Water and Culture
by Kerry Zahn, Paris, Mauritania
Mauritania forms the barrier between the Sahara and Africa to the south, and is a dry, arid country with a precarious relationship with water. Because water is so precious, it serves as an important part in the welcoming of a guest into one's home. Although most Mauritanians are not well off, they will always go out of their way to make you feel welcome. This welcoming ceremony includes offering you a bath, making you tea (in three rounds, with each round sweeter and weaker than the round before), and many times giving you zrig, a drink made from soured milk and water and sweetened with sugar.
Water is also used in many religious ceremonies. Mauritanians may go to the marabout, or holy man, to consult him about an illness. Often he will write some Koranic verses on a wooden board. The marabout will use water to erase the words and that water will be considered holy. When people drink this special water, they believe they will be cured of whatever is ailing them. My host sister, Maydala, has been suffering for many years from an ailment, and three times a day she will drink water that the marabout has made especially for her.
by Heather Cameron, Rosso, Mauritania
Mauritanians are avid tea drinkers, as are many other North and West African peoples. Many share the same ceremonial custom—green tea with mint—that has become a common part of everyday life. In fact, this delicious tea is made in rounds of three glasses and drunk several times a day, including during the blazing afternoon heat. Water is used to meticulously clean the small glasses after each round, as well as to make the tea.
Water is also used in religious washing before prayer. Mauritania, being the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, has a largely Muslim population. Muslims must pray five times a day according to the Koran. Each prayer requires the cleansing of hands, face, and feet before praying.