4 Things You Likely Didn’t Know About Mauritania

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Living it up in Mauritania for a bit, in the dusty capital city of Nouakchott. Here’s one of my helpful African maps for those unfamiliar with Mauritania:

Temperatures this time a year can be around 100 degrees with not a cloud in the sky – which makes sense, given the county is bordered by the Sahara Desert. Nouakchott has an interesting and somewhat tumultuous history, but is relatively safe now. For being just a border away from Senegal, Mauritania seems like an entirely different world; the country is decidedly Arabic Africa, with closer ties to what people typically consider the Middle East.

Here are four random facts about Mauritania and its capital city:

1. Mauritania is a much more conservative country than Senegal. The population of Dakar is heavily Muslim – around 90-95 percent – but the area is pretty liberal as far as Islamic nations go. Not so in Mauritania; alcohol is frowned upon and expensive to buy, and people wear traditional Islamic dress, complete with turbans. The people are largely Middle Eastern or Arabic in appearance, not black.

2. Many people live as nomads. Seeing nomadic tents alongside roads is common. Many of these nomads are herders or cattle farmers. The tents are made of fabric or sometimes metal. As recently as the 1960s, the vast majority – around 90 percent – of Mauritanians lived as nomads, though this percentage has since dropped considerably.

3. Obesity is beauty for Mauritanian women. In this eye-opening and somewhat disturbing article, the writer describes the extreme measures taken by Mauritanian matriarchs to “grow” their daughters to an acceptable size for marriage. Fatness is viewed as a sign of richness and high status. Girls are often force-fed high-calorie foods such as milk and grains until they’re dangerously overweight.

4. Nouakchott is a relatively new city. Until about 50 years ago, Nouakchott was a speck of a fishing town. When West Africa countries began to achieve independence from French rule in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Nouakchott was chosen as the new capital of Mauritania and has since grown to a population of more than 800,000.

Rachael Cullins
Rachael Cullins is a twentysomething American girl living in Dakar, Senegal, with her husband and two dogs. She blogs about her adventures in Senegal and travels elsewhere in West Africa. She will reside in Dakar until summer 2013, when she and her family will move to another foreign post as part of her husband's career with the U.S. government. In addition to West Africa, she has traveled to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and Costa Rica and plans to continually add to that list.
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