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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elementary answers

Recently, I answered a bunch of questions from an Elementary school class in America. The general answers to some of the questions may be interesting or useful for understanding some things about Mauritania. As always if you have any other questions please ask and I will do my best to answer in more detail. I could go on about any of these topics for several pages so these are just some basic oversimplified answers

I drink a lot of tea. People drink tea here in sets of three and I drink two or three sets a day. So I Drink 6 or 9 1 ounce cups of tea every day.


There are 5 languages spoken in the entire country but in Tdjikja my city there are only two languages spoken: Hassiniya and French. Hassiniya is an oral language which means there is no alphabet and the language has never been written down. Since there are 5 languages in Mauritania it makes governing the country very difficult because everything (TV, documents, textbooks) must be translated.

In Mauritania the money is called Ougiya. 230 Mauritanian Ougiya = 1 American dollar.

In Tdjikja nobody has any computers in there house because they are too expensive. There is an internet café where you can pay to use a computer for an hour or two. However, most people don’t know how to use computers.

I really like the food here. Most days I eat a piece of bread for breakfast, then a big bowl of rice, goat meat and cooked vegetables for lunch and cous-cous and goat meat for dinner. Usually the men and the women eat from different bowls.

There are TV’s here but only some people have them and nobody has more than one for their house. People here watch too much TV just like in America.

My job is to do environmental education in two elementary schools and teach children about, trees, gardening and environmental problems such as desertification.

There are a lot of different games here. The most common game is soccer but also people play a game where they throw 8 sticks on the ground at the same time and see how many land facing the same way. That game is very complicated and I don’t yet completely understand it.

Most people put mattresses called a “matella” on the ground and sleep on their matella inside their houses. If it is really hot they will sleep on their mattress on another mat outside in their yard.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Like this

Most of you probably know that my decision to join the Peace Corps had little to do with philanthropy, humanity, cultural understanding or any such rubbish but instead had everything to do with extending the global reach of my favorite sport: Frisbee. My normal daily routine had been to play soccer every evening with a group of high school students and young adults around 5 o’clock as the sweltering midday heat dies down. Usually everyone sits around and waits for the one kid with a soccer ball to show up before starting to warm up. Voila, the perfect time to introduce Frisbee; a captive audience with nothing else to do, and the predisposition of being athletic and liking sports. The first day I brought the Frisbee out there was immediate curiosity with everyone asking me “haddhe shinhu (what’s that),” I replied that it was called a Frisbee and then I said in English that one throws the Frisbee “like this,” and then demonstrated a basic backhand. Most of the other players have taken 4-6 years of high school English meaning that they have about enough English to ask me “How are you fine” and not a whole lot else. However they grabbed on to the phrase “like this” and mimicked me in a simian motion grunting as they threw the Frisbee and yelling the phrase, “like this, like this like this,” with every throw.

Which brings me to my next point, the way language particularly French and English has seeped into the lexicon of Hassiniya-speaking soccer players? They all watch soccer in at least French, Arabic, and English on TV, all play video games and none of them speak conversationally much of anything besides Hassiniya, yet global culture and languages has managed to seep into their game. For example, they all use the English word “corner” for a corner kick even though if I asked them what the English word for the place in a rectangle where two straight lines meet, undoubtedly they would have no idea. Also, they use the English word pass as well but they only use it as an object as in “Aane adelt pass” or “I made a pass” rather than “I passed him the ball,” which is an interesting example of how words change as they are adapted between languages. It is also interesting for me to see how they have adapted their language to work in new concepts borrowing some words and then adapting others (soccer, I assume came with the French in the early 1900’s). They borrowed the French words “gardien, attaquer etc” for soccer positions while using the Hassiniya word meaning “friend” for teammate.

My language skills are at their worst while I am playing as I am embarrassingly struggling to keep up with kids who eat little else besides rice for lunch and cous-cous for dinner. In the intensity of play, I can never understand things that would otherwise be perfectly luminous. Also, as the game gets more competitive I end up speaking to myself in English half the time yelling things like “my bad” or other less appropriate comments that nobody (I hope) understands. Although when I do something good I am occasionally rewarded with a “very good.”

On another rant the French word for foul is “confron.” Try saying it with your snootiest French accent and then add a factor and a half of snootiness and you will be almost there. What kind of language reserves it’s snootiest word for “foul” something that is supposed to be harsh, abrupt, quick and is so often said in anger.

One of my friends has a bread stand in the market where he sits all morning and sells bread. He sells small single serving loafs of bread, which basically everyone in Tdjikja eats for breakfast for about 25 cents. The bread is stacked on a small tray and he has a little bench behind and occasionally I sit with him on the bench and listen as he makes fun of me for eating vegetables, or I tell him that Americans eat spiders or some other fascinating topic of conversation. The other day a lady came and just took a piece of bread with out paying. His response was “it’s cool she’s crazy,” and then as I got up to leave he gave me a piece of bread because “we’re friends.” Hopefully it’s not because I’m crazy.