Sunday, January 30, 2011

Africa is Not a Country

"We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. 
Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease." 
-G.W. Bush, 2001

This quote came during my service as Peace Corps volunteer in Benin. Perhaps then it is no surprise that today I received a package from one of my best friends from Peace Corps that contained a children's book titled, "Africa is not a Country."

I hope that it is read by children everywhere. I am trying to think of ways that I could use it here in Mauritania. I have been thinking a lot lately about children's books and how they could be used in ESL classrooms with adults/teenagers. I have had great success with Marshall's "Miss Nelson is Missing" and Yashima's "Crow Boy." I love my new book and it's colorful illustrations. 

The book is even more special because it contains stories about nearly every country I have been fortunate enough to visit in Africa, including Kenya, Senegal, Ethiopia, and Benin. It even features a lovely story about a girl living in Mauritania. I know that I will think of a creative way to share this wonderful book with my friends and colleagues here.

Reading this book made me happy. It reminded me of all of the lessons I have learned since the first day I moved to Kenya thirteen years ago. I am grateful to all of my friends across the continent, who have taught me how to live communally and to appreciate each day as it comes. I owe a great debt to the countless teachers who taught me to say hello and thank you, which I still remember in Luo, Kiswahili, Mina, Fon, Goun, Yoruba, Tigrigna, Kunama, Pulaar, Wolof, Arabic, and French- although sometimes they all get jumbled together!

I am counting my good luck in life to have crossed paths with so many incredible people. Thank you for your thoughtful gift Claire, mon amie sincere!!!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Revolution doesn't lend itself to be-bopping

I was supposed to travel to Egypt for a conference today. Instead, I am sitting in my house, sipping peppermint tea, and reading the news about what is happening there. I would have loved to have had the chance to participate in the conference, exchange ideas with my colleagues, and see the pyramids! I guess I will have to make the trip another time.

Last Wednesday I went to the library to find some resources for my students. I came across one of my favorite all-time poems and made a photocopy of it to keep for myself. A few days later, my travel plans were cancelled due to a real revolution taking place in Egypt. Tonight I came across the poem as I was unpacking my school bag to get ready for class. I read it again, this time in the context of the current events in Egypt. Finding the poem seemed to foreshadow the cancellation of my plans.

For Saundra
by Nikki Giovanni

i wanted to write
a poem
that rhymes
but revolution doesn't lend
itself to be-bopping
then my neighbor
who thinks i hate
asked – do you ever write
tree poems – i like trees
so i thought
i'll write a beautiful green tree poem
peeked from my window
to check the image
noticed that the school yard was covered
with asphalt
no green – no trees grow
in manhattan

then, well, i thought the sky
i'll do a big blue sky poem
but all the clouds have winged
low since no-Dick was elected

so i thought again
and it occurred to me
maybe i shouldn't write
at all
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply

perhaps these are not poetic
at all

I guess that revolution also doesn't lend itself to attending conferences. This poem will be a souvenir of my trip that wasn't meant to be. 

Power to the people!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

La Estampilla

Today I got a letter back in the mail. I forgot to put a stamp on it. I also got a package from my incredibly sweet friend. It contained an entire set of stamps about Africa. I can't decide which one is my favorite! I will resend the letter this week and it will be decorated with one of these gems:


I recently returned from a busy week of professional development workshops for in-service teachers in two regions of the country. These trips have been the culmination of over one year of planning! 

It was incredible to meet so many wonderfully positive and motivated people. I have returned to Nouakchott with a renewed energy and enthusiasm for this important work. The teachers described classes with 120 students, classrooms ill-equipped with only a handful of desks, an insufficient number of books or no books at all, battered, unreadable chalkboards, etc. Yet despite these challenges, they demonstrated a commitment to continuing to search for creative solutions and most importantly, to motivate their students to continue studying. 

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting some of my former students from last year who are now teaching in schools across the country. It was intensely rewarding to see that they all seem to be doing well and making the most out of their new environments. I was proud to see them take a leadership role in group activities during the workshops. I am confident they are making a positive difference in the lives of their students. I hope that I am lucky enough to meet more of my former students throughout the year.

The teachers of one region decided to write an article for one of the local newspapers about the workshops. You can read it here

I feel exceptionally grateful to be able to work in Mauritania and help create opportunities for teachers to exchange ides, resources, and experiences! Mission accomplished! Now on to planning the next workshop.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

One Love

One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One love)
Hear the children crying (One heart)
Sayin', "Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right."
Sayin', "Let's get together and feel all right."

Today was another craft day at the orphanage. I brought some plastic beads and elastic string I found in the market in Senegal. The group has never been so quiet, concentrating hard on adorning their arms, fingers, ankles, and wrists with their creations. There was plenty of beads for the neighbor kids to join in the fun as well. I am so lucky to be able to spend time with such sweethearts!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Il n'y a pas de l'avenir

One of the biggest challenges I have encountered in Mauritania has been the lack of planning around me. I struggle nearly every day with disappointments about the lack of planning, communication, and coordination. In the midst of being frustrated, I keep thinking about a recent visit to the village of one of my friends from New York. I was lucky to meet his father, who was once the village chief and still holds an important place in the community. 

In our discussion about community development, he explained that in Mauritania, "il n'y a pas de l'avenir." How wise these words are! There is no planning for the future- decisions are made on a daily basis. I have found that relying on others to help plan activities months, weeks, days, or even hours in advance can be extremely difficult. I repeat this phrase so myself to often that it has become my maxim. 

My friend's father has seen so much change throughout his life. Perhaps most significantly, he was witness to the horrible events of 1989 (to learn more you can read this report). I was grateful to be able to sit down and listen to his stories. I wish that I spoke his language well enough to express to him my genuine admiration and respect. The next time I see my friend in New York I will be sure to tell him that he and his father are my heroes. In fact, I think I will call him today!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Darling Dolls!

In Benin

In Mauritania.

In Senegal.

I love them all!

Lost in translation...

In Brooklyn I lived next to a store called "Fried Chicken and Candys." Since that time, I always look for signs and labels that get lost in translation! Here are two examples from my recent trip to Kaolack, both found in the same afternoon while sitting in my friend's living room. 

Use a tame!

Do NOT allow it to be boposed!

New Years in Kaolack

This is the second year I celebrated New Year's in Kaolack. It is the second largest religious town in Senegal. One of my former students (and best friends) from Brooklyn lives there with her family, all of whom I absolutely adore. Things may have been quiet on New Years Eve but the night before the entire neighborhood turned out for a real party!!!