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.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Au contraitre

Joining Peace Corps I was expecting to live in another culture that was totally different from the American Culture l that I grew up with. I expected that I would be exposed to another way of thinking, living and most importantly eating that was outside the realm of anything I had previously experienced. Instead what I have found in Mauritania is a culture that is in many ways completely opposite to the one I grew up in. For example in a stereotypical African Village, in my ignorance I would expect a belief system that even if influenced by modern religions still was based on some traditional elements. I pictured people dancing around a campfire, or animal sacrifices or face painting. These beliefs would be different than what I am used to but not directly contrary to my upbringing. Instead the Moors, who practice a religion which has many customs surprisingly similar to the one I grew up in, believe that my lifestyle is immoral and that I am doomed to an eternity in hell.

Seeing that, I composed an imaginary dialogue between a Mauritanian and an American to illustrate the differences in thinking between Moors and American Peace Corps Volunteers. Note that I don’t think either culture is better or worse than the other American and Mauritanian cultures both have their strengths and weaknesses and what is really important is how people act within their respective cultures. When you read this you will I assume be surprised at some Mauritanian customs and beliefs. Mauritanians have a very similar reaction to many aspects of American culture. For example whenever I tell people that I live alone, something I think relatively normal for a single twenty-something, and not with my site-mates because Peace Corps has a policy against volunteers living together people are inevitably shocked and almost horrified.

American: Your country of Mauritania is so weird
Mauritanian: Your country of America is so strange
A: You are so weird that you think dogs are dirty and that goats are a part of your family
M: You are so strange that you think goats are dirty and that dogs are a part of your family
A: It is so weird that you are forbidden from drinking alcohol
M: It is so strange that you have to throw all of your garbage in a can
A: Your country is so weird that you don’t allow men to socialize with women
M: Your country is so strange that you think men and women are exactly the same
A: You are so weird that you think that rotund, large women are attractive
M: You are so crazy that you think sickly looking skinny women are attractive
A: It is so mean that your society forces women to cover up so completely
M: It is strange that you allow your women to prance around and show their skin like whores
A: You hit your kids…That is so cruel
M: You punish your kids by making them sit alone without any company….That is so cruel
A: Your country just had a coup…That is an insult to democracy
M: You actually believe in democracy…That is a silly thing that could never actually mean anything because the powerful will always have control.
A: You are a man and you think that Akon, Justin Timberlake and the Backstreet Boyz are the best music to come out of America.
A:You waste all of your time greeting each other
M:You thank everyone “so much” for every little thing that any person would do for any other.
A: Git’er’done
M: InshAllah (Literally means God willing but is used to express the fact that one never knows what will happen in the future and that all things are uncertain)

On a lighter note. There is a playstation 2 in Tdjikja that the owner lets people play for 25 cents or so a game. They couldn’t figure out how to make Tekken 5 a two-player game so I spent this morning using my magical skills of being able to read English to show them which option led to a 2- player game. This brought me back to a different era of my life because it took over an hour of fiddling with the console to reach the appropriate screen so that I could help them.

Also I got mocked in an unusual way the other day. In my own humble opinion I feel like I have become quite adept at eating with my hands in my time in Mauritania. However the other day I was mocked for eating cous-cous in the same manner that one eats rice.


Blogger cedric said...

nice story about couscous / rice. i-m enjoying reading your blog. this is cedric, by the way.

October 19, 2008 at 2:31 AM  

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