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Ilsa: What’s that noise? Is that the washing machine?

Me: No, it’s the dryer.

Ilsa: The dryer? You mean there’s a machine that dries our clothes?

Me: Yep.

Ilsa: Co-ool.

Abel, rushing in from outside: Look, Mom! Dandelions!!

Well we made it. The house where we are staying has an enormous garden, filled with fruit trees and blackberries (already ripening!) and flowers and evergreens stretching up up up into the sky. My little African children are learning to wear shoes (the grass is prickly with thistles) and ran outside to dance in the light rain yesterday morning.The house does not have internet, so it’s difficult to post and read other’s blogs. Also, Donn and I are a little sick. Sure it could be a virus picked up here, but since intestinal parasites can take up to a week to develop, and since in our last few days we ate, among other things, lettuce and unwashed dates (from this year’s harvest!), I have a feeling this is just a little bit of Mauritania that we brought with us, a last little gift. So I’m staying in, near the bathroom, enjoying a view of laden apple trees and dew-filled spider webs draped like handkerchiefs on the lawn, my children constantly rushing in with their hands filled with offerings—apples, pears, cherries, blackberries, flowers. I have more posts of Mauritania rattling round in my brain, so for the next few weeks, I plan to intersperse thoughts from here with thoughts from there.

Our last time to the Atlantic Ocean near Nouakchott, last Saturday, was just about perfect. Even the jellyfish in the water, floating innoculously nearby, weren’t enough to spoil it.

We went late, around 3. Friends were already there, their tent set up (we were always the tent providers, but now our tent is sold and gone). Earlier in the week, we’d gotten notice that this week was to be a send-off for our family, but we wondered who would show up. Those who are here for the summer are mostly off camping somewhere, or visiting friends in a village, or down at a hotel in Senegal for a week. Although the turn-out was small, pretty much everyone who was in town came. The water was a perfect temperature—just a little cool, refreshing, the dark green waves rough and tumbly but not too bad. Schools of tiny fish flashed silver around us. The air temperature was pleasant too—hot, but not excessively so, and with a delightful cool breeze.

I have to say that the weather in Nouakchott this July has been extremely odd. If this is global warming, I’m all for it. It’s freakishly cool for this time of year. Mornings and evenings are downright pleasant—the kids, with their African-adjusted blood, are comfortable in jeans most days. Even though the humidity normal for this season has begun, it’s pleasant enough if you can be near a fan. I read news of heat waves in the NW, and feel a cool breeze blow in from an open window. It’s bizarre. One day, the predicted high for Nouakchott was 20 degrees COOLER than that for Portland, Oregon. I’m sure that’s a record.

I went for a long walk down the beach with 2 other women. We eyed the striped bodies of dead jellyfish cast up on the beach, and inspected the biggest, freshest dead bloatfish I’ve seen (Dead bloatfish are very common and their spikes really hurt if you step on one barefoot). It was so vile—it had a dead fish hanging out of its mouth, and what looked like very fleshy tongue and lips. Ick. Not to mention those huge staring eyes.

When we got back, others had started the fire and were grilling meat over the coals. Several people had brought salads to share, and we ate grilled beef, grilled red onions, and finished off with mango. It was dusk but no one was in a hurry to leave, enjoying the seabreeze, the stars coming out, the sliver of moon. Driving home through the desert, past herds of camels settled in for the night, seeing the brush lit up by our headlights, we felt very melancholy. Goodbyes are so sad.

We arrived home to the only dark house on the block. The electricity was out! For some strange reason, we could still get water in the house, but we stumbled around a bit in this unfamiliar dwelling, as we had no idea where our friends keep their candles. Eventually we found flashlights. The back bedrooms were hot, with no breeze, so the kids and I sprawled out on the matlas, hoping for a bit more air.

This morning I said to Donn, “Well, it’s just as well, really.” Because while there are many things about Mauritania that we will miss, terribly, there are also many things that we are just a little happy to leave behind. And Saturday represented both.

Thanks to the internet, I am somewhat updated with what is going on around the world. This year, I have read with amazement stories about women kicked off airplanes for breastfeeding (I still can’t figure this one out; it makes absolutely no sense to me), and a toddler removed for saying “Bye-bye airplane,” which, to be honest, sounds like urban myth to me—anyone who would view that as a threat obviously has been living in an igloo in the Artic, removed from all human contact except for a constant diet of vague threats and alarmist news stories. Because of course a toddler would say “Bye-bye airplane.”

I’ve also read, and written, of various airline horror stories—of airline personnel who don’t hide their view that, if you have children under 12, the proper thing to do is stay home with them and not thrust them on an undeserving public. These latter-day Victorians go a step further than their famously uptight ancestors—Children should not be seen or heard. And that is why I like living in North Africa, where people actually like children and support their right to exist and share breathing space with the rest of us selfish adults.

We usually fly African airlines because we are thrifty! Sure we fly at impossible hours, but we are getting from the west coast of Africa to the west coast of America for $1000, whereas flying Air France would have been $2200. (And remember, we are a family of 5) Royal Air Maroc lands in New York, so then we take some kind of American airline to the West Coast. The difference is immediate.

For a start, Royal Air Maroc is always feeding us, and their influence is French. They are constantly offering strong coffee, pastries, full meals that are surprisingly good for airline food. They wouldn’t dream of charging us $2 for those crummy little Otis Fakemeyer muffins, heavy on sugar and chemicals, light on flavor and nutrition, or of having children on a flight that leaves San Diego at 6:30 a.m. and flies for 5 hours nonstop to New York and not feeding them anything.

The airline attendants speak at least 3 languages, and they can tell your native tongue quickly from your accent. As Arabs, they are used to families. They expect children to be children—to cry when they are tired or their ears hurt, to have a hard time sitting still for an 8-hour transatlantic flight. They are sympathetic and helpful and don’t vibe the harrassed parents. I’ll admit, I don’t like traveling next to a crying baby—but at least I know it’s neither the parents nor the child’s fault. I hope I can always be gracious in that situation. My own kids are excellent travelers, but we’ve had our times where everyone was screaming and I’ve gotten my share of horrified looks from my fellow passengers.

A couple of years ago, we attended a conference in Spain. To get there, we took a plane from Nouakchott to Casablanca, a train to Tangiers, a ferry to Algeciras, and a bus up to Malaga. Coming back, the ferry crossing was a bit rough, and Ilsa was sick (as was nearly everyone else in the entire enormous boat. It’s not a good memory).

That night, Elliot threw up. I thought it was residual seasickness and didn’t worry about it—until next morning, when we were on the crowded train that runs from the city of Casablanca out to the airport. He threw up again, and I had nothing to clean it up with. The train was packed. People moved out of the way. If this had been in America, it would have bene horrible. People would have hated me and my child.

But in Morocco? Everyone was so nice. They felt sorry for my child, who didn’t feel well. I kept apologizing and making faces to show how bad I felt at people, and they kept reassuring me. One man said, “Why do keep apologizing? No one thinks it’s your fault. No one minds.” One woman, braver than I, actually kissed Elliot on the forehead, since the poor dear was obviously unwell and needed cheering up. I was impressed by the generousity of their spirits.

My kids are old enough now that I don’t dread long flights. They are good at amusing themselves; GameBoys and books and curling up to sleep in impossible positions. They don’t cry on take-off or need to be read to. They are actually helpful now with suitcases. Good thing—we’re leaving tonight and will be traveling over 28 hours total.

Moving usually means eating out a lot. One day last week I was sitting outside our favorite fast-food place, waiting for them to cook our order and wrap it in tinfoil, when I saw one of my students. Lamine is a serious young man; head of the English Cultural Club, president of his class, usually wearing a suit and tie. “I was just about to call you!” he greeted me. “I wanted to invite you to the final ceremony of the English Cultural Club.” He patted a bundle under his arm. “You will be receiving a reward.”

Reward or award? And I challenge you to explain the difference between the two to an 11-year-old (gulp—12 year old, that is—his birthday was last week and we didn’t celebrate at all!) without resorting to your dictionary, which is somewhere in one of those boxes. Everything I could come up with could be applied to both words—something you earn, a thank you, recognition, a response to your hard work, a monetary prize.

So Friday evening, I showered and changed and left my family still struggling with yet another load to moved. (How can one family have accumulated so much stuff? Especially since it’s only 3 years since the last big move/culling?) I caught a taxi to the University, worried since I was already 15 minutes late. I needn’t have been. There was no sign of anything starting when I arrived and was shown to the second row of chairs. I settled in next to Mr. B and chatted with the linguistics professor, on my other side.

Mrs. B called at 6. She’d been at the University since 8 a.m., giving oral exams non-stop all day. “You’re not late yet,” we assured her. Things didn’t get started till just before 7:00, when a local singer took the stage to slide her voice through the scales of Mauritanian music. She was a favorite with the crowd; her face beaming, swaying in her paisley-patterned muluffa, encouraging people to clap and dance. Her two young daughters sang with her; they looked to be about 9 and 11, but already had stage presence and were comfortable with mikes and long cords. The local media was there, and I was amused at how the cameraman got up on stage with her and put the camera literally right in her face, the light shining in her eyes. She was unperturbed—perhaps this is normal?—and just kept on singing.

Then came the long, interminable speeches. The event was held partly in honour of a visiting group of 16 Study Abroad students from Delaware State University, where the head of the English Department is Mauritanian. At one point, all the teachers had to join all the visiting students on the platform to be photographed. Even though I am technically not a teacher this year, I didn’t protest too much when the linguistics professor took my hand to accompany her onto the stage. I just went on up and hid in the back row, which meant that even though I was wearing my highest heels, I wouldn’t be visible. I knew if I stayed in my seat, they’d call my name over the sound system and then I’d have to be in the front row. Often not making a fuss about wanting to stay out of the limelight is the surest way to do so. Sure enough, 2 assistant teachers who didn’t go up immediately were politely requested to join the group. I smirked happily from my place in the back row, and declined any requests to move forward to where I could actually be seen by the cameras. I don’t like being photographed, and the whole evening was one of students coming up with cell phones and me having to smile graciously, knowing how washed-out and plump these quality cameras make me look. (Or maybe they just emphasize how I really look, which is what I suspect, which is why I hate being photographed)

After we all trooped back to our seats, it was time to give out the awards. An award was given to the English Department, and another to the US Embassy for their support. Then it was my turn. I was called up, and one of my students beamed at me and handed me my plaque. It’s a typical ornate Mauritanian frame, made of thick black wood with hammered silver and brass round it. The sheet of official paper inside doesn’t quite fit the frame. In big letters at the top it says: “Rewarding.” Then it says “The English Cultural Club: Politeness—Ability—Success” which is their new motto this year. Then: “The members of the English Cultural Club are delighted to offer this humble present to their faithful teacher (Mrs. PlanetNomad) for her help, expertise, and invaluable time she invested to contribute develop the level of English students.” It is signed by both Lamine, as head of the Club, and the Department head. I hadn’t prepared a speech of course, but I did take the mike and say, “I will never forget my time at the University of Nouakchott.” And this is true. In fact, I want to write a book about it all.

Afterwards, I was invited to a dinner with all the visiting students. It started at 9:30 but we didn’t really eat until about 11 or so, and it ended just before midnight. I had a fun time chatting with Mrs. B and the linguistics professor. We talked shop, about the university, about various students and professors, about some research the linguistics professor is doing on her native tongue Hassiniya, and how it’s beginning to disappear, swamped under a tide of satellite TV in Arabic and French, with contributions from Peace Corps volunteers teaching English in the village high schools.

When I got home, I was exhausted. Donn and the kids were asleep. But I’m still not entirely finished with thesis students; they need to show me they’ve made corrections and changes demanded by their juries so they call me at all hours. “Can I come right now? Where are you?” they say. Soon, soon.

The house is empty and clean except for a little dust; we await a painter who will actually come to work instead of saying he’ll show up and then not appearing. The garage door, crinkled into a horseshoe shape by a load that was just a little too tall, has been repaired, as have the tiles on the steps that were cracked by zealous skateboard riders. A home has been found for the dog. We have sold or given away or stored everything except our car—it’s still for sale, but so far the only offers we’ve gotten have been from people who want to resell it, so they offer us a third of our asking price. We have closed out our account at Mauritel, which means we have no internet options except cyber cafes. We are in process of closing out other accounts.
Moving in Africa can be a humbling experience. When I go through our junk, I always separate out anything that I think could be of use to someone else. This can go into the garage sale; this can be given to the kids who live in the tent near us; this is just trash, etc. We threw out tons of junk. But our guard followed Donn out to the trash flats to see where he dumped stuff, then he returned and went through it. “We found a lot that we could use,” he admonished Donn later. “Just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean that we don’t. Let us go through your trash before you throw it out.” This is the man who took our broken water heater to use as a table. I saw him the other day wearing a pair of Elliot’s old shorts, the ones with a big irreparable hole in them. The thing is: I knew he’d want those old shorts and I gave them to him. What I threw out really was trash. Honest. How could they find things to use?
It has taken us days and days to get this far. How can we have so much junk? To be honest, compared to most of our fellow-countrymen, we live pretty light. Compared to those around us, we have piles and piles and piles of things. A whole laundry-tub full of legos, not to mention several lightsabers and board games; 4 or 5 big suitcases just for clothes alone; and you wouldn’t believe the boxes of books—how can just 5 people possibly read 10 boxes of books? (They have no idea that we got rid of several boxes as well—nor that we are hoping to get more books! And Ilsa and I are going crazy for lack of reading material) But recently, a new family set up their tent in the big open space in front of our house and now they live there. We watched them arrive. All their household belongings would pretty much fit in our car. We wanted to take a picture, of the type where people drag all their household belongings out in front of their house and have their picture taken and it’s compared around the world. This would have to be one of the smallest, especially since that pile included their house. They’re nomads; they travel light. By passing on our junk, we’ve probably doubled what they have.
We have sold almost all of our furniture, keeping just our one big comfortable armchair and 4 wooden Senegalese chairs, local craftsmanship. When we move to Morocco, we’ll start over, buy local stuff there (cheaper than moving our old stuff). What we’re keeping (legos and books and china and darkroom equipment) is in storage with friends.
We have tickets now too, for July 25th. We leave at 3:30 a.m. and arrive in Portland, Oregon at midnight that same day. It’s about 28 hours of travel. We’re going to live in Oregon for a year, working and saving money, and then move to Morocco next summer. This will give us a chance to reconnect a bit with our home culture, which is especially important for our children, who carry American passports but know little practically about the country itself. For them, America is the land of Perpetual Summer, root beer and Cheetos, where people take you out for really good pizza and it never rains. It will be good for them to see it as a place where people go to work and school, where it drizzles for weeks on end, where normal rules on the consumption of sugar apply. Since we assume they’ll go to American universities, it will be a good bit of preparation for them, and it’s a natural transition for our family.
We sold our old computer (at least parts of it; it was really old) so I am typing on the laptop. For some reason, the laptop adds in weird spaces when I post. I don’t know why, and I haven’t been able to fix it. When I try to edit my posts, it doesn’t help. So for a while, my posts will be very annoying. I do apologize; it bugs me, if possible, even more than it bugs you. We’re staying at friends’—they’re gone for a couple of months, so we’ve spread out and gotten comfortable. We’re still busy, as in order to say goodbye properly, you have to spend at least an evening with someone.
In the meantime, a little boy pushes one of Abel’s old trucks through the sand. In the soft sand, it doesn’t matter that it’s missing a wheel or that its windscreen is a spiderweb of cracks. His mother rests in the shade under their tent, leaning against an old stained cushion with a hole in it—another of our hand-me-downs. When they decide to move on, they’ll spend a lot less time and stress on it than we have.

“Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.”

–old Muslim proverb


“If the camel once gets his nose in a tent, the body will follow.”

–Saudi proverb


“Little by little, the camel goes into the couscous.”

–Moroccan proverb


“It is easier to make a camel jump a ditch than to make a fool listen to reason.”

–Kurdish proverb


“Death is a black camel that lies down at every door. Sooner or later you must ride the camel.”

–Saudi saying


“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

–Jesus Christ


I got a lot (for me) of comments about how relaxed the camel in the car appears. Seeing a camel in the back of a pick-up truck is not uncommon around here; it’s a quick way to get your camel from the countryside to the city and vice versa. They are fine once in or  out, but I can attest to how difficult getting them to that p is.

We’ve lived in two different houses here, both in the nicer area of town where most of the expatriates live. Our first house had a vacant lot just across from it where a small herd of camels lived. Every morning we would watch them going out for water and grazing, and every evening they’d return, trotting solemnly down the street past all the villas with 4WDs out front.

Camels and car.jpg

One day we watched them trying to unload a camel from a truck. The camel had no intention of getting out. They have the camels kneel and then tie a rope round their legs so they can’t stand up—it’s as if you put your hand on your shoulder and someone tied a rope round your elbow so you couldn’t extend your arm. Then, straining, a group of men and boys lift the camel and plop him into the truck; or, lift the camel and plop her down on the sand. The camel bellows horribly and whips its long neck round to bite, so they first tie its tongue down to its jaw, and then have a boy hold the end of the rope to prevent it from biting someone.

Once the camel was out of the pick-up and untied (all but the bridle), the group began trying to persuade it to stand back up. That’s easier said than done—the camel had no intention of trying to please these people, or of moving from its comfortable place on the sand. They brought out another camel to try and persuade the newcomer that the vacant lot was a nice place, the grazing was good, and please come in. Because honestly, camels are stubborn creatures, and this one had no intention of listening to anyone else, not even another one of her own kind.

Camels are prized possessions round here; in many cases, wealth is still measured in camels, and a modern university professor or government minister almost certainly owns a herd or two, kept out in the village. A friend, speaking of our local herd, told me that the owner “loves those camels; he loves them more than his own daughters.” Hmm.

I joke that, as the proverbial Eskimo with his 40 words for snow, Hassiniya Arabic has 40 words for camel. It’s got to be close. There are different words for male or female camels, for female camels of child-bearing age; the word for a group of 2 or 3 camels is different from the word for a group of 4 to 10 camels, which is again different for a larger herd. There’s a special word for a crazy camel, and another special word for a prized white she-camel.

Camels’ milk is considered a delicacy round here. You can buy it, pasteurized, in cartons at the grocery store. Also, you can buy a cheese we call “camelbert” since it is a little similar to a camembert—ok not really, but it’s a good name. Camels’ milk is high in all sorts of nutrients, which makes sense since it has kept alive for centuries a people whose diet consisted mainly of meat and milk, with very little in the way of fruit or vegetables. A lot of Westerners have a mild allergy to this thin, salty substance; if I drink it, for example, afterwards my lips tingle a bit.

Camels are a ubiquitous part of life. Donn tells of one morning when he went surfing at the beach; as he rode a wave in, he saw a herd of camels just staring at him. They are everywhere in the city and in the desert; you can drive to the outskirts of the city to purchase fresh milk to go with your evening meal. They trot solemnly down the streets with their swaying gait, on the way to a drink for the evening. They are so much in evidence here, that it will be strange to leave them behind.


Today was our big sale and it went well. Lots of stuff is gone, including things like beds, stove, and stacks and stacks of kids’ books. (Of course we kept far more than we sold!) The kids got their first taste of being merchants, and they loved it—they bargained and cajoled and presented and counted their ougiyas with great fervour. Tonight they feel rich, and want to go to the candy shop, but their parents have no energy to deal with sugar-crazy kids.

The TV is sold; the DVDs packed. Toys are in boxes. The fridge is still here, so tonight’s supper will be bread and cheese and fruit; nice and simple, with minimal prep time. Of course that was also today’s lunch…

I’m very tired now, but I leave you with this thought. Remember that age-old debate—camels or cars?



[It’s good to be back. Our internet has been down since Saturday—5 days. I don’t have time to get caught up with all my blog reading, but I’ll be trying to do so in the next few days between packing.]

It’s official—no more thesis juries. I finished the last one today, and then walked in disgust off the university campus—maybe forever! My closure was completed for me. But I’ll come back to that.

Today was an interesting day. I arrived on campus shortly after 9 a.m., which was our official starting time, but hey, it’s Africa. I was prepared for 6 juries; 3 of them my students (i.e. I’m their supervisor). My fellow jury members were an American couple, both English professors. We sat at student desks in the dim, tiny library, which didn’t even exist until this couple arrived on campus 4 years ago and basically created it themselves. Behind us, an AC creaked to life; its battered flap protesting as it blasted us with cool air. The students brought us bottles of water, juice, milk and pop, arranged plates of cookies and pastries on small plastic plates. We settled in and called the first woman.

Here’s a sampling of today’s juries:

· Student #1 had chosen to do her thesis on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also called Female Circumcision. She had linked it to a literary theme; one of Ngugi’s novels has it as a central issue. But her personal opinion blazed out through her pages. Afterwards, as we chatted more informally, she revealed that she’s been fighting her parents on this issue for years. Circumcised at age 5, she tells her father in no uncertain terms that she resents it, and she has fought to protect her younger sisters from this practice. She thought she was winning; her youngest sister is 7 and was still intact. She left her village in the south to come to Nouakchott for her last year of university, and when she was gone, her mother had her sister circumcised. Until today, I didn’t even know it was practiced here in Mauritania. I had imagined it to be an issue only in Eastern Africa. I was wrong—apparently it is widespread even throughout West Africa, and she had statistics for how very common it is amongst all the ethnic groups right here. She is discouraged about how slowly things are changing. I tell her; maybe it won’t change until your generation become parents, but I’m sure it will. Don’t give up, we urge her.

· Another student had opted for the Changing Role of Women in America. Her thesis was not well written; far from it. ‘At least,’ I groaned at my fellow jury members, ‘it’s not plagiarized!’ It was practically unreadable. I was prepared to be angry at her. Then I met her. She comes from a very traditional tribe and a very traditional family. She has 3 younger sisters, all married, but she has fought and fought her parents to be allowed to stay in school. Her tribe, she tells me, typically takes girls out of school after Grade 6. She wanted to become a doctor, but her parents would not allow her to study outside of the country, and Mauritania has no medical school. ‘What will you do now,’ I ask her, as Mauritania has no options for post-graduate work either. She sighs; she doesn’t know. She’d like to become a teacher, but that necessitates a year spent in another town, in the interior, and her parents wouldn’t allow that. But today she’s happy to have completed her thesis, and the future feels bright. I fear for her determination, but I know that no matter what happens in her life, her own daughters will face a very different future than the one she faces today.

Her mother has come up the school; maybe to support her daughter, but maybe also to see what her professors are like. We shake hands. This woman is so young; she is probably close to my age, which makes me depressed at first. But then, she was probably only about 13 when she had her first child, this stubbornly-unmarried and dedicated student who is now taking my picture on her cell-phone camera and asking for my email address so we can stay in touch.

· The fifth student of the day was one of my supervisees. (is that the right word?) A serious and contemplative young man, he struggles with a stutter, which when added to a foreign language can make things complicated. He had obviously spent a lot of time practicing his defense, which was delivered with agonizing slowness but very little stutter. His topic was a linguistic one, about how children acquire language and the obstacles against language acquisition like poverty, war and refugee status, etc. Later, one of my colleagues asked him his opinion about the Talibe boys, those boys who are sent away from home into the charge of the imams, who spend their days begging in the streets and their nights memorizing the Qu’ran in a language they don’t understand, who cluster on the streets corners and at intersections, fighting each other, opening their puppy-dog-brown eyes wide to plead for coins from passersby. With me, they practice their 2 or 3 words of French. The student, who is from the same ethnic group, lights up at this question—his stutter is a little worse, but the words tumble eagerly from his tongue. He tells us he interviewed many of them. “They can’t even speak their own language well,” he says, because of a lack of adult interaction. Some are 15, 18, years old (he says 80 but we understand him) and have never been to school; they enter the system at age 4 or 5. “I asked them if they wanted to go to school and they said YES,” he tells us, practically pounding on the desk. He wants to become a linguist and help children. I hope he does. He’s already joined the Lions Club.

By this point, I was yawning my head off (I’ve been staying up till 2 a.m. most nights and spending my days in that tiny library. “Don’t go!” the kids say every morning) but at the same time feeling very warm and fuzzy and inspired, and a little sad at the thought that soon I’d be leaving these students, who fight against such incredible odds and who have stories such as I, from my privileged Western background, can hardly understand.

There was one jury left. The student was Tunisian; his supervisor a Mauritanian professor. Mr B left; Mrs B and I waited for the Mauritanian man to come. We finally managed to get him on the phone. “I’m sorry; I’m busy,” he told us. “I can’t come. We’ll have to reschedule.” WHAT? Something in me snapped. Here I am, staying up till 2 a.m. reading papers, not seeing my kids on their vacation, not helping my husband with packing, stressing because we are MOVING OUT OF OUR HOUSE in 3 days and I haven’t had time to do anything about it. (Note: we don’t leave in 3 days; we’ll stay at a friend’s) My colleagues have similar tales of great stress. And yet, we were all here, on time, every day. Mr. B and I were on all the same juries this year; 32 of them. This professor had only the one.

He tried to tell me he didn’t know he was scheduled, but the words were hollow; we both knew he was lying. I was furious. I told him, “I can’t reschedule. If you don’t come, you’ll have to find someone else.” I was really angry, and it was evident to all. “I’m sorry,” he said again, but you could tell how empty the words were to him. I was still angry with him when I walked off that campus and caught a taxi home. I’m still angry with him now, although the strength of the emotion has dissipated into tiredness and resignation.

I have written of students who obviously don’t care; who copy and paste their work direct from books and internet sites. But this is another major problem at the university—teachers who don’t care. The professor of grammar shows up twice in an academic year; once for the mid-term and once for the final. He’s been doing this for years and years. And yet he receives his pay check, just like my American colleagues do, who are pathetically overworked. (Mrs B had over 900 essay exams to grade this year) Teachers blatantly work other jobs and don’t come to class. I vividly remember one day in late March, when another professor showed up and said that he was supposed to be using my room. He was supposed to have started teaching his class in October, as I had, but this was the first time he’d shown up.

Not all are like this, but the majority are. I was the only non-Mauritanian teacher my first year there, and also the only one who showed up with any consistency. My students didn’t know what to do with me at first. Now, there are 2 other Mauritanian teachers who are dedicated and hard-working, plus the American couple and a Canadian teacher. Things are improving, but there’s still such a long ways to go.

I was so optimistic with those two students this morning, but sometimes it’s hard to maintain, especially with a lack of sleep. Anyway, for better or for worse, I’m done with juries.

July 2007

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