Sunday, December 12, 2004

Man oh man, I will never eat THAT again.

Sorry to have dropped off the planet for so long. Life in Mauritania is going well. My research is just about going in reverse, but I guess that is to be expected with a program like this. I am fighting the good fight against the locusts, and someday, I will have a thesis.

I have been getting out of the capital a little to see some of the countryside and do some field research. Look look! Another &*#%ing sand dune! God damn it camel. Hey you, yeah you, the little guy inthe robes and turban riding the camel, get your herd the hell out the road! All this while crammed in the backseat of a car with three other more than full sized adults (fat is considered beautiful here, so they force feed their women - and everything is gender segregated. Lucky me.) and two children. For 13 hours. I arrived in the village of Kiffa, out in the southeast section of the country. Kiffa is reknowned for its beads and its rabid conservatism. So it was veils all the way. Which have their uses. Put your walkman on underneath it and nod to the music. People think that you understand and care about what they are saying.

I set up camp at the home of one of the Peace Corps volunteers out there for a day or so until the real fun began. I was to spend 3 days with one of the field survey teams in the bush. So they drive me 140 kms out to this team. It is five guys in a tent, and two pickup trucks. No shelter. No bathroom. No latrine even. Just me, in a sandy field, with 5 Mauritanians. One of which at least spoke French, because my Arabic is still comical. Okay, no worries. One of the other fun things about this place is that I had to wear a mulafah, the traditional garb of the women here. (I didn't want anyof the guys getting the wrong idea by accidentally seeing my wrapped around a woman so she is completely covered accept for herface. And maybe the tops of her feet. Her hands are accessible, at great pain-in-the-ass-ness, if she really needs them. The other funthing about the mulafah, other that it being stiflingly hot in the desert heat, is that it drags on the ground, picking up ever burr and thorn you pass over. It is a fun nighttime activity while the sun is going down (there is no lights either ovbiously) to laboriously pull the briars out of your garments.

So here I am, in a field, with these guys, in this ridicules outfit, pretending that I have a clue as to what I was doing. No worries.

My first afternoon with the team, we loaded up the trucks, me riding in the survey truck, followed by the straying truck, and headed out across the fields. We stopped farmers and hearders and asked them if they had seen any locusts, then we would dash off in that direction to do a quick biological review and then spray the bastards. After two grueling hours of this, the guys called it a day and went back to drink tea. Next day it was up with the light. One of the guys had lent me his cot to sleep on, which was nice, but it was frigging freezing out there. By 6:30 we had had our tea and then it was off again to look for locusts. We stayed out for three hours this time before calling it a day. Then we went back and drank tea for a few hours until itwas lunch time. They we went over to a neighboring tent, where the herder was absent, leaving his wife and, coincidentially, five unmarried daughters, behind. Convenient eh? When I asked the teamabout the set up, they said that they camped there because they got a lot milk. I have to assume it was from the goat herds.

We had a 5 hour lunch, then drank more tea. Conversation over lunch? Why workers in America were more productive. I suggested that it might have something to do with the fact that they worked more than 3 hours a day. They insisted it was the air conditioning. After lunch we headed out again. We got all over 3 kms away, when POP there goes the tire. So then there I am, still in this ridiucles robe, unscrewingthe bolts on the tire, in the middle of a field and sand blew acrossinto my face. Is this what i signed up for?

I was leaving the next day, so they decided to have a nice dinner before I left. And keep in mind, I have been really game about eating and drinking what it put in front of me. Liver, fat, whatever, I ate it. Before every meal they gave me the special desert drink, unpasterized goat milk, mixed with untreated water and sugar. That probably won't hurt me right? And then unpasterized cow milk, sometimes still warm from the cow, after dinner. But, back to the subject at hand. Dinner. They lift off the cover, and Voila! couscous and goat head! oh god. I eat some couscous from the communal plate as the men tear into the eyes. I have a bit of face meat to not seem ungrateful. And stick to the couscous. After all the meat had been pulled off the skull, I thought we were done. Then one of the guys takes the skull in his heads, and cracks it open. He pulls out the brain. It looks just like it does on all the cartoons,with the little ridges and everything... Then he breaks it up withhis figures and distributes it. I have no choice. I take a bite.%$&%(*$&%(#$!!!!! That doesn't taste very good. Next day we spent the morning in the field, then headed back to the main town. Next morning I was headed back to the capital. I was a did I mention that there was no way to wash for the three days I spentin the field...).

I was stoked when I hit the last major town before the capital. It also has my favorite name of anyplace I haveyet encountered. It is called Boutilimit. (Pronounced Booty-Limit). And it is one of the only places with cell phone service on the roadback. So you hear everyone's phones click on, then, in a wide arrayof languages, people calling there friends and loved ones to say, "I am beyond Boutilimit, it won't be long now

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