Friday, December 18, 2009

Getting Around in Mauritania

I take a taxi to work every day. I get anywhere in Nouakchott for about one dollar. If I want to share my taxis with other passengers, it is half of that. I have met a few reliable taxi drivers and I call them on their cell phones whenever I need to go somewhere. If they are busy, my house is only a few steps away from a busy street where I can get a taxi within one minute. Taking taxis here is extremely convenient.

I am always amazed by the state of the taxis I see. Yesterday I saw a car that had so many holes in it that I could see straight through it. If it weren't for the four passengers in the backseat, it would have been invisible. You couldn't pay me $100 to step inside that car.

When I first arrived in Benin as a Peace Corps volunteer, one of the staff came to give us a safety lecture. She told us it was Peace Corps policy that all volunteers must fasten their seat belts in taxis. Apparently she had never taken a taxi in Benin because if she did she would have known that none of the taxis have seat belts! I think of her well-intentioned advice often. It was the same in Ethiopia working for the IRC. Most of the seat belts were broken there as well. Here in Mauritania it is the same but I always check just in case. I feel much safer traveling in a country without traffic laws when I am wearing a seat belt.

I don't like taking taxis in the night time. So if I am out late, I usually get rides with my friends. Last week my friend came to pick me up in this car. It had some serious problems! He put a jerry can inside to make it run and miraculously it worked. I refused to take a ride in this one though! Some times it is safer to take a taxi...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

Students crack me up. Yesterday in class we were playing a round of the game “Two Truths and a Lie.” First I gave mine:   

  1.  I worked for the circus.
  2.  I know how to surf.
  3.  I once flew a plane. 

The students guessed at which one was the lie and I fooled them all! I then instructed the students to write down their two truths and a lie. After exchanging their information with partners, I called on a few volunteers to share theirs. I did this for three classes in a row and the activity went well. The students’ lies included false marriages, number of brothers and sisters, favorite sports, etc. During the last class most of the students wanted to share their lists. After completing the activity, one student begged to read his and I approved. He read his paper with a booming voice:

  1. I am proud to be a travesty.
  2. I know how to drive.
  3. I play football. 

The class looked puzzled. I asked him to clarify the first one again and he declared, “ I am proud to be a travesty, a gay.” Ohhhhhhhh. His classmates looked confused and everyone’s faces were blank. This rowdy, rambunctious group was instantly silent. Then, I explained to the class the difference between being a transvestite and being gay. I also assured the students that we were NOT discussing our personal perspectives about what we thought about gay people or transvestites, just explaining the definition of the terms. One student raised her hand and said, “A gay person is someone who likes people of the same race.” If that was the case, most of the world would be gay!

I moved on with the lesson as quickly as possible. This was NOT the English class vocabulary I had planned on covering.  I am learning that Mauritanian students, like students everywhere, are anything but predictable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Breaks

This week my classes are going better and the students are really growing on me. One student always comes to class early and writes an agenda for the day on the board. Yesterday he almost had it perfect! The class is only a few minutes away from burning out an entire candle, the result of not speaking any other language besides English in class. I am beyond thrilled. They are very proud too and motivated to keep trying.

Right now the students are researching about teaching strategies and creating student-centered lesson plans. I am learning to simplify things and break down as many concepts as possible. There is so much information to cover in such a short amount of time! Each week we have a new vocabulary word. This week was “rubric.” The students are overwhelmed but that is not always bad. Maybe that will force them to work even harder! Being a good teacher demands working hard, so they better get started now!

I gave the students my phone number for emergencies only and thankfully none have called yet. I gave them strict instructions not to call me to say hello or after 10:00 pm. They must only call for class related problems or concerns. My phone’s silence over the weekend is a good indicator that they understood! 

One student professed his love for me after class. I told him that if he respects me he would never say that again. I also told him that all students must show me respect as their professor. He walked away looking defeated. Those are the breaks! Kurtis Blow, take it away for me: