I am very proud of all my friends in Mauritania, and I love to watch over them via the internet, to see their news, share their perennial troubles and celebrate their occasional triumphs. I know that some people, including some Mauritanians, wonder why I concern myself with a forgotten corner of Africa, when there is so much going on in the rest of the world*. I am still discovering I have much in common with Mauritania, and her people. These commonalities enrich my connections, and I find them rewarding on a very personal level.
Several times since I started posting news about Mauritania, I have received messages from people, either asking why I write about it, or trying to stop me from writing about it. When that happens, I know I am doing the right thing! Some people are genuinely pleased that I’m able to write about events in a distant country with such a surprising level of detail. That makes me happy, and grateful that no one seems to realise I am only sharing the edited highlights, so to speak.
But not everyone is pleased by my efforts. A few times I have been threatened, harassed and bullied. More than one person wants to know “how” I do it? Of those, one was dissatisfied with my response explaining that I put in a lot of effort. They decided I could not be just one person, as opposed to being part of some sort of social media tag team. This week, they contacted me again, wanting to know “why?” – why is Mauritania so prominent in my logo? It took two attempts to explain the workings of word cloud generators, but that only led to the real question: why Mauritania at all? Why not some other country?
I do not understand what motivates people to ask such questions. I guess I am not of their kind, because I simply can not relate to the thought processes behind their inquiries. I don’t know how to explain to this person that I do it for love. Don’t get the wrong idea – I am not some soppy sentimentalist, which explains why I won’t be bothering to explain why I do what I do to them in any more pointless email exchanges. Just because I don’t get paid for my time doesn’t mean I am prepared to sacrifice any of it on dull mind games with potentially malevolent strangers. But yes, love is the reason. Do you know a better one?
It does make me wonder, do other bloggers get asked such inane questions? I can’t imagine anyone asking “Why do you have a recipe/photo/travel blog when there are so many already?” or anything along those lines. Unimaginably rude.
Far more interesting was a message from a writer, one who had already spent time in Mauritania and was planning to return to do another article. He very kindly sent me a link to his last piece and I highly recommend it, for two reasons. First, it offers a unique first-hand insight into one of many fascinating aspects of Mauritanian culture. Second, Mr Chad is a splendid writer and it is beneficial to be exposed to words in a more pure form, especially if – like me – you survive on a mainly Social McMedia diet. I feel obliged to warn you that I found the experience humbling, to the extent that I was incapable of writing anything for some time after reading his article. That in itself formed part of my therapy.
Four Weddings and A Kidnapping
The calendar event of 12/12/12 was incredibly popular in Mauritania, and several people decided to get married on that day, including my friend’s sister. I wondered if people would not mind that 12/12 is also the anniversary of the 1984 Taya coup d’etat. Apparently not. Definitely disturbing was the story of someone getting a divorce, despite having two boys with their current partner, just so they could marry on 12/12/12.
On the 13th December, I heard about two more weddings. One was my dear friend Baba Ould Deye, who is a keen civil activist and member of the February 25 Movement. His wedding was very special, because it had a Facebook event, it’s own #BabaWedding /
#عرس_باب hashtags, and most of the groom’s celebrations were live-streamed to Latest Network News’ UStream channel. I felt so honoured to be a virtual guest at Mauritania’s first ‘social media wedding’, and thrilled to get a shout-out from my friends there live on camera.
Several websites carried the story of this special occasion the next day, including one with the [ar] headline “Tewassoul girl kidnaps m25fev activist”. The joke here is that Tewassoul is the “Islamist” party in Mauritania, and as the bride is a member of the youth section, there were many humorous comments about a merger of interests and the like. That they called it a kidnap is amusing because of another fascinating Mauritanian tradition: the kidnapping of the bride during a wedding ceremony. Not a real kidnap, but the removal of the bride from her chamber, where she is cloistered with her bridesmaids and kinswomen before the groom claims her and she makes a tearful farewell from her family.
I wished I could have seen Baba’s bride, but tradition forbids it, so I knew she was unlikely to be caught on camera. Baba’s friends did try to pull off a kidnap attempt. I’d watched them on the video feed, gathered outside in a conspiratorial huddle, some with black scarves that had been casually draped across shoulders during the evening now wrapped as howlis to veil their faces. One of them confirmed by message that they were indeed plotting some good-natured mischief, but you will be glad to know Baba outsmarted them all and made a clean getaway with his bride, Mimi.
That leaves the fourth wedding, which was a friend of a friend, and took place several hours’ drive from the capital. No live broadcasts from there, more’s the pity. Still, I managed to catch up with my friend on his return and, to my surprise, he told me how he had successfully kidnapped the bride, before 11:30pm, and without her even having the chance to say goodbye to her mother! Apparently, he bribed one of her friends to tell him where the bride’s chamber was. Then, because he is a married man and does not talk to girls – or so he told me - he kicked the door down and took the bride away and hid her. He said the bride’s mother and the groom – his friend – were very happy. I have to wonder about that last part.
A few weeks ago, I noticed on my WordPress stats that someone in Mauritania had visited my blog about 100 times in one hour. No single post had received that many visits, but each image in a Mauritania anti-regime artwork gallery I had posted a while back showed one visit. The activity was unusual, and I was puzzled, but there were a lot of rallies and activity at the time, as President Aziz had just been (possibly) shot, so I figured someone wanted to see – or steal – lots of images of him.
Recently, it dawned on me that perhaps they were gathering the links to images I had posted in order to report each one to Google, so that they’d no longer appear in image search results. That would be highly amusing and I’d be happy to have caused someone a lot of time and trouble, if their efforts were in support of a regime I openly despise. Of course, if it was just someone who wanted all the images, they only had to ask me for a copy of the entire archive.
As it turns out, my hunch may have been correct: if you search Google for “Ould Abdel Aziz” my gallery images do not appear, and I know that they did show up for that search term before. However, they still show in searches for “General Ould Abdel Aziz” and the image in this post from Gracelessland blog slipped through the net. I’d say the current score is Bloggers: 2, Regime: 1.
*I do actually follow news from other countries, as many of you will be aware.