Passover in Nouakchott

 

          My classes were cancelled again this week. Even though the holiday was on Thursday, there is always the much beloved no-work-the-day-before-a-holiday rule, and the same applies for the day after. Since I teach on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, all three days were covered, so I did not teach.

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          Many people were in Nouakchott this last weekend so that they can take the Foreign Service exam, which is a requirement for certain State Department jobs, including much of the embassy work that is available worldwide. From what I have learned in speaking to some of the Volunteers, this is not necessarily their first-choice post-Peace Corps job, but they are interested in increasing their options once they get out.

          I am within the age limit of those who can apply for Foreign Service work, but did not consider taking the exam. It makes sense to me that a person employed overseas by the United States government would, at the very least, be able to defend his country’s policies. That is something that I cannot do, especially in light of the destruction being carried out by Bush and his cronies, all in the name of “fighting terrorism.”

          Three first-years stayed with me this past week: Julian, Adriana, and Matt. We had a total of eight of us for dinner on Friday night. It’s nice having houseguests and dinner guests at the same time. In this way, the houseguests serve as co-hosts and they are always more than willing to help prepare, serve, and clean up.

          When Adriana went shopping on Friday, she found a box of matzo at one of the supermarkets. It was a different brand than the one I had seen before, and it even had the word “matzo” on the side of the box, though  there was no indication that it was Kosher for Passover 2005 (or 5765, as the case may be).

          Saturday night was the first Seder, but there was not one in Nouakchott – or at least not one that I was invited to. The Israeli ambassador went to Israel; the second secretary of the Israeli embassy went to the Seder in Dakar.

          Saturday morning I had run into a Peace Corps administrator at the supermarket. He was with his children and buying matzo. My wishing him “Chag sameach” did not translate into a Seder invitation. I was not surprised on that score, as he is not widely known as Mr. Warmth. (He was one of the two people singled out as not being helpful or supportive by the Volunteers who evaluated the PC administration during the recent COS conference.)

          I thought warmly of friends and family with whom I have shared Seders in recent years. Just recently my friend Jill sent me a photo that included her son Eric. I remember back to a photo of me holding Eric in my arms, taken at a Seder at my house. Now he’s getting ready to go to high school next year! That’s one of the things that I am missing here – the sense of continuity I have had with friends and family at home. One of the traditional things we say at the Seder is, “Next year in Jerusalem.” I am happy to think, Next year in the Bay Area!

          On Sunday morning, Julian, Adriana, Matt, and I had our matzo brei breakfast. It was a nice touch from home!

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          Following is a short synopsis of the reading of the last month or so.

          In Their Heads are Green, Paul Bowles encounters many Moroccans on his travels through their country. When he wrote this, in the late 1950’s, Morocco was significantly less developed than it is now. One of his projects was recording and preserving examples of music in various regions of the country. It was a considerable challenge, in that the roads were rudimentary, electricity (needed for operating the tape recorder) was not widespread, and he had to obtain government permission for all the recordings that he made.

          I recently gained a new appreciation for the power of the Internet. In January I read The Best Little Boy in the World, written under the pen name of John Reid and published in the 1970’s. It is one man’s coming-out story, and one to which I could easily relate, in that we were born within a few months of each other and were living in New York.

          After I finished reading the book, I was curious to know if the author had revealed his identity in the thirty years that ensued since he wrote the book. It was easy to find out, in that a sequel, The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up, was written in the nineties by Andrew Tobias, who turned out to be a fairly well-known author (not that I had heard of him, but he has many books on the market, as well as having had his own television show.

          In all, it was a satisfying and gratifying book. He is, if nothing else, living the important message that all of us need to understand: that the best way to advance our acceptance is to come out to our loved ones.

          Having read Old Friends, I am now close to having finished all the work of Tracy Kidder. The locale for this book is a nursing home, where he concentrates on two of the men who live there, but also interviews many of the other residents, staff, and families who make their regular visits to the site.