Good news for me!


          Gérard the Belgian approved of the work that we are doing on English Book 1. When we met last Monday, he said that we were on the right track with the revision of Lesson 7 and gave us a list of suggestions for improving the rest of the book.

           Kristen's counterpart, H, who works as a school inspector, was assigned to the interior of the country to do an inspection mission to begin last Tuesday, so he has been out of town. Even though there are two others on the team, this really leaves the bulk of the work in Kristen's and my hands.

           Kristen and I determined to meet at the PC bureau last Wednesday so that we could spend the day together in front of the computer and tackle the job ahead of us. We were both there, all right, but continued to work on our individual projects, totally ignoring the task at hand. By the end of the day we recognized that we were as unproductive as we complain that our Mauritanian counterparts are!

           The budget being drastically cut for the Peace Corps indicates that our current administration thinks there are more important things to do with its money than to foment peace around the world. A few months ago, the allotment of trainees for the program in Mauritania was decreased from 72 to 41. With that decrease, the person who was going to replace Kristen as Curriculum Development Specialist (same job title that I have) was re-assigned to be an English teacher. This meant that when Kristen was scheduled to leave this summer, the end of her two years, there would not be any other PCV for me to work with in this capacity.

           The good news - this just in - is that Kristen has made a decision that will have a tremendous impact on my work for the coming year: she has resolved to extend her service to a third year. This means that we will continue to work together as we deal with our counterparts on the curriculum and textbook projects.

           We work well together and have also noticed that the entire group is more productive when we are both there. Most of all, it means that I will not have to carry the entire project myself.

           When I happily told Mamouni that Kristen will be extending her service, his reply was, "Then you will, too, won't you?" He's be exhorting me to do a third year ever since we met. I have tried to explain to him how unlikely it is that I will do that, but he continues to express his hope.

           My French tutor, Ali, has been a teacher here for several years. I told him about the students at ENS who came to class an hour and a half late. He told me that the best approach to the situation would be to explain to students at the beginning of the course the maximum lateness that I would tolerate, such as fifteen or twenty minutes.

           Late students throughout Mauritania pause at the classroom doorway, knock lightly, and wait for the teacher to either accept them or refuse their entry to the room. Ali's suggestion is that after the acceptable lateness time is up, I simply do not admit any student. He said that if I permit students into the room, even after an hour and a half, then they have every reason to expect that their student numbers will not be included with those of absent students on the fiche de presence that I hand in.

           This would have been useful information coming from the administration, but I have never received any sort of guidelines from ENS concerning this or any other way that classes should be run.

           Thursday rolled around again, as it has a habit of doing every week, and I set off for the next session of my American Civilization class, which had been cancelled last week because of the visiting professor from Algeria. Once again, however, no students came to the class.

           I went again to the surveillant général and this time he was stumped as to where everyone could be. At the PC bureau, I typed a memo to my APCD, explaining this situation; I knew that I would not be able to see him because he was out of town to visit some of the teachers at their sites.

           That evening, I saw Toumbo at the Nouakchott English Center, where he teaches English. He is also a teacher trainer at ENS and the head of its English section. I gave him a copy of the memo that I had written to my APCD.

           Toumbo asked me, "Didn't they call you last week to tell you there would be no class?" I assured him that "they" didn't call me and that "they" asked me why he hadn't called me. He told me, "I was in my village."

           I wanted to know how much longer this was going to go on. The end of the scholastic year is coming. Having never received a calendar of events, I didn't even know how many more sessions I need to prepare to teach. Toumbo told me that this Thursday, the 27th, is the last day of classes.

           I wanted to clarify the situation with him. Since Thursday is the last class, I should prepare for one more session, then, shouldn't I? He told me, "No. Don't go. Because it is the last day of class, the students will not be there. They are tired."

           And that's it? I just don't see them any more? He said no, that the first week in June will be finals week. I should prepare a final exam that should last two hours. This led to my next and obvious question, as to when the final exam will be. He told me that they don't know yet. Somebody will call me to let me know.

           Yesterday, with my APCD back in town and checking his e-mail, he contacted me and we had a brief talk about the situation. He agrees that there should have been better handling of this situation and will talk to Toumbo this week to work things out. He feels that the ENS should be taking better care of their guest (free!) teacher.

           Starting in 1978 in San Francisco, I became a host in Servas, an international organization that helps to promote world peace by helping travelers to get in touch with hosts in the countries where they are visiting. I have enjoyed hosting hundreds of such voyagers in my home over the years, and have also benefited from the welcomes of dozens of hosts in the countries where my journeys have taken me.

           There is no Servas in Mauritania, and I thought about the possibility of starting a local group of hosts here. It seems like a formidable challenge, though, considering the level of (dis)organization here. Servas is still dependent on printed host directories so that travelers can get the names of hosts in the countries where they will visit. This means that it can take a new host as long as a year before her/his name shows up in a directory, since they are printed annually.

          In the meantime, I became aware of a group that has online host and traveler registration. The Hospitality Club maintains a website at, where I signed up a few months ago. Last week, I had my first visitors, Rafal and Halina from Poland.

          (For the Servas International website, visit For the United States committee, the website is

           A few months ago, when the drop-in visitors were bothering me, I changed my schedule so that I was not home during the times when people expected I would be there. This must have resulted in several people coming to my door, knocking, and finding no response. The resulting benefit has been that there are some people who now call me first to see if I am home.

           This is a great improvement for me because I find that even if I have only ten minutes notification, I can stop what I am doing and switch into host mode. I have also come to realize that one of the things that bothered me about the pop-in visitors has to do with my front door itself: it is metal. If I get an unexpected knock on the metal door, it is frequently startling to me; that's part of what I didn't like. It can even be a jolt when I am expecting somebody, but at least I can anticipate it.

           I have noticed, though, that once people have determined that I am home, they assume that a visit will be all right. They don't ask, "Is this an all right time to visit?" or, "Do you have anyone there with you now?" Mamouni, who speaks excellent English, will say, "Okay. Then I'm gonna swing by." Babah's French is more along the lines of, "I am coming now."

           I haven't dissuaded anyone from visiting once he has called. I have had the feeling, though, that some of them were expecting to have my undivided attention, only to find that there are other people there, too. Maybe not, though. When I am doing the visiting, this does not seem to be a problem; I have also visited homes where there are already several guests, and was warmly welcomed by all.

           Mauritanian hosts are serious about their responsibility to take care of their visitors. Likewise, when they visit me, they expect that I will serve them whatever it is that they want. There have been times when I have asked Mamouni what beverage he would like, and it turns out that he is hungry and would rather have a meal than a drink. "Do you have any soup?" he asks.

           With the new group of trainees coming in about a month, I have another Peace Corps-related writing project that I am working on. It is a cultural guide that will be used in conjunction with the cross-cultural component of Pre-Service Training.

           Our previous Country Director was very enthusiastic about my doing this manual. Unfortunately, though, there is not a lot of money in the budget for hiring a Mauritanian authority to help, or to do a fancy printing job.

           I just found out that invitations have been re-opened for possible new trainees, and that our current number of those expected is 44.