Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Amoeba medicine metallic taste + lots of candy + orange juice = Halloween 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Different Colors, One Person

One of my favorite things about living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn was sitting out on the stoop and watching the world go by. Eating a double with some sorrel made it even sweeter. The best part was getting all the neighborhood news from my friends around the block.

I haven't exactly found that in Mauritania, but talking to the neighbors' guards, listening to Lucky Dube, and drinking sticky, sweet, and strong cups of hot tea has been a nice substitute.

Tonight's conversation was particularly funny, with my neighbors discussing about whether or not it is good to use skin bleach creams. This is one of my favorite issues to discuss, and I never get tired of explaining the many perils of these products. 

My dear friend, nicknamed the "President," responded that to be White was "not good." He elaborated, exclaiming, "Delia, ah! Delia is never the same color. The Delia you see now is NOT the same Delia you see in the morning!" 

Evidently I am a chameleon. I have been laughing all night about President's perceptive observations. I understood his message to be that we should be proud in the skin we are in. I am so lucky to have funny and honest conversations with my neighbors. I keep thinking about what would come up in conversation in Brooklyn about this issue? It would definitely be equally enlightening. I will fall asleep tonight singing this classic number and thinking about the President's wise words...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beware of Women with Slingshots

I just returned from a long weekend in a small village. Within hours of arriving I was ushered off to the fields so that my proud hosts could show me their intense efforts from the planting season. While they were struggling under the heat of the sun, I was in New York visiting their husbands, fathers, and cousins, the people they need the most to help them during this time of immense work.

As we approached the fields, I heard yelling and shouting. Walking through the maze of millet,  I could hear voices all around me. My guides (an army of children) started grabbing the stalks and eating the inside, which resembled cane sugar. Everyone seemed excited to be in the fields, occupied with munching and looking for additional treats. Finally an old friend appeared from the stalks, in one hand a sling shot and in another a handful of dirt. She welcomed me with a big smile and then showed me how she uses the slingshot to scare away the birds. 

With the millet almost ready for harvest, the birds have arrived uninvited to join in the feast. The women of the village work in shifts to make sure they don't take off with their crop. The birds worked in a group to swoop down on their targets and the women yelled and shouted to stake their claim to their crops. This game lasts all day, from the time the millet starts to mature to the day the last stalk is harvested. The birds know to beware of women with slingshots! 

There are many crops to protect against the birds. A quick walk revealed:




Black eyed peas

Of course as we moved along we also took some of the treasures we found to take home and eat later! If it is women vs. birds, I would say that this time the women won! Sweet victory!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Economic Exile

Today I spoke with one of my closest friends from Brooklyn. I was lucky enough to visit his family when I traveled to Senegal last summer. I met his new wife and even newer baby, even before he has had the chance to. I met his great aunt and uncle. I grasped the hand of his brother, who looked so much like him I could have sworn it was my friend himself. I clung close to his mother and father. 

I am thinking of my friend now because he just lost his father. Living in Africa is a reminder of how close death follows us. Where there is little access to healthcare, people often wait too long to get help or simply can not afford the life-saving treatment. 

As a woman living far from my family, albeit by choice, I have such empathy for my friends who suffer the loss of losing their parents. Returning home for a funeral is not possible for many, due to economic or political limitations. For many of my friends who don't have legal documents to stay in the U.S., returning home is an impossible dream.

As for my friend in Brooklyn, although he does have documents and desperately wants to go home, he needs to keep working to help pay the medical and burial expenses. He may have to wait even longer to mourn this tremendous loss in the presence of the rest of his family. 

I always question this choice I have made to travel far from home, just as I question my friends' choices. Being among family is a gift. To live and share in the day to day events of life is truly important. Yet in today's world, economic and social factors drive many people away from their homes in search of a better life. At the same time, technology is always inventing new ways for us to stay connected. Life is always about difficult choices and the consequences!!! One of which, unfortunately, is to miss out on the fun times families share (I am missing out on my entire family's trip to Hawaii next week), as well as the solidarity needed during difficult ones.

Today I am thinking about all of all of my friends who live far from their families. I am hoping for health, peace, and happiness!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dolly Parton Made Me Cry

"The singer Dolly Parton made me cry. Its voice and experience were very shaking. God Bless America! I love you!"

-Workshop Participant
Nouakchott, Mauritania

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I have a friend in Mauritania who was exceptionally bright. He completed his studies at the University of Nouakchott and, like many of his classmates, applied for a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United States. He passed the TOEFL exam and was waiting for the outcome of his application. In the mean time, he needed cash. He applied for a position at the U.S. Embassy and was hired. 

Immediately after he began his new position, he heard some great news. His application for the Fulbright was accepted! His dream was finally in his grasp; soon he would be on his way to get a Masters degree in the U.S.! Yet no one told him that there were many stipulations to being awarded a Fulbright grant, one of which was that no one employed by the U.S. government was eligible. In one moment, his hopes were dashed. He was left with a job but no hope of fulfilling his dream of studying in the U.S. He could quit his job, wait a year, and reapply for the grant. In the meantime, however, he would have no work and there was no guarantee his application would be successful the next time around.

Rather than being sad, or angry, or frustrated, this remarkable young man took it all in stride and focused on the positive. He waited and researched. He found an opportunity to apply for a grant to study in Japan and seized the moment. He applied, and unsurprisingly, was accepted. 

The night before he left, he presented me with a beautiful hand-carved turtle. It was made by his friend, who carves wood as a hobby. His friend spent many hours polishing and refining this turtle's delicate shell. 

I named this turtle Nintai, which means "patience" in Japanese. I hope it will be a reminder for me to always focus on the positive and keep my eyes on the prize! 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Itsy Bitsy


This little fella moved in my house lately and lives near my desk. He is my protector. 

I think it may have been a spider that bit my knee in Senegal this past August. It is just a guess. A little red bump soon turned into a much bigger problem. It got infected and gave me a very swollen leg. A few hours after arriving home in the U.S. I found myself in urgent care. $400 later, I was left with a prescription for antibiotics and no clearer picture of what caused this infection in the first place. Thankfully, I now have only a small scar as a reminder. I am sure it will go away with time. 

I like to think that my new friend is here to show me that I have nothing to fear anymore. I have a new bodyguard. He is fierce!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beach Bum

This week I was lucky enough to go the beach an incredible three times!!! This may make it my best week in Mauritania so far...

The third time we went the car broke down as soon as we turned off the paved road and onto the sandy beach road. We called our friend who came to pick us up in the only car he could find- the truck used to pick up fish for the weekend lunch crowd. 

We all piled in the back, covered our noses, and watched as the dust turned our hair blonder and blonder. When we finally arrived at the shore, I practically ran to the beach and dove into the warm waves. The beach is the most perfect escape. I am forever grateful to my friends for making space in the backseat for me!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Red Red Wine

During the past three weeks I have been coordinating a professional development training for teachers. Each day at ten am we had a coffee break and my brilliant friend would bring the teachers mass quantities of juice, coffee, tea, and croissants. In addition, she brought me my own bottle of delicious and refreshing bissap. I always saved some to drink throughout the day.

Yesterday, I took a break from my typing to get more bissap and I saw only a ring on the table indicating where the bottle had been. Then I heard the noise of some young men outside the door. Curious, I peeked into the hall, and lo and behold, I saw the bottle. It was empty and in the hand of the one of the gentlemen. I walked over to the duo and politely greeted them. Then I asked if they were part of the conference happening, to which they replied no. Then I asked where they found the bissap they were holding in their hands. The guilty party replied that he had taken it from the room behind us. I kindly informed him that the bissap was MINE and it was for the conference that I organized. Then I asked the two young men if they were students at this school. The bissap-drinker told me that he was on campus to submit his application for enrollment in the English department.

I informed him that I was a professor in the English Department and that if he is fortunate enough to be accepted into the program, he will be in all of my classes. I wished him luck on his application, accepted his apology, and offered him advice that from this day forward: Try to avoid stealing bissap from future professors. His friend started laughing and even the thief himself couldn't help smiling, amid protests that he was innocent.

At this point, his insightful friend chimed in that my (hopeful) future student would be able to make it up to me by bringing one bottle of bissap each morning before class. We agreed that if this compensation was made, we wouldn't need to mention the incident again. We all laughed some more and shook hands. 

Here is a message to my future students: Don't try to come between me and my bissap!!!!

Post-script: The bissap thief is now my student and we recently made this recording of the incicent:
   The Case of the Bissap Thief by deeleeya 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Today there was a dead bat on campus. It was much bigger and scarier looking than I could have ever imagined.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Camels, Camels Everywhere

When I was home on vacation I saw camels everywhere. It was like Mauritania was following me and reminding me that my time in the U.S. was only temporary.


abandoned to graze in Prospect Park!

Eaten at the Minnesota State Fair...

and cruising around Lake Calhoun!

Camels, camels everywhere but not even one to ride!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Calling All Teachers!

From the first day at the teacher training college I felt like I belonged in the room of loud, talkative, and outgoing trainees. I shared even more in common with my classmates because they came from across the country for the multicultural, project-based focus of the program.

Fast forward ten years and I have now become a teacher-trainer. I jumped into action this year with an intense program that began just a few days after I arrived back from my summer vacation. After finishing two out of three weeks, the end is just around the corner. 

I have been so delighted to have the chance to coordinate this program, which brought together teachers working throughout Mauritania to participate in a training led by an experienced facilitator brought all the way from Australia! I have been bombarded with the endless details needed to run the program but my belief if strong that it is all worth it!

Being in a crowded room of noisy, passionate teachers reminded me of the exhilarating feeling I felt when I started my classes at Evergreen. I love being a room filled with teachers. Even though it has been frustrating every day to get the teachers to focus and to try to stop their endless socializing, I realize how important it is for the teachers to have that unstructured time to laugh and joke with their colleagues. I can only imagine how much they have to share with each other.

Because teaching requires adults to spend many hours each day alone in the presence of teenagers, although teachers are not alone, the work can be quite isolating. In the context of Mauritania, the teachers may be the only ones who speak English in the villages where they are sent to teach. This only adds to the isolation. Since the government lacks the funds and resources to provide on-going professional development, many teachers have been teaching for years without receiving any training or opportunity to share experiences with their colleagues. By coordinating this program, I am hoping to contribute to the efforts of bridging that gap. I also want to establish a foundation for future training, whether done by the teachers themselves or another expert from abroad. 

During the past two weeks, I have been reminded of the path I have taken to arrive here. I remember working harder than I have ever before throughout my two years of teacher training. I also remember observing my professors working around the clock to plan, facilitate, review, and evaluate the sessions. These professors have left an enormous impact on my life and I know that I am now doing my best to follow in their wise footsteps. I hope that one day these trainees will also become trainers!