I have been
enjoying not only being back in my own apartment, but also not
as highly scheduled as I was last week during the in-service
in-service was held during spring break for teachers, there
were a lot of them floating around the region, visiting each
other and hanging out. When we returned to Nouakchott from Boghé,
I had one in tow - Karl, a first-time visitor to Château
a new vat of soup. Restaurants may have a soup du jour.
At the Château, though, it is soup de la semaine because
I make enough to last a week. That way, it's always easy to
heat up a quick meal, either for myself or for any number of
visitors. It's a strategy that I found to be convenient in San
Francisco, and one that is easy to use here, especially since
I am one of the relatively few PCVs who cooks for himself and
has a refrigerator.
time I made soup (with beets and carrots, very red and orange!)
Babah asked if I could make a potato soup. Why not? The Château
staff is very accommodating to its loyal clientele.This week's
soup has onions and garlic sautéed in olive oil, a dozen
green peppers from the garden of my Boghé host family
from last weekend, about a kilo of potatoes, carrots, cabbage,
white beans, and brown rice.
was walking home with the ingredients on Sunday, the day I got
back to town, I ran into Babah and Mamadou. I showed Babah that
I had purchased the potatoes for "his" soup, and invited
them to dinner the next night.
the day on Monday, the guest list grew as word got out that
soup was on at the Château. Before Monday I'd have said
that I wanted to limit a dinner to six people because I have
only six chairs, six bowls, and six soup spoons. But it seemed
like there was no way I was going to be able to control the
size of this crowd, as word of mouth spread to other Volunteers.
to the soup bowls, I have six plates which are not entirely
flat, so there is enough of a depression for soup. Then, of
course, there are always teaspoons. As long as we were going
to make adjustments, I realized that not everyone had to sit
at the table, as there was plenty of floor seating on the matalas.
Karl asked if it would be all right to invite Audrey. Then Audrey
called from the bureau to say that Mark H., Alice, and Lisa
J. were in the computer room, so could they come, too? Then,
I got a call from Madge, whom I hadn't even seen that day, asking
if she could come with Natalie E., who was staying at her house.
Throw in Babah and Ismail, and you've got a pretty full house
there - eight PCVs and two Mauritanians.
Ismail speak Hassaniya and Pulaar in addition to French, so
the PCVs were able to converse in several of the languages with
them. Babah and Ismail were very impressed at the level of proficiency
of these Volunteers who have been in-country for only nine months.
On Wednesday morning, Karl moved along, to continue his vacation
in Rosso; Annika and Erin P. moved in. Mauritanian dinner time
is much later than American. (It is not unusual for them to
eat at 9:30 at night, which is my bedtime!) But Babah called
while I was getting ready to serve up the soup, and he came
along to join us, as did Will, a Nouakchott Volunteer.
Erin, Will, and I had plans to go to the home of a couple that
works at the American embassy. They were having their first
book exchange evening. Realizing that it would be impossible
to get a book club started here because it would be difficult
for everyone to get copies of the same book, Dia and Justin
came up with the idea of an exchange instead, giving people
an opportunity to trade books that they did not want any longer.
a little delayed before setting out for the book exchange, though,
as Will locked the bathroom door behind himself and he could
not get out. Fortunately, there is a small window on the back
wall of the bathroom, and this window, though it does not open
to the outside, does open into a small storage area adjacent
to the kitchen. I was able to hand Will the screwdrivers that
he needed in order to undo the door handle and let himself out.
the book exchange, finding a few new books to read, and then
returned to the Château, picking up ice cream on the way
home. Then Will traded the now-broken lock on the bathroom door
with one that was on a living room door - a lock that I never
need to use.
Banking and shopping here are nowhere near as customer-friendly
as they are in the United States, but I have just found a way
to make things a little easier.
to pay my rent in cash on the first of the month. That's 50,000
ouguiya, which I can get either by waiting in a long
line at the bank or from the ATM that was installed in October.
I was told when I got the ATM card that I would be allowed to
withdraw a maximum of 50,000 ouguiya a week, but when
I went to withdraw the money for the rent during the last two
months, the machine limited the withdrawal to 40,000. How, then,
could I get the additional cash I needed for rent and daily
expenses without waiting in that long line?
super marché where I shop, I pay my bill at the end
of each month, and it is one of the few businesses here that
accepts checks, which is a tremendous amenity. This time, I
thought I would try an option that is very familiar back at
home: I asked if I could write the check for 10,000 ouguiya
over the cost of my bill, and the assistant manager said yes!
Cash back after writing a check - one of those little things
I used to take for granted.
April Fools Day has its local variation here, though it is not
a Mauritanian custom. It was brought over by the French in the
form of Poisson d'avril (April fish). The observation
of the day has its roots going back to 1562, with the reformation
of the calendar by Pope Gregory XIII (the Gregorian calendar).
Up until that time, the end of the year was celebrated for a
week, from the 25th of March to the 1st of April. On the first
day of April, it was the custom of people to exchange gifts.
Charles IX, king of France, decided to follow the Pope's lead
and changed the date of the beginning of the new year in France
to the 1st of January, effective in 1565. News travelled slowly
in those days, and when April began in 1565, some people were
a bit behind the times. People who were not up-to-date with
the new calendar were considered to be foolish. As for the giving
of gifts, since it wasn't the real beginning of the year any
longer, the gifts were not real either. Hence, gag gifts that
have evolved into practical jokes.
was not allowed during April in France because it was the time
that the fish reproduced. Some people decided to play a joke
on the fishermen by throwing herrings into the river and calling,
"Poisson d'avril," which is one story about how the
day came to be so-called in France.
resident who was born in Mauritius, raised in Nouakchott, and
whose mother works at the American embassy, had an April Fools
Day party at her house - a fun gathering and a way to socialize
with a variety of people.
my friend Mamouni that I went to an April Fools party, and at
whose house it was held. His response was, "Then that is
not a real party for Poisson d'avril." When I asked
him why not, he said that in order for it to be a real Poisson
d'avril party, when we showed up at the house it would have
been empty, and the joke would have been on us - that we had
been invited to a party that was not there.
party I ran into Jean-Jacques, who works in the French section
at one of the agencies where I work. I hadn't seen him for several
months because my work has been at different places. He is divorced,
with two grown daughters. He told me in late November that he
had just become a father again, the issue of a relationship
he has with a local woman. For reasons that had nothing to do
with me, he gave his son "Jay" as one of his middle
saw Jean-Jacques at the party, I asked him how his son was doing.
I was not prepared for the answer: "Il est mort."
(He died.) Infant and child mortality here is much higher than
in developed countries - a sad statistic that is, unfortunately,
not an April Fools joke.
The second-year Volunteers just got back from their COS (Close
of Service) conference. Since they were in town, the education
Volunteers in that group - they are the ones who put together
the Lesson Plans that Work book - met for an afternoon
and dinner at my house so that we could find places in the prescribed
syllabus where these lessons could fit. They are going to be
spending the next few days making revisions to their work, with
an eye toward making it compatible with the syllabus. In return,
Kristen and I will be able to lift sample lessons to include
in the teachers' editions of the new textbooks we are writing.
I leave today for my first vacation. Getting ready to leave
town is so much the same as it always has been: filing papers
away, making sure I have everything I need for the trip, completing
tasks that can't wait until I get home, and eating up all the
perishable food - things like that.
am flying to Dakar, Senegal. It's a relatively easy place to
get to, so I will not be spending too much time there at the
beginning of the trip, as my primary destination is Cape Verde,
the nation of nine main islands off the west coast of Afirca.
It is a former Portuguese colony and homeland of singer Caesaria
Evora, who is probably the best-known Cape Verdian internationally.
(Can you name another? I can't.)
I am starting
in Dakar during the day of the first Passover seder because
I had some Internet information that there is a small Jewish
population in Dakar. I was hoping that there would be a community
seder that I could to attend. I was in touch via e-mail with
the Second Secretary at the Israeli embassy, who told me that
the only seder he knows of is a small one, only for embassy
staff and their families.
do my best to look for ways to use e-mail and post to the website
while I am traveling.