I got back to site (from Atar) the 30th of September, the last day of Ramadan. The day after is a big fete (holiday). Mauritanians dress up in new clothes and go around visiting friends and family and eating yummy food all day. Another volunteer came back with me to see my site but also to experience the holiday. Ramadan begins and ends according to the phases of the moon. Nobody here knows in advance when those are, so they watch the news the find out when the holiday is going to be. They usually don’t know until the night before. Some people won’t celebrate until they see the new moon themselves, which means they end up celebrating a day late.
Aly and I went to bed before we found out when the fete was supposed to be, so we woke up the morning of and had to ask. It was pretty obvious, though; my family was dressed in their best and people were already visiting by the time we went to investigate. The events of the day weren’t that different from any other non-work, pre-Ramadan day, but everyone was just so happy that Ramadan was over, the excitement was contagious.
We started the day with a typical round of tea. Then they brought out dates, which we eat here all the time, but they had made this delicious cheesy, creamy dip. Yum. Then they brought out a special tajiin: a plate full of goat organs. I had heard of volunteers being presented with this dish before, but my experience with organs had been limited to maybe some stomach or a little bit of intestine thrown in with some meat in the middle of a bowl of couscous or rice. This was just a big pile of every organ imaginable. I stayed away from the intestine (on principle), and I haven’t been able to get past the fact that stomach looks like pieces of terry-cloth (and honestly, can stomach even be digested?). The lung was decent (but squishy), and the heart was delicious. I had some other non-descript delicacies. Rouqaya ate the testicles. I couldn’t bring myself to be quite that adventurous. Still, I’ve come a long way since the kidney incident in Strasbourg, haven’t I, Mom? Brains!! :)
The rest of the day consisted of more tea and relaxing with the family and their visitors. Someone was trying to explain to Aly and I that “ead”, which is how everyone was referring to the holiday, was three days. We took this to mean that the holiday we were currently celebrating was three days long, so we thought we had plenty of time to make the rounds and visit everyone. Turns out “ead” just means “holiday”, and they were trying to explain that there are three major holidays every year. We didn’t figure that out until the next day. Oops.
My friend Fatimatou came over in the evening and took us to a friend’s house. One thing that I love about people here is that they meet you once and you’re automatically friends. Fatimatou left, and Aly and I just hung out at her friend’s house, drinking tea and trying to communicate, with typically comical results. People here are so friendly, and they love to joke and tease, even if they just met you. They invited us to a wedding that night. We spent the rest of the evening visiting with Fatimatou’s family, then Aly and I came home to eat dinner before she came over to go to the wedding with us.
Weddings are huge, three-day parties. I have yet to experience the whole affair. They set up in someone’s courtyard or in the street. Everyone sits around on the ground in clumps, and they bring out tom-toms (drums) and the women clap and sing and try to convince each other to get up and dance. Usually they have a real band at least one night. Mostly it’s just a big group of women; the men either loiter around outside or hover on the edges of the group. I think the rules about men and women interacting are a little different depending on whether it’s a black or white Moor wedding.
Anyway, I was a little disappointed after we discovered yesterday that the fete was over. I couldn’t help getting swept up in the excitement of it all, and it was awesome having a visitor for the holiday. I realized how much I enjoy being here. I am amazed by how much I feel like a member of my family and my community. Its little things. This morning, for example, my host mother, who is the cutest little old lady, brought Aly and I a plate of mutton. It was 9 o’clock in the morning, and grilled meat was the last thing on my mind, but it was such a sweet gesture. Or the friends who chase off the obnoxious little kids that inevitably follow me around screaming for cadeaux (presents). They’re just so genuinely concerned about me. And I so genuinely enjoy their company. Obviously, there are times when I get frustrated. That’s unavoidable, with the language barrier. And I definitely struggle with significant aspects of Mauritanian culture (not least of which are the attitude towards women and the blind adherence to religion). But I’m learning that certain human values are universal and that people in this world have more in common than we realize.