Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The fact that I may be leaving (my future is still uncertain) has made me realize that I better get to work on all of the projects I have had in my mind since arriving. One of these projects was to make a silver bracelet- one like all of my Mauritanian friends wore in New York. I will wear it and think of them and also my time here. I saw one of my friends was wearing a very nice bracelet and so I asked him where he got it and if he could help me make one too. He happily agreed. 

A few days later we went to the market where they sell ostentatious gold jewelry, presumably for weddings and special occasions. I picked a style of bracelet I liked (which is not really Mauritanian... ironically) and then went to weigh it and negotiate the cost with a group of metal workers (forgerons) who were busy pounding and polishing in a wooden shack. We agreed on a price and they made the bracelet in just 24 hours. I picked it up this morning and have not taken it off. Now I am thinking about other styles and designs I could ask them to create. The possibilities are endless! 

In Mauritania the forgerons are a caste of people- so metal working is a skill passed from generation to generation. One must be born into the caste to be able to touch metal. The same is true for all professions- fishermen, singers, historians, scholars, etc. Over time the rigid roles have changed and people see beyond the caste system but it is still a strong part of Mauritanian culture and identity. People are still judged based on their caste and not their work ethic or personal achievements. Marriages are arranged and work promotions are granted based on caste. Everyone knows the caste of their peers and even if they profess to not care about caste it is still nearly impossible to completely eliminate it from in their worldview.

If the caste system was eliminated, perhaps the age-old skills of metal-working and other crafts would be lost. Or maybe there would be a new generation of workers who continue the trade, regardless of caste. I sense that this is already happening as economic forces and increased urbanization have forced the society to change. I would love to have time to research how many forgerons are actively working in their trades, and how many of the forgerons working today were born into the caste. I value the immense skills of the forgerons in Mauritania, whether born into the caste or not, and I am happy to support them and their beautiful creations.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New beginning

The stray kittens outside my door are not doing well. Yesterday one went missing and later I found it shivering at the bottom of a brick outside. The neighbor kids had been "playing" with it all day. I  haven't been able to force the little kitty to eat or drink anything for two days now. The kittens' eyes are all infected and closed and their coats are looking mangey. 

When I recounted this story to my friend who drives me everywhere (taximan) he said that he would like one of the kittens. Surprised, I reminded him that they are really sick. He said he didn't mind and genuinely wanted one. He came over the next day to pick the little black and white fella. He said his new name is Gaddafi and cuddled the kitten in his arms. I offered to give Gaddafi a bath before going back to his new home, since he was covered in fleas and looked quite dirty. 

Gaddafi hated it but definitely needed it. He sat in a little ball in his new guardian's lap while he drove off to start his new life. I hope that his three brothers and sisters have an equally bright future. Or at this point, I am hoping they have a future at all.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

King Kong Masterpiece

I love original paintings. In Haiti I went crazy for the cheap canvas works and gobbled up a handful in a matter of seconds. I have thought of commissioning artists to paint members of my family, friends, etc for many years but never got around to following up on the idea. Recently a friend recommended a local painter to me and I decided to see his talents for myself. I brought a photograph taken last summer of a group of friends and I at "Dinosaur Land" in Virginia. 

The painter became excited when we saw the photo and exclaimed, "King Kong!" I guess it is a universally known icon. Who knew??? Today I went to collect the finished work and I am delighted with the results. It is a masterpiece. What to you think?

Beach Days

One of my favorite things about Nouakchott is the magnificent beach... I was lucky to spend two days this weekend lounging under the sun. The glorious Atlantic!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cooking Class

Wednesday was "Africa Day" in Mauritania. Since everyone had the day off, some friends organized a cooking class. Appropriately, they asked our friend Sisay to teach us how to make some of her favorite Ethiopian recipes. Her lesson included misir wot, doro wot, ingera, and tibs. Here is the recipe for misir wot:

1 cup red lentils
3 onions- pureed
1/2 head garlic- pressed
3 TBSP berbere chili powder
1 tsp ginger root- grated
3 fresh tomatoes- chopped
3-4 TBSP oil
3 basil flower buds (leaves removed)
1/2 tsp "seven spice"
1 tsp salt
3-4 cups water
  • Sautee the onions 10-15 minutes over a medium heat, then add oil
  • Add ground tomatoes and salt then let simmer 10 minutes
  • Add 1/2 cup water and let simmer 15 minutes, uncovered
  • Add berbere and 1/2 cup more water and let simmer 15 minutes
  • Add garlic and ginger and then cover pot and let simmer 20 minutes
  • Add lentils (washed) and 1 cup water, let cook 15 minutes 
  • Add more water, 1 cup or as needed, and let cook 15 minutes
  • Add more water, 1 cup or as needed, and let cook 15 minutes
  • Add basil + seven spice
  • Remove cover and let cook ten more minutes
  • Remove from heat and serve with ingera. Enjoy!

I hope that I can make this recipe one day... but I know that it will never taste as delicious as the magic that Sisay creates in the kitchen!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Roots Club

Today I visited the Roots Club at my friend's high school in Nouakchott. It is a new after-school English Club formed this year.

I love extracurricular activities. I remember really getting involved during my first year in college when I got assigned a work study job at the "Activities Center." I connected students with volunteer activities in the community and organized Blood Drives, campus clean-ups, and coordinated many campaigns and programs. I loved it. I started volunteering at a safe house for women and joined a handful of clubs. 

This love for extracurricular clubs grew more during my time in New York when I worked to support teachers and students in running after school clubs that raised awareness of global issues, such as a lack of clean water and access to education. I believe that incredible learning can take place outside of the walls of the traditional classroom.

In Mauritania, I have been so inspired by students' strong leadership skills and high motivation in the English Clubs I have visited. Today was no exception. The students coordinated an event and each student prepared speeches, in which they articulated the club's goals and summary of activities. They also showed a video of Mr. Bean and wrote on the board that "We will present Mr. Bean, America's funniest man, to have fun and make Ms. Delia laugh." The students are so darling! 

I wish that more schools in Mauritania had English Clubs. There is so much potential for these clubs to grow and provide a place for coordinated activities and events in schools throughout the country, such as spelling and writing competitions. I hope that more teachers become motivated to create and facilitate clubs in their schools and I will continue to think of creative ways that I can continue to support these initiatives.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I lost my appetite about a week ago and have no idea where to find it. Nothing sounds good to me. I feel nauseous. I survived the first few days mostly eating peanut butter but even that seems unappealing to me now. I keep eating because I know I need to but I would prefer to just stick to liquids. Bissap still tastes good. As does coffee. 

I keep trying to visualize my favorite foods (basil, cilantro, coconut milk, avocado, chocolate...) in the hopes that it will inspire hunger. Yet even that doesn't seem to work. 

I hope I find it soon. 

Monday, May 23, 2011


This year I have planned something really special for my students: A class retreat! It is a totally new idea in Mauritania and my students are really excited! We will rent buses and spend three days camping together. We will have workshops and activities, all planned and led by the students. 

One of the activities they have planned is a football match between the two classes. They have taken the challenge so seriously that they are holding daily training sessions in preparation. Yesterday they invited me to join them.

I feel very lucky to have had such a remarkable group of students this year.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Kittens

I have an update on the kittens living outside my front door. I am still feeding them a can of sardines a day, with a treat of tuna once a week. Someone has stolen two bowls and three plates so now I have to use plastic plates. 

My kitties are getting BIG and Mama cat still tries to intimidate me. Sometimes she succeeds. She likes block the exit from my building and growl as fierce as she can while giving me the evil eye. I still don't get close to them but smile every day when I enter or leave my house. How could I not when they are hiding in the cutest of places?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Independent Women

Tonight I had a pleasure of visiting one of my students at his house. He was kind enough to pick me up at my house even though his house is located in the countryside far outside of Nouakchott. On the way there we passed many camels and little tents where people sell the milk. Many people from Nouakchott drive there to have picnics where they drink fresh milk, make tea, and sit on the sand dunes. Surprisingly, there were just as many cars at ten pm on the way back!

We sat at my students house, under a tent, drinking tea and talking for hours. I got to meet my his darling nine month old child and I was served a delicious meal. Most importantly of all, I got to meet his incredible wife who makes melehfas, traditional veils worn by most Mauritanian women. She showed me how she ties the thread to make designs that will later appear after the fabric is dyed. Her tools are simple, a standard needle and spool of thread.

I was mesmerized by her craftsmanship. My student was teasing me because I couldn't stop inspecting her hard work and asking her questions. She explained to me that there are two types of veils. One is cheaper cloth and requires less work. She sells them to the vendors in the market for about $17.The other is made with more expensive cotton and has more intricate designs. She sells these for $50. The photos below show the expensive type. 

She complained that since she had a baby she can't make as many as she used to. She said that now she can make four veils a month for the intricate type of veil while it takes six days of work for the less expensive type, as pictured below. 

She learned this trade from her mother and has since taught the techniques to all of her sisters. It has become a successful family business. She said that she has never made a veil that she couldn't sell. I ordered some melehfas from her and was absolutely charmed by her work ethic and humbleness. I was teasing my student that his wife earns more than he does, with his modest teacher salary it is very well possible! 

I love meeting inspired women who work hard to perfect their crafts. I have definitely found a new friend. It is too bad that my student and his family live so far away, and of course that his wife doesn't speak a word of English. At least we have a good translator!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


It looks like my contract in Mauritania is ending, without the possibility of renewal. My position will not be replaced. Since the day I arrived I planned on definitely staying a third year, if I was offered the opportunity. I was optimistic. 

In February this year, the final positions for the 2011/2012 academic year were posted online and Mauritania was not on the list. Then I realized that I better start looking for another job. It is really too early to look though, since I actually won't need a new job until September. Since the program also cut most of the Africa positions this year, I guess my time as an English Language Fellow is drawing to a close. Just six more weeks. It is difficult to face an unknown future but I welcome the change. I know it will be hard to leave and I don't look forward to packing two years of living into boxes and saying goodbye to all my friends. I must start doing so now because six weeks is not enough time. 

People keep asking me what I am doing next and I am ok with not having an answer. I am taking it all in stride with the knowledge that something better will come along when the time is right. In the mean time, I plan on having a nice vacation, doing a bit traveling, and enjoying the freedom of endless possibilities for the future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where the desert meets the sea

I just returned from a trip to Nouadhibou. I have wanted to visit this place since I first arrived in Mauritania. My mind was filled with images of shipwrecks, trains, and gorgeous coast lines.

I went there to organize a workshop with the English teachers working there. The planning meetings filled the entire first day and the workshop and activities filled the second day, which meant that I didn't have much time to explore the city. 

The teachers in Nouadhibou were wonderful. They led interactive activities and were very active participants throughout the day. In the evening we showed the film "To Sir, With Love" at the high school and had an evening of entertainment as well. 

Though I had an excellent weekend, I didn't get a chance to really appreciate the charms of the city. I did see the shipwreck graveyard but I was too far away to take any good pictures. It is the largest in the world.

Most of the coastline seemed to be divided up by the various industries operating there. However, the train circled us everywhere we went. It is the longest train in the world. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Alter-ego: Game Show Host

Today we played "Jeopardy" in my class. It was the end of the year celebration. I invited my colleagues to join me. They adopted the roles of timekeeper, score-keeper, and judges. I was the host of the show, wearing gold, glitter and a big smile throughout the event.

My first year students were the champions of the game, winning by only 200 points. It was a tough competition! The students all wrote the questions (each team wrote 20) and selected the categories. It was virtually impossible to guess the answers and yet despite this the students did manage to answer each-others questions, as well as their own. Of course, in my non-competitive nature I wanted everyone to win. That's not how the game is played! I presented each student with the same certificate and prize.

After the game was over, we all drank soda and watched the movie made by the first year students. It was a true celebration. It won't be the last one!!! We have lots of plans before the summer break officially begins and I have to say farewell. 

I am so proud of my students this year. They really did an incredible amount of work in such a short period of time. Days like this are a reminder that I am very privileged to teach at the Ecole Normale Superieure. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Project-Based Learning

This year I was so busy in my classroom creating projects. In total, my students created 14 videos and three "books." Because there is no academic calendar here I had no idea when the year would end. The last day of class was one month earlier than I expected it to be so I had to work around the clock with my students to finish the projects on time. Thankfully we were able to achieve our goal and complete everything. Now I have the enormous task of evaluating this brilliant work of my students! See for yourself:


Guide to Mauritania: 
Classroom Solutions Year 1
Classroom Solutions Year 2


Monday, May 2, 2011


"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence and toughness multiples toughness in a descending spiral of destruction."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.