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, April 25, 2009


I have just received really big news. My brother, his friend James and I had been working on an application with an organization called one laptop per child. The organization has developed an innovative computer that is designed for children in developing countries. The organization was looking for people to bring these computers to communities across Africa to teach people basic computer skills. We applied to be those people and we were selected to distribute the computers in Tdjikja. You can see the details of the program at this link:

The other day a friend told me an anecdote about the initial colonization of Mauritania that I think is worth sharing. My friend told me this story because while I was teaching one of his sons English another one of his sons who hasn’t yet started English kept saying “yes,” “yes,” “yes,” over and over again. When the French first reached Mauritania they obviously were faced with a language barrier. The French didn’t speak Hassiniya and the Moors did not speak French. One day a moor learned the word “encore” which means again but didn’t learn the meaning. For some reason or another Frenchman started hitting this man. He then kept saying the word “encore (again)” in an effort to get them to stop. The Frenchman was more than happy to comply with his request and kept hitting him again and again.

One of my favorite qualities about Mauritanians is that they are always eager to help someone out whenever they can even if it a strange request from an American. Last week I did a tree nursery project with one of my elementary schools. I wanted to use goat manure as fertilizer for the project. I walked into a random house near the school that had a few goats and asked them if I could take some goat manure for the school project. Note that finding a house with goats in Tdjikja is a little like finding a house with a TV in my hometown of New York City. It’s almost a 100% chance, although in America they probably wouldn’t give me their TV, even if I asked really nicely. These people not only gave me the manure but also insisted that I stay for tea and we even started a small tree nursery as their house.


Questions and Answers

When professional writers use up all of their material they often recycle old material and show it in a new way to get more mileage out of the same material. My mother has been going around to classes in the elementary school where she works and giving presentation about Peace Corps, my service and the country of Mauritania. The kids seem to enjoy and ask a lot of questions. I have been answering their questions and I think that some of them may be of general interest. So here is my recycled old material:

How do they make bread?
The baker makes bread in a big oven. The oven is heated by a fire and
they use the oven to bake the bread. Almost everyone eats bread for

How many markets are there in Tdjikja?
There is one main market in Tdjikja. There are many women selling
vegetables and there are many small shops. There are also a lot of
small shops around the town.

How far is the market from your home?
The market is about a 10 minute walk from my house. Most people walk
everywhere they go instead of driving a card.

Have you seen any baby camels?
I have and they are very cute.

Do you like riding a camel?
Riding a camel is very fun. They are very big so it is very scary. It
is very scary when they stand up. You got on the camel while they are
kneeling on the ground. When they stand up it is very scary.

Do you like it there?
I like it in Mauritania. I have a lot of friends and it is interesting
to live with people from another culture.

How cold and hot is it in Mauritania?

It is very hot in Mauritania. During the middle of the day it can be
over 120 degrees. Most people just sleep between noon and 4 because it
so hot. It does get cold in winter but never cold enough to snow.

What is my house like?

My house has two rooms and one hangar. A hangar is like a permanent
tent in my yard. I spend most of my time there because it is too hot
in the other rooms.

Is camel meat good?

Camel meat is very good but it is also very expensive. So you can only have it for special occasions like weddings. You can eat everything on any animal except the feet and the skin.You can eat the hump of the camel and it is especially delicious although very fatty. I rode a camel for fun but some people still use camels for
transportation because they are very strong in the desert. They do not
need a lot of water so they are very good in the desert. They are also
very fast. People also use camels for meat and milk. Camel milk and
camel meat are both very good.

How do you bathe?
To bathe, I take bucket baths just like everyone else in Mauritania. First you fill up a bucket with water. Then you take a cup and pour the water over yourself. Then you clean yourself with soap. Finally you rinse yourself off with water. After that you are just as clean as after taking a shower in America.

How many hospitals are there in Tdjikja?
There is one hospital in Tdjikja my city. However, there are no hospitals in the rural areas surrounding Tdjikja. This is very difficult for the people who live in the rural areas who have to pay to come into the city when they are sick.

When do people join the Peace Corps
Most people join the Peace Corps after they finish college or in their twenties although there are people in their 50’s or even older who join the Peace Corps. Most people have a degree from college.

What do people wear?
Men wear boubou’s almost every day. Boubou’s are cloth garments that cover everything from your shoulders to your feet and often have fancy embroidery. Women wear Mulehfa’s which also cover the entire body and their hair. Since the culture is very conservative women keep their whole body and hair covered at all times.

What do you drink?
I mostly drink water and sometimes I drink milk. I drink fresh milk
because most people have goats or sheep that make milk. Sometimes I
also drink camels milk which is very good.

How do you get water?
I have a faucet in my house where I get my water. Some people don't
have faucets and have to get there water from a well. That is a lot of
work because they have to pull all of their water for cooking,
cleaning, and drinking from the well.

What do you do?
I teach kids about the environment. Mostly I plant trees and garden
with children and teach them about trees and gardening.

Do you have friends? What are there names?
I have many Mauritanian friends. Some of my friends are named: Dihan,
Habib, Mohamdi and Tijane. American names are very difficult for
Mauritanians to say. For example very few Mauritanians can say my
name: "Seth."

What do you eat?
Every day I, like most Mauritanians, eat rice for lunch and cous-cous
for dinner. Usually the rice has fish meat or beans with it. The
cous-cous usually comes with meat or beans.