I must be on vacation


         I will begin with an update about Babah, since many people have responded to my previous posting in which I talked about the way that he responded to me when it was evident that I would not be instrumental in helping him to get a visa to the United States. He stopped by last Tuesday night to say hello. That was about a week after our last visit together. He told me that he had been angry at me. I told him that I thought so. He said, "No, I don't think you realized that I was angry at you." I assured him that I knew what was going on. He told me that he was upset because I would not be helpful to him with his visa. I told him I knew that.

         But there are some other things that have been changing in his life. One of them is that the boss's daughter - that is the daughter of the owner of the market where he is working - has taken a liking to him, and he is equally as smitten. I told him that that was good. After all, he has told me that he wants to get married and have children, which would certainly be easier if he were in Mauritania than if he went with me to the United States.

         As a showing of affection to him, the boss's daughter - her name is Mama, which is cute, considering his name, and that he works at Galerie Tata - gave him a card with telephone credit so that he can call her. In all the time that he has had his telephone, he has never purchased credit; he has used the phone only to receive calls. So I had to help him enter the credit so that he could call Mama.

           There's a hole in my bedroom wall. It shows where a previous tenant had placed an air conditioner. I have been tempted for the longest time to follow suit and buy my own air conditioner to fill the hole. It's been a decision that has weighed more heavily on me than the dense air that fills my apartment. As luck would have it, my bedroom is the hottest room in the place. It can be several degrees cooler in the salon ("cooler" being a relative word when we are talking about the difference between, say 92 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit when I am trying to get to sleep). Oddly enough, daytime indoor temperatures usually range from about 86 to 89 degrees. Once it cools off outside, it starts to get hotter inside. I am sure that there are scientific phenomena that explain this.

         Yes, I could pay for the air conditioner, as well as the higher electricity bills that it would generate. But I only recently decided against this. Part of my decision has been as an act of solidarity with my fellow Volunteers. Many of them live in villages that have no electricity or running water, let alone air conditioners. If they can manage through that, then I can do the same. And I am buoyed by this quotation from Confucius: "The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort." I am not trying to say that I am a "superior man" by doing this, but I would like to be less common.

           The English book I helped to write - my main objective for being here - is now with whoever else is working on it. School is out for the summer. I am teaching my last English Conversation Club tomorrow night, and then the Nouakchott English Center will close for the month of September. I must be on vacation. With all the free time on my hands, that is why August was such a banner month for reading. This is the first time that I have read exclusively borrowed books. My friend Patti sent me a box of books in March, but they have not as yet arrived.

           The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean is my second look into the subculture of people who are obsessed by orchids. Whereas Orchid Fever , which I read some months ago, has chapters that deal with enthusiasts all over the world, the Orlean book focuses on one particular collector in Florida - a man who manages to break laws in order to satisfy his need to operate in the orchid business. Orlean's writing is excellent; she has a sharp eye for detail and a terrific wit.

           In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser gives well-documented research about the start of the fast food business in the United States, as well as all of its resulting ramifications for the economy and diet of the country. It's not necessarily a pretty picture that he paints, but it is insightful. I highly recommend it.

           Mary Morris wrote most of Nothing to Declare when she was on holiday living temporarily in Mexico. She does take in a few other Central American countries in the same time period, but the focus is the small community where she lives, and the people she befriends. She wrote with heart and sincerity.

           Leaving Home is a memoir by Art Buchwald, told with candor and humor. He chronicles the separation from his mother when she was put into an insane asylum, as well as his father's putting him and his three sisters into foster homes, then goes on to recount his joining the Marines, going to the University of Southern California, and starting to write for Hollywood.

           How to Travel with a Salmon & other essays was my introduction to Italian columnist and humorist Umberto Eco. On the book jacket, he is compared to Andy Rooney, Garison Keilor, and Woody Allen. He is witty, as he writes about the pitfalls of living in modern society.

           Barbara Ehrenreich wondered what it was like to work at minimum wage jobs in the United States. To see for herself, she became a waitress near Key West, Florida, a housecleaner in Portland, Maine, and a Wal-Mart employee in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The result was Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She truly feels for her co-workers, as she tries to use their same hand-to-mouth approach for surviving in the economy during the years 1999 - 2001.

           I had the good fortune to hear John DeGraff speak at a conference a few years ago. He is a documentary film writer who put together a work that was run on PBS stations around the USA. The book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by DeGraff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, takes up where the television series leaves off. The authors not only assess the need for Americans who use an inordinate amount of natural resources, but delineate steps that people can take to slow the pace of their lives, acquire fewer possessions, and enjoy life more. If you ever thought about paring down your materialistic life and wanted to live more gently, this book has lots of helpful ideas for you.

           The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester examines the lives of a major contributor of definitions and phrases to the OED, as well as the starting work of its editor and staff. You look at such a tome as the OED and it is fascinating to see what went behind its inception and production.

           During six years, Geraldine Brooks was a correspondent in twenty countries in the Middle East. She chronicles the lives of many women she met, worked with, and socialized with in her book Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. Brooks recognizes that there are a billion Muslims in the world, about one-fifth of the earth's population. She also states that one in five of them is Arab. That being the case, the subtitle of the book is a bit misleading, in that she talks of the "World of Islamic Women," but covers only those in the Middle East and North Africa. That being said, it is the only complaint I can make about this expertly written book, in which she covers the diversity of topics such as marriage, converts, religious fundamentalists, education, work, and sports, in such countries as diverse as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Palestine, and more. There is one passing reference, toward the end, about a Malay woman who is visiting in Iran - a very different take on Islam on the part of the visiting Malay.

           My last book for the month was written by Tracy Kidder; I've read many of his other books. The latest is Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. Dr. Farmer's story is both remarkable and inspiring, as he has set out on a crusade to help poor people all over the world obtain the medical care that they deserve. He has galvanized international forces and funds to help with his initiatives. I can't imagine anyone reading this book and not wanting to do his/her best to make the world a better place!