(Islamic Republic of Mauritania, الجمهورية الإسلامية الموريتانية, al-Jumhūriyyah al-ʾIslāmiyyah al-Mūrītāniyyah, République Islamique de Mauritanie, Republik bu Lislaamu bu Gànnaar)
- Location: Northwestern Africa
- Capital: Nouakchott
- Language(s): French, Arabic
- Population: 3,330,567
- Total Area: 1,030,700 sq km
- Currency: Ouguiya
- Curious Alcohol Fact: Mauritania is an Islamic Republic and alcohol is prohibited. However, you can get a cold bottle of beer or glass of wine at hotels or bars –in the capital city of Nouakchott.
- Annual Average Liquor Consumption Per Capita: 0.10 liters
- Most Popular Drink(s): Tea, camel milk (known locally as zrieg)
Mauritania is located in West Africa and it has a coastline adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. Once colonized by France, Mauritania is bounded by other countries such as Mali, Western Sahara (formerly called the Spanish Sahara), Algeria and Senegal. The Islamic Republic got independence from France in 1960 and the most visible legacy of colonialism today is the language of French used widely in the country. The country is named after a province of the ancient Roman Empire. One thing that you will notice in almost all parts of this country is the aridity of the land. There are swathes of the Sahara Desert stretching as far as the eye can see. While visiting these arid plains, go with your camera, the sights are just too beautiful.
I find the ethnic spread of Mauritania quite interesting. Almost 70% of the population belong to the Moor group, and these are people with an ancestry of Arabs, Sudanese and Berbers. Other are Blacks (ethnic Africans), French and a sprinkling of Europeans especially from Spain. The state religion in the country is Islam and that is quite obvious from the name. However, citizens are free to practice any religion. The most popular language of communication is Arabic and is used even in offices and schools. Other languages are French, Soninke, Wolof and Fula. Mauritanians are mostly farmers, nomads or cattle herders and you will find them very warm, humble and hospitable.
At a village in Bir Mogrein, in the far north of the country, I tasted the most delicious mutton ever. It was roasted and garnished with all sorts of spices. You need to have a taste of the mechwi (that is the name) for you to really appreciate it. As the nomads were doing the roasting and I caught a whiff of the aroma, I knew something good was in the offing and I was not disappointed. In Mauritania, this dish is not limited to the northern region alone but is popular all over the nation. Couscous, made from semolina is also quite common and fresh or dried dates are taken as snacks.
Although Mauritania is a dry and barren country in terms of the geography, you will always have something to drink and cool off in the scorching heat of the Sahara. I can remember the camel milk very well. It is like the official drink and is called zrieg (I find that name very exotic). Tea is also never in short supply. On the other hand, if you want cold beverages and a few beers, you may have to get to hotels in Nouakchott (capital city). However, you need to remember that alcohol is not very popular in this country and you have to ask using your wits, especially if you are outside the hotels.
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Special thanks to our contributors:
Adebayo Ahmed Adebola (Ilorin, Nigeria)
Daniel Krasnopolsky (Woodmere, NY, USA).
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