Leaving Mauritania

This morning I’m leaving Mauritania. While I will certainly miss my friends, colleagues, students, and hangout spots, it’s time to go. I came here on a temporary substitute teaching contract in February 2013, thinking I would only stay a few months. It’s been a time of great opportunity, learning, and change. Now, four years later, I’m moving on to other places and things.

After I finished my U.S. Peace Corps service in Sierra Leone, I came home to California with a modest readjustment allowance but without any idea of what to do next. I was convinced teaching wasn’t for me.1 I decided I would determine my effectiveness as a Peace Corps Volunteer by being a good community member rather than a Language Arts teacher. In that, I feel I succeeded.

Among the stones, I made great Sierra Leonean and American friends, learned to speak Krio and some Loko, spent the majority of my time outdoors, ate delicious food, and learned more about myself and others.

I came home relieved to see my family and friends after so long and ready to settle into the lifestyle I had left. When a few weeks of not working turned into a few months, I started getting nervous. Was I unemployable? How will I pay rent in the outrageous housing market of Southern California? But I wasn’t acknowledging my years teaching in West Africa as professional assets. An acquaintance of my dad’s encouraged me to try teaching overseas again.

I started my search at an international school in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I had met the director before leaving and we got along. The thing that kept me from accepting a job at that time was I would only have around two weeks back in the United States. She had already filled the positions for the current year but forwarded my email address to another international school director in Nouakchott. After a few email exchanges and three weeks, I was on a plane, heading to a country I knew little about2, ready to teach first grade.

A lot has happened in the years since—too much to adequately chronicle. I’m pretty lackadaisical about writing publicly, but I’m trying to gain confidence about that.

These last four years. I;

  • enjoyed teaching first grade for three years and IT/ESL this year
  • contracted malaria on a return trip to Sierra Leone and was hospitalized back home in California
  • played with the Baseball/Softball Fédération de Mauritanie
  • started practicing Islam, something I’ve been interested in doing since university
  • visited the the Adrar region of Mauritania three times3
  • contracted dengue fever
  • watched way too much Netflix
  • learned to drive a manual transmission
  • vacationed in Turkey, Morocco twice, Islas Canarias, Senegal thrice, and Spain
  • met, fell in love, and married a wonderful woman
  • saved enough money to backpack around for at least a year with that wonderful woman

Before every vacation away from school and Nouakchott, I would be dying to get out for awhile, eager to escape the monotony, heat, or constant deadlines of work.

But every time I’d spend more than two weeks away, a longing came to me for the pace of life here, the unhurriedness of Mauritanians4, the nights at a café chatting about everything, heading out into the desert for a night camping, eating tiéboudienne on Fridays after school, and being comfortable at home.

There are things that will always prevent me from calling Mauritania my permanent home. But this post isn’t the place for that. And maybe I won’t write ever write that. Because even though I’m more than ready to board the plane and say goodbye, I know it won’t be gone too long. I know Mauritania will pull me back, at least for a visit.

  1. Teaching in rural Sierra Leone was pretty challenging. My school closed often, sometimes for important agricultural priorities, but more frequently for student and teacher truancy or secondary events that diminish classroom hours. There were no resources other than a piece of chalk and one photocopied textbook. I had over 80 students packed into a room, three students to a desk. 
  2. I think I knew more about Mauritania than the average person. I love maps and constantly perused my Rough Guide West Africa book in Sierra Leone. When I traveled to Guinea-Bissau, I saw many of the pharmacists were Moors in da’aa and figured they had to have come from Mauritania. 
  3. A trip to Mauritania for the Adrar alone is worth it. If you find yourself in Morocco and/or Senegal, even better. I highly recommend SidiTours
  4. Except in the case of automobiles in the city. 

Mauritania’s first Eco-Mahdhara for Women

The community of Matamoulana, their friends, and LaunchGood have launched a crowdfunding project to finish building an ecological mahdhara for women:

So they cried, “Where are the female scholars?”
And she answered modestly, “There’s a few in the Sahara.”
“Where can we find them?” inquired the astonished eyes.
“Head southeast (in Mauritania) until you arrive at a patch of green,” came the reply.

Matamoulana is a very special place in Mauritania. It’s a village that foreigners move their whole families to in an effort to gain Islamic knowledge and leave behind the materialism of busier cities and countries.