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Dear Post Office,

Why-oh-why are you now, as of 2006, refusing to ship m-bags to Mauritania? This is so bizarre. Do you think Mauritanians don’t want to read? Or shouldn’t read? Do you want Oasis Books to not be successful? Are you being paid off by the other English centers in town, none of whom have libraries or bookstores? We’re the only option for English speakers in the country! The university students count on us! And why is it any of your business?

As you know, an m-bag is when you ship books for $1 per pound, or media rate. Until last year, we could ship ourselves boxes of books. It’s true that you would always tell us to expect them in 3-4 months, whereas we once had one come after 18 months, but that’s ok. It was better than this. Now, just when a troop of Girl Scouts collected 2000 books for our kids library, and a friend promised to send us several boxes, and someone gave us a huge stack of old Reader’s Digests which are WONDERFUL for ESL students because of shorter articles and simplified language, you up and decide to stop service. And frankly, it doesn’t make sense. Why would you care about the destination? Even if you charged more, say $1.25 pound, that would be ok. But instead you are insisting on us paying the normal (as in exorbitant) postage rates, which are not an affordable option.

Please respond.

Puzzled,

Planet Nomad

Edited to Add: I wanted to clarify that the Post Office still ships m-bags to other African nations; for example, Senegal, our neighbor to the South. That’s why it’s just so weird that they’ve suddenly stopped shipping here! Any ideas? Why would they care where something ended up?

I’m sure that this phenomena has been noticed by all who travel—the habit of referring to a hotel room, or a guest bedroom in a friend’s house, as “home” as in, “Let’s go home and change before supper” or “We got home really late last night.” It is possible to refer to as many as 3 different locations concurrently as home, I’ve noticed.

Even though I live in Nouakchott, and have a house here filled with my books and matlas and espresso machine, with my kids’ drawings and school schedules on the fridge, I still refer to going to visit friends and family in American as “going home.” I don’t refer to returning to Africa in the same way. But really, this is home now. My way of life is here. I’m not a guest in someone else’s home, I’m not an outsider welcomed back, temporarily, into my friend’s lives.

A lot of people (ok two, but I take what I can get!) have asked me if I’m dealing with much culture shock coming back, how it feels to return to your host culture after spending time in your home culture. I have to say, it feels hot and sticky. But we weren’t gone long enough for this culture to become strange again; unlike my little breakdown in the vast fluorescent glimmer of Wal-Mart, I’m used to it here. Apparently, no one in the city has popcorn or oregano; that’s ok, we survive, the spaghetti sauce isn’t as good, we don’t have as many snacks for the beach. I’m used to this. What was strange was being able to find everything I wanted in one store—now that’s bizarre.

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