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 20, 2008

Two watermelons and an eggplant

Given my current state of relative unemployment, one day this week I pulled a page out of my father’s book and got up at the crack of dawn and went for a walk with no particular destination in mind. I dragged myself out of bed because despite the beauty of the desert under the intense glow of the incandescent sun, the mid-day heat is often oppressive. I chose a path parallel to the water runoff channels and not coincidentally parallel to the row of palmeries that dot the side of the channels and used the water from the channels for some irrigation. I swang by the local bread maker and picked up a veritable feast of two big pieces of the Mauritanian bread that is rapidly becoming my favourite and most frequently consumed piece of Mauritanian cuisine. I walked for about a mile outside of town on a path marked by the track of donkey carts, greeting and chatting briefly with everyone that I passed by and then I stopped under a tree for a snack and a rest. As I resumed my walk I returned to the path just as someone was walking past. We walked together for a while and then he invited me to his palmery. I watched as he used an electric motor for flood irrigation of his garden from a well and also observed his displeasure upon seeing how low the water level was from the wall. After sitting, and watching him work for a while, I’m not really allowed to touch anything in this country, he offered to give me some of the tea leaves that were growing in the garden under the shade of the big date palm trees. I politely (by American standards) refused, saying that I didn’t make tea and then he handed me two watermelons and an eggplant. The watermelons were subpar in size, compared to their American cousins, more like cucumbers but still delicious. After that we walked home together and I spent a little time with his family. This story might seem a little sketchy but I am realizing that what is and isn’t awkward is different based on the culture and in that situation my new friend was just a good chap and did what any Mauritanian would do and there was nothing awkward about it.

Another day this week I was visiting a neighbour and found an interesting juxtaposition of levels of religious tolerance. The family had a son in high school, who had a friend also in high school also visiting. Our conversation filled the typical pattern, first they asked if Tdjikja is good, then we discussed American pop culture with me trying to guess what on earth they were talking about as they made sounds that probably somewhat resembled American celebrities such as Usher, Jackie Chan, or the Backstreet Boyz. Next they asked, as usual if I was fasting and I said that as a non- muslim I was not. This time however the visiting friend persisted asking why I wasn’t Muslim and if I know God. We all quickly agreed that we all worshipped the same God with the only difference being different prophets and different practices. This wasn’t enough for the visiting friend who kept persisting that Mohammed was the true prophet and that I should convert, and that I should be studying the Qu’ran instead of Hassiniya. My hosting friend countered that Muslim’s and non-Muslim’s could live together in the same house “no problem,” and defended my position as many other Mauritanians also have. This wasn’t the first unpleasant religious conversation I have had, it certainly won’t be the last, and it wasn’t even close to the most intense but it was significant because of the contrasting reactions. These two friends probably spent their entire lives within 5 blocks of each other and probably studied religion from the same wooden tablets yet their reaction to a situation was completely different based on their personal interpretations of the same text. It just goes to show how much of religious disagreements and debates are based on personal interpretations rather than technical readings of important texts. I should also note that I have had a number of interesting conversations with Mauritanians about religion, that this conversation was not the norm, and that often when someone even slightly presses me on religion Mauritanians will jump in and defend me.

Also because Mauritania is never boring. This happenned: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/world/africa/16mauritania.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=mauritania&st=cse&oref=slogin

Don't worry this has about as much affect on my life as it does on yours.

2 Comments:

Blogger Bernardo said...

Dude, start a coup of your own. The Islamic Nation of Luxenburgania.

In US news, we finished cuts, and the Shake are heading to Buffalo this weekend. Wish us luck!

September 24, 2008 at 4:22 AM  
Blogger Sloane Frost said...

So I guess you heard about this as well? http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/01/world/africa/01briefs-JUNTATOBANPR_BRF.html?_r=1&ref=world&oref=slogin

P.S. It's interesting to me how we've both experienced culture shock in our respective Corps...do you have the racial tension as well?

October 1, 2008 at 7:30 PM  

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