Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vous souhaite une bonne année et bonne santé!

We are gearing up for the big New Year's Eve party!

We are expecting a big crowd but yet not certain what to expect.

If it gets busy, Ruth and I will be helping to bus tables and bring drinks.

I continue to be amazed at the peacefulness of the country. And the people who work at Equinoxe have driven that reality home - it's an honor to be here and meet these people.

We are all more alike than we are different. The warmth of their generosity and genuine interest is overwhelming. Today Ruth and I had lengthy conversation with Hamdi about politics, religion and the similarities of our country.

See you next year!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Preparing for New Years Eve

Well, day two, we are doing well.

Today we worked with Pape Ngom, the master chef of Equinoxe, to create a special dish for the New Years Eve - Three Demi Burgers with coleslaw and frites - camel burger, sheep and beef. Bechir will be glad to serve you a dish tomorrow night.

Paul gave us a brief tour of the city today, went to the bank and then to the top of the hotel so we could look at the city with a view of the beach.

Jiddou showed me how to make Mauritanian tea today. It's on film. I can't wait to show it to you.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Wish you were here. Really. I have been in the country 16 hours.

There is sooo much to say! It's been amazing so far and my wildest dreams are becoming a reality.

Everything as gone well. And now you must wait to hear the rest for there are people to meet and things to see.

Check back later.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Each morning I wake up near or about 5 am. After using the restroom I tend to lay in bed attempting to revisit my dreams. For the last week, however, although my head rests on the pillow I lay awake thinking about the time ticking away.

Until this morning I have been under the impression that I had plenty of time to accomplish the tasks required prior to my departure. This morning that impression changed. Oh, I have pretty much completed everything I need to do in preparation for my trip. I started packing my own personal items four days ago. During those mornings when I lay in bed thinking I planned and ordered in my head. Now all I need to do is physically place those items in a bag, or ready to pack in one of the many boxes/bags that we are using to transport the items for Equinoxe.

And now it's Christmas morning.

The snow has thwarted our plans for holiday travel. The sense of urgency abaited, I feel peace. But in the morning, when the quiet is all around, my mind surges forward to Saturday, December 27.

Ruth and Jojo come to help pack tomorrow. We'll have coffee, restaurant supplies and a plethora of other items to organize. I know it will all come together. This trip is something I have secretly dreamed of for years.

Dream come true. Tick. Chance of a lifetime. Tock. Seeing my brother in his home. Tick. Meeting Brenna's friends. Tock. Riding a camel. Tick. Having lunch in a cafe in Paris. Tock. Embracing a country and a culture to foreign to mine. Tick - tock. I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

White Sand

As I walked through the intersection of Mountainview and Main St. my eyes imagined that I was walking through white sand. I felt the warmth of the Mauritanian sun on my face and imagined the hot sand washing over my bare feet.

The sound of a truck approaching awoke me from my day dream. The warmth on my face was sweat (wearing layers and walking the dogs) and the sand under my feet was powdery snow mixed with dirt. I was walking on ice covered streets with a thick layer of snow. This was NOT Mauritania...yet.

The Pacific Northwest has been in a deep freeze for over a week now. Last week the mild part of this storm hit. School days were canceled giving kids an extra week of vacation. Holiday shopping was put on hold yet the worse was yet to come.

Fourteen some inches later, we are still under a blanket of white. It's 26 degrees this morning. Fahrenheit.

Travelers are stuck at plane, train or bus stations. For some this arctic blast is a pain. For others it is a welcome reprieve. You'll find me in the later group.

I am watching forecast with great interest. Ruth and I leave in 5 days. I've been blessed (thank you GFU) with an extended break as the university has been closed a few days and we are not required to come to work.

I continue to watch the forecast with great interest. Will our flight be delayed, canceled or postponed? Today it looks like a warming trend is due by the end of the week. Ruth has 4 wheel drive and is planning to drive out to my house on Friday to pack. Jojo will drive us to the airport in that 4 wheel drive vehicle on Saturday in the early morning - before the crazy traffic clutters the roadways.

There is lots to look forward to between now and then. Christmas at home. This fact alone has brought me great peace.

A week from today the ground beneath my feet will be warm. The warmth of the Mauritanian sun will be on my face. It's just a matter of time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting it all together - Identifying with the Camel

Ruth told me she had a better plan for packing all the stuff we are taking to Equinoxe. Her commitment to the project took a huge weight off my shoulders.

Recently Equinoxe received a grant. Some of these funds will be used to purchase equipment for the restaurant. For the last few weeks the USP and FedEx drivers have beaten a path to my door. They probably think our Christmas is going to be pretty darn good!

The packages of incredibly various sizes are all addressed the same: Jere Witherspoon for Paul. Somewhere, someone thinks that my middle name is Witherspoon for. :) I'll know this for sure when I get junk mail to that affect.

After a few weeks I began to purchase plastic trunks in which to pack some of this stuff. Most of the items are small and they easily fit into one of the trunks. Other items have been left in their original boxes and will be shipped as is as excess baggage. (The topic of excess baggage will likely be discussed after arriving in Mauritania.)

I was feeling pretty optimistic once I found a trunk long enough in which to pack the French Fry warmer. Several other odd items neatly packed around the oblong box.

I don't plan to take much for myself. A few outfits and what not. I'll pack those items around the packages intended for Equinoxe.

With each day the burden of the packing lessoned. Till Ruth came over to discuss our menu items for our special events while in Mauritania. Now I am glad Ruth came up with a better plan. It will likely save Equinoxe a fare bit of money on shipping costs. But much of what I have together will likely be rearranged. And I am okay with that.

I still have moments of panic when I think of lugging all that baggage into the airport. I'll have to be prepared to tip. :)

At least I'll be able to relate to the camel when I ride him/her.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Giving Thanks!

Seems that Equinoxe has much to be thankful for.

Please take a couple minutes to read about it at Paul's blog - it's amazing to think that I am going to be a part of this outreach in just 17 days. PINCH ME!! :)

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Ruth Garvin met my brother, Paul, in October of 2007. It's somewhat of a remarkable story. You see my OTHER brother, Mark, and his wife, Sherry, live in a wonderful home on Vashon Island. They are experts in 'good times' so Wade and I wanted to take our friends to their place for the weekend.

Paul was early in the process of planning Equinoxe. He and his partner, Paige, were planning to be in Seattle during the time we were planning our weekend. Paige and Paul were making a presentation to an organization in hopes to procure funding for Equinoxe.

Realizing that our time on Vashon would coincide with Paul's visit I began to e-mail introductions to him so that he would know Jojo, Joe and Ruth when we all arrived.

In my e-mail I gave a brief description, explaining our relationship with each of them and what they did for a living. It wasn't until I received a return e-mail from Paul that I realized what 'providence' had done: Paul needed an expert in the coffee business. Ruth fit that order to a T.

Ruth used to own several coffee shops in the Portland area: Pappachinos.

Equinoxe was going to start out at a cafe, serving coffee and pastries and the like. Ruth had wanted to do something outside of the norm and was looking for a cross-cultural opportunity to share her skills.

When the two of them met it was like magic. Not only did they get along, but each of them were symbiotic. It was pretty amazing.

Last February Ruth made her journey to Mauritania. Her bags were filled with coffee, cups, lids, hot pots, etc....

Ruth trained Paul and the Equinoxe staff to make coffee - espresso - lattes. At the time coffee and coffee shop faire was the focus. Nearly a year later things have certainly expanded.

We will be taking coffee with us. Peter Miller is donating 30 pounds of coffee from Caravan Coffee in Newberg.

Ruth contacted her friends at Longbottom Coffee. They are donating 50 pounds.

It's interesting to see the similarities in the two companies. While Longbottom articulates their mission more clearly both establishments clearly value the environment and the local farmer's perspective.

Directly from Longbottom's website: "We service many different types of coffee-based businesses, from full service coffee bars, espresso carts, specialty shops, caterers and drive-thrus, to restaurants and offices across the United States. We pride ourselves on first class service, unsurpassed quality and people who are truly committed to your success."

Both coffee establishments like helping other businesses succeed in their own endeavors. Caravan boasts: "Local coffee purveyors started coming to us asking for us to help them create a proprietary blend to set them apart from others. And the word spread to where we now service coffee retailers from coast to coast."

So Ruth will find herself full circle - going back to Equinoxe to see the fruits of her labor. And she won't be alone. Just like a good cup of coffee is best when shared with a friend - so goes our journey.

Monday, December 1, 2008

One step closer

I received my Visa and Passport today. Phew!!!!

Although I wasn't really worried, I must admit I was relieved to have this step in my journey finalized.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A history of Mauritania

"Where is Mauritania?" That is the most common question I hear when I talk to people about my trip. My response is pretty standard: It's on the north west coast of Africa, above Senegal. They pretend to know what I cam talking about. But they really don't know where Mauritania is. I pretend to think that they will Google it when they get to a computer. It's doubtful they will know how to spell it. Even I have to concentrate on it when I spell it out.

Since I hope to produce a video in the style of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods, I needed to get my act together and do some research about the nation of Mauritania.

Mauritania is one of the most dramatic countries in North Africa. While it is almost medieval in appearance and lifestyles, it is also described as modern.

With such contrary descriptions it is possible that Mauritania is one of the most mysterious countries in the world.

Mauritania is located in the Western Sahara desert. The climate ranges from hot to warm. I decided to keep track of the weather online. Lucky for me it is NOT humid, until it rains and then humidity becomes a welcome change.

It's borders include Morocco, Mali, Senegal, and Algeria. It's coast line dips into the Atlantic Ocean.

The southern part of Mauritania was once part of the Ghana empire. In 1000 AD the Berbers settled in the northern area. European adventurers arrived in the 15th century. The French influence overtook the original people of the land until Mauritania gained independence in 1960.

Arabic and French are the primary languages spoken among a majority of the people. Virtually all Mauritanians are Sunni Muslims.

From all reports that I have received from friends and family the people of Mauritania are kind and generous. For the most part they welcome people from other parts of the world with warmth and hospitality.

The more I read about this country and the people who live there, the more I realize that I know very little about the land that my brother has chosen to call home.

I can't wait to smell and taste Mauritania. To experience the people and see the sights for myself. I'll do my best to share with you what I experience. But I know that to get the fullness of Mauritania you will need to go there yourself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I am an equestrian. As a younger woman I rode quite a bit. For 2 years I managed a camp horse program. It was heaven. The work was hard, but the rewards far outweighed the effects of the strain on my body.

Riding horses is just one aspect of being an equestrian. For me the grooming and cleaning is just as exhilarating. Each horse has a unique personality. Horses, for the most part, want to have a relationship with their 'owners.' Trained (and treated) properly they will behave in similar ways to a dog.

I really don't know much about camels except that they are stubborn and they spit. Baby camels are just precious and cute, but from what I see, they grow up into obnoxious creatures.

And yet, in parts of the world, camels are raised for all kinds of things: transportation, heavy hauling and food. I know that I will be able to see lots of camels in Mauritania. I am also going to have the chance to EAT camels in Mauritania.

Camel hump, properly prepared, is apparently a delicious culinary experience. As I have mentioned in a previous posting, I love gelatinous and gristley food. While watching "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain, I was told that camel meat is rather tasty. Or at least Mr. Bourdain liked it. I'll let you know in January what I discover for myself.

According to Wikipedia there are 14 million Dromedary (one hump) camels living mainly as domesticated livestock around Somalia, Sudan and Mauritania. There are fewer Bactrian (two hump) camels around the world, mainly China, Mongolia, and Australia.

One of my favorite movies is "The Story of the Weeping Camel." It's a wonderful story about a family in the Gobi region of Mongolia. After a difficult birth a mother camel rejects it's baby causing the family to intercede to keep this calf alive. Not only do you learn about the people of this region, but the ending is very moving. It's not an action film, but I highly recommend it on so many levels. (My family makes fun of my enthusiasm for this film.)

So on a couple different levels I am looking foward to meeting some camels: up close and personal. I also look forward to tasting the meat, and hump, and drinking the milk, which is said to have curative powers if the camel eats certain plants. can be an aphrodisiac. :)

I am most looking foward to riding a camel. (You got this, Paul?) Given their stubborn nature, I am not certain that they will be like riding a horse.

Then my sister sent me this video. I am rethinking my assumptions. :)

But still looking forward to meeting one of these fascinating creatures.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Equinoxe....oasis on the Sahara

You wouldn't really expect to find an oasis unless you really believed all those Bob Hope movies.

From what I am told, and from the pictures I see I do believe: Equinoxe is an oasis on the Sahara. But just what IS Equinoxe?

When people ask me about my brother, Paul and the work he is doing, most people's eyes glass over before I get to far a long in the story. It takes that long.

They aren't even listening when I begin the story of Equinoxe. Lucky you! You can read it for yourself.

You need to start at the beginning - 'A Case Study.'

Okay, so that's just part of it. The pictures I have seen tell a story of community. People coming together sharing food, fun, and laughter. If you look at the calendar of events there are Friday movies and concerts.

While you are enjoying these events you do not need to worry about going hungry because the menu offers a plethora of items - omlettes, crepes, salads, soups and La Viande au Choix - just to name a few. Take a look for yourself!

And coffee. There is a full espresso bar. A year ago Ruth helped set up the beginnings of Equinoxe. From what I am told the services have tripled and people from around Nouakchott indeed have found an oasis.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Traveling Documents

Back in 2003 my husband and I traveled to Scotland. We both had to renew our passports since we hadn't traveled out of the country since we came home in 1990 from Papua New Guinea. At the time I was a little surprised at the fact that post 9/11 we wouldn't need a 'travel visa.'

You can bet I need a travel visa for my trip to Mauritania. Not only do I need a travel visa but I had to submit a bank statement, a letter from my brother, two additional passport type photos, my 'yellow fever vaccination document' along with the usual suspect - my passport.

Yesterday I mailed these documents to an agency that promises to 'hand deliver my visa application to the Mauritanian embassy.' Really? Hand deliver?

Completing the visa application in 'duplicate' proved to be, well, time consuming. The website for the processing agency, the one that is promising to hand walk my application packet to the Mauritanian embassy, was easy to follow. They had a link to the 'visa application' which turned out to be a pdf document that still had a date of August 7, 2003 permanently affixed to the sheet. It appeared to be a copy of an image that someone had uploaded to the website. The writing was 'condensed.' And although it was condensed room for writing in your personal information was...well, it was condensed too!

One evening this week I spent two hours trying to complete the visa application by hand. When I went to print them from my computer I accidently chose the number 6 as the number of copies requested. Didn't think I'd need more than two. How wrong I was!

I'd get the entire sheet complete and I'd write in something incorrect. I'd start over again. 5 times. Finally, on the last sheet I was satisfied with the quality of the document. I gathered the materials on my list and put them in a file folder. I needed to make a copy of the application, because they directions indicated I needed two copies.

Traveling to work the next morning was very wet. Carefully I tucked the file folder under my arm and engaged the use of my rather large umbrella. Through the monsoon I carefully walked through the parking lot and up to the door of my building. As I opened the door and began to remove the fullness of my umbrella a gosh of water splashed my face and water poured onto my file folder. Once inside I saw the damage: my visa application was soaked.

During my lunch hour I realized that I had a solution. My work computer has the Adobe Writer program that allows me to edit pdf documents. Utilizing the 'typewriter' function within 5 minutes I had a beautiful document to present the the agency, in duplicate!

By my calculations my packet should be ready for the agency to 'hand walk' on Monday. Another promise the agency has made is that the whole process will take 5 business days. I have paid for FedEx to 'next day air' my completed documents back to me. So in all reality I should have my approval to travel to Mauritania in two weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Preparing....the painful part

Traveling to Mauritania takes a lot of preparation. Not only do you need to get a visa, but you have to get vaccincations. I had six:
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Flu
  • Typhoid
  • Tetanus
  • Meningococcal
  • Yellow Fever

I didn't really feel any effects of these shots until the next day. And then I felt feverish and a little out of it. Unfortunately I was pretty busy and feeling the effects of the typhoid and Yellow Fever was a bit inconvenient.

Now I get to work on processing my visa. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lambs and Sheep ~ Goats and Kids

At the age of 9 years old I became a member of 4-H.

"I pledge my head to clearer thinking.
My heart to greater loyalty.
My health to better living and my hands to larger service for my club, my community, my country and my world."

At first I was involved in the sewing and cooking aspect of the local club. I made cakes and sewed prize winning aprons. (I still have the apron....somewhere.)

But soon my parents agreed that I would raise a lamb. I named my first lamb 'Puffy.'

Puffy was sold at the San Diego County fair that year. As tears of sadness streamed down my face the price per pound went higher and higher. Who wouldn't want to buy a lamb from a cute, crying, blond 9 year old? At least I didn't have to worry about eating my precious pet.

Each year I purchased another lamb in the early spring. In 4-H you attend classes that help you know what to do to train your lamb and prepare it for show. What they DON'T prepare you for is the fact that lambs become lamb chops so I really never put the two together. Sure I was selling my lamb to the highest bidder but surely the buyer was taking my cute little pet home to his or her family to love and enjoy at much as I had over the last few months.

Oregon became my home once I hit adolescence. 4-H was a lot different in Oregon. And although I added equine to my repertoire of 4-H animals I did not lose my interest in raising sheep. In fact, in high school I purchased a ewe that I ended up having bred and she delivered a fine set of twins that first spring.

Living in the country with four kids our parents felt that we should expand our barnyard. My brothers acquired hogs and we added some goats as well.

I should really ask my mom about this but at some point she decided we should start eating our menagerie. I am sure I objected to the family feasting on my precious little lambs but I don't remember exactly how these protests occured.

What I do remember is hauling the goats and extra lambs to market. Some days later returning to pick up frozen, white paper wrapped packages marked 'veal.' Now today, I would not be so eager to eat veal. But back then, my ignorance and naivete clouded my thinking and better judgement.

I am sure I partook of those pieces of meat. In fact, I know I did. Thinking they were veal: whatever the heck veal

My memory does not render an explanation, but somehow (this is what I need to ask my mom) I discovered that those white, paper wrapped packages of veal were actually my precious little lambs. You might be shocked to think that a mother was trick her children in such a manner. Trust me: this is normal for my mom.

But somehow, despite the deceit, along the way I discovered that I liked lamb.

Lamb meat is good. In fact, 'mutton' is good! Goat is good! I am most definitely a carnivore. I love the strips of fat that are attached to lovely pieces of meat. I love the word gelatinous and the texture of it in my mouth attached to various cuts of meat. As I child I cleaned a drumstick clean, even biting off the tips to get to the bone marrow.

I LOVE it when Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain talk about eating meat that has a gelatinous texture with sinuous membranes and connective tissue - although it does make me very hungry. I've had it before and I want it again: braised bone marrow. Yum!

Here is a list of foods with sinuous membranes and connective tissue:

  • Chicken wings
  • Tendons
  • Fatty flank
  • Cartilage
  • Shank
  • Hock joints
  • Beef fat
  • Pork fat

It's all good to me.

Now take a long look at the picture of the head of this goat or sheep. Even though I love the idea of eating the parts of this head - cooked - each piece of connective tissue and cartilage, the sight of this animal uncooked, staring me straight in the eye is going to be tough for me.

But this is what I have to look foward to when Ruth and I go to Nouakchott. I'll admit that while I love the idea of eating parts of an animal that are considered rubbish at my local grocery store, I think I will have a hard time dealing with seeing the animal go from hoof to fire pit - or however they cook it. If it looks at me, I'll have trouble.

I'm just saying: I'm gona enjoy the experience but it may be wrought with complexities associated with my love of animals. But I'll pledge my best to find favor with the people who host me. That's the least this old 4-H-er can do. :)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Discovering Mauritanie

Over the last 25 years I have dreamed of Africa. Of course, I would love to see the plains of the Serengeti and all the wildlife that inhabits that part of the continent. But there is so much more to Africa. Africa: the word alone conjurs up images that do not vaporize once the traveler has returned home. I dream....of the sights, the sounds, the smells and the tastes of Africa.

Yet the sights of Africa are only one part of the dream. For the last 25 years I have dreamt of visiting my brother, Paul. Vicariously I have visited him through the lives of others: my husband, my other brother, my daughter, my friend Ruth. I've seen the pictures and heard the stories. I've watched videos with the sounds of the people who reside in such a unique part of the world.

Two of my favorite television shows are 'Anthony Bourdain's - No Reservations' and 'Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.' These two men discover the world through regional foods. I have always hoped to have a similar adventure. To discover the passions and culture of a people through the food they prepare - for sustanance and festival.

Last week I purchased an airplane ticket to visit my brother in Nouakchott.

Remember my friend, Ruth? She and I will be traveling together. Our destination: Equinoxe Centre.

This blog will be a journal of the journey.

I regret that you will only witness the sights through pictures and words. If you want to get the full course, you'll have to make a reservation for yourself.

In the meantime, come along for the ride. Live vicariously through me. I welcome the company.