Saturday, December 31, 2011

Don't go chasing waterfalls...

...Unless you are in Benin!

Holiday Travels

I love traveling. This year for the holiday break I decided to visit Benin again, only this time as a tourist in the North of the country. I never made it there while I lived there from 2002-2004. Every time I tried to travel in Benin I would get a 104 degree fever, call the Peace Corps doctor, and follow his orders to come to his office immediately. This time around, there were no fevers, no doctors, and no worries. 

I had a lovely time meeting new friends and observing the tourist scene. The biggest attraction in the area is the game park, promoted in Benin as the "best game park in West Africa." After a full day of driving around the park I concluded that the lack of animals was disappointing, especially compared to parks in East Africa. However, I found watching the humans to be even more interesting. I liked seeing the tourists cruising around in their 4x4 vehicles, decked out in their safari outfits. 

I reveled in the rivalry between the guides. The highlight was when one vehicle sped past us, covered us in dust (we were in the back of an old pick-up truck), and then later while gazing at the empty watering hole, bragged about seeing three elephants moments before we arrived. Our guide, Francois, looked at the ground and turned to his vehicle. Life is not easy for guides in Park Penjari, where competition for glimpses of elephants, lions, and hippos is fierce. I was proud of Francois for taking the high road and maintaining his professionalism. Back in car, our team was less polite, calling the other guides liars, jerks, and cheats. 

The low point of the day came when our guide stopped at a field station building and told us that there were some cool statues of animals in the back. We declined the offer and bitterly complained that if we didn't see the big animals soon, there would be hell to pay! By the end of the day, we had seen all the animals, except lions. We saw crocodiles, baboons, monkeys, antelopes, gazelles, deer, many birds, elephants and last but not least, hippos. Although the animals were far away, hiding behind trees, and smaller than we imagined them to be, we drove back Nattitangou in high spirits. Our guide did right and we saw the best the park had to offer that day.... 

Back at the hotel, the tourists bragged about their victories and complained about the lack of organization of the park and country in general. The driver of an oversized SUV grumbled that he wasn't able to hunt this expedition, while the others nodded and wished him better luck next time. The attitude of many of the tourists reminded me of colonial times. The safari vests only reinforced the image. In the end, I felt happy to know that I am NOT like most of the tourists we encountered. One day in the park was enough for me!

Friday, December 23, 2011

December Workshopping

I was insanely busy in December coordinating a series of three 5-day workshops, reaching a total of 155 teachers. 

It was a very busy month! Meeting teachers from throughout the country is one of my favorite aspects of my work here. Helping to build teachers' capacities and strengthen their skills is the reason I am here. 
At the end of the month I was exhausted but felt a great sense of achievement. The highlight was seeing many of my former students again. It was wonderful to reconnect with them and hear all about their lives in their villages where they teach. During one of the workshops we wrote haiku poems and at the end of the workshop, one student presented me with a haiku poem that he wrote: 

 The Last Word by deeleeya 

Two other former student shared poems that they wrote for the workshops as well: 
 My Teaching Journey by deeleeya 

 The Poor Teacher by deeleeya 

One teacher wrote this poem as well: 

By Ibrahima Khalidou NDiaye
English Teacher in Oualata

Nancy, Merci!
Day after day
For five days
The courageous Mauritanian English teachers
Have gained from your experience
More than one billion skills
To achieve their proud goal.
But what is sad,
Let me tell you
It’s your hand and ours
Will say bye, bye
Don’t worry about
Of course, you’ve left
But never lost
Because you’ve left most
Which will stay on forever
Nancy, thanks!
Nancy, merci!
Go ahead!
Absolutely useful for Mauritania
Dear colleagues
Try and use
What never wastes the time
Thanks to the Ministry of Education
Hallelujah to the U.S. Embassy

All in all, the workshops provided a meaningful end of a productive year. I hope that I am able to accomplish even more in 2012. I have my work cut out for me!