In June, all of us in the Education Program received an e-mail
from our APCD, asking us to choose from among a list of dates
during which we would be able to participate and assist in the
training in Kaédi this summer. As I looked over the topics
to be discussed - mostly issues such as classroom management,
giving tests, grading, and dealing with school hierarchy - I
didn't think that I would be able to be of much assistance,
considering that I had not taught in a Mauritanian high school.
to our APCD and explained that I didn't think I had anything
worthy of contributing to the new trainees. This little fact,
however, did not deter him from assigning me to a panel. And
that is how I came to earn what I like to think of as my all-expenses-paid
trip to Kaédi, truly one of the hot spots of Mauritania.
the day before we left, the driver informed me that we were
going to be departing on time. Under other circumstances, if
I were told that we were leaving at 7:00 AM, I would leave my
house at 7:30, so that when I arrived by 7:45, I would only
have to wait an hour before departure. But this time, there
was a sound of urgency in the driver's voice, probably due to
the fact that there would be three APCDs in the car, with one
of them insisting that we be in Kaédi by noon, necessitating
a prompt 6:30 departure.
stopped by my house at a little after 6:00, and we were at the
bureau by a little after 6:30. This didn't mean that we actually
left on time, but we didn't leave too late. We picked up three
people on our way out of town, leaving Nouakchott at 7:22.
We had a
flat tire en route, which led to the occasion of my observing
a curious scene. As we pulled up on the shoulder of the road
to fix the flat, two teenage boys were walking by. When everyone
piled out to stretch our legs, they sauntered over to speak
to my APCD. They approached and spoke quietly for a few minutes
with an air of familiarity, and then continued on their way.
I asked my APCD afterward if he knew them. He said yes, that
they were his cousins, and it had been several months since
they had seen each other. What was astonishing to me is that
none of the parties expressed any surprise at running into each
other that way - nothing like, "Gee, Cousin Moctar, imagine
meeting you here on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere,"
accompanied by embraces, slaps on the back, and raised voices.
No, they encountered each other like next-door neighbors running
into each other at the Safeway, having seen each other only
an hour ago while they were watering their lawns. As one of
the other PCVs said, when I mentioned the incident, "There's
only two and a half million of them, Jay. They've gotta run
into each other eventually."
encountered the locusts. I had read that the swarm can move
at the rate of sixty miles a day. Since the vehicle was moving
faster than they were, it would be more accurate to say that
they ran into us. The vehicle became a locust deflector, as
they splattered all over the windshield. When we arrived in
Kaédi and the driver untied our baggage that had been
strapped to the roof with a net made of rope, I took my bag
and noticed that, since it had been at the front of the pile,
it had caught quite a few of the little buggers all over it:
some splattered, a few whole and dead, and a couple of live
ones that were now able to fly to freedom.
in Kaédi at 1:30, just at the time that lunch was being
served. There are a few vegetarians in this group of trainees,
so there is a communal platter prepared for them for each lunch
and dinner. As I washed my hands and dug in with the others,
this meal served as another reminder that I like for my meals
to be more than just free and meatless. Fortunately, I foresaw
this situation. My friend Barb in Palo Alto had sent me a package,
including several Tasty Bite Indian meals; I brought some of
them with me to heat up in the kitchen at the home where I was
staying with some other PCVs who were also there to help out.
PM, Jessica, Kristen, and I were on the panel for a session
about peer coaching and overcoming cultural differences when
working with Mauritanians. I gave examples of the way that Mauritanians
and Americans view and use time differently, relating some of
the situations that I have worked through while here. After
the hour, that was it for my official responsibilities. We now
had plenty of time to sit around and talk with the facilitators
are doing a fine job hanging in there. All twelve in the Education
Program are still in-country. Only one Trainee from this entire
group has voluntarily left, so they are still forty strong.
good to see my host family in Kaédi. I was their first
PCT, and they now have another, a young woman named Adriana.
She is enjoying her time with them. During the week prior to
my visit, I was in touch with Adriana because I wanted to bring
a gift to the household and didn't know what they could use.
She suggested sugar cubes, as they once had had these, and liked
them a lot.
it would be fun to bring something new for the kids, and eventually
settled on the idea of shirts, all made from the same fabric.
Adriana took measurements and sent them to me. I then bought
nine yards of a material that has a few shades of blue, with
a background of black. The forms include houses and palm trees.
I know that the color combination sounds more like a bruise
than a fabric, but it looks nice. In addition to the shirts
for the kids, there was enough material to make a shirt for
me and blouse for Adriana. We took a photo of the two of us
with the five children, all wearing the same shirts.
take long for all the memories of Kaédi to come flooding
back: the heat and sweat, drinking all day without peeing it
out, the flies and blister beetles, the greasy food, the regimented
hours, the absence of streetlights, the skuzzy matalas, the
slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow Internet connection, sleeping outside in
the still and stifling air.
day there was the event that everyone had been anxiously awaiting:
site announcement. The PST staff did it just as it was done
last year: by marking out a huge map of Mauritania in the dirt,
placing village and town names on papers being held down by
rocks, and having each APCD call the names of the Trainees in
their program who were going to the various sites. A few people
were visibly upset when they found out that they were getting
something other than they thought they would. By and large,
though, people were relieved. They finally knew where they would
be living, if there would be any other PCVs in the same town,
and who would be nearby.
That evening there was a town meeting - the "no-talent"
show that marked the final night of Center Days, just as it
did last year for us. A few weeks ago, I thought of something
that I would be able to contribute, and it turned out to be
fun. In the song "My Bonnie," I made two changes:
(1) "My Bonnie," became "shaybahni," (the
pronunciation of the "Bonnie" part is the same; "shaybahni"
is Hassaniya for "old man") and (2) instead of "ocean,"
we sang "desert." After we sang it through once to
get our Mauritanian friends familiar with it, we sang it through
with a hand motion. Every time we sang a word with a "b"
in it, we raised a hand. Then the next time we sang a word with
a "b" in it, we put the hand down. For the third and
final time singing the song, instead of lifting the hand when
we sang the "b" words, we stood up if we were sitting,
and then sat down if we were standing. The gathering started
to look like an aerobics class during such lines as, "Bring
back, bring back, oh bring back shaybahni to me, to me."
told me to be sure to arrive at the training center by 8:00
AM on Wednesday for the return trip to Nouakchott. It promised
to be a hectic morning, as everyone was going to their new sites,
which meant that all Peace Corps vehicles would be in use, as
well as a few taxis rented for the occasion. I got there about
ten minutes early, to find that most of the cars had already
departed. Good sign. Then the morning dissolved into business
as usual, as we heard that we needed to wait "just a few
more minutes" for this or that person. We finally pulled
out at 10:20.
On the way
back to Nouakchott, I was the only PCV in the car; the others
were off to help out with site visits. Our chief of security
was in the car with us, and he regaled us with jokes and songs
for hours. I was amazed that he hardly stopped to take a breath.
Most of the talking was in French this time, and I had a book
with me, so I was paying more attention to that than the talking.
But one of the jokes ended in this punch line: "Je viens
de Pété," which sounds exactly like, "Je
viens de péter." The reason that this is so funny
is that, "I come from (the town of) Pété
(pay-tay)" in French sounds exactly like saying, "I
back took seven hours. There was no flat tire this time - just
deliveries that had to be made, and a longish stop for lunch
in Boutilimit. I found out what Boutilimit means: "tilimit"
is a type of desert grass and "bou" means a place.
It's the place where the desert grass grows.
I got out
of the car expecting to feel the refreshing cool breeze of Nouakchott,
but we were sadly disappointed. Nouakchott was experiencing
a heatwave of Kaédi magnitude. For the first two nights
back, the temperature in my apartment was 94. Things have cooled
down since then, to a nippy 86. Those eight degrees make a difference!
We had a nice dinner at the home of an embassy official on Friday
night - a few different types of chili. And last night was Mediterranean
Night at PCV Carl's house: hummos, tabouleh, and falafel. So
the eating has been excellent!
After a week of having the Château to myself, I am back
to being a host. It started last night with a PCT in transit
back from her site to Kaédi. Tonight, there will be two
more, including a first-timer.