Mauritania 6 Finalー 20 things I learned from Mauritania


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When finishing my daily shopping, I used to say this phrase to the shop keeper.
When I got off the work, I used to say it to my colleagues.
When I left the airplane, I also said this to the flight attendant.

And now, I just said this to the country called Mauritania, where I spent around a year and half.

“Au revoir” (See you again).

In this entry, I will list up 20 learnings during this period.

Mauritania was my first time for many things: first Islamic state, french speaking country, new work (organization), buying a car, refugee camp and Africa. In the retrospect, I had such a bias toward Africa.

My image about Africa was full of dancing, drumming and singing (as below drawing). I was excited to see such  dynamic people.

In the end, Mauritania  was totally different from the image I had on Africa.

I have to admit that there was up and down, honestly more down than up. Despite that (or thanks to that), I learned so many things, which I think can be great lessons further down the road (for myself and ideally for others).

20 learnings from Mauritania 

Islamic rules and Ramadan

From the day 1, I learned the difference, as airport guard confiscated one of two bottles of my favorite Chilean wines (To see what happened and why one, please see here). 1 week later, Ramadan started, and at the end of it, I had to conduct a training where people looked quite exhausted without drinking water. I also learned to be empathic by not drinking water in front of them. This experience also made me think about the rhythm of healthy life (see here)

Entertain yourself in a place without entertainment

No movie theater? Then create a home theater environment.
No alcohol available? Make one.
No dance club? Just dance whenever you feel like.

Lack of entertainment is one reason why Mauritania is one of the hardest duty stations despite being a family station (security-wise it is not big issue).

Simple help can impress you

Following Ramadan (the most difficult period for me), World cup took place and Samurai Blue (team Japan) kept inspiring me in the city without major entertainment (for the detail, see here)

Mother nature

In this very dry country (the majority of territory is desert), a drop of rain made me smile and learned several things from it (for detail, see here). And although there exists few tourist spots, there were some nice places (e.g. sand dune). It taught us that everyday is different and our life is given by the mother nature.

Professional work

I started working at new organization, and just like every organization has its own culture, I learned new way of working (be it positive or negative aspect).

Emotional Intelligence

Through work environment, I was sometimes emotionally down (really down),  and that’s when I decided to read about and gain more emotional intelligence, so that I could be more resilient. Meditation is one of the techniques, but there are other important tips (3E is part of it, about which I will explain below),

Language

The best way to learn language is to use it, and exposure to the place where your target language is spoken is the key to it (input and output). Previously I had studies French by myself without much practice, and in Mauritania I could improve it in some way. I also started a bit of Arabic, which was not easy and I stopped, as I had neither need or strong motivation (which was also one learning).

The article about learning any skill is here.

Importancia de 3E

3Eー Eat well, Exercise well and Energize wellー was something I started taking care of since a couple of years ago, but I sometimes forgot to keep it. However, in a country with difficult condition like Mauritania, I realized the importance of 3E, as they are connected with the basic human need.

Regarding the food, close to the apartment, there was a small Moroccan store which sold nice vegetables and fruits (especially delicious mango, thanks to Hassan, the 17-year-old young shop keeper). Regarding exercise, luckily we lived in an apartment where hopping and jumping were allowed (for daily video exercise). Keeping the quality of sleep was the most difficult task, as we were surrounded by many mosques which made loud noises at early morning  (it was impossible to stay away from it).

Rutina de la vida

Likewise, in the difficult condition, I realized even more about the importance of having the daily routine. The day starts the night before, as in order to wake up early for studying and exercising in the following morning, it is essential to sleep early. Following the breakfast, I went to my work and left it before getting late, and never brought work to home (unless there was an emergency). When I could not maintain this routine (due to the mission or trip, for example), I was not feeling very well.

DIYーDo It Yourself

I learned how to make Natto and Sake

Given the limitation of things you can find in Mauritania, I started making Natto (fermented soy beans) and Sake. I also learned how to use pressure cooker.

Patience

Generally speaking, administration tasks in Mauritania take very long time, so you really need patience.

First example was to transfer driver license, for which I had to go to the Ministry of transport 5 times (after the deadline they set). Also, car registration process took more than1 year (and it could have taken much longer if I hadn’t paid to a fixer to accelerate the process). After all the hustle for car registration process, I still remember the moment when the card was issued, and soon I realized that they made a huge error which made it difficult to sell.

So you get it. you really need to be patient and learn that you cannot control others. Meditation helps.

Basic rules

Driving manner in Nouakchott was chaotic (most people ignore traffic light and you see cars coming from everywhere), which makes you think about the importance of basic rules you tend to take for granted. Especially, in the first 2 months, I had no car so waiting a taxi (?) which won’t let me in under the hot weather represent lack of basic rules (for the detail, see here).

Refugee camp

I never worked in and for refugee camp in my life. Through some missions, I learned how it’s like to be a refugee, the difficulty and the importance of keeping your hope despite the painful environment. In addition, the irony is that the life and basic service (education, health, water, etc.) of host communities where the refugee camp is located is even worse off than the one of the refugee camp.

Young people

Through my work, I had an opportunity to be with young people (10-24 years), in particular to promote their education, soft skills and employability. They are the future of the society, and young population is growing. However,  in the society like Mauritania with limitation of expression, they still need support to be independent. On the other hand, I like to stay young to keep learning, as once said Henry Ford, people who keep learning are young regardless of their age, whereas those who stop learning are old.

Give up on perfectionist

For the first time in my life, I purchased my own car. As I like to keep my stuff clean, I was washing quite frequently. But Nouakchott (capital) is full of sand, which makes you think it is not worth washing so often. From this experience, I learned to give up on perfectionist and drive unwashed car.

Importance of the rest

Our energy (be it physical or mental) is limited, and we need to charge it (for the detail, please see here). For someone like me who thought energy was limitless but still the body is getting tired or damaged, having a rest was an important learning.

For example, right before I left Mauritania, I travelled to 4 countries and upon return, I had a small car accident (we were lucky as it was not serious). In the tight itinerary in which travelled 20+ hours for returning trip, including 2 transits (we left airport for both), my body must have been exhausted and could not see well. From this, I decided I would never drive when I am so tired.

People’s kindness

Through the above mentioned accident and other occasions, I realized the kindness of Mauritanians and my friends (in the end, no one can live alone).

The moment to let go

Generally speaking, Japanese (including myself) tend to have discipline and continue something they started despite the difficulty is cultural virtue. Therefore, it is quite difficult to know when to stop. Personally, if I somehow manage to quantify the learning, and if leaning is not exceeding the difficulty for long time, it’s time to change. That was why I decided to leave Mauritania (and there were also other reasons).

African diversity (cloth, music, mentality)

As mentioned in the beginning, Mauritania was culturally different from what I had imagined. For instance, their traditional music is not so dynamic to me nor people danced much. The general mentality is very calm (they themselves say that’s why they don’t have terrorist compared to neighboring countries). Nevertheless, the cloths had some African taste from my perspective, as they have many different colors (especially for women’s). I also made some cloths which I will carry to other countries.

Appreciation to simple thing

Everything mentioned so far actually boils down to this: sense of appreciation. Although it seems there is nothing in Mauritania, actually there is everything you need to live. Every morning, we prayed before the breakfast basically saying (in French) that “thank you for giving us today, food, work and life, and we will learn and do our best to fully enjoy the day.” Research also shows that the people with appreciation tend to live more happily.

If i have to pick one, the best learning is that appreciating  things we tend to take for granted: food, water, electricity, air to breath, and life we have.

In the end, the summary of my Mauritania is something like that: image of Africa before arrival (right) and real experience (left), and we should never forget the fact that we can live and do activities thanks to many support (on the bottom).

The learning of this time 

Through difficult life in Mauritani, I could learn many things and get to appreciate simple things, particualrly the fact that life and days are given to you.

Thank you for reading this article. If you like it, please don’t forget to subscribe. If you have any comment/question, please feel free to leave. Have a great learning!

List of previous post on Mauritania:
Mauritania 1ーLife turning point
Mauritania 2ーRamadan and Life cycle
Mauritania 3ーIs it a private taxi or what
Mauritania 4ーHow Russian World Cup Empowered Japanese in West Africa
Mauritania 5ー 3 Learnings from the First Rain

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