Saturday, June 18, 2011

Photo Friend

I went to Kiffa a couple of months ago and took this photo in the market: 

I posted the photo on Facebook and one of my teacher friends from the region told me that he knew her. I asked him to pass along my greeting as well as a promise to send the photos that I took in her shop. In return, she gave him this leather gun case that she made herself as a gift. He brought it for me yesterday when he returned to Nouakchott for the summer vacation. Her generosity has really touched me. What an exceptionally kind woman!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Magnificent Creatures

Today I went to the beach and saw these magnificent creatures:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Seeking treasures

Before I arrived at ENS (the teacher training college in Nouakchott) the administration removed all of the English books from the library, claiming that students were stealing them. The books were locked away in offices that were rarely used by the Professors on campus. Students (or anyone else) had essentially no access to them. When I asked about the books, I was informed that there was a new room designated for the English department library that would be open very shortly. I was shown the room and agreed that it had much potential. I gave my commitment to help in any way possible but gave up asking about it after a year. It seemed certain that it would never happen. 

Fast forward two years. The U.S. Embassy has provided the funds to finally create a functioning library. They built bookshelves, desks, and chairs. They will also donate computers and additional books. I called on all of my students to come together to help me put the books in boxes and move them to the new room. We dusted them off and organized them on the shelves. I estimated that all of this would take four hours. Yet after six hours the room still looked like a tornado. 

After two days of immeasurably hard work, the books are mostly organized. While digging through the boxes I found two treasures: 

A thesis from my school directed by another Delia in 1987 (evidently she was the "Pitts"):

A book from the library of the Jr. High where I attended (it really was "Anrotten"): 

Finding these books was like an omen that I was on the right path. It reminded me of the me of this scene from one of my favorite movies:

I wonder what will happen to me if I seek the treasure? I think I am getting close!

Monday, June 6, 2011

I appreciate life's many gifts...

I have been moved to tears too many times to count in the past four days. The generosity of my students is truly overwhelming. Their presence in my life is the best gift yet they continue to reveal their outstanding talents for finding the most thoughtful gifts imaginable- a gorgeous melehfa selected by my student's mother based on my favorite colors (learned by reading this blog), a hand carved jewelry box more precious than anything I could ever put inside it, a delicately painted tea set... the list goes on.

I am counting my blessings each and every day that I am here in Mauritania. I was given an incredible opportunity to be able to live here for two years. I was given amazingly positive and charismatic groups of teacher-trainees and the freedom to design my own courses. When I think about my life, my heart overflows with love.

My appreciation for every single one of my students is encapsulated in this poem written to  share with the rest of the class during our nighttime activities- sharing music, poetry, songs, rap, or any other talents:

Songs of Friendship
By Mohamed Mahmoud Ahmed Lekrama

Welcome here and now at anytime
To such a trip and joyful site.
A lot of work ahead, you know
A chance for all to see and sight,
The flowing water up the hills,
The trees, the rocks, the sky at night.
Besides, I have a word to say to her,
A riddle for you, as well, to figure out.
The word is that: We would not have,
Thanks to her, a food for thought.
The riddle is like: What is a candle
Burned out all along to give the light?
How much time you think you need
To realize that it is you; the neophytes!
The teacher is the answer. A man of
Deeds who often play his cards right.
Because of him, I do confess I learnt
And you too should confirm this fact.
And that is how you came to know
This lovely being, this ever glowing bright.
Her name is Delia, our stroke of luck
A friendly mate, a part and parcel of delight.
I wish you all a happier life and luck
And all our graduates a better spot,
Not far from home or favorite city,
So they enjoy the time and spare a fight,
Over what to teach and not to teach
And all the trivial talk and tit for tat.
In class do not forget to do your best,
Come well prepared, alert for even worst.
Have an eagle’s eye and when annoyed,
Avoids the fault of either fight or flight.
Hard luck: Moussa, Hamdi, Abdou, Yeslem,
Abdeljelile, Abdoulay, Oumar, Naim Lebatt.
My best regards: Hafedh, Fayol, Adama,
Kader, Hawa, Sakho and this and that.
Not to forget, of course, to thank: Ismael,
Salma, Fatma Salma, Baba and Lemrabatt.
My thanks also for first and second
Year and all who are here and I forgot.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

We Are Family

In Mauritania, the University and other higher education institutions do not organize any sort of graduation ceremonies. Last year at ENS, our second year students finished their two years of exams, practice teaching, papers, and studies with nothing more than a visit to campus to read their final marks posted on the bulletin board.

This year I wanted to do something special to mark the graduation of my second year students, who have honestly been the best group of students I have ever taught. At the same time, I wanted to bring my two groups of students together because I had the luck of having a truly brilliant group of first year students this year as well. Both groups have so much positive energy and seem to genuinely enjoy working hard. They do not complain, love to laugh, and make the most out of each class. 

I came up with an idea to have a class retreat where we could spend three days together doing workshops and activities. Since my students played a vital role in organizing both of the  day-long conferences for the teacher's association last year I knew that they would embrace a new challenge and that they possessed the skills and motivation to lead workshops and activities with their peers. I selected the oasis of Tergit as a location for the workshop because it is beautiful, isolated, moderate in temperature, and close enough to reach in a few hour's drive.

My students excitedly planned creative and interactive activities and led them with confidence. They did complain a little during the trip- but not excessively- and it is to be expected in a group of 31 adults. They camped in tents, slept under the stars, and were confined to the walls of the mountains surrounding us. There was no cell-phone reception or way to charge electronics. We were totally disconnected. During free time we swam, played football, went hiking, and played music. 

It was an incredible experience to bring all students, from all backgrounds, to learn and share ideas from 6:00 am in the morning to 1:00 am at night. I learned so much over the weekend about my students' incredible talents as singers, dancers, guitar players, drummers, football players, story tellers, teachers, problem mediators, jokers, swimmers, poets, rappers, tea makers, and navigators. I will never forget the weekend I went to Tergit with my students. The experiences we shared brought us together and now we are family. 

The jinn's oasis

One of my students recounted this story to me about an interaction he had with a girl from the village of Tergit.

One night at eleven pm, he left the oasis to make a phone call. A young girl saw him and came closer to ask, "where are you coming from?" He answered, "the oasis." The young girl replied, "but aren't you scared of the jinns?" He told her he had not seen any.

It was only then that he understood why none of the villagers joined him in the oasis after sunset, when only the fire flies and stars lit up the night.