Getting out of town

          It all started simply enough, with a plan to visit PCV Lisa in Nouadhibou, on the northernmost coast of Mauritania. The appeal for me to do so had to do with Nouadhibou's being the coolest place in the country and this is one of the hottest times of the year.

           Lisa was helping out with the training of our new group, and was then going to return to Nouadhibou after the trainees swore in as Volunteers. I was going to travel with her when she went home. When I asked her about specific dates so that I could make the flight reservations (it is that far away!), she told me, "Erin and Chris asked me if I'd go to Tunisia with them. Why don't you come along with us?"

           Several of our PCVs have been to Tunisia for vacation and have come back raving about its wonders. When I told our Country Director that I was thinking about going there, he said, "You must go to Tunisia." (He served there in the Peace Corps for two years. The country advanced so much that it no longer needed Peace Corps help, so that program was closed down.)

           Getting the reservations was fraught with problems and I don't want to bore people with the details. Suffice it to say that travel agencies in Mauritania are still far from being able to make guaranteed reservations by computer. Getting the tickets for this flight meant going to the travel agent, paying in cash, and then having somebody from the travel agency hand deliver the money to Tunisair, where he had to wait in line with everyone else who was buying tickets. It's the very picture of inefficiency and tedium.

          Before the weekend, we had three reservations for four people. To begin with, I made my reservation along with Lisa's. The problem was that her money was in Nouadhibou, so she needed to go there to get it so that she could pay for her ticket. When I paid for my ticket, that somehow resulted in her reservation being cancelled. There was no aplogy on the part of the travel agency, no offer to help find another flight, and no suggestion to route somebody through another carrier or another itinerary that would eventually lead to Tunis. There are limited flights each week and they all seem to be full during this time of the year.

           Lisa got a phone call on Sunday afternoon: if one of us were willing to buy a seat in business class (about $120 more), we could have that fourth seat! Done! At least we can all go together! The other possibilities were starting to look grim: somebody going through Casablanca and spending a night there or somebody going anywhere from two days to a week later than the others.

          The heat is cranking up again. There are some days when I lose track of how many showers I have taken. I do get some relief by walking directly from the shower to stretch out on a matala in front of a fan. There are some nights when I have to use the go-to-bed-wet method: walking straight to bed from the shower - do not pass GO, do not collect $200, do not dry off. There have even been nights when I woke up in the middle of the night to take a shower. That helped. Annika and Jigar bought a nice fan when they were here, and they left it with me, since there is no electricity in Annika's village. Sometimes it helps to have a fan going on each side of me: stereo-fanic!

          On Sunday night, I was surprised to see a locust. My first thought was that it was very far behind the group that came through here last month. How did that happen? It turned out that we had a new infestation. They were swarming the city this morning when I got up. The sand under the trees looked like lawns because of the leftover foliage that they locusts left behind.

           I had a close-up view of them at work, in that there is a tall tree in front of my house, so I was able to see them congregating on the branches and chomping on the leaves. The birds didn't seem to be paying attention to them, as they left the locusts unmolested as they ate.

           This visit was shorter than the last - fewer than twenty-four hours.

          I probably won't have much time to read during the next two weeks, since I will be traveling with other people. That makes now a good time to file my "book reports" for what I have read so far this month.

          In A Drinking Life, Pete Hamill chronicles his childhood and beginning of his career as a newspaper writer and columnist. He is the son of an alcoholic, which factored into his becoming the second generation alcoholic. He writes well and, above all, candidly. I was especially delighted to see that at the end of the book he meets Shirley MacLaine, since that's whose book I had lined up to read next.

          It's All in the Playing is the last of a series of books in which Shirley MacLaine writes about her metaphysical musings. I had read most of the other books many years ago. This one ties them all together, as she writes predominantly about the way she worked on the putting together of a television mini-series based on the earlier writing.

          Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs was a quick and enjoyable look at much of the music that I grew up with. I think I am about the same age as the author, which meant that we had enjoyed or at least listened to much of the same music as we grew up. He's funny and perceptive in his writing.

          It seems that many of the stories I have read on the Internet - heartwarming ones about the goodness that we find in each other - were originally published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, written and compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. I especially enjoy being able to use these stories for my English classes.

          Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture is an incredibly well-researched work by Sharon Zukin, a professor of sociology. She explains the processes through which shopping has changed over the course of the recent centuries - from open air markets to enclosed department stores to specialty stores, and then online. With the eye of a sociologist and the curiosity of an anthropologist, she makes some insightful observations.

          Peter Hudson wrote Travels in Mauritania, which I read during the last year. I was pleased to find this book, after having enjoyed the other one. In looking at the title - Two Rivers: Travels in West Africa on the Trail of Mungo Park - my first question was, who or what is Mungo Park? I thought it might be a place in West Africa, but it turned out to be a Scotsman who was among the first non-Africans to explore (in the late 18th century) this part of the continent, mostly in what is now The Gambia, Senegal, and Mali.