We relaxed on pillows in a large tent with a group of Mauritanian men in their early twenties. Some were studying English and eager to try it out with us but mostly the conversation was in French.
These guys spend a lot of time sitting around in the shade drinking tea. In Mauritania, tea is not rushed. It is served in three rounds of small cups. For each cup a pot of water is heated on a portable kerosene stove. Green tea from China—with lots of sugar. The first cup is hard (like life), the second cup is supple, and the third is soft (like love). You must drink all three. (Later, on one occassion, the kerosene stove broke between cups one and two. We were obliged to wait while the stove was taken to the shop for repairs and then returned so that we could continue.)
In the evening, Abdellahi gave us a tour of his new home (just across the dirt road from the auberge) and there we had a home-cooked dinner of fried fish, rice, french fries and salad. We sat on the floor around a low round table. The room was simply decorated with carpets and pillows—in sharp contrast with the dust outside. As in all Mauritanian homes of this sort, there were stones for use while praying. When bowing, the forehead is touched to the stone so as to touch the earth.
The meal was prepared by black African servants. There exists in Mauritania a deeply entrenched caste system based on ethnicity. Slavery was legal until 1982. And some say it still exists today. Abdellahi is a Moor (Arab) and thus a member of the ruling class. The new wealth in Nouadhibou is creating a huge gap between rich and poor.