Peace Corps Part deux: Moroccan Nights

Mandatory Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or people, the Mauritanian government or people, or the Peace Corps.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weddings, Grand Finales and the end of training

With swear-in coming up in a couple days and training wrapping up we are all preparing to move to our permanent sites. I have been training at a rural site and haven’t had much internet access over the past month and a lot if interesting and exciting things have happened and I have learned a lot about Mauritania that I would like to write about but in the interest of time and space so I will try and write about a few of the more interesting events.

Only a few days ago one of my fellow trainees sister got married. My first clue that the wedding would not be like a typical American wedding was the day before the wedding when we saw a live camel being taken out of a van and tied to a tree in the center of town. Around noon the next day I was lounging under the family tent like usual when someone came over with a plate of delicious camel meat. As soon as we finished ravishing that plate we had another plate came with more camel meat, some sort of fancy rice and a few vegetables. After that meal we had our three cups of tea it felt a lot like heaven. The wedding itself was under a huge tent and most of the time consisted of a hundred or two hundred people sitting under the tent and watching 1, 2, or 6 people dance. The dancing was nothing like any dancing I have ever seen before and consisted mainly of the dancers moving their arms with the long fabric of the traditional Mauritanian bubu’s or mulefa’s. After approximately 3 million 7 hundred and 64 people commanded me to “irgiss,” “irgiss,” “irgiss” (dance) I along with the other American’s did a couple of in my opinion lame dance moves that the crowd loved. My dancing couldn’t compete with one guy who didn’t have legs, possibly due to polio although I can’t be sure, who walked and danced on his hands. I think he was with the musical group and he was an incredible dancer.

Another exciting event was the soccer final. All of the towns around Rosso fielded a team for the local soccer tournament. Every day there was a match or two, which culminated in the championship pitting the favorites from Rosso vs. The upstart talents from P.K.9 (I had my training in P.K. 10 one more kilometer up the road but for all intents and purposes it was the same town). There was a huge crowd at the game and everybody was decked it out in their best outfits and bluest gums (that’ll be another entry later). People were selling cookies and balbasticks (little plastic bags filled with frozen flavored water, kind of like a popsicle). The game was close and really competitive. After regulation ended in a tie, it was time for penalty kicks. Everybody made a circle around the goal with the players inside the circle. P.K. 9 managed to pull out a victory in penalty kicks and the crowd went crazy. Everybody mobbed the players and a huge group took a victory tour running through town and chanting about the greatness of P.K. 9. I appreciate the victory because it took the center of attention away from the strange foreigners and placed it on the soccer stars.

I guess that’s about all of the space I have for now but once I get to site in about a week I should have pretty good internet access so if you have any questions or comments just shoot me an email. Also people tend to glamorize Peace Corps as thrilling and exciting and it is, but there is also a lot of downtime. If anyone has any suggestions for interesting, fun or creative ways to kill time or new skills I can acquire with time please let me know. Especially now with Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, coming up I will have a lot of free time so suggestions are appreciated

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Coup d'Etat and cultural ramblings

In case you haven't been reading the Africa section of Mauritania had a Coup d'Etat last night. Don't worry it was completely non-violent nobody was hurt and in fact the only effect it has had on my life so far was delaying a training session. A fellow trainee even commented that there was more violence after the Red Sox won the world series than with this Coup. If you are interested in learning more here is a link or just search Mauritania on your favorite news website. The only local insight I can contribute is that in the session immediately before we found out about the coup one of the Mauritanian Peace Corps staff members told us that trash management in Mauritania was improving in the past year due to more democracy in the country making politicians more accountable.

Completely changing subjects I would like to recount a brief anecdote from my training. For a homework assignment we had to gather a group of Mauritanians from our community, split them up into men and women and ask them to draw a map of their community prioritize what they thought was important and then make a list of things the community needed. Beforehand I thought that the event would be incredibly awkward and it certainly started out that way. I showed up at 4 with my host sister when the session started at 5. A few other Mauritanians hung out to the side while we had our usual Hassiniya language class. After the initial awkwardnesses it actually went reasonably well. The Mauritanians got really into the map and the men even started arguing or perhaps adamantly discussing the map. One minor snafu that we can chalk up to either language or cultural miscommunication was the women deciding that the most important thing in the community was the direction West. For comparasions sake the men chose the mosque followed by the school.

Peace Corps has told us probably a thousand times that the most important thing in cross-cultural whaterverness is being aware of one's own culture. I've noticed that my fellow trainees and I say thank you or shukran a million times more than Mauritanians. We thank every one for everything it's especially noticeable while drinking or three cups of tea with Americans saying thank you for each cup and the Mauritanians not saying thank you at all. It's not rudeness it's just that small acts and minor things just are expected because they would do the same thing for anyone else. I am speculating that the the role of thank you in culture is replaced by $greetings which play a huge role in the culture with people constantly inquiring as to how your are doing, how your doing with the heat and how your morning is going. Or at least that's my uninformed stab at cultural understanding.

I will most likely be away from computer access until August 22nd but feel free to give me a call.