Friday, April 29, 2011

Off-Campus Poetry

I was struck by the irony of the arrival of the distinguished writer Mukoma wa Ngugi, who arrived at the University of Nouakchott amidst violent strikes that resulted in the indefinite closing of the entire campus. Due to the current crisis, the University was forced to hold all of Mukoma wa Ngugi's lectures and workshops at an off-campus location. Unfortunately, this negatively impacted the potential impact these programs could have had, as not as many students were able to participate. 

Mukoma wa Ngugi is the son of the world-renowned writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who happens to be my all-time favorite writer. Ngugi’s writing focuses heavily on the fight against corruption and cultural imperialism. In his recent book, Something Torn and New, Ngugi "argues that a renaissance of African languages is a necessary step in the restoration of African wholeness." The power of language is at the heart of the struggle happening on campus, where the students have become sharply divided based on ethnic and political lines. The arrival of Mukoma wa Ngugi during this time of turmoil seems like something out of a novel itself. 

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend any of the sessions due to scheduling conflicts with my classes at the teacher training college. However, I did have a chance to meet Mukoma wa Ngugi during two evenings of entertainment that consisted of marvelous blues music and poetry. It was a genuine honor to hear his perspective and listen to his stories. 

I wish that more of the students could have participated in these programs. I hope that Mukoma wa Ngugi inspired the students to fight injustice using their pens instead of throwing rocks, the faculty to design courses that teach creativity and self-expression, and the administration to embrace a new era of transparency and equality.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I am from...

These are some of my favorite poems written by my students this week as part of a class project: 

I am from the high mountains, the mom of my country, 
the tall amag jar that joins the sky with the earth
I am from the brown rocks, tall palms, and smooth golden dunes
I am from the hospitality in peace and courage in war
I am from the generous Acheilal and smiling Zriba
I am from the tall mosques, old books, and shiny circles of knowledge
I am from the Kesra and Tichtar, black dates and white zebda
I am from the hot sun, air stream, and stars’ jewels on the sky’s neck
I am from circles of music, nights of poetry, and firing chara
I am from having fun, creating friendship, and diving in music

I am from the landscape from mountains and deserts
I am from the lakes and oasis
I’m from wind, light, and heat
It smells like a flower and tastes like a matured date
It’s like the garden of heaven
I’m from the land of actors, land of weapons and fighters
I’m from the land of the Holy Qur’an, peace, libraries, history, and clergymen
I’m from hospitality, tolerance, and knowledge
I’m from poetry and music
I’m from the land of turban, boubou, and sandals
I’m from Aich vindi and milk, fried corn, foamed tea and porridge
I’m from good nature, tattoos, and pretty brides
I’m from swimming, playing, and reading
I am from happiness, friendship and generosity

I’m from Aioun, the land of landscape, and the land of hospitality
It is the same as when you’re in green paradise full of fantastic scenes
It’s comfortable and suitable
I’m from the carpets, pillows, and tea
I’m from Cheikhani, Salme Vall, and Mohamed Vall
I’m from listening and sharing information with each other 
I'm from my mother put tattoos monthly and my father drinks tea
I’m from thinking twice before you act
I’m from going to the mosque each time to pray
I’m from mechoui, couscous, and Ballakh
I’m from the hot, sunny, and the rain
I’m from the celebrating and inviting each other, cooperating and helping brothers
I’m from swimming and playing football
-El Hussein

I am from the forest, trees and grass, breeze and harmattan, the mountains and hills
I am from axes, shovels, clay jars, bowls, and tadit
I am from Aly, Aida, and Aicha
I am from the daughter who never breastfed her son in the presence of her father
I am from the son who never smokes in front of elders
I am from calves and making tea
I am from milk, barbeque, and couscous
I am from leweid and the blind boy games
I am from the hot summer and flowers in the spring
I am from cattle and sheep
I am from ponds, puddles, and the mountains

I’m from where the breeze blows
I’m from where pillows replace beds
I’m from Ndeye, Sedik, and Elhadj
I’m from laaban-
when the aunt of the married woman should go with her to see whether she is a virgin or not
I’m from studying, working, helping others, and visiting relatives
I’m from an affectionate mother, playing with others, always fighting
I’m from the caste system where slaves cannot get married to their masters
I’m from tiere, rice and fish, carow, and mafe
I’m from hot and windy
I’m from cultivating rice and vegetables
I’m from looking for information from the net and commenting

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Redefining Roles

Last year I was assigned to teach a class called "Oral Expressions" for pre-service teachers. I decided to do a video project, the first time I ever endeavored to use technology in the classroom. I only had twenty students and it seemed like a good way to have the students practice their presentation skills while also having fun. 

I decided to do the same project again this year. Like last year, it has been a learning experience for me. Yet all of the planning and hard work paid off on the first day the students starting filming and returned with huge grins from the joy of filming in the "real world" and being taken as serious journalists and actors by everyone they encountered. This brave group of students dressed up as Pizzorno workers (public sanitation), old men, museum staff, villagers lost in the city, and nomads. Amazing!

Yesterday morning we started editing the video footage and a deep feeling of pride welled up inside of me as I watched my shy students turn into talented actors. We are a long way from finishing the project but I can't wait to share it... 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Today I showed the film Spellbound as part of a movie series I started in December on the campus of the teacher training college. The monthly movie club has been a lot of fun and hopefully it helps our teacher-trainees to see some other teachers in action. I also invited University students and in-service teachers to join us because we have plenty of space!

Some of the University students who came decided to play along with the movie by spelling out the words with the movie contestants. I saw them writing down the correct spellings as they were read. At the end of the movie they came to ask me how to spell logorrhea, the final word from the movie. A teacher came to the rescue and spelled it for them. Of course I had no idea!

I wish that all movies could be so interactive- it makes watching it so much more engaging! Many of my students reported that this was the best movie we have watched so far, although that could be the subject of a great debate!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sneak Peak

I went out of town and came back to find KITTENS! A mama cat decided to move in to the courtyard outside my front door. She loves to hiss at me and is very protective of her little rascals. This morning I got a glimpse of one of them and his eye was all swollen. I decided that it is okay to spoil them. 

I introduced them to the treat of canned tuna and then stood back to watch. The first to step out of their hiding place was a little fella and he went after the plate with radar precision. Soon the rest followed and the mama cleaned the plate after it was finished! 

I don't think I made any new friends but at least I got to get a good look at the little darlings! I am desperate to pick one up to pet it but I decided not to do that so I have been on my best behavior when I see them. I keep my distance but I know that I will keep on bringing them treats until the day they disappear!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Multi-tasking camels

Can camels read? 

Teacher-trainees make me laugh

I love teaching. I love my students. I believe that I have the best job in the entire world....

Here are some funny moments of the week:
  1. One came to class wearing a fake beard, which he covered in chalk, and went off into the world to film his group segment for the class video project.
  2. A different student told me that whenever his students asked him the name of a color he didn't know, he said, "that's pink." Now his students think that about ten different colors are all called, "pink."
  3. Today a student gave me his flash drive to use for a group editing project and he had all this music on it. I asked him for one of the songs and he said I could take it. It was a rap song he recorded and it was brilliant!
I feel very grateful to meet students as dedicated, talented, and hard-working as the current group I am teaching now. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kiffa kaleidoscope

I recently organized a workshop in Kiffa for all of the teachers in the region. After the workshop we went shopping. I was in a celebratory mood because one hundred percent of the teachers came to the workshop. They were enthusiastic and appreciative. It was perfect.

Top on the list of things to buy were Kiffa beads, glass beads made only in Mauritania. Even more than the Kiffa beads, I loved the old stone ones. I went a little overboard but I couldn't stop myself when all the ladies opened their purses and pulled out more precious glass beads. It was a bonanza! 

Not on the list of things to buy was a necklace for a cow, which is what one lady told me this item was used for: 

Does any body know if this is true or not? Another thing not on the list was a leather shotgun case, hand painted by the woman in the photo below. Although now I am thinking that maybe I should have bought it, as I am sure she could have used the cash. I bought some beads from her instead. 

I don't remember the last time I had more fun shopping. Kiffa seemed to be overflowing with treasures.

Friday, April 15, 2011


I recently traveled to the Assaba region for the first time. No one ever told me how beautiful it was there so I was pleasantly surprised! Mauritania is stunning. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

All I wanted to do was let that horn wail...

I forgot it was a no-trombone zone.

I had just been telling my friend that it seemed like music permeated every aspect of life on the islands. Then we came across this sign. I will let Cesaria take it from here...

Islands in the Stream

I spent my spring break from classes in Cape Verde this year. I have a colleague from the same program that I am doing in Mauritania who teaches at the University there. It was a great opportunity for me to visit the islands with an amazing tour guide. My friend Melanie from Nouakchott came along as well, and of course we all packed in the fun!

First, we spent a few days hanging out in Praia. 

We visited the UNESCO World Heritage site Cidade Velha and hiked up the mountain to visit the old Portuguese Fort. 

There were amazing views of the ancient village below.

Then we moved along to Fogo, the island of fire. The big attraction there was a huge volcano that last erupted in 1995. 

The gorgeous beaches have sparkly black sand...

Our hotel had a marvelous view of the cliffs below

Back in Praia, we traveled to the other side of island to visit another amazing beach town, Farafall.

All in all, it was a fabulous vacation!