This school year is all but OVER! So hard to believe. Classes finished the week before last, and final exams began this past week. I will give my tests on Sunday and Monday, and then once I submit my final grades I am pretty much a free agent until school resumes in early October. I will be undertaking some minor projects in my village, and I'll be helping to train and welcome the new class of PCVs, who are slated to arrive June 18th. (We are so excited to receive them!)
But I will also have some time to relax and to travel a bit. First order of business: MALI! It's the largest country in West Africa, and it borders us to the east and south. Peace Corps Mauritania will be playing Peace Corps Mali in the "Olsen Cup," a soccer match for the ages. It would seem a shame to travel such a great distance and not sightsee a little, so a few friends and I plan to visit the capital Bamako and the legendary Dogon Country. Wish me well -- over the course of a week I will be braving more hours of public transportation than you could possibly imagine! ;) Game on...
I will greatly miss my English Club kiddies, some of whom are graduating on to high school. To close out the year I held an essay contest, with two questions to address: What are your plans for the future, and why do you want to learn English? The results were precious. Some said they wanted to be doctors or soccer stars, and many said they wanted to study in America. There was no shortage of heart, if grammar perhaps was lacking. I quote: "I do like to learn English. I learn English, because, English is tongue nationality world English is very good to talk fine and beautiful to write and to talk, thank you." This one in particular touched me: "Next month school will finish unfortunately I will miss my teacher english woman's because you love student and explanation clearly and speak as student are understood well, I LOVE ENGLISH AS I LOVE MEAT AND RICE."
For our final meeting of the club, every student was in attendance. I was so happy -- they didn't know it, but I had a huge surprise in store. I had printed up "certificates of excellence" for them when I was in Boghé. Each was emblazoned with the student's name in fancy script. I knew this was going to be a really big deal to them, since most of them have barely ever even seen a computer, let alone had something printed personally for them. (Keep in mind, this is a place where official school report cards -- and schedules, and everything else -- are all written by hand.)
But it doesn't end there. Due to the generosity of some very kind donors, I had 18 fresh, new French-English dictionaries to present to these students as gifts. To unveil the big news, I wrote a short paragraph on the blackboard. The kids started copying the text obediently -- and an excited buzz mounted as understanding dawned. I handed one book to each student, and they were beside themselves. When I asked if I could have a photo, they were so enthusiastic that you may have trouble even finding me in the shot...
A few days later, I went to my family's house for lunch as usual. There was a man sitting next to my father, but I didn't think much of it because it's not odd for us to have guests. The man greeted me. I responded dutifully -- and he exclaimed to my father in disbelief, "She really speaks Pulaar! It's so amazing!" A minute later, someone called out to me by name. The man again got worked up. "Your name is Raky?! They gave you that name here? How incredible!" I started to wonder what this guy's deal was. I thought most everyone knew me by now.
We all ate in silence, as is polite. After the bowls had been cleared, the man greeted me once again. Then he said, "Do you know why I'm here? I'm here for you." My immediate reaction was a churning in my stomach: not another hopeful suitor! But this guy seemed much too old for that. Maybe I had misunderstood?
No, I had heard him correctly. He went on to explain that he is the father of one of my students. I recognized the boy's name immediately -- he is one of my brightest, and a faithful member of English Club. The father told me he'd heard so much about me that he just wanted to come and greet my family. "You're a good person," he said. "Thank you so much, SO much."
Suddenly I realized why the man didn't know me. That kid doesn't even live in Dar El Barka. The father had traveled from another village, in the heat of the day, just to make this visit.
I did the appropriate thing by averting my eyes and mumbling, "Mashallah, mashallah" -- all things are from God -- but I couldn't help my cheeks flushing as across my face crept an unshakeable grin.