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, March 27, 2009

Dinner Mauritanian style

I have been in Mauritania for 9 (count’em) months. After that much time eating rice for lunch and cous-cous for dinner I feel that a description of a typical Mauritanian meal is in order. This process is almost exactly the same everywhere in the country (at least among Hassiniya speakers) and in almost every household. Note that I am describing the meal from the mans perspective and that a women’s perspective would undoubtedly be different and include a lot more work.

Before the meal, the men wait in the nicest room in the house usually watching television or talking or just lying there. Nobody has any idea when the meal will come you just sit and wait. It feels like the meal is just going to fall out of the sky rather than from the work of the lady folk. Before the meal does fall out of the sky you have a couple of warning signs. First about 5 minutes before the meal is ready a little kid will bring over a mat like thing which the plate of food will later be placed on. Then they will bring out the handwashing apparatus. This consists of a plastic item called a “makeresh.” The makeresh looks like a plastic teapot and is used to pour the water for the handwashing. Hands are washed over a plastic catchbasin witch usually matches in color and size the makeresh. The makeresh is used before and after every meal and the odds of having soap included in this equation go up exponentially after the meal. Then all of the men sit around a big bowl of food. In America everyone has their own individual plate. Not so, In Mauritania everyone site in a circle around the same big plate. The meal consists of a starch base and meat or beans or if you are lucky some vegetables piled on top of the rice or cous-cous. Rice is almost always the starch for lunch and cous-cous is almost always the starch for dinner. Once everyone has washed their hands and has gathered around the table it is time to dig in. You eat the starch from your section and compete with everyone else for the goodies that are piled in the middle. You eat by rolling the cous-cous or rice into balls and then placing the meat, or vegetables into the middle of the ball. Note that this is all done with the right hand as the left is used for other purposes. If you are a guest, not just an American but any guest, you will be clearly instructed to “ewkel” or eat. This is not a request. At first I would just keep eating but now I am learning to say such pleasantries as “I ate” or “I am full” or “I ate so much that I can not eat any more,” which usually satisfy the hosts. When you are done eating you look the cous-cous off of your hand to indicate that you are finished. After everyone is done eating we all wash our hands and lean back on our mattresses and get ready to drink some tea.

On a completely unrelated note, the other day I told a Mauritanian that the number 13 was unlucky in America. He asked me why and I said that there was no reason. He seemed absolutely and utterly perplexed that the number 13 would be unlucky for no reason just as I have been absolutely and utterly perplexed at many Mauritanian beliefs.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We really enjoy your posts & share them with family & friends. We're glad you've taken frisbee to the RIM. Please keep writing. Pat & Mary Kelley (parents of)

March 29, 2009 at 9:21 PM  

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