Monday, November 12, 2012

Chapato doesn't know chapati

Last spring I made friends with a wonderful Burundian woman in Nouakchott. She invited me over to her house and cooked chai and chapati for me. When I asked her grown sons if they love their mom's chapati as much as I did, they didn't know what I was talking about. My friend laughed and said, "Chapato doesn't know chapati." Moorish people are called "chapato" in Pulaar, and since her son's father is Moorish, she was having fun with words. I told her sons that they were missing out. East African chapati is one of my favorite foods! 

I was pleasantly surprised last week to discover a Moroccan version of chapati, called msimn, at a Nouakchott cafe. It was a little tough, square, and needed more salt but it was close enough to the real deal. It is freshly made by a woman every evening and served warm. It is served with Moroccan soup (harira) and the waiters only knew it as "the bread that comes with soup." I passed on the soup, preferring instead to eat mine with a nice cup of espresso. I will definitely be going back for more soon.

Maybe chapato do know chapati after all!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Birdhouse in My Soul

My downstairs neighbor had a beautiful garden in his front courtyard. I was always envious  of this luxurious green space in a sandy city. I have no balcony, courtyard, or roof. I have only small windows and an even smaller view of the trees around my apartment. 

Last spring I woke up one morning to a ray of sunshine coming in through my front window for the first time. I looked down and saw a young man madly chopping down anything green in sight. My neighbor had just gotten married and in an effort to please his new bride, he cut every living thing in his yard. Evidently she was not fond of the mosquitos hiding in the dark spaces.

However, my window was still covered in dead tree branches, caught between in the bars. I asked him to please remove the branches and he said he didn't have a ladder. He pushed a stick through my screen and I then begged him to stop. 

When I came back this fall, I found that some birds had decided to make good use of these branches. They made a nest in my screen. They destroyed the screen further, forcing me to close the glass or face the consequences: Feathers and twigs flying into my house! 

I don't plan on staying here long enough to evict my newest neighbors. I like their singing and maybe I will have a little family coming soon. 

Every time I look outside I think of this song: 

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I am back in Mauritania! 

My contract was due to end last summer. In fact, it DID end. I threw myself an enormous goodbye party, hired a dj, and danced with all my best friends until 2:00 am. I visited all my friends in the villages and said tearful goodbyes. I gave away everything I owned and packed my most sentimental belongings in two suitcases.

I left Nouakchott on July 24, arrived in Minnesota on July 25, went to sleep and woke up July 26, with a job offer to return to the same position. I spent three months at home with my family and then came back. 

This country has a hold on me! 


I took a long break from writing. I needed to be alone in my head for a few months. I am coming back to the rest of the world, slowly walking back to my life before everything changed. The day my dad fell and hit his head, suffered from a stroke that caused serious damage to forty-percent of the right side of his brain. Putting it in writing makes it real- a reality that has been difficult to comes to terms with.

I spent over four months in the hospital between in March and October. That stale, sterile, sour hospital smell still lingers in my nose. The smell that served as a daily reminder of the assault on my family: My father's struggle to live without pain or suffering. Arriving to my dad's room and seeing him crunched into a ball, not knowing if I would find my exceptionally kind and laughing, "dream dad", or difficult and irritable, "brain-damaged dad." Regardless of his state of mind, visiting my dad every day in the hospital provided precious quality time, something we never really had before. Despite the difficulty of witnessing my father face the  biggest battle of his life, I treasured the chance to listen to his stories, jokes, and political perspectives. I savored the time to simply hold his hand and tell him what an incredibly inspiring and genuinely kind human being he is. Maybe I never told my dad enough before how much I truly admire and respect him.  

Sitting in the hospital day after day helped to gave me a balanced perspective. Although I felt isolated by my grief, I was never alone. Every room was occupied by a patient and a family rallying to provide love and support. Tragedy surrounded us. Some of the patients were doing much better than my dad, and I eyed their progress with envy. However, there were also patients doing worse, and I felt intense empathy because I knew that it could be my dad in their places. It could be me, for that matter. There is so much to be thankful for, so many reasons to be grateful. 

This week, after nearly nine months of hospitalization, my dad is coming home. I wish I could be there to see him smile, as I know he will be, to see his precious kitties (hellions Ray Ray and Bon Bon) and be back in his element. I hope beyond hope that this homecoming is the best  medicine. 

Thank you to everyone who has helped me during this difficult time. I feel your love and I am appreciative beyond words. Thank you.