Alicia in Mauritania

Saturday, July 30, 2005

What am I doing here?

For those of you who have no idea what I am doing in the Peace Corps, I am going to give a little background. I am an Agro-Forestry Volunteer in West Africa in a country called Mauritania, that no one has ever heard of, including myself. Honestly, before I came here, I had no clue the country even existed. Anyway, now I know the country a little too well!

Mauritania is mostly all desert. Up until a month ago, it was the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and now apparently it is Democratric, but that seems to make no difference in this country. There are three main ethnic groups in this country, the White Moors, the Black Moors, and the Black Africans. None of these ethnic groups particularly like each other, but they tolerate each other. This country is 99.9% muslim, which at times makes it very difficult to live here. It is very strict here. There is no alcohol here, it is against the law for Mauritanians to be in possession of alcohol. Women are required to cover themselves from head to toe. Their faces do not have to be covered, but their heads should be. I do not have to cover my head, but I do out of respect and because it makes me feel more comfortable.

I lucked out with my site which is in the south of Mauritania, along the Senegalese River. I live in a black African group called Pulaars. The other two african groups are Wolof and Soninke. Living with the black africans is a joy because they are much more laid back and not as stiff as the moors. I still have to watch everything I do, but if I make a mistake, the Pulaars understand and we just laugh it off together.

I live in a Pulaar village called Thienel, that has a population of about 1500 people. I live in a mud brick room in a family compound. I have absolutely no privacy at all. That kind of sucks, but I am getting used to it. I eat all my meals with my family. Most of my meals consist of lots of rice, a little bit of fish and a small amount of vegetables. At all meals, my family and I crowd around a communal bowl, wash our hands with water (if I am lucky there is soap), and then dig in using only our right hand. I do not mind eating with my right hand. You have to learn to be quick though or else your family will get all the good stuff!

Ok, well, I'll save the rest for next time!

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