The life has several, if not many, turning points. And the decision to move in Mauritania, west African country totally unknown to me, was definately one of the turning points.
In this regrad, this entry deals with analysis of a decision making process. I will narrow down from (1) Why Africa, (2) Why West Africa and to (3) Why Mauritania, hoping this will serve in some way for me to unpack my past in the future, and ideally for someone else to have an insight on how a decision of one person’s life turning point was made.
Origin of hip hop, music, modern art and human being
Africa is a big continent consisting of many countries, each of which has many different ethnic groups, languages and cultures. So richness and diversity of this continent is something outstanding.
At the first glance, there was no link between my life and Africa. But looking back, it seems that the first encounter was made when I was a in university where I started break dance. This dance is a part of hip hop culture which started in the 70s in New York, with its roots in Africa. When it comes to dance itself, the first purpose was for the service of ritual, which can be seen in the cave painting of Egyptian funerals where women danced to express the grief of the mourners (History of Dance). India and Greece are also considered as the origin of it as well.
Also, Africa has its origin in jazz and modern art (both are my favorite). According to the article of the Guardian “10 things that Africa has given the world“, “every musical element – rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre, and the basic forms of jazz – is essentially African in background and derivation”. Also, In the early 1900s the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture became what the Met Museum in New York describes as “a powerful influence among European artists who formed an avant-garde in the development of modern art”.
The modern human being is also of African origin. The “100 things that you did not know about Africa” confidently put the first fact out of 100 that the oldest known skeletal remains of anatomically modern humans (or homo sapiens sapiens) were excavated at sites in East Africa. Human remains were discovered at Omo in Ethiopia that were dated at 195,000 years old, the oldest known in the world.
So as a person who appreciates all those elements (hip hop, jazz, dance, modern art and human beings), how can I not be attracted by Africa?
Since I started working in the field of development, Africa has been always in the upfront, mainly because it is the poorest continent (economically, not culturally). So I was always intrigued by knowing about this country, as helping vulnerable population was my energy to boast myself within this area of work. I even thought without knowing Africa, probably I will not confidently say that I work in development field (just my case though).
Interest to move on
As a traveller, I also wanted to move on, and as I had never been to Africa, landing at Africa was always my small dream. To make that dream come true, I just had to find any opportunity or execuse to come here.
Why West Africa
Amongst so many countries in this continent, I chose the region of West Africa without any hesitation, because of French language. Ever since I met this language in Chile when I received e-mails in French and English almost every day while working at UNESCO (whose head quarter sits in Paris), improving French was one of my long term goal. Despite the progres I made through personal study (books and CD), my progress was stagnated.
When I was having an odd job interview in Mongolia for the same post for different supervisor, I remember having said that my mid-term goal was to land a job in West Africa to improve my French and know Africa. My small French seed was growing up day by day.
Frankly speaking, it was a mixture of the choice and coincidence.
I applied to Junior Professional Officer Program (about which I might write later), then narroed down choices from specific organization, education section to French speaking countries in West Africa.
I put Mauritania as a second priority (as there were only 2 French speaking family duty stations in the list). And I was selected. To be honest, when I saw the letter of approval stating Mauritania in bold letter, I had no clue whatsoever about what was to happen, as I knew nothing about Mauritania apart from French speaking country.
As time went by, coming to Mauritania became more and more real. On the contrary, the amount of information about the country remained very limited.
All I could imagine would be strick islamic country with no major entertaiment nor alchol. Also, beside the security (which seemed to be quite ok as it was family station), basic service was very limited. For instance, more than 10 vaccinations were encouraged to take outside. That is, good planning and preparation were needed before arriving.
After long transit in Paris, Mauritania airport and my job driver welcomed us.
Although it was clear that alcohol was prohibited, I wanted to do an experiment by putting 2 bottles of wine in the suitcase with full of cooking riquid (soy sauce, fish sauce, cooking sake, etc.) as a camoflage.
When that black suitcase was passing security machine, I was just hoping nothing would happen.
But the life is not that easy, boy.
“There is somethign inside” one black guy with big religious robe says with grumpy face.
(Oh, they found it…) despite my inner thought, I kept pretending that I didn’t know what was going on.
“Open it!” the other guy came to pressure me. I opened the suitcase and showed other cooking riquid, as if saying “is it what you meant?”
“Non, boteille! (No, bottle).
Oh dear…. When I passed 2 bottles, my driver came to say “hey, this guy is diplomat!”
There was uncomfortable 5 seconds’ silence.
Then the guy pushed his right arm forward and pull left arm out, saying
“Then you get ONE”
Yes. they let me in with 1 bottle of Chilean wine, which is treated as a family tresure to this date.
Everything is different and seems to be difficult (arab, black, strict muslim and non-alchol, extremely hot weather, French, etc.). The good part is food, in particular seafood and fish, which are something Mongolia was missing (landlocked country). And the capitalーNouakchottー has full of sand and shellfish, as it is below the sea level. This has changed my image of the capital I have known so far.
Let’s see how everything goes in Mauritania.
The learning of this time
I learned that the turning point is not what you wait for, but something you grab through curiosity, opportunity and action. The first period is the most difficult time, and the more change you get through, the more you learn when you overcome, which I know in my mind but it is still challenging when you are in that period. Just laugh at all the challenges years later.
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