The night that I got back from my mission, Lisa from Nouadhibou began her
stay at the château. She’s always fun to have
around. I soaked a pot of beans on Saturday night. During the day on
Sunday, she turned it into a yummy curry dish – with enough of it to feed
not only the two of us for several days, but some other visitors who came
for dinner during the rest of the week!
It rained all day on Sunday, which is very unusual for this time of year.
The sandy unpaved areas haven’t been too much of
a problem since the rain filters down through the surface. But the paved
streets were excessively muddy for several days. There is no street
drainage system in Nouakchott, resulting in large lakes of water at some
intersections, long rivers of it along some roads, and the constant need
for careful negotiation of walking almost everywhere, in order to avoid
being splashed by passing cars or stepping into a deep puddle of mud or
muddy water. With no sidewalks to speak of in most places, it has meant
gingerly walking the streets while dodging both mud and cars. The drivers
are ruthless about their sense of entitlement to supreme domination of the
roads, making them especially horn-happy when pedestrians encroach upon their
territory. I guess I should look at the bright side: at least they do try
to warn us before they mow us down!
Plastic bags that litter the streets are especially slippery when coated
with the mud; on several occasions I stepped on one, temporarily lost my
balance, and almost went down into the mud. In some places, the sludge
sucked on my shoes so heavily, that it almost pulled them off my feet.
Where there wasn’t mud, there was wet sand.
People were tracking mud and wet sand into buildings all over town. At
home, I usually wait until I get upstairs to take my shoes off, since dry
sand falls off shoes readily. But the wet sand situation has been so bad
that I have had to take them off immediately at the doorway, or else the
whole apartment would be sandy.
Sunday was the Early Term Reconnect for the first-year Volunteers. The
night before, Lisa and I pored over the Volunteer Handbook so that I
could create the “quiz” of fifteen multiple choice and true/false questions
that I was asked to give during ETR. When I showed up to do my session,
there were several Volunteers having lunch with the ambassador and others
who were just not there. Fortunately, nobody from the PC administration was
in the room at the time, so it was a fairly relaxed and easy-going session.
Later in the day, we had our VAC meeting. A new APCD has just joined us,
taking over the spot that our Country Director vacated when he rose to his
current position. The new APCD said that our program in Mauritania is
highly regarded in Washington as one that is run efficiently and
On Monday, each of the work sectors held its in-services. Kristen and I
made a presentation to the education group so that we could give them draft
copies of the teachers’ edition of the textbook we co-wrote. It is still in
rough form, as the Ministry of Education has no money to print it. The last
I heard, the government here is looking around for funding from other
countries to support the printing of the text.
It’s been a few months since Mamadou the Tailor
finished his work on sewing together all the fabric I cut out to make the
duvet cover I will bring back home with me as a souvenir of my time here.
The cover is something like a pocket into which a down comforter is placed
in order to protect it. The job that Mamadou did was only one side of it,
so I had to figure out how I was going to deal with the other side.
Originally, I was thinking about getting a solid navy blue sheet once I got
home, since all the fabric on the finished side is navy blue and white.
Then I realized that I could have the flip side as something that would not
only represent Mauritanian craftsmanship, but would render the cover
reversible. My friend Marian sent me the plain white sheet that I needed
for the second side, and I arranged to have Biri
dye it navy blue in a pattern that is called salat,
which uses various intensities of the color in an effect reminiscent of the
marbling that the Florentines are famous for using on paper.
Biri’s sister does this kind of work, so I left
it to him to make the arrangements. I brought the sheet that Marian sent,
another white sheet that I had been using, which would eventually be cut up
in order to make matching pillow covers, and a white two-meter howlie, the fabric that men here use to wind
into turbans. (The howlie will become a
scarf for me to use when I get home.) I also gave Biri
some of the fabric that had been used to make the original cover,
explaining, This is the color blue that I want.
Biri recently called to say that the job was
done, and we arranged for me to pick it up at his house. When I arrived the
sun had just set, so all we had to go by in his house was artificial light.
Right away I could see that the color of the sheets and the howlie was not the same as the blue on
the sample fabric I had given him. When I remarked to him that the colors
looked different, he said, “No, they are the same.” I told him that one
looked blue and the other looked purple. He said that he did not see the
difference in the two colors. I thought I would give him the benefit of the
doubt, since there was no natural light.
The next day, it was just as clear: the color was definitely purple and
markedly different from the navy blue I had given him to match! I sent Biri a telephone text message to see if there was
something that could be done. He sent me a message later in the day, after
he had spoken to his sister, telling me that she had done her best, and
that we evidently had a “divergence in the perception of the colors.” To
say the least!
True, this isn’t the worse thing that could
happen to me, and there is no cause to get upset about it. I just need to
figure out what I will do now with two sheets that have been tie-dyed
purple. I guess it will be back to Plan A, getting the navy blue sheet as
the duvet cover backing when I get home.
Toward the end of the week, Nina came to stay for a few nights and Jordy came for dinner a few times. It’s been enjoyable
getting to know them better, as they had also been at two of the places
where I had visited on my mission the week before. There are no first-years
living in Nouakchott now, so in order to get to know the new group better I
either have to visit their sites, they have to come to Nouakchott, or we
have to participate in the same activity, such as their ETR.
Friday morning everyone who had been staying with me left, and I had the
place to myself for the first time since before I went on the trip two
weeks earlier. At about 4:00 in the afternoon, I got a call from three
Senegal PCVs, saying that they were in Atar and had heard that it would be
possible to stay with me when they arrived in Nouakchott. I said it would
be possible, and told them that when they get into town they should take a
local taxi to the Novotel, a prominent landmark
that all taxi men know, which has the added convenience of being close to my
house. The trip from Atar should take about four hours, but they weren’t ready to leave any time soon because they were
having trouble filling up their taxi.
The only available vehicle for them was a nine-seat Peugeot station wagon.
They had purchased four seats for the three of them, but there were still
five empty places, so it could be a while before they were in Nouakchott.
By 10:30 that night, I had not heard from them again. Almost anything could
have happened: they could have broken down in an area with no phone
service; they could have still been in Atar; perhaps they simply didn’t call to tell me what was going on. In any event,
they had originally called from a public phone, so they needed either
another one to call me back or they had to ask a fellow passenger in their
vehicle for permission to use her/his phone.
Tired of waiting, I decided that with the all the uncertainty of their
whereabouts, I might as well go to sleep. That night, I dreamed that
Kristen had let everyone into my place while I was sleeping. The noise of
all the new people traipsing around had awakened me. As I walked around my
apartment to meet everyone, I could see that there were more than three
people visiting, with even more asking if they could stay, saying that it didn’t matter to them that there were no matelas for them to sleep on. In the dream, the
people using the showers were not careful about their use of water, which
was flooding all over the apartment!
When I woke up on Saturday morning, I looked at my phone and saw that
somebody had tried to call be five times at 1:49 AM. It must have been
they. In any event, they never called back. I guess they were just passing
through in one day and did not need to spend another night here.
Saturday afternoon, the skies started to get cloudy, and that night there
was another storm. It continued to rain off and on all day Sunday – that’s now been two Sundays in a row.
Late Sunday morning, I got a frantic call from my counterpart. He needed
copies of some of the work that we had generated, and could not find any of
his own. This has been a recurring theme with him, as he has misplaced – at
least once, if not twice – almost every document that I have printed and
distributed to the people in our work group. I was at the bureau at the
time of his call and looked in my file there to see if I had what he
wanted. He was not making himself clear about exactly what it was that he
needed, so there was no way to tell whether I had it or not. I told him
that I could bring my flash disk to his office the next day and he would be
able to copy anything he needed from it.
But he was insistent that he have these papers immediately, that “the
expert” was in town to meet with us and that these documents were mandatory.
He then said that they weren’t on the flash disk
anyway, that they were handwritten. That tipped me off to what he needed,
as Kristen and I had written out a chart referred to in the education field
as the scope and sequence, delineating all the material that would be
covered in the sequence of all the book’s
lessons. Then I knew for sure that what he needed was in a file I had at
I told him that I would be home in about an hour and that I would call him
when I had it. When I called he said he would take a taxi to meet me, so I
suggested the Novotel. Rather than wait for him
in the street in the mud, I told him to call me when he got there and I
would be right over.
We met in front of the hotel and then entered the lobby to look through my
papers to see if I had what he needed. I was curious, of course, about what
was happening. If Gérard, the consultant with
whom we worked, was in town, shouldn’t Kristen
and I have known about it? Shouldn’t we be meeting, too? Will we be starting work on the second
He told me that yes, we would soon be working on
the second book. As he saw the papers he needed and picked them up, he said
he would take them and return them to me when he was finished. I was
reluctant to let go of my only copies of this work, considering his track
record with papers.
When he asked me why he couldn’t just have them
for a few days, I told him that it was because they were my only copies and
he had already lost his. He retorted, “My papers are not lost.” Then
there was a long pause, after which he added, “I just can’t
find them right now.”
The only thing I could say as a reply was, Well, sir, that is precisely
what “lost” means, isn’t it?
We walked to a nearby store that had a copy machine and he asked for three
copies of each sheet that he needed, gallantly telling me, “I will pay for
these.” (As if I had any doubt about that!)