Visitors galore


            I began the week with a visit from Hisa, a Japanese traveler who found me via He has recently completed the third year of his around-the-world voyage, and has two more to go!

            The families of two PCVs came into town from the United States. I didn’t host any of them, but did have lunch with them, their PCV daughters, and other Volunteers who were in town at the time. Stephanie came in from Rosso and spent a night at Château Jay so that she could meet the families.

            It was fun to meet Natalie’s parents. At Kennedy Airport, on the night that we left to come here, Natalie spoke to her parents on the phone, told them that she had met me, and when she mentioned that I had been a teacher in San Francisco, her mother asked her to ask me if I knew a friend of theirs who had also been a teacher in San Francisco; I did! So it was nice to meet these friends of a friend.

            Tarn, a first-year PCV was traveling around Mauritania with three friends of his who are PCVs in Senegal; the party of four stayed with me for a night.


            I met with six people at ISERI, the Islamic Institute that has asked the US embassy for an English teacher. They have approved adding English to the curriculum and they were ready to schedule my classes; I will be teaching there four hours a week. I had an opportunity to see the computer lab that the embassy has furnished for them: seven new computers on spiffy individual tables, as well as shelves of books about American culture and the English language. Much of the English teaching will be on the computers – the first time I will be teaching English using computer programs.


            I woke up on Saturday morning to find that I had no electricity and, as a result, no water. Upon looking out the window, I could see that the little boutique across the way had its light on, so I knew it was not a general outage in the neighborhood. When I investigated, I found that my downstairs neighbors had power.

            When Abdellahi, the day guardian, came he checked to see where the problem may be. There wasn’t anything that he could pinpoint as the cause. He called an electrician who came out and discovered that one of the wires leading to my service was not properly connected, so he fixed it in fewer than five minutes.

            As usual, it was my responsibility to pay for this, at a cost of 3,000 ouguiya. The standard daily wage for a skilled laborer in Mauritania is 1,000 ouguiya, so I found this fee to be a bit steep, but paid it anyway, happy to have electricity and water again, and I really didn’t have much choice if I wanted the service back (I did!). When I forked over the cash to the electrician – we’re talking about a little more than ten dollars, so it was not a huge sum – I told him I thought that it was high.

            When the electrician left and I went upstairs to take a shower, Abdellahi knocked on my door to castigate me for telling the plumber that I thought his charge was excessive. Abdellahi further told me about one of the neighbor’s whose electrical connection was “grilled” last week, and the repair cost 8,000 ouguiya. I should be grateful that my cost was as reasonable as it was.

            True enough: in the United States, a plumber’s call on a weekend would certainly cost more than $10, wouldn’t it?


            I have the opportunity and free time to show a few first-year PCVs around town during the last week. On one of our walks, I ran into an acquaintance who invited me to lunch at his house on Saturday. While we were eating, I could hear that the television set was playing in his salon, and it sounded like English, though I didn’t recognize any of the voices from that distance. He told me that he had been watching Oprah Winfrey.

            After we finished our delicious homemade Lebanese lunch, we went to the salon to watch the rest of the program, the theme of which focused on thirty-year-old women around the world. (I guess after you do as many shows as Oprah has, it gets increasingly difficult to come up with new topics.)

            When the show was over, Hussein clicked through some other channels, and we came upon the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Nutcracker. It’s a ballet I am extremely familiar with, as I worked backstage for the San Francisco Ballet’s during Nutcracker season for fifteen years, helping to chaperone the children in the cast.

            It was a joy to see it again and to hear the familiar and delightful Tchaikovsky score. It not only brought back wonderful memories of my backstage days with the San Francisco Ballet, but I very unexpectedly found myself with tears streaming down my face at the conclusion of the first act!

            What was that all about? The only response I can think of is that it was a manifestation of homesickness. The familiarity of the choreography, the story, and the music brought back a tidal wave of images of San Francisco, the Opera House, the San Francisco Ballet, working with the kids backstage, the musicians, the dancers, traipsing around the Opera House nooks and crannies that most people never get to see, the enjoyment of the other backstage volunteers, the heightened appreciation for the production when viewed by watching the dancers from the wings – so much that I had not thought about for a very long time.