Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dakar = Love.

I left my house yesterday at 5:03 am. I arrived at my wonderful friend's hotel in Dakar at 18:00. Not bad! We only had two flat tires along the way. We didn't even stop for a snack. As soon as I got in I took a long hot shower, the first one in a long time, and then we were off to enjoy a delicious bowl of pad thai! Next stop was for a nice coffee a fun live music venue (although we were too tired to stay for the live music). 

We woke up early, went out for a lovely breakfast and then I went in search of the Cape Verte consulate. A police officer joined me in the search and ended up leading me to the office of the Cape Verte airline company. They sent me in a taxi to the consulate where the friendly staff helped me out. A few minutes later, I was free from the worries of completing my mission and roaming the corridors of Dakar's new shopping mall. There is an Apple Store, among many others. I bought a chocolate bar at the fancy grocery store and took in the lovely views of the Atlantic coast. So far it has been a perfect visit to Dakar. This has been a fabulous Spring Break already and the adventure has just begun!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


My neighbors and their two wild toddlers with mountains of untamed curls and endless demands for chocolate moved out last week, taking with them the laughter and unpredictability of a three-year-old who shares an equal love for hugs and pinches. 

My neighbors left behind many friends. A few days after they left, I saw many of them crawling under my door and through the windows: Cockroaches left without a meal, looking for a new sanctuary. My empty shelves are not inviting. I’m not the only one who misses the generosity of my neighbors. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

I love Baba Maal

My dear friend Aly recently gave me some of the old Baaba Maal songs I have been looking for. I have been listening to these newly found songs non-stop. These recordings even enabled me to win a bet with one of my colleagues during our last trip together. On the way back from the hotel we were discussing what year Baaba Maal was born and the driver remembered that the answer had been mentioned in one of the songs we had previously listened to. We all stayed in the car waiting for Tidjane Ane to settle the debate and reveal the answer in his introduction... I won 1,000 Ougiya (three dollars) and I am still awaiting my payment! 

Baaba Maal was born in 1953 and so he has made literally hundreds of recordings. My favorite is the traditional music, called yela. However, there isn't a single album that I don't like. His music continually gives me strength to focus on my work and remember what is really important in life. I can honestly say that Baaba Maal has been the soundtrack for every important decision I have made in the past ten years. So far, his music has always steered me in the right direction. I heard that Baaba Maal is set to visit Nouakchott again in the next few months. I hope that I can have the chance to see him before the end of the school year, and the end of my contract in Mauritania. In the meantime I know that his music will help me decide where I want to live next. I will always be proud to announce that I love Baaba Maal!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poppin' & Lockin' in the 'Chott

The universal language of breakdancing!

Friday, March 11, 2011

No desks, no chairs, no books, no one cares

Since January, I have been traveling to the different cities in partnership with the Ministry of Education to lead regional educator workshops. The workshops have three sessions, one led my myself, one led by an English Inspector, and a third session led by the teachers. 

I decided to share a workshop on the challenges and solutions for teaching large, multi-level classes. I started the workshop by asking teachers to brainstorm a list of the challenges they encounter. Top on the list in each city has been a lack of materials- notably text books, desks, chalkboards, and chairs. One of my former students who is now a teacher reported having 120 students in a classroom equipped with only with only five desks. The rest of the students sit on the floor.

I witnessed this challenge first-hand during a recent visit to Maghama High School, where the majority of the 70 students per class have to sit on the floor. I was surprised to see the students sitting on old pieces of wood, with protruding nails and other dangerously sharp objects. The students also sit on the old, broken desks, balancing as best as they can. The teachers said that they often fall during class, creating a loud disturbance, as well as risking a serious injury.

The second part of my workshop has been to ask the teachers to brainstorm a list of possible solutions to these challenges. They came up with some creative ideas that I hope they will put into action. Now that I am back in Nouakchott, I am trying to think about what I can do help the teachers and students get the basic materials they need to teach and learn. I decided that for now the least I can is to share what I have seen with as many people as possible. A picture is worth a thousand words. When I see these pictures, I feel a pain deep inside my heart.

For Aziz

Earthquake Blues
by Ishmael Reed

Well the cat started actin funny
and the dog howled all night long
I say the cat started actin very frightful
and the birds chirped all night long
The ground began to rumble
As the panic hit the town

Mr. Earthquake Mr. Earthquake
you don't know good from bad
Mr. Earthquake Mr. Earthquake
you don't know good from bad
You kill the little child in its nursey
You burn up the window's pad

The buildings started swaying
like a drunk man walking home
The buildings started swaying
The people they were running
and the hurt folks began to moan

Mr. Earthquake Mr. Earthquake
you don't know good from bad
Mr. Earthquake Mr. Earthquake

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Magnificent Maghama English Club

This past weekend the teachers who coordinate the Maghama English Club invited me to visit their school for their first annual English Camp. I was delighted to be able to travel there and participate in the event.

One of the things I like the best about my work in Mauritania is to be able to work with inspired and motivated teachers throughout the country. Together, we have organized many workshops and built a strong network of educators for the Mauritania Teachers Association. I am always looking for ideas and opportunities to increase collaboration among teachers. 

English Clubs seem like a perfect venue to increase student engagement, while simultaneously providing a nation-wide activity for teachers to create in their communities. Yet there isn't currently a network of English Clubs, and there seems to be little collaboration among teachers coordinating clubs in different cities. I decided that helping teachers to create a network of clubs that already exist would be a great project. This is one of the many reasons I was enthusiastic to travel to Maghama and see an English Club in action!

I left my house in Nouakchott at 6:30 am and arrived in Maghama at 11:00 pm. Maghama is only about 600 km away, but the roads and traveling conditions are really difficult. Immediately when I arrived we had a planning meeting for the following two days of the camp. I offered to give the club some money to buy drinks, etc. but the teachers informed me that the Club members had already raised funds to buy the ingredients to make donuts and bissap for the weekend refreshments. At that moment, I knew that this was no ordinary group of students. And definitely, no ordinary group of teachers!

The Camp consisted of two days of activities from morning until the evening. A group of teachers (from all disciplines) divided the 50 students into five groups and each led a set of hour-long activities. The afternoon sessions were student-led, and included an interactive game of "Genius in the Grass" as well as a football match. The students demonstrated ownership in all of the Camp' activities and took an active leadership role. 

The English Club at Maghama High School is a brilliant example of how effective students and teachers can be when they work together to make learning fun. The students' strong English skills are a testament to the excellent work of their teachers. The teachers' willingness to invest so much time into extracurricular school activities is a testament to their commitment.  Their self-reliance and dedication make them a perfect example for others to follow. I only wish that every school in the country had a group of teachers and students as motivated as the team at Maghama High School!