Breakfast with Babah


           I was going to tell you this week about the Saturday session with the ENS students to which I was invited during my last class with them. I got a call a few days before it, to the effect that it was cancelled because the director of the school called some sort of conference that they all had to attend.

           In the meanwhile, I have received no call from ENS asking to report grades for my final exam or the American Civilization course.

           Since Babah has to report to work at Galerie Tata near my house at 8:00 AM, he comes by for breakfast at about 7:30, as he did during the brief period when he worked at the other market. Since I make oatmeal for myself anyway, it's no trouble making double. The only difference is that he likes his with sugar and I take mine with salt.

           The store provides a snack of tea and bread with white flour for their workers, but I also pack him an apple, an orange, and a slice of whole grain bread.

           Babah has not complained about the long hours he has to spend on his feet. He says, "It's hard, but it's good." He wants to decrease his work hours because the double shift is tiring, let alone exploitive. I asked him if he is going to speak to the boss about working only the early or the late shift. He said that he is going to work for the rest of the month for the hours he was assigned, and then, at the end of the month, when they see that he is a good worker, he will speak to the boss and ask to work only one seven-hour shift a day.

           Meanwhile, Babah's friend Ismail has quit his job as a driver for somebody who has a relatively high position in the Ministry of Communications. Why? Because after a month and a half of working, he had still not been paid. This appears to be a leitmotif for workers in Mauritania.

           We have been having a rash of electricity outages during the last week. The first one came on Wednesday morning, just as I was waking up, shortly after 6:00. I had left the fan on during the night to get some air circulating in my bedroom. As I came to consciousness, I heard the fan stop spinning.

           At my house, no electricity means no running water either, since the pump that gets water upstairs is run by electricity. Power was turned on again about 7:30 AM, so I could shower and get ready for work.

           That evening, I was reading when the lights went out again, shortly after 9:00 PM. I don't know when the lights came back on since I just went to sleep at that point. But there was electricity when I got up the next morning.

           On Saturday morning, there was no power when I woke up, but it was restored by about 6:45.

           It's hard to know if this is related to the weather, the economy, or what. As for the weather, most days are still pleasant, but we are having some days with blasting heat. One day last week, it was 45 degrees C, which is 113 F. After that, most days have been overcast, warm and pleasant, with a cool and gentle breeze coming from the ocean. Yesterday, the breeze was hot, as it was coming off the desert.

           One of the projects that Kristen and I worked on recently was a letter to the U.S. embassy here in Nouakchott, on behalf of the Ministry of Education, an appeal for financial aid for several projects. One of the advantages of our working together is that we can take turns being in charge of various tasks. Since she was here for a year before I got here, she took the lead on this because she was able to give the proposal an historical perspective of U.S. support for educational projects.

           I got a call from Kristen's counterpart, H, last Tuesday evening. He wanted to tell me that it would be important for me to attend the ambassador's Fourth of July party so that I could make a point of chatting with the ambassador, possibly advancing the cause of the financial aid that the Ministry wants so much.

          I know that H and I will be working together during the coming month, so I was puzzled as to why he would call on the first of June to tell me of the importance of attending an event that was still more than a month away. A few days later, a possible rationale came to me: in Arabic, months are referred to as being "first," "second," "third," and so on, as opposed to being named January, February, March. He must have confused "July" with "sixth month" and realized that the fourth of the month was coming up soon, so I needed that prompting from him.

           The cover letter for our proposal included both Kristen's and my name, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers. On Thursday afternoon, I got a call from the embassy, asking for some information to support the request. The official who called me (I'll call him "Mr. Smith") was the man who had told me, "You were not invited" to the gathering I had attended at his home on the embassy grounds (see the entry of 12/8/2003).

           I didn't know if Mr. Smith was connecting my name with my face and that incident when he called. Kristen knew more about it than I do, and she was with me at the PC bureau, so she was able to handle the information he needed.

           The next evening, one of the other Embassy officials had a gathering at her home off the embassy grounds. Kristen and I were the only two PCVs invited. Mr. Smith and his wife were there, so I took the opportunity to make nice with him. We had some pleasant conversations about raising children, teaching, and some of the countries where he has lived and worked during his career with the State Department.

           We have a new Country Director here now. When our previous CD was re-assigned to Mali, one of our APCDs assumed the position as interim CD. This particular APCD had applied to take the CD job, so he was competing against any other applicants for it. We just found out that he has been assigned the permanent position.

           This is especially good news for us, as he is a level-headed, good-humored, affable, and approachable person. It's the same person who had all the PCVs over to his house for Thanksgiving and who let me use his washing machine last week.

           It's a decision that makes sense for our program - having somebody already familiar with life here in general, and the PC/RIM in particular - now taking over the reins. But, as somebody who has worked for bureaucracies before, I have witnessed that decisions that make sense are not always the ones that are made. We could have been stuck with the appointment of any one of a number of buffoons.

           On Saturday evening, I went to see the concert of A Filetta at the French Cultural Center. They are a six-man a capella singing group from Corsica. They sang in French, Latin, and the blend of French and Italian that denotes the language of the island off the cost of France and Italy.

           It was enjoyable to hear a small group of men's voices again, after so long. I had looked them up on the Internet before the concert and found some information about them, including the fact that they had performed for the sound tracks of several movies. In person, though, I found that their voices were not very strong and that they did not sing arrangements of songs that made the most of their voices.