Saturday, June 9, 2012

Deep in the Fouta

We took a taxi from Nouakchott to Maghama. After Lexieba there is no road, just tracks to follow in the dried dirt. After an hour of driving off-road, the car stopped. I thought we had a flat tire. I looked at the setting sun and pictured a long night. To my surprise, a man got out from the front seat of the car, collected his baggage and started walking. I looked closely in the direction he was going and saw the outline of distant houses. I stared at him until he disappeared into the horizon. How did he know he had arrived? We drove for another two hours and never saw another person, animal, or village. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Paintin' Up a Storm

My third year in Mauritania has turned out to be about doing all the things I have wanted to do since I arrived but couldn't accomplish during the first two years. I went to Ouadane, bought a taxi, recorded audio files and created a mural with my students. I am so happy that I have been able to finally cross off so many things from my long list of things to do. I have six more weeks and want to keep finishing all these great initiatives my students and I have started. 

One of the projects I am the most excited about is creating murals! I worked with my teacher-trainees in Nouakchott for the first one and then I took the two most experienced painters and we traveled to Maghama to work with the students of the English Club there to create another mural. 

For most of the students it was the first time to hold a paint brush. It is so important to let them try in order to learn from experience that they can do it on their own. It has been a really fun project! I had no previous experience painting but I discovered that I am not too bad! My role the last two times has been as a toucher-upper for the students' work, after they have finished with their part. I clean the lines and make things more correct. 

I have enough paint for at least two more murals and need to work on deciding where to paint them. I think I will do one in Nouakchott and one somewhere else, maybe Rosso. I want my teacher-trainees to take a leadership role in deciding where, when, and with who! More on this topic soon!

Three Days in Tergit

I just returned from three days in Tergit with thirty-eight teacher-trainees. I organized the retreat with my first and second year students so we could learn and share ideas outside of the classroom environment. This year I was lucky to have two amazing groups of students and so it was really important for me to be able to provide an opportunity for them to spend time together. The students organized and facilitated all of the activities for the entire weekend, including 10 mini-workshops, a football match, egg-spoon race, tug-of-peace, sack race, and evening entertainment. One student summarized the weekeend perfectly, he said, "One College, one team, one group, one dream, peace love and harmony here we are at the ENS where we are brothers, where we shared activities, traveled together, ate and prayed together, holding the rope of hope and friendship."

I organized a meeting on the first day and asked the students what they think the goals for the weekend should be. I was so proud when they mentioned many important and introspective ideas. One of the most interesting discussions was about how the weekend could provide the opportunity for the group to learn about other cultures and form bonds with students from different ethnic backgrounds. One student commented that the English department represents all Mauritanians, as opposed to the Arabic and French departments, which tend to be less diverse. In the past, most students from the South only studied in French, where as the East and North only studied in Arabic. This means that the two languages divide the country and in return, the population. However, English is a third  (or fourth) language for everyone in Mauritania and in that sense, is studied throughout the country (for only two hours a week in secondary school). 

I am proud of my students for realizing the importance of cross-cultural exchange and for being open-minded enough to be able form lasting friendships across this divide. This adds another element of importance to the classes I teach, where as always, teaching is about so much more than just the content itself- values, beliefs, and ways of thinking are also part of the curriculum. 

The retreat was wonderful- we spent three days together learning, teaching, singing, clapping, dancing, swimming, hiking, napping, rapping, playing football, running, skipping, and laughing. One student wrote to say, "Colurful, wonderful and beautiful three days in TERGIT! I will never ever forget these days in which harmony, unity, sympathy and empathy were key concepts. I got no words that can express how happy I feel about Tergit . If there is a word that is more valuable than thanks I would say it."