|            I got a
letter from my father last week, in which he asked me how I was
keeping up with what was going on in Iraq, and what I thought
of it. I told him what I tell anyone who asks me about these or
any other current events: that I am not making any attempt to
keep abreast of them, in that I don't find any advantage in having
that as part of my consciousness.
I know that there are many people who consider that one is "well-informed"
if he knows about current events. I agree that it is important
to be well-informed. At the same time, I think it is worth asking:
well-informed about what?
go to great lengths to be well-informed about which celebrity
is getting married or divorced. Some people choose to be well-informed
about how to build a barn, fly a plane, cook a soufflé,
or kick a ball. You can be up-to-date with the stock market,
sports, Broadway theater, or the latest best-selling novels.
Being "well-informed" has almost as many different
definitions as there are people themselves because we each have
our own ideas about what is important to know.
Several years ago, I closely examined not only how I was spending
my time, but what my life objectives were. Reading The 7
Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey helped
me with defining priorities and writing a mission statement
for my life. I am striving to be a person who makes contributions
to humanity. Any concerns that I have about tikkun olam
(Hebrew for "repair of the world") and my actions
with regard to such a bold undertaking, have to be tempered
by the realization that I am but one person, that my influence
and abilities have their limits. It feels more comfortable for
me to keep my focus and awareness as close as possible to my
"sphere of influence," to use a term that Covey defined
in his book.
to making the world a better place has to do with kind and loving
acts toward people I see, know, and interact with, whether daily
or annually, regularly or sporadically. That is where I want
my attention to be. I don't see how the knowledge of atrocities
made on behalf of my or any other government can help me toward
this end. If anything, I find that the more I know about the
gruesome details of man's inhumanity to man, the more discouraged,
pessimistic, and cynical I am likely to become. I don't want
to be that kind of person.
I don't take favorably to the powers that be in my government
dictating to me what people in which countries will be my friend.
There was a situation a little more than a year ago in which
somebody got upset with an action that the French government
took, which resulted in the renaming of "french fries"
as "freedom fries." There were calls by many Americans
to boycott all things French.
particularly stupid, first of all, because the word "french"
in "french fries" refers not to the nation of France
but to the cooking method used to prepare the potatoes. Perhaps
the people calling for this "patriotic action" didn't
know any French people, but I can count many of them as my friends
- people in whose homes I have been offered generous food, wine,
and lodging, and those to whom I have offered the same hospitality.
My home and my heart will continue to be open to them and to
all similarly well-intentioned people, without my mindlessly
getting sucked into doing what some random elected official
says I should do.
another aspect, commonly stated, that I do not understand concerning
issues like the United States sanctioning the killing of people
in Iraq - or anywhere else, for that matter. I hear many Americans
say that "we" are in Iraq. I don't know which part
of the "we" they think they are part of, but I can
assure you that I do not consider myself to be part of any group
fighting a war against any other people.
same kind of "we" that you hear people talking about
when, sitting in front of the television with a couple of beers
in their bellies, one in hand, and a six-pack in the fridge,
the game is over, and these guys are saying, "We won,"
or "They really beat the crap out of us."
In both cases, I can't understand how anyone can consider themselves
to be part of something that they had nothing to do with. It's
as though all it takes is saying you're part of something
to make that so. If it's as easy to associate with a group that
one wants to be a part of in this manner - just by proclaiming
that you are part of the "we" - then it's just as
simple a matter to disassociate with such a group's actions.
to me than the dividing of people into the "us/them"
dichotomy is that too many people do not understand that as
inhabitants of this planet, there is no "us" and "them":
there is only us. I find it sad and self-defeating that people
use arbitrary factors such as age, race, religion, sexuality,
national origin, or governmental constructs as barriers that
stand in the way of our reaching the maximum potential that
we can attain on Earth for all humanity.
wars and other conflicts are currently being waged because of
the way that people have inherited from their ancestors the
same world view of dividing what they see into an "us"
and "them." How does it help humankind if we accept
this legacy as passed down from previous generations? The most
important lesson that we need to learn in this world is to release
the hatred that has spawned of conflicts that began before anyone
who is currently living on this earth was born, whether it be
Catholic Irish versus Protestant English, North/South in the
United States, Hutu/Tutsi, Israeli/Palestinian, or white European
subjugation of indigenous peoples worldwide.
wise up to the fact that we have a responsibility to learn from
the hateful acts that were perpetrated in past generations?
If we carry ancient grudges into and through our lifetimes,
the only sure legacy that we will be able to pass along to our
children will be the bequest of hatred. Is that what we really
back to the situation I originally addressed - following current
events, which most commonly means politics - what works best
for me is to limit my awareness to the issues that I need to
understand in order for me to be an informed voter. I take my
voting seriously and have never missed an election since I first
registered to vote in 1968. What I don't do, however, is get
so emotionally involved in the electoral process as to get distracted
from the other work that I need to do in order to have something
left inside of me to be able to deal with the day-to-day life
activities that will continue regardless of who is in the White
House, the statehouse, the House of Representatives, or my own
the sculptures of American artist Louise Nevelson. In fact,
when I was teaching kindergarten in the 1970's, I created an
assemblage that eventually hung next to the deck in my Palo
Alto home, and I called it "Homage to Louise." I recently
came across this quotation by her: "I have made my world
and it is a much better world than I ever saw outside."
What I particularly
like about her words is the understanding that each of us can
and does create and live in a world of our own. Whether we realize
it or not, we have autonomy with regard to the people and events
that populate it. I like a world of beauty, peace, and harmony.
That is the awareness that I want, and if I can help to actualize
it for myself and those around me, that would be even better!
It was a busy week at Château Jay, with three different
PCVs staying at various times. At the beginning of the week,
I finally had a chance to spend some time at home making a new
pot of soup - split pea this time - and invited a bunch to come
and sample it. I also enjoyed being the recipient of some acts
had been to my house for soup and bread before he went to the
USA for his sister's high school graduation. I had asked him
if he could bring back a bread knife - something I could not
find here - and he did.
is a science type; she is the first person I knew to have one
of those USB drives (thumb drive) for use in transferring documents
between computers. When she was staying with me, I showed her
the white crud that was sticking to the inside of my stainless
steel teapot. Without a moment's hesitation, she said, "That's
calcium. Try vinegar." I put a little vinegar in the water
and let it sit while I went out to work. When I got home, it
was sparkling inside and out, courtesy of Lisa.
is in town from one of our furthest villages. When she arrived
in town, she brought two books that she thought I would enjoy
Babah continues to plug away at his two-shift-a-day job at Galerie
Tata. Recently, though, his roommate Ismail has quit working
because he wasn't being paid by the ministry official for whom
he had been driving. An unemployed Ismail does not have to get
up early, so he has been not only staying up late, but inviting
friends to visit.
been getting home after 1:00 AM to their shared room filled
with people listening to loud music. He has been unable to sleep
well enough so that he can wake up and be at work by 8:00 AM.
So he left that shared room and has been staying with his family
on the outskirts of Nouakchott. He now has to get up even earlier.
Another repercussion of his move out of there is that during
his several-hour break between shifts, he has no place to go
to rest. Even though I live within sight of the store, I am
not home during that time.
that he has had some problems on the job because he has reported
co-workers he has seen stealing from the store. He is plugging
away, though, and will wait until the end of the month to request
that his hours be cut so that he can resume a normal life.
On Wednesday evening, a married couple that works at the embassy
had the second book exchange at their home. It was an enjoyable
way to spend a few hours. I went with two PCV teachers, Annika
the end of the evening, when most of the people were gone, there
were just three of us PCVs with the hosts. The woman said to
us, "We have a lot of taco shells left over. I wonder if
you can help us get rid of them." We thought that she was
going to go to the kitchen and put them in bags for us. Instead,
she invited us and any other PCVs we wanted to invite, to make
and eat tacos the next night, right there in their home.
the fruit to make fruit salad and had an enjoyable evening of
five PCVs with this couple. The father of the host was a PCV
in one of the first groups that the Peace Corps sent to Ghana,
back in the Sixties.
During the past weekend, I put the finishing touches on the
cross-culture manual. Erin, a second-year PCV who is closing
service after the up-coming training, is the cross-culture coordinator.
She agreed with me that having the cover of the manual and the
chapter divider pages in a color other than white would be a
nice touch. All it meant would be shopping around for a ream
of colored paper, since there wasn't already one at the Peace
center of Nouakchott, there is a concentration of stationery/office
supply stores - at least a dozen of them in a small area. My
first stop on Thursday was at the place where I usually get
my supplies. The proprietor asked me what color I wanted: yellow,
blue, green, or pink? I told him it didn't matter that much
and asked which one he had on hand. He said he didn't have any
of them in stock, but would call around for me in order to find
out where it was.
few phone calls and sending an employee to look some of the
stores in the neighborhood, he said that there was no colored
paper available. I thanked him and left, stopping at a good
half a dozen other shops. Sure enough, nobody had any colored
last shop I went to, when I asked if there was colored paper,
the owner asked me, "What color would you like?" All
right, then, now I am making some progress.
"We don't have yellow."
"How about blue?"
"We don't have blue."
"How about the green or pink?"
"We don't have those." It just left me laughing and
. if he didn't have any of it, what difference
did it make what color I wanted?
I was going
through that part of town on Saturday and decided to give it
one last attempt. After three stores that had no colored paper,
I found one that had an opened package of green and a closed
package of yellow. So we will now be able to add a little color
and pizzazz to the cross-culture manual.
During the week, my APCD asked me if I would be willing to teach
an English class. The next day, in his office, he gave me the
details: it's going to be for beginners of English at the Institut
Supérieur d'Etudes et Recherche Islamique (ISERI), the
highest Islamic institute of higher learning in the country.
for a teacher was from ISERI to the American embassy. The DCM
at the embassy (Deputy Chief of Mission, second-in-command to
the Ambassador himself) had recommended that I be asked to do
the job because of my (1) being a man, (2) gray hairs, and (3)
long years of teaching service. He thought that, as a result
of these factors, I would garner more respect in that environment
than would a young woman. This is a reality of life here.
the DCM that my first concern about doing anything like this
has to do with what I have heard about schools in general being
seriously under funded. Being willing to teach a class is one
thing. Having to scrape all over town for suitable materials
is not something that I am going to be willing to do. I have
already spent innumerable hours cutting and pasting, borrowing,
creating, and slapping together teaching materials. If they
really want to show that they appreciate having an experienced
teacher to do this, I want to have materials that I can get
right in there and use.
told me that the embassy was committing something like $20,000
to $30,000 to this project. They are getting computers with
interactive software and books - whatever books I like, so if
I had any suggestions, just let them know.
We made an appointment for me to visit the institute on Sunday.
To underscore how important this was, they arranged for an embassy
car to pick me up and for the embassy's Cultural and Public
Affairs Assistant to go with me. When the embassy dispatches
a car to pick up anyone, let alone a lowly Peace Corps
Volunteer, you know that they are serious!
I met with the director of the institute, two of his assistants,
and the embassy official. One of the bits of information that
came out during the meeting is that the technical council, which
runs the affairs of the institute, has still not met to approve
the adding of English and French to the curriculum. This meeting
is going to happen sometime in October or November, before the
beginning of their new school year.
At ISERI, they are referring to the room where the computers
will go as the salle americaine, the American room. Another
idea that they had about my class is that since it will be the
first English course there, they want the initial group to be
limited to the staff of the institute and the director himself,
a group of about twenty or thirty people.
good thing they didn't put "Mauritanian" in front
of ISERI, or else it would be MISERI - and I wouldn't want that!
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my training group's
arrival in Mauritania. A small group of us went out to dinner
to celebrate. I have to be careful around whom I say anything
on the order of, "One year down and one to go." As
a member of the Education sector, I will get to leave with the
other teachers at the end of the school year, around this time
next year. The other PCVs, non-teachers, will have an additional
two and a half months before they leave.
The Pre-Service Training (PST) staff has asked us Nouakchott
residents to help with the responsibilities of welcoming our
new trainees. This has meant a few meetings to be sure that
we have logistics under control. We even got a sheet of requests
on the part of the PST staff and PC administration, concerning
requested behavior with the PCTs: predominated by the obvious
concerns that we remain positive and upbeat in our conversations
with the trainees.
They arrive tomorrow!