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.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My little house in the desert

So I found a house. I wanted to live with a family, both for the chance to practice my language, as an introduction into the community and for the opportunity to live with a Mauritanian family. For a few reasons, living with a family didn’t work out, so I found a place on my own. I have two rooms, basically square cement blocks, a li-mbar which is a tent-like structure, for lounging and sleeping, a decent size yard, although I would certainly prefer grass to sand, but as a wise man once said, PCV’s in Mauritania can’t be choosers, in addition to a bathroom and cooking area. The place, which I have to myself, is significantly bigger than my entire family’s residence in Rosso.

Since, I am not living with a family and I don’t have any formal work to do until October...ish, I have to look for ways to practice my Hassiniya and integrate into the community. With that in mind, I have been going house to house in my neighborhood introducing myself in much the same manner as a Meghan’s Law offender. During Ramadan people are the least miserable in the morning, so I have been walking around in the mornings stopping at each house, saying “salaam aleey-kum (may peace be upon you),” and reciting the same few Hassiniya sentences every time: I will be living here for two years, I am working on environmental education, I am from America blah blah blah. After my Hassiniya conversational material is exhausted we sit and stare at each for a while and then I move onto the next house. My other language learning strategy is to go to the market, find a person who is intrigued enough by my pale skin or inability to properly wear a boubou to want to talk to me. The conversations go something like this:
I say something as distinctive and original as I can, something to the effect of “that shovel is brown,” then the guy I am talking to, always a guy at least this month, says something ridiculously fast that on a good day I can understand half of. I smile and nod. Rinse and repeat until I get too hot and/or tired and retreat back to my new house.

I’d also like to rave about one person’s Mauritanian hospitality. He had been friends with the previous volunteers in Tdjikja. He found me and one of my site-mates houses, and while I was being an American princess and holding out for my ideal house with a white picket fence, he insisted that I scoop up my current house before the post-Ramadan influx. After finding the house, he made sure that I got a good price and that everything was in good working order.

The other day I was surprised to see a pair of toubabs (white people) in the market in Tdjikja. I learned that these intrepid travelers were passing through Tdjikja because it is on the way to…well they should really learn how to read a map. They had gone overland from Atar which means that they had just spent three days in a jeep crossing an unfathomably vast, vacant section of the Sahara desert. It was interesting that I was shocked that anyone would come to Mauritania for vacation without a clear purpose or destination, while they were shocked that anyone would willingly live in Mauritania for two years.


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