After living here for over six months now, I have developed a love-hate relationship with this country. Here is a list of some of the things I like and dislike, which I hope will give you all a little snapshot into my daily life here.
Hate (I don’t really hate anything here. These are more things that on a good day I can laugh off, but on a bad day, really push me over the edge).
- Prayer Call: There are several Mosques surrounding my house, and they all do prayer call at a slightly different time, which means between 4:30-6 AM, I’m kept awake. How Mauritanians manage to sleep through it is beyond me. All the Mosques have loud speakers and there is one guy who sings into it. Without fail, he always clears his throat into the microphone. Why he doesn’t do this before he presses the “on” button, I’m not sure.
- Zrigg: Zrigg is a mix of water, sugar, and some kind of milk (sour, condensed, powdered, or normal). Mauritanians LOVE this stuff. I was never a big milk drinker in the states, but there are two reasons why it’s even more terrible here. First, imagine on a really hot day when you’ve just walked all the way across town and you’re sweating bullets, usually all you’d want is a cold glass of water, but instead you get handed a big cup of full cream milk. Yum! Refreshing! Reason two is that Mauritanians will usually only have two or three cups to serve million people in the house. Because I’m the guest, I always get served first, which means everyone is waiting for me to chug my cup-o-cream so they can use my cup. So it’s 120 degrees, I’m covered and sweat, and chugging full cream milk. You’d hate it too (Note: I only know two Americans who enjoy zrigg).
- Stomach lining: Yes, they eat this here. It tastes like eating a towel. Stomach lining, by definition, was not meant to be digested. Plus, when you’re watching them butcher the goat they just slaughtered, and you see the stuff that comes out of the stomach, eating its lining is that much less appealing.
- Men on the street who want to marry me: I’m guessing this needs no explanation. I walk around with an airplane to
tattooed on my forehead, so many men feel that it could hurt to at least ask. I’ve been experimenting with different responses. “I’m already married” does little to deter my suitors unless I happen to be with an American guy at the time. “My bride price is $1 million”, usually gets a laugh and then I can be on my way. And when I’m feeling particularly sassy, “You are the 7th person to ask me to marry you today. Why should a pick you?” This response usually shuts them up, and then I can walk away. America
- Brutal honesty: Mauritanians are brutally honest, beyond the point of anyone I’ve ever met in the states. They’ll say things like “You’re other American friend speaks better Hassaniya than you do,” or “hey, why do you have that zit on your face?” (these comments just come out of nowhere too). It can get a little awkward. On the plus side, when they give you a compliment, like “you look pretty today,” at least I know they are telling the truth.
- Kids: There are many reasons why I love kids in Mauritania. I will list just a few.
- They’re always happy to see me. Whenever I walk into my family’s house, the kids chant “Noura jeyt, Noura jeyt”, which means Noura’s back. They then run at me full force to give me a hug. This always brightens my day.
- “Porky Pig”: I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but it refers to kids wearing shirts but no bottoms. Seriously, kids here hate pants. They’ll wear shirts, shoes, and even parkas now that it’s “cold”, but their butts will be completely bare. My friend’s daughter goes to kindergarden and the first things she does when she comes home is takes off her underwear. It’s pretty hysterical.
- Greeting: Here, you never just say “how are you?” and then continue on. You must always ask how someone is in at least ten different ways, and the answer is always, “thanks to be God”. But the real reason I like the greetings is because if you’re ever sitting in a room and there is an awkward silence, you can just start the greetings over again. It helps with the language the barrier.
- Dance Parties: This is a daily ritual in my house. Mauritanians love to dance, so I don’t feel like such a freak when I start bobbing my head along to the music. One family in my house has a DVD player, so I made the kids a dance CD for their Tabaski gift, so now they can all sing along with some English music. Even the little two year old will sing “Jump On It”.
- Sleeping Outside: Because when else in my life will I spend every night on the roof under the stars?
- The “Bismillah” attitude: “Bismillah” means “welcome”, and Mauritanians take this very seriously. People really do go out of their way to make sure I feel at home with them. They always ask me if I would rather eat with a spoon than my hands (which I decline even though I really would rather have the spoon), and they’re always wanting me to take naps and showers at their house. Everyone here just wants me to think of their house as if it were my house. This attitude has really made the difference in me feeling comfortable in Kiffa.
So there is just a little glimpse at my everyday life. Besides that, work stuff is going well, as well as stuff with my family. I’ll be in Kiffa for about another month before we all go to