Thursday, May 27, 2010

St. Louis Jazz Festival

Last weekend I went to Senegal for the St. Louis Jazz festival! It is a time when many performers and artisits from throughout the region all convene for a weekend of music and culture! Day and night, the streets were filled with parades of people ready to dance. 

We went to the big Jazz concert on the last night we were in town and I was disappointed to find two acts, a group of German and French jazz performers. I was hoping for a more worldly combination of acts, like Cuban, Guinean, South African, or Brazilian. Instead I was nearly falling asleep to the French Quartet. They were good but it was a slow wrap-up for a long weekend of music. Perhaps we picked the quiet night!

Outside of the big concert hall, there were literally bars on every corner, each blasting music at maximum volumes, representing many music styles, from classic jazz to reggae and mbalax. These small bars were overflowing with dancing and singing, with action and passion. 

This weekend came at a perfect time, the day after the end of the final exams. I was able to truly relax for the first time in months, knowing that I accomplished a tremendous achievement that deserved celebrating. 

It was also a fun change of pace to be surrounded by free-spirited people from all over the world. I met with traveling vendors from across Africa. I bought beautiful amber beads from a fellow Mauritanian, two colorful baskets from a kind Malian, and a pair of tiny brass hedgehogs from a Nigerien. I also bought a beautiful dress from a spunky Senegalese woman. I didn't plan on making any purchases, but I found myself making friends with so many warm people and the next thing I knew I was exchanging money for goods. 

It was a brilliant weekend. I will keep my souvenirs from the St. Louis Jazz festival and I hope they will serve as a reminder for me to attend it again next year!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Staph is not my friend

The other day I woke up with a swollen lip. Apparently it is some kind of staph infection. It is painful! I started taking antibiotics and I am just waiting for it to clear up. Then I went to class today, feeling self-conscious and BAD about having to give 50 oral exams when I felt so sick (it is finals week!). 

One of my students came an hour late. After listening to my brief lecture, he sat down and began to work. I looked at him and realized that he had a swollen lip in the exact same place. He said, "that's what I have been trying to tell you teacher." At least we could laugh about it together. I didn't feel so self-conscious anymore. I guess staph bacteria is really contagious. So now the question is, who got it first? In any case, I think we will both be ok! 

Friday, May 14, 2010


This is the view from my kitchen window. It may be hard to tell from the photo but today the Yahoo weather forecast for Nouakchott was "sandstorm." Yesterday it was "blowing sand." None of this "partly cloudy" or "chance of rain" business for Mauritania. We get either sand or sand. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Felix the Rabbit

This is Felix! He came all the way to Nouakchott to visit me from California! 

He will be on his way back soon (he needs to be back before the end of the school year), but before he left he saw all the sights, including the Saudi Mosque, the beach, and the camel market! He was wearing a turban to protect his eyes from the sand but he took it off for this photo so that his friends back home would recognize him!

English Challenge

This week I organized an "English Trivia Challenge" event between my first and second year students at the teacher training college.  

I invited my colleagues at the teacher training school, in addition to a University Professor and the Director of a local English language school to be on the judging panel. I knew I would need as much back up as I could get because the competition would be fierce!

Both classes were competing for the glory of victory. The second year students were especially eager not to lose to the new arrivals, the first year students. They knew it was their only chance to claim the title of champions. 

Although I do not typically promote competition, preferring instead to focus on collaboration and communication, I decided that this was my last chance to make learning really fun for my students. We only have one week left of school this year and it will be filled with high-pressure exams! 

With the aim of collaboration, I included the students in every step of the planning process of our "Jeopardy" inspired game. To make it as participatory as possible, the students themselves came up with the categories, questions, and answers for the game. I wasn't sure how this would work, since the students would know the answers to all the questions (each class would know half of the questions). I decided to add an element of suspense by adding a few bonus questions and, of course, I wrote the final challenge question. 

During the first round, the second year students dominated with a strong lead. The first year students looked crushed. I couldn't even look in their direction without feeling terrible for the pained expressions on their faces. Then, during the second round they came back with a vengeance, leading the second year students with a score of 4300 to 3700 points. 

It was time for the final challenge! The category was Famous Speeches. I explained to the students how to "bet" an amount of points to risk to gain or lose during this final round of the game.

Each team wrote their wagers on a piece of paper and then had one minute to answer the question. When time was up, the first year students revealed their wager, a conservative 100 points. Their answer, however, was wrong. 

Second year students then revealed their wager, 700 points, and their answer: Correct! It was a very dramatic conclusion for the second year students! They lost control and became carried away with excitement. Their prize was an Obama DVD and a certificate declaring their victory! The first year students remained satisfied; they played a brilliant game and certainly demonstrated their strong skills in team work! 

Each participant received a tote bag, t shirt, and water bottle and also the fruits of everyone's labor throughout the year, including a book of stories about teachers and a book of teaching strategies written by the second year students and a newspaper and a video news broadcast created by the first year students!

I am proud of all of my students for participating in such a fun event and for embracing the challenge! The first year students are already planning for next year's challenge and I am certain it will be as much fun as this year!

After the competition, we all drank warm sodas and watched the news broadcast. It was a perfect celebration of the students' hard work throughout the year as well as a way to remind the teacher trainees how fun and engaging learning can be! I hope they bring the same enthusiasm they showed this week into their future classrooms.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sleepless Nights

I have never worked so hard in my life. I have been working around the clock to finish end of year projects. I was very ambitious in the beginning of the year and it has seemed nearly impossible to realize all of these commitments! I am working on four enormous student-generated projects for my classes, including a book of participatory teaching strategies, a book of stories about inspiring teachers, a newspaper, and a news video broadcast. 

I have now completed three of the four projects! I am still making the final touches on the video! I have loved working on these projects and seeing the work of my students presented in a professional format is truly rewarding. I can not wait to share the final products with them. I will unveil these projects on Sunday, when I am hosting an English Trivia Challenge between my two classes.  It will be a marvelous event, if all goes as planned!

I have been working until three in the morning every night for the past three weeks to finish these projects. I even stayed up all night on Wednesday and went right to class. I decided that these projects would look best if I used publisher, but since I have never used this program I didn't know how time-consuming it is! I learned the program and then worked tirelessly to add the design and all of the students' content. I had to meet with students at all hours of the day and during weekends to ensure that the students were involved in every stage of the project because I want them to have complete ownership over the final products. 

The student newspaper can be viewed here

Although I believe I may have worked harder on these projects than my students, I am confident that in the end, they will believe in their abilities and skills. The final product will reinforce their confidence in themselves and they will see the importance of their ideas. Perhaps most importantly, my teacher-trainees will see how valuable these types of projects can be to validate and share the hard work of their future students!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Momo's Cart

This is the cart belonging to Momo. 

Momo is twelve years old. He parks his cart in front of my house every afternoon while he digs in the near by trash cans. He searches for food for the hungry goats at his house. Instead of going to school, Momo walks long distances from early morning until it is dark every evening. Sometimes he walks alone but most of the time he travels with other boys who are also moving throughout the city in search of suitable things to add to his cart. Goats here will eat almost anything so it is interesting to see the kind of food he finds. Cardboard seems to be a popular snack. 

Momo's father is sick and his family is very poor. His brother made this cart for him so he could help support his family. I have started carrying around candy in my bag at all times so that when I see the cart I can leave some sweets inside as a small surprise. All little boys deserve to eat candy! I wish that there was more I could do for Momo and his friends. I decided that sharing their story was the simplest thing I could do.