing so much. (It amounts to about $100 a month.)
On Friday night, some of the employees of the American embassy
invited everyone to a party at their house, only about two blocks
away from mine. Before we went, Annika, Jigar and I pondered
if there would be any food we would want to eat. We decided
that the best approach was to make our own meat-free dinner
at the house and then go to the party.
upon our arrival, the first thing we saw were the skewers of
meat on the grill. There were a few other items that we could
eat, but it was just as well that we had already taken care
of that. They were serving something that we didn't have at
the house, though: wine and beer, which are always vegetarian
and always welcome.
The Israeli embassy has a two-person staff here: the ambassador
and the second secretary. When the former ambassador left last
fall, there was no permanent replacement for him. Now, the second
secretary is leaving with his wife and newborn son. I ran into
them the other evening and he happily told me where their new
post is going to be: San Francisco!
told Shai, "That's where I live." He said, "I
know. That's why I told you." They will be there for two
years, so they will be starting their second year by the time
I get home