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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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!