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This week under the tent at the beach, the topic turned to nightmare airline stories. Everybody had plenty to share—we’re all international travelers, after all, and we’ve all done our fair share of traveling.

I relived the day-long trip to Hawaii to meet the grandparents when the twins were 4 months old and Elliot nearly 2, and how the airline attendant told me I couldn’t put the twins down for their naps in the bulkhead area, even in their car seats, because he “often ran around the airplane and he might trip over them.” I’m not making this up—he told me that he “ran” around the airplane. That was when I realized that if you don’t pay for a ticket for your under-2 children, they put a little star by your name and do all they can to make your flight hellish. I knew this because the couple next to us had paid for their 2 year-old, and the airline attendant smiled fondly at her as she spread out all her toys in the prime race-through area, and spilled watercolour paints on the carpet.

I remembered my silent cold fury last summer at how American Airlines charged me $2 each for crummy little faux food Otis Spunkmeyer muffins on a flight leaving at 5:30 a.m. and arriving at 11 a.m. when I was traveling with 3 children, thereby proving that they’re not cutting costs, they’re raising money—you can’t tell me that’s their cost.

But I also remembered my absolutely favorite travel experience—one that was fun for me but nightmarish for my fellow-travelers.

Elliot was nearly 3 and a very cute little boy—he had brown curls, big brown eyes, and he was excessively verbal. He would chatter on to anyone, which made even grocery store trips extra long and involved. The twins had just turned one, and were still cuddly and needing to be carried most places. We had to fly from Portland to Arizona, and we were a little late boarding. The woman at the check-in counter apologized that she couldn’t seat us together but told us not to worry—just ask people and they’ll move, she assured us. You’d think with her experience she’d have had a more realistic view of the American traveling public.

We’d paid for 3 seats and none were next to each other. The plane had 2 rows of 3 seats each going down each side. Donn took Abel and went off to his seat on the right side of the plane. Holding Ilsa in one arm and Elliot by the hand, we found our seats. Both were center, one right in front of the other. I looked at the 4 adults comfortably ensconced in their requested aisle or window seats, and queried politely, “Would anyone be willing to move so that I can sit next to my toddler?”

No one would even look at me. 4 pairs of eyes stared straight ahead. “Anyone?” I said, desperately. No one responded.

“Right,” I said briskly. In my opinion, they were on their own from there on out. I settled Elliot into the seat behind mine. I put his purple backpack containing toys and games and books under his seat, leaned over Ms. Aisleseat to do up his seatbelt, and sat down in front with Ilsa on my lap.

Elliot immediately did what he could to make his seat-mates feel at home and all cozy-like. He decided to tell them about the time he’d had the flu several months earlier. Only, with a toddler’s grasp of time, it came out a bit differently. “I frew up last night!” he announced at the top of his lungs.

I heard a gasp of horror and a crinkling of a paper bag. “If you think you’re going to be sick, do it in here,” said Ms. Aisleseat, a distinct note of panic in her voice. Elliot had fun playing with the bag and telling her in detail about how often he’d thrown up, etc. Finally I took pity on her and explained this was months ago. She narrowed her eyes at me skeptically but I didn’t care.

Mr. Windowseat, obviously a businessman, had gotten out his laptop. Elliot was thrilled. He loved Reader Rabbit Toddler. He spent quite a while telling the man how to play Reader Rabbit Toddler, describing the games, and asking again and again if he could play with the man’s computer.

He spilled his apple juice. He demanded help with crayons. He crumbled cookies. And he talked and talked and talked. He was perfect! He wasn’t bratty or out of control, but he was obnoxious. Normally, I would have run interference and kept him from bothering them, but in this case, they literally asked for it.

I have a feeling that this little flight was educational, though, and that even now, 9 years later, those 2 are still a little more willing to accommodate young mothers, even those who didn’t buy an extra seat for their baby.



Travel is on my mind because Donn and I leave on Wednesday for nearly 3 weeks. I haven’t figured out how to do automatic posting, but I’m hoping to get online occasionally. We’ll spend our first 8 days touring Morocco (yes that’s where we’re hoping to move next) and looking at business and school options in four different cities. Then we’re going to a conference in the US. Should be a busy time, so don’t be surprised if I don’t post for a while. On the other hand, we’ll be in countries with decent internet connections…

As I predicted, I spent most of Mother’s Day 2007 reading thesis papers, except for the part where I tried and failed to get an international phone line to call my own mother, and the part where my students called and demanded an audience with me and I refused out of pure spite.

And, as requested, I hunted through my students’ paper for a few gems to share with you. I read about the famous American authors Edgar Anan pose and Nathaniel How Thorne. You remember Edgar Anan, right? He wrote a lot of stories which are still hell-known. This was during the Renaissance of New England, which was a flower excitement. I also learned about the famous Revolutionary writer Thomas Paine and his pamphlet “Common Since.” Emerson turned away from the hash, unforging congregational Calvinism. He was connected to Haward Divining School—I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be Harvard or Hogwarts! His philosophy went by the nine of transcended realism.

I learned about geography. “Joel Barlow, one of the United States.” I learned about emotions: “I felt trodden on by a dirty boat.” I learned about the man who was a thread to his teachers, and that it was considered manly to rule your family with an iron feast (yum-mee). Corrupt leaders took the power to steel the nation’s reaches. The words “wile steel” might be better understood as “while still.”

Since it was supposed to be a treasure hunt, I wanted to give you clues by writing the word used by a student and having you guess what s/he meant. But that would take too long, since I only divined it through context and some mind-altering drugs (aka caffeine). So instead, I’ll write the word followed by its correction. Use the second word in a sentence, substitute the first, and you’ll realize how funny this can be:

            ceased=caused              release=realize              considered=consolidated

            opiate=opinionated        stranger=stronger          inclinational=inspirational

            introduced=induced        unity=vanity                  appreciate=appropriate 

            outlines=outlives           exited=exiled                combinations=conditions

            merge=emerge              quitter=quieter              contraction=contradiction

            false=face                     access=excess               health=heath

Feel free to include your new sentences in comments.


Shelley was something of an out slider. Keats went on a physically demanding welding tour of England. Animal Farm paradises the Russian revolution.

Oh there are SO MANY! I suppose the way to do this is to drag this idea out over several days. At some point I will talk, seriously, about the real challenges they face and the fact that their ability in English far exceeds mine in French or (gulp!) Arabic. But today is not that day—today is the deadline and yet a student handed me his 40 pages this morning. This is the first time I’ve seen his work typed. I have to read it and correct it and, according to my way of thinking, have him MAKE those corrections and let me read it again before I can sign off that it’s ready to submit. (In his way of thinking I would glance at the number of pages and sign off right then. His way is starting to look more and more attractive) So I’m disgruntled and on edge and I probably need more sleep and less caffeine instead of the other way round.

In the meantime, my very late student, in his acknowledgements, thanked me “from the bottom of his hearts.” I’m nearly ready to forgive him. But not quite yet.


(PS Wrote this Tuesday but couldn’t get on my own blog till today.)

Wacky Mommy has tagged me for a meme. I’m supposed to come up with 10 things that either my family or my dog don’t know about me.

Ok, the dog is too easy. He’s only known me since January, and he was only a tiny baby then. There’s lots he doesn’t know about me, including the fact that I’m serious when I tell him to stop digging in the potted plants, and that I WILL WIN the battle of the wills.

And my family?

Ilsa is re-reading the Series of Unfortunate Events, and she said to me the other night, “It says here that all parents have secrets from their children, but I don’t think that’s true. I mean, I could imagine it. It makes sense that you wouldn’t tell your daughter everything. But I still don’t think it’s true.” So what do you think? Do you tell your kids everything?  I think there’s a lot about me she doesn’t know; and a fair amount I hope she never finds out.

However, by family do you include Donn? I’ve known him for ½ of my life now, and there’s not a lot he doesn’t know. He knows how I really feel about Bob Dylan, and how I really feel about sharing my coffee (don’t touch my coffee. Seriously. Just move away). He knows the order in which I like to eat apples and the order I read the comics in, when I have comics to read that is. He knows I HATE it when he uses my towel, which happens to hang next to the sink. He knows NOT to ask for a bite of my hamburger or LU biscuit (the le petit ecolier kind) because I eat around the edges and I don’t like to share the best part, the middle, which I have been saving for myself. The whole family knows I don’t like to drink cold drinks from mugs which are intended for hot drinks; I also don’t like to drink hot drinks in glass mugs. I drink my tea from china cups. I’m expressive; emotive. I don’t hide things. (I also—is this just me?—sound a little neurotic here, when really I’m easy-going and fun-loving) My family knows that I am always reading something, especially in the car, and that I hate it when they (they being the Evil Satanic World Government) make movies out of my favorite books, so much so that sometimes I actually forbid my children from watching the movie, (how uptight is this woman, you ask yourself) because  I feel it will spoil the book for them. My poor children and yes, I am accepting contributions for future therapy. So this meme could be tough.

Then I came up with the perfect variation. How about 10 Things I Like about Hot Dusty Days? I started this blog entry last Friday, which was the 4th day of the sandstorm and triple-digit heat. Thankfully, that night the wind shifted, and the skies cleared. But the heat has remained. It’s 106 to 113 most days, the heat and light like heavy golden bars crashing on your head when you step outside. In the evenings, it cools down and the stars are brilliant. We hide inside as much as we can, and fight about whose turn it is to run to the store for an item we will try to live without at least until evening, like toilet paper or milk. If possible, we send the children, whining, out into the heat, to buy a block of frozen butter at a store ½ a block away and have it melting by the time they run back inside with it. (I’m KIDDING about sending my kids out into the heat and squabbling with my husband of course! At least, I want to go on record as KIDDING).

At the beach on Saturday, the sand was so hot that even though I was wearing flip-flops, it filtered in and burned the sides of my feet. The birds were lethargic with heat; they flew low, sometimes under the cars looking for shade, and one landed, briefly, on the top of Abel’s head as he bobbed on an innertube in the water. We finally got the tent set up (it took approximately forever) and I rushed into the cool, green water, and after that my outlook miraculously changed and I had a super-wonderful-fantastic day at the beach! Did I mention it was great?

This morning, after all the thesis students finally went away, I decided to take a nice, refreshing shower. It was around noon. I turned on the cold water, but the water that emerged (from pipes laid close to the ground outside) was hot. At least we save money on heating water!

Without further ado, then, 10 Things I Like About the Hot Season in Mauritania:

1.      Umm….

2.      I’m THINKING!

3.      I like that my house has windows that actually close.

4.      I like that my bedroom has AC so I can sleep.

5.      umm….

6.      I like that sandstorms can’t technically last forever.

7.      They HAVE to end sometime, right?

8.      I like that it got hot so late this year. Usually we start these hot days in March or April. It’s already mid-May.

9.      It is also mango season. That’s worth a lot of heat and dust.

10.   And my absolute favorite thing about this hot season? It’s my last one. We’re shaking the dust off our feet (literally, not figuratively) and moving on. This is the end of our time in Mauritania. It’s not going to cool down till October, but that’s ok—we’re leaving the end of July.


So we’re still here for a while, but it’s amazing how much my attitude is helped by the realization that this is my last hot season. I don’t deal well with the heat. It tends to bring out the worst in me—and that’s something that my family and my dog already know, unfortunately.

Why the move? Well, see above. There are other reasons, too, but I won’t go into them now.

Where to next? Wait and see… more info will be revealed

The Good: It’s mango season! All over town, every fruit stand is piled high and loosely-formed pyramids of the green and red fruit spill out into the dusty street. Women cut slices, place them on trays, place the trays on their heads, and walk down the street, selling them. I buy kilos and kilos of them; this time of year, there’s usually cut-up mangos in the fridge, for anyone to snack on anytime. In spite of this, we often run out. We eat them on cereal or Saturday morning pancakes, over ice-cream, with yogurt, just plain in a bowl. I’m going to make a big batch of chutney when I get time, too.

Also in season are melons. Cantaloupes, casabas, and watermelon are brought by the truckload up from Senegal or down from Morocco. The melons are ripe and dripping with juice and flavor-packed. The cantaloupes, for example, are a deep rich orange and bear little resemblance to their pale-fleshed hothouse cousins for sale in American supermarkets. Tonight for supper we had a huge fruit salad. All these goodies are available for the equivalent of 80 cents a kilo.

The Bad: After some hot days in March, we settled down to a gorgeous spring. The weather has been downright pleasant—warm and dry, with cool nights filled with breezes. So today came as a bit of a shock. All of a sudden, we’re back to 110-degree heat. The air is filled with sand and stepping outside even for a minute means a mouthful of grit crunching between the teeth. The boys skipped soccer. Everyone stayed inside as much as possible, and we kept all windows closed. Tonight the sand hangs on the still air, blotting out the stars. It’s 10 p.m. and still 95 degrees.

The Ugly: Thesis students are getting downright surly. The initial deadline was April 30th, but since only a tiny fraction of the class met it, the admin extended it to May 15th. You might think that since they’ve had all year to do this and that they’ve procrastinated, they would be humble and appeal to me to help them. You would be wrong. No, they demand that I work quickly! One student gave me a large stack of papers on Friday (half typed, half written by hand, which means that it’s the first time I’ve seen them). “I need this by Monday,” he told me. I told him, “We’ll see. I have a very busy weekend planned. I’ll do my best.” “No,” he insisted. “Monday at the latest. I’ll call you.”

I gave him a long lecture on manners, dripping with sarcasm, but it didn’t do a bit of good. (Doesn’t work on my kids either. What am I doing wrong?) I spent my weekend reading other thesis papers (his was less of a priority than the two juries I had to sit on today) and he called me 8 times Sunday and twice on Monday. Today, we met again, and he handed me another stack. “Tomorrow,” he said firmly.

Another teacher told me of a student who handed him 40 pages yesterday and said, “Get these back to me tomorrow.”

Then there’s the student whose paper included lines like “At this point in the lecture I will look back at my first point.” While I’m pleased to see he’s learned how to use the internet, I’m not so thrilled about the blatant plagiarism. This is a student I’ve been lecturing on this issue for months. Does he really think I don’t read his work?

Kudos if you can figure out the following typo: young steers.

Did you know Mother’s Day is coming up? I just found that out today. It’s going to happen two days before the New and Improved (now with more fiber!) Thesis Deadline, which is May 15th. They had to extend it, since out of a class of 138 only 5 people met the first deadline, and one of them (shh!) didn’t really, he just turned in a paper that still needs a LOT of corrections. This means I will no doubt be spending my so-called special day reading sentences like “I dedicate this painful work to my teachers, who made their full efforts to make me absorb my lesions…” Should be just a bushel of meaningful fun.

However, the nice people (twins!) over at 5 Minutes for Mom have a much better idea on how to celebrate. They are giving away a pink iPod and chocolates. I want one! I have entered to win, and you can too—just click that pretty button on my sidebar. Just don’t tell them about the potential postage to Mauritania…

Last Thursday, the entire family went to the national museum for the opening of Donn’s show.



The White Muluffa; © Donn Anning Jones, 2001


This is Donn’s first gallery exhibition since we moved here. Mauritania is hard to photograph for many reasons; first of all the simple reason that it is technically illegal to photograph on the streets in much of the city. I remember Donn once showing our friend Abdel Khaliq a book he has of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs of Paris. “What would you think of such a book on Mauritania?” he asked.

The answer was unequivocal. “Oh I’d be so embarrassed!” said Abdel Khaliq. “What if someone from my family or tribe saw it? It’d be terrible.” He went on to explain that you photograph objects—animals or things—not people. To photograph people is to treat them like animals.

Donn was stunned. He asked several other friends and got similar answers. It’s hard enough to photograph in a place like this, where the light is so extreme and the glare so harsh, and the miniscule particles of sand swirl merrily into the microscopic cracks and add a year to the life of any photo equipment with each usage. Add to that people’s reluctance to be photographed, suspicion of photographers, and the fact that you can technically be arrested and have your equipment confiscated, and it’s no surprise that his body of work from Mauritania is quite small.

What with one thing and another, he hasn’t really tried to publicize his work here. He was supposed to have a show at the Moroccan Cultural Center in Spring 2003, but then the US started bombing Iraq, and the curator just kept pushing the date further and further back, until at last it was dropped entirely. So we were both happy when he was invited to have this show at the National Museum.

But I, at least, wasn’t expecting much. The show was supposed to open on Friday April 27, but they moved the opening back because the museum is closed on Friday afternoons and evenings for prayers, along with most of the rest of the country. “You can have refreshments at the opening if you want,” they told us, “But you have to provide them.” Ok fine. And who would come? Probably not many people.

I spent Thursday afternoon making a big double batch of chocolate chip cookies, and we bought packaged biscuits too, and some Cokes and juice. Donn had already hung the photos round the walls of a big, well-lit room. We were pleasantly surprised when the museum provided some drinks and refreshments too. A green and gold ribbon (Mauritania’s colours) was draped across the door, but this being Africa, the opening time came and went without anything really happening. Eventually, about 45 minutes late, things started.

First the Director of the Museum made a very nice speech about the exhibit being Mauritania as seen through the eyes of a foreigner and yet being like Mauritanians see themselves. Then the acting US Ambassador made a nice speech about Americans being few in number here and yet very involved. Then Donn made a nice, short speech thanking people for coming and talking about what photography means to him. Then the Mayor of Nouakchott cut the ribbon. It was all very nice. I had no idea dignitaries were coming, so that was fun. Donn’s had gallery shows and been involved in group shows in museums in the US, but we have never had such an impressive turn-out! I hope they buy some photos!


Donn in his pointy white Moroccan slippers with some of the other official people.


Elliot was impressed with all the fuss being made over his father’s photos, the ones that usually fill the walls of our home and are therefore nothing special. “You know, Dad, with your photos on the walls at home, I don’t really notice them. But here, with everyone looking at them, I’m starting to notice them.”

“Changed your mind about becoming a photographer?” Donn joked with him.

“It’s already too late for me,” he replied with utmost seriousness.

I pointed out to him that he’s 11. Still in primary school. Basically, NOTHING is too late for him just yet. “But I already have my passion for history,” he shrugged. It was over; he’d made his decision at age 9, and even though the golden-edged path to Fame and a Show at the National Museum in Nouakchott (which is practically New York—it’s the New York of Mauritania!) beckoned, he stood firm.

But you could see the regret in his eyes, as he glanced at the ends of ribbon flapping in the breeze from the fans, and watched some French woman gushing at Donn about how she ADORES “noir et blanc”; regret for the road not taken.

May 2007

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