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Yesterday I was late picking up the kids at noon. They come home for the long French lunch, then go back in the heat of the day for another 3 hours on Mon and Tues, 2 hours on Friday, and not at all on Wednesday and Thursday. Please memorize this schedule as you will need to know it.
I was late because I was meeting students—why else? That and traffic. Just between you and me, I try to be about 15 minutes late because traffic outside the French school is beyond the realm of imagination and exists in some strange twilight world of horror. Seriously, only in nightmares could you come up with traffic like this—people driving in any direction through any opening just to gain an inch of space, horns honking incessantly, people just leaving their cars in the middle of the melee to go get their kids, small children wandering in and out, etc. And, it’s actually better than it used to be! They paved the road and blocked off an area in front of the actual gate.
I’m a writer and my husband is a photographer (who just started his own blog: Lumiere) so we sometimes argue about our callings. I usually disagree with the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. No, we can use our words to paint pictures, I protest. But in this case, he’s right. Because you can’t picture it, unless you’ve seen it. You are too hidebound in your thinking about how cars move down the road. You think of sidewalks and shoulders as places for pedestrians, not passing lanes. You don’t expect someone to swerve suddenly into the right lane so they can make a left turn right in front of you and two lanes of incoming traffic. You think of cars staying basically on their side of the road, rather than driving into any open space no matter if a large truck full of sand and without functional brakes is bearing down on them. You have these beliefs at bedrock level—so deep you don’t even realize you have them. So nothing prepares you for the road just outside the French school.
Back to yesterday. I was late, so things were already clearing out when I arrived and parked quite near the door. I went and collected the kids, my 3 plus two five-year-olds, other Americans who live near us and with whom we carpool, plus Erik, Abel’s friend, who was coming home for the afternoon. (It was Wednesday, no afternoon school. See above) We crammed everybody in and I started to back out. Crash! Bang! I had backed into the side of a car.
I got out to survey the damage, and found my anger mounting. The car was parked in the middle of the street. Not even a sliver of tire left the pavement in any direction. And we were at least thirty feet away from the actual school entrance. Oh, I knew what had happened; when he parked, it made sense to him because he was surrounded by cars pointing every which-way and no room to budge. But to park there? And leave it? And then for me to just smack right into it? I was more than a little irritated.
This being Africa, a crowd quickly gathered. A man waiting in a nearby car went off to the find the driver of the dented vehicle, and the kids started to get out of the car to see and make comments about the size of the dent. I was in no mood for that, and shooed them back in. Abel’s teacher from last year (currently Erik’s teacher) strolled by and sympathetically agreed that parking on the road was not a good idea. Understood was that backing into a car, even a car that is small enough to not be visible through the back window of a four-wheel-drive and through five little heads all chattering excitedly, was also not a good idea.
The other driver arrived and my ability to speak French departed. It does that when I’m upset. I yelled and waved my arms because he was parked in the road. He yelled and waved his arms because I had backed into his car and also, because I obviously didn’t understand what the traffic was like. Apparently he thought it was my first day or something, because given the 6 children waiting oh-so-patiently (sarcasm) in my car, obviously I couldn’t picture the traffic. The children were helpful; Elliot doubled over laughing at my French accent, Erin, who’s 5 and has chubby cheeks and big brown eyes, leaned out the window and said, “Miss Nomad! Tell him he’ll just have to live with it! We got a dent in our car and we just have to live with it.” “I don’t think that’s going to help the situation,” I told her. (Erin’s family is from Tennessee and the kids call everyone Miss Somethingorother. Every adult woman, that is. It’s very cute.)
The crowd watched appreciatively. It’s not every day you get entertainment like this! People driving by stopped their cars and strolled back to watch.
The man calmed down when he realized I was planning to pay for the damage, I just wanted to explain to him how stupid his choice of parking was. I calmed down after I had finished venting. He wanted me to go with him to the auto-parts market in Le Ksar, but I declined. I knew that the sun glinting off my fair skin and hair would blind the mechanics and prices would miraculously double or triple, plus it just wasn’t my idea of a fun way to spend the afternoon. I gave him my phone number, told him to call me and let me know what it cost and I would pay—a reasonable price, I affirmed, not the triple price for Americans. The crowd laughed. This was great fun!
That evening, we met again. I paid about $20 for what in America would have cost probably $200 or $300. Auto body work is much cheaper here. So are mechanics, but then, sometimes they don’t have the part needed so they use tin foil. You get what you pay for.
Maybe he won’t park in the street again. Maybe.
Maybe I’ll make better use of my mirrors. Maybe.
Everyone living here has a story like this. The driving has to be seen to be believed. Everyone’s car has dents and paint damage. Overall, it could have been a lot worse.
Coming soon: why do people, seeing your car backing up, walk behind you?
Life in the Nomad household is returning to what passes for normal around here. The puppy is growing rapidly and is beginning to not have to bite Every Single Thing in his life All The Time; now he can go several hours where he is fun to be with before the biting urge strikes again. The rabbit died one very hot afternoon in early March; this is not uncommon when temperatures are in the triple digits. Although he was locally born and bred, rabbits have a hard time with heat. (As do many larger mammals, like, for instance, me) The kittens are off on their own. We’re still going to the beach every Saturday, although Donn is basically out of surfboards now—they’ve all broken and been repaired and broken again so many times that it is really hopeless. Our bananas actually ripened, and they were yummy. Donn made banana chocolate chip ice-cream for Ilsa’s party.
We survived not one but two ten year old birthday parties this year. Up till now, they’ve had separate cakes but the same party each year. This year, they wanted their own. Makes sense. After all, being a twin means having to compromise; since conception, they’ve had to share something. The morning of their birthday, I took them to the store to pick out a special cereal, and even then they had to agree—Ilsa didn’t want Nesquick, Abel didn’t want Rice Krispies, they compromised on Honey Pops. (You can get a lot of sugar cereals here but they are $8-10 a box, hence the compromise. I rarely get them because a. I do have some rudimentary knowledge of nutrition and b. I’m cheap)
So for the first time this year, the twins had separate parties. And they both wanted Sleepover Parties! Sigh… Aren’t I too old for this? Still, it was a big year. So we had their parties on consecutive Fridays; Ilsa’s on the 9th, Abel’s on the 16th.
As you would expect if you knew them, their parties turned out to be completely different. My kids go to the International French School, but they also have friends from the American community who go to English-speaking schools, and they invited friends from both. (Ilsa initially invited Every Single Person she knew in the Entire Country, so I had to be the Mean Mom and go round uninviting people.)
Everyone that was invited from school came to Ilsa’s party, and no-one that was invited from school came to Abel’s. Why? They both have good friends at school, and if anything, Abel’s friends are more likely to come for lunch and play on the school-free afternoons.
Ilsa’s party was wild. 14 children ran screaming through the garden. She wanted a treasure hunt again, so I divided them in 2. Each team got 10 clues; the first 9 were different and the 10th the same—whoever solved it won the bag of candy. The teams of children, laughing and chattering in a mixture of French and English, streamed upstairs and down, back to the kitchen, out to the yard, back upstairs, etc. I got a work-out just hiding the clues; I was hoping to wear them out. You’re shaking your head because you know what happened. My plan backfired of course. I was exhausted, and they ate the candy and just kept going and going.
And going. At 1:30 a.m. I was downstairs, telling little girls that it’s a school weekend and stop talking and the NEXT GIGGLE I HEAR IT’S GONNA GET UGLY. I get sarcastic after midnight.
Abel’s party was much mellower. Don’t tell me boys aren’t easier, less complicated. For a start, the decibel levels are lower; that’s a big help right there. We did nothing that required planning ahead, like a Treasure Hunt or games with a theme. The kids amused themselves by climbing on our neighbour’s shipping container and jumping off into the sand and other things that I don’t know about and don’t want to know about, thank you, involving our wall and the top of our car and more jumping. I stayed inside and had coffee. The boys all went right to sleep after “Superman Returns,” which was one of Abel’s American presents. In the morning, our house guests got up and made breakfast, and I didn’t have to.
Next year, I suggested they go back to one party again. I’m hoping to talk them down to one cake even, although I doubt I’ll be able to manage that.
Our house guests have moved on. We’re back to the normal daily patterns of school and work, thesis grading, friends dropping by, crazy drivers, hot afternoons, and leftovers for dinner. How are things for you?
Elliot just figured out that in the Black Death scene from “Monty Pyton and the Holy Grail,” the guy is yelling, “Bring out your dead; bring out your dead.”
Turns out up till now, the kids thought he was saying, “Re-al Madrid! Re-al Madrid!”
Makes as much sense as the rest of that wonderfully anachronistic movie, right?
Nearly two-thirds of the commenters on my last post asked why our eggs come from Brazil. The short answer is: globalization and the long answer is: I don’t know. We certainly do have chickens here, and I believe that many of the eggs sold here are local. But last year when fear of bird flu spread through Nouakchott (even though we have not had any cases here), many people killed their birds. You can still sometimes find local chickens, plucked or unplucked, for cooking, or you can find a small frozen chicken that comes from Brazil, although it says right on the package that it was killed in the way that is halal, acceptable to Muslims. Most boutiques sell frozen chicken by the cuisse (which is what’s left after the breast has been removed for all those boneless, skinless chicken breasts for sale in the West); these come from Europe. Cuisse means thigh in French, but the chicken cuisse is really a half-bird, and includes the wing and the drumstick. For a while, a debate raged about if it was acceptable to eat such chickens, who might have been killed in a way which is harem (forbidden), but eventually some imam announced it was ok, and now you can serve your Muslim friends chicken again without worrying them.
We have a friend who has a small agricultural co-op, and he bought up a lot of the chickens and for a while, their side yard was full of them. Ilsa loved to go visit and help collect eggs. He still has a few fowl, but most he’s re-sold to help get people set up in their own businesses. I like getting my eggs through his co-op, because I know they’ll be fresh. When I send the kids to the tiny dusty single-room boutique on the corner, crammed with shelves carrying everything from palm oil to tinned tomato paste to couscous to long-life milk, I send along a glass of water. This way they can float the eggs in it first to make sure they are fresh; if they bob up merrily or sink like rocks, we save our five cents or so and buy eggs someplace else! This saves me from adding a rotten egg to a cup of butter and sugar creamed together, thereby necessitating tossing it all out.
Very little of what we buy here is locally produced. The dates are local in season but are often from Tunisia or Algeria; the milk we buy is fresh, pasteurized but not homogenized so there’s lumps sometimes. The butter is from France, the eggs from Brazil, the tomatoes trucked down from Morocco, the mangoes (soon!) trucked up from Senegal. Onions come from Holland; apples from Spain. Lettuce can be local or from Portugal. Some apples come from America—maybe even grown near Mt. Hood, locally for my origins if not my location. By the time they are here, picked early, blasted with some chemical for rapid transfer, packed in boxes, loaded on ships, they are sad red mushy ghosts of their former selves, tasting of water flavored with apple juice.
While it’s true that our situation—living in a desert—may be extreme, I think very few people nowadays eat much that is local to them—even organic stuff might be from 1000 miles away.
However, the other day someone spotted packs of fresh spinach for sale at Galeria Tata. This is a first, and would be exciting, except… We’re all wondering if they’re the ones that were pulled off the shelves of American stores with the E-Coli scare. Maybe those conspiracy theorists are right after all!
I woke up this morning to the gentle sound of water. “Maybe the flood came!” I announced happily to Donn.
For weeks now, we’ve been hearing rumours from locals of a big flood headed our way. Too much sand has been taken from the dunes near the port, so the government recently announced that no more could be taken. But the Equinox marked an unusually high tide, and soon everyone was sure that without those dunes, nothing would stop the water from inundating Nouakchott.
Due to these rumours, many people left town and moved temporarily to inland villages, on the other side of the next big range of dunes. Boutilimit, a town about 100 km from here, was considered far enough to be safe. People asked me if I was worried. “Well, no,” I had to reply. I’m not trying to be arrogant here, but between all the wild rumours I hear, the conspiracy theories (Starbucks gives all its profits to support Israeli offenses! Kellogg’s had some children’s cereal that was toxic so they sent it to the Arab world so be careful!) and the urban myths, I’m not too credulous these days.
It didn’t flood after all, although oddly enough, this morning it rained a teensy-tiny little bit, hardly enough to qualify as a sprinkle. This simply never happens in March, but it’s very welcome. After those weeks of early heat, we’re enjoying some wintry weather here—and I do mean enjoying! We love it when it gets cold enough to wear long-sleeved t-shirts ALL DAY LONG and need a blanket at night (of course the windows are still open—this isn’t exactly the Artic. The desert can get really cold, but we’re on the coast) Also, it didn’t flood but we did get enough city water to actually fill our little reservoir, which means I can get caught up on the laundry and take proper showers again. Life is good.
On March 3rd, we experienced a lunar eclipse. We took the kids out on the roof to watch it. At the moment when the eclipse was total, all around the city the mosques began chanting, reassuring their listeners that all was well and all would be well.
In spite of satellite dishes that make thousands of miles seem like the world next door, or the fact that the eggs I buy here were laid by chickens in Brazil, globalization and all its attendant joys and horrors has not erased what might be the most fundamental difference of all—how people interpret the world around them.
I just had a meeting with Abel’s teacher. Does anyone else out there get nervous meeting their kids’ teachers? I thought that once I was a grown-up and on the other side, as it were, from childhood, I would lose my fear of this sort of thing. Does this mean I’m not grown-up yet? Shouldn’t it have happened by now?
A couple of weeks ago, I got a “thinking bloggers award” from Frog and Toad for my post on eating goat turd. (which, let my clarify yet again, I didn’t actually eat—it was just in my food.) I feel very honoured. I am technically supposed to pass on the award to others. This is hard because of two reasons—one, it’s impossible to choose just five (why would I read people who didn’t make me think?), and two, the people I thought of first had already had this award. Happily for me, Beck said I didn’t have to pass on the award, which was very nice of her. Since I’m
lazy busy these days, I am going to selfishly announce the award and not pass it on. Maybe later. In the meantime, if you want to you can read these posts which were very good. (Ok it won’t let me link; that’s life in the big city. Frog and Toad is on my blogroll and here are the links that were going to be attached to the words “these posts”: http://cynkitchen.blogs.com/cynkitchen/2007/01/leaving.html http://karenshanley.com/blog/?p=333)
We haven’t heard from Ilsa (https://planetnomad.wordpress.com/2006/10/20/cta-2)in a while. Here’s something I found on her floor while cleaning up her room, prepatory to our house guests’ arrival. Again, I reproduce it exactly as I found it, spelling and grammar included. I can’t do all the cool colours though. Just picture using a different colour marker for each line.
Conciler and a spy: Ilsa
Inteligent service is…a person who has a desk with lots of paper and pens and who writes (and illustrates) down information.
What You Need:
I know O.S.S. is the spy organization from the Spy Kids movies, which Ilsa loves. And I think her definition of intelligence service is right on the money, from all I’ve ever heard about it. But where did she learn to act casual? I think she’s going to be a natural.
I know this is going to get me some weird blog searches, but here goes…
The day after we returned from our recent trip, I noticed a weird little something on my side. I showed it to Donn. Together, we discussed what it could possibly be. It was red, and looked rather as if a mosquito had gotten trapped between the folds of my shirt and had bitten frantically about 25 times in a small area. But that’s not logical. Any mosquito worth her salt, er, blood, would have grimly hung on until she exploded, and I would have had one huge welt instead of many.
It was gross, it was itchy, but it hurt. It burned, actually. It was painful to touch, and my whole side hurt, too. It grew to be a sort of welt, about the size of Donn’s two middle fingers, with about 35-40 individual sores.
Being me, I thought about going to the dr, but what with one thing and another (twins’ birthday, house guests, etc) I didn’t. Didn’t want to do anything rash. It was probably some weird sand flea bite or something, I reasoned, from sleeping in the sand, or maybe some weird plant I rubbed against while dune-sliding on our trip. Days passed. The little spots turned into blisters, and began to pop. My side still really hurt.
Last Saturday (12 days into it), I showed it to a friend who’s a nurse, who was here dropping off her son to get a ride to the beach. “That looks like shingles!” she exclaimed! So, that night, I showed it to our house guest, who is also a nurse. “That looks like shingles!” he said.
We looked up shingles on the net. It turns out that it’s an old person’s disease. The article just kept rubbing it in; “high rates among the elderly,” “advancing age,” “age-related.” I had all the symptoms, and the picture looked like what I had.
Ok I get the message. I’m old now. I didn’t think I was that old though. Aren’t you as young as you feel? More than a little depressed, I went to bed.
Next day, Sunday, I decided to talk to the doctor about it. There’s a Canadian dr here who works for the same NGO we do, and operates a clinic in a poor area of town. He came over to the house in the afternoon, had a cup of coffee, and gave his verdict. Yes, it did look like a mild case of shingles. But, I was too young to be the classic case. (I nearly kissed him in gratitude) Although I had chicken pox as a child, my immune system should be normal now. It was probably a worm, he said, and called it Creeping Eruption, which is a cool name you have to admit. Much better than shingles. We would treat for worms, and if that didn’t help, then we would do blood work to see why my immune system was compromised. Scary words like diabetes and HIV tripped off his tongue.
So I found myself in the unlikely situation of hoping I had worms.
I took a course of Vermox, and it’s much better this week, although still itchy. Presumably that is from the dead worms decomposing? Hope so! I meant to show it to him again today but I forgot. I suppose I could go to the clinic, but what with traffic the way it is, and it always takes so long, etc. Besides, it’s almost gone.
Still itchy though.
Considering that Mauritania is a big country—twice the size of France, two-thirds the size of Alaska—it has a small population, around 2 ½ million. It is a country with billions of rocks and trillions of sand particles, but, on paper at least, not a lot of people.
In fact, the desert is full of people, they are just incredibly spread out. Every time we go camping, we pull off the road and find a spot in the middle of nowhere, and before long the inquisitive, the polite, the helpful will converge upon us. Do we need anything? Why are we here?
It is a curious fact that you can stop in a place that appears totally deserted, and almost before your feet touch the ground someone will appear. Where do they come from? Do they emerge from the sand—are they real?
I first noticed this when we visited the Guelb Richat, an enormous crater which is visible from space. Nobody knows for certain how it was formed. We stopped the car briefly, near a deserted old fort, and were immediately swarmed by people who appeared out of thin air, and tried to sell us trinkets. Seriously, as we approached we saw no signs of habitation, no tents or buildings, yet the people appeared from behind our car. From where? (Twilight Zone music here) A few miles further on, we stopped near some thorn trees and a woman ran out of a tent barely visible in the distance, arms full of a bowl with zrig sloshing around in it, to serve us a drink.
I wrote earlier about deciding where the road is during desert travels, deciding which rocks to bump over, or which set of wind-blown tire tracks to follow. This sounds daunting but it’s really not—you will eventually find someone from whom to ask directions, a camel herder or a shepherd, with a face wrinkled as a date from last year’s harvest and bright, shrewd eyes and only about 3 teeth, all of them discoloured. His robe will be stained and sun-bleached and tucked around his waist; he will gesture with his staff. “Shofe! Shofe!” (Look! Look!) he will say, pointing in the direction you should go. This has happened several times, but it’s always marvelous—you feel like you’re meeting Moses or John the Baptist or some other ancient desert personage.
Tim asking directions from a camel driver.
Something that is odd for us is how people remember us. Once I got in a taxi, and the driver remembered me—and my children, who weren’t with me the second time—from a year earlier, from an uneventful, unmemorable ride he’d given us from the school to our house. Admittedly we’re in the minority here, but there are enough other Americans, blondish, children in tow, that I shouldn’t stand out that much.
On our recent trip, Donn took along a copy of the picture of the man making tea in the riverbed. He took this picture 3 years ago, but hadn’t been back to the region since. When we stopped for lunch in N’Beka, he showed the picture to some people walking down the street. “Yes, we know him, but he’s dead,” they said. “He went to visit another village and didn’t take water with him, and he died in the desert. He died of thirst.” We were stunned, disbelieving. Obviously such things happen, but are rare amongst people who are born and raised in the desert. We talked about it soberly over lunch.
After lunch, we walked out into the bright dusty street, and a man came up to us. Donn looked from him to the photo and back again. It was he. He remembered our cars (which are very typical of cars here) from 3 years ago, and came to greet Tim and Donn. “You look great!” said Donn, and gave him the photo.
Sometimes it’s hard for us, with our view of ourselves as normal, as people with rights to things like privacy, respect, etc., to deal with the crowds of people who treat us like walking zoo exhibits, creatures at whom it is perfectly acceptable to stare and touch and discuss. When we stop in a village, the children come up to the car, and they stare and stare. They put grubby fingerprints all over the window. They ask for everything in my car, “Give me that! (pointing) Give me that!” and when I say no, they ask me to give them a pen, a gift, 100 ougiyas. If I leave my windows open, they will reach in and stroke my hair, help themselves to small items, etc. When we were walking around Rachid, we were swarmed by a crowd of high-school students. We were suddenly in a crowd of people, all there to see us. Did I feel a bit like Paul McCartney? Not really. I didn’t like it at all, which is probably why I chose to never become a famous rock star adored by millions. Yeah. Fortunately, my life as a star has been going on at intervals for several years now, and I can ignore my fans better than I could at first. But it’s not pleasant.
As our car approaches a small settlement, the children run to greet us. At first it seems heart-warming, until you realize that every tiny grubby hand is held out. “Donne-moi cadeau! Donne-moi cadeau!” they chant. (Give me a gift! Give me a gift !) Often, they demand pens. Some people travel with piles of pens, stacks of “beecs” (bic pens), to pass out to waiting palms. I don’t. These constant demands bother me. I realize that they are poor and have probably never even been in a car as nice as mine, but I don’t think encouraging them to think of me as a sort of Santa Claus will solve anything. Especially because, when they see that I am not forthcoming with the coins, they sometimes throw rocks at my car, or curse me.
“May God shorten your life!” said a child to me once, because I didn’t give him the pen I was using at the time. And I was angry. I didn’t think I deserved to be cursed just because I wasn’t giving him my only pen, which I needed, and which I liked. (I am fussy about my pens)
Really, it’s what I call Reverse Exploitation. Just as it would be wrong for me, a rich person, to view the village children as resources for my use, in that same way I feel it is wrong for them to view me as a resource instead of a person.
You can argue with me on this, say I should be more generous and that I’m putting way too much weight on it, that kids will be kids (although do you teach your children to beg from the rich? Why not?). But the fact remains that I don’t give out pens or money, that I don’t scatter largesse from my chariot as I drive along for them to dig for in the dust beneath my wheels. I don’t want to be the patron. I just want to be a person. There are other ways for me to be generous.
Sometimes, when we’re parked along the road while Donn runs into a boutique for a tepid Coke or some bread, women will approach the car, attracted by the fair heads of the children in the backseat. I usually greet them in Hassiniya. Their response is always gratifying. They didn’t know white people could speak Hassiniya! They call their friends to see me, they shout, “She speaks Hassiniya!” to the neighbourhood. In vain I protest “Schway, schway” (only a little!) “Hottah!” (a lot!) they tell me politely, and shake my hand. They are friendly and joke about me giving them my children, preferably my daughter. I always silently vow to work on my Hassiniya when I return to the city so that I can get beyond surface pleasantries with these women, but I never do. Donn returns and we drive off, and with a sigh of relief I return to my book.
Bub and Pie tagged me to do a meme about why I blog. Her version was great. (Do you read her? You should. She’s an insightful writer who analyzes everything to death—I love this.) I’m supposed to produce 5 reasons. Maybe, given my tendency to verbosity, I can get credit for 3 LONG reasons.
1. Once when I was winging my way across the blogosphere, swinging from link to link to link and ended up far from home and wishing I’d left a trail of crumbs behind me (yes I realize I mixed those metaphors. I did it on purpose), I found a blog with the tagline “Blogging in my Head Since 1976.” I loved that. (No idea who it was. I bookmarked it but I lost all my old bookmarks when the computer crashed; I’ve never found that particular blog again so I can’t give credit.) I could totally relate.
I’ve always kept a journal, not daily or anything that would smack of the Organized Life, but I’ve always got at least one going. I am constantly “writing” in my head—I’ve done this since I was about 7 or 8. But, as Madeleine L’Engle says in Walking on Water, “The writer does want to be published…Art is communication…The author and the reader ‘know’ each other; they meet on a bridge of words.” Writers write to be read. (No that doesn’t mean you can read my journal, Smartypants) A year ago, I had heard the term “blog” but I couldn’t picture it. An online journal? It didn’t make sense. Then, in February 2006, after literally months of promises of “next week, insha’allah” by Mauritel (I heart Mauritel; I really really do), we actually got internet at our house. I went to visit my IRL friend WackyMommy’s website, the one she had told me about. As soon as I read it, and clicked on her blogroll and read other blogs, I knew I wanted a blog. I got one almost immediately.
I used to write a weekly humour column called Momsense for a local paper, when Elliot was 3 or 4 and the twins were about 2. It was a lot of fun, and if I still had copies of those columns I’d repost them occasionally, the best ones, on days I didn’t have time to write. I always put my email address at the end of those columns, hoping people would write me. A few did, but it was rare. But the great thing about blogging is that I get feedback from my readers; I get to know them both through their comments on my blog and through their own blogs, that I in turn go and read. I love the immediacy of it, the community, the sense of wholeness between reader and writer. I love reading other blogs, a post sparking certain thoughts or impressions, and being able to respond to the other writer. (Although for the past month or so, my comments have been rare because of poor internet connection, so if you haven’t heard from me, don’t worry—I’m still reading when I can)
I blog because I write.
4. I live far away from a lot of people that I care about. When I write a blog, they get a glimpse of my daily life, a view into my world. (Do they actually read it? I have no idea. If they do, they are lurkers of the deepest dye. Tim? Phil? Sarah? Anyone? One sister-in-law reads AND comments, bless her. Hi Kris!)
Also, I love the new friends I’ve made; people I would love to sit down with over coffee in real life. I love this community I’ve found and been accepted into even though I am far away geographically; I love how people say they enjoy hearing about my life here on Planet Nomad, even though I know my daily life looks a bit different from theirs (except for Debbie and Steph and Michelle; hi guys!). I also feel much more in touch with my own home culture since I’ve begun blogging; I feel less like I live in a box in a galaxy far, far away, and more like I’m keeping up with things.
I blog to keep in touch and to share my life.
5. I know this will surprise you, but once in a while life here in the Big City isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Other drivers are idiotic; we haven’t gotten decent water for a month and the laundry’s piled up and the garden’s going brown; it’s 105 degrees AGAIN and only March; I miss American food. (This last statement must be qualified, as we eat American food most days, since that’s what I cook. I just miss certain things we can’t get here. Lately, I’ve been missing American salads—full of lots of good stuff, interesting dressings that I didn’t have to make myself, etc) Sometimes, if I’m down, writing in my journal doesn’t help me vent—instead it spins me into a spiral of self-pity. Not helpful. But blogging is somehow different. It makes things seem a bit more adventuresome, which in turn makes them interesting and even enjoyable, and snaps me out of my self-pity. Which is good. Because really, as I’m fond of saying when things go pear-shaped (as my British friends put it), “At least on Planet Nomad, we’re never bored.”
I blog because it helps keep me sane. Sanity is a good thing.
Well, nothing very original. I think almost everyone who did this meme had similar reasons. I passed my 100th post a while ago and didn’t mark it; I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read 100 things about me. But this came at a good time, as I mark my first blogiversary in a couple of weeks or so. (I will have to look it up). I remember how very very strange it felt to hit publish that first time and realize anyone could read it. I think 2 people did. (Thanks, Shannon! She really helped me get started)
We left on that trip on a Saturday morning. As we were pulling out of town, we saw people spreading out enormous white tents in the sand along all the major streets. Certain houses in each neighbourhood had already been chosen as campaign headquarters for all the different candidates.
Yesterday, March 11th, saw what are being touted as Mauritania’s first real democratic presidential elections. The last 2 weeks have been full of music, speeches, tents with people lounging in the shade, reclining on plush, colourful matlas, or sitting on carpets spread directly on the sand. In the night, green and purple laser lights stab the sky, and traditionally-built women in bright muluffas warble the candidate’s praises into speakers which blast their voice for miles around.
It was illegal to begin campaigning early, or to campaign late—campaigning ended on Friday, leaving Saturday free and Sunday for voting. Two weeks only. Isn’t that brilliant? I love this idea and wish America would adopt it, because, to be quite frank, I am already sick of the 2008 Presidential Campaign and it’s not for another 20 months. I think something is wrong there. Campaigning for only 2 weeks means that the process is actually more democratic—you don’t need millions of dollars to run. Of course lots of money was still spent. Many people were seen wearing clothes printed with the candidate’s face, cars were plastered with posters, tent poles were wrapped in shiny satiny fabric. One of the main candidates, whose fabric was printed in alternate pictures—him in traditional robe, him in modern suit, showing both his sides—chose purple as his signature colour, so we could tell whose tent it was from far away. Another took a key as his motto. Purple Candidate also blasted rap music (his modern side), and we had fun making up raps for him. “I’m a 1/3 less greedy; I’m in touch with the needy.”
As we drove through the tiny villages of the desert, we saw tents and heard music and speeches blaring, distorted, through huge speakers. Each town had at least 2 candidates who had made the effort to set up a tent. I don’t think the candidates visited all these towns themselves, but volunteers visited and made speeches and blared music for them. This week, my class at Oasis was tiny—only 2 students. Everyone else is out in the countryside.
I didn’t follow it as much as I should have, and I’m not going to get into politics on my blog. For me, it was all about the billboards, and who had the best picture. I wasn’t alone in this. One young man told Donn, “I’m voting for Y. His picture is the best, and after the election, all you will see is the picture.” I read the slogans. “The president who reassures.” Somehow, that wasn’t reassuring.” Most were boring, traditional politics: “A Future for the Youth.” “Taking Mauritania to the Future.” “Behind us, isolation. Before us, your vote.”
My favorite, though, was a billboard in a poorer area of town, near the port. “The fisherman are voting for X! Even the fish are voting for X!” I have to wonder about this. It seems to me that someone is not being completely honest here. Surely the fish would not be on the same side as the fisherman. And are fish allowed to vote? I wouldn’t have thought so.
The traffic has been more horrific than usual. Arabs tend to be late-night people; when we arrived back from our trip at 12:30 a.m., we were amazed at how awake and alive the city was. Everyone was out—partying in the tents, eating in restaurants, hanging out on the streets, driving up the wrong side of the road. But Sunday, all was calm in the city. The tents were down, the distorting loudspeakers mercifully quiet. A few scraps of torn posters flapped forlornly in the breeze.
Results are trickling in. Right now, the president who reassures is ahead; the guy leaving isolation behind is in second. There may have to be a second round. I haven’t really talked to any of my friends to get their impressions yet. Soon.