Sunday, August 24, 2008

How to Speak Hassaniya

Besim halla yitkellem klaam il Beedhan (How to speak Hassaniya)

Concerned at the lack of quality learning materials for the Hassaniya language, I have decided to arrange some phrases for future students of the language.

Sean's Hassaniya Lesson (Audio)

1) Aana nirgid ivzer lim ͨ iiz.

I think it took the better part of three weeks to figure out that the only place for me to sleep comfortably was next to the goat house. If I slept under the roof, there was no breeze and I had to be fully dressed. If I slept in my room, I could strip down to my boxers, but it was the only place in Africa that had less breeze than sleeping under just the roof. Finally, I realized that if I was next to the goat cage, the open sky got enough breeze into my mosquito net to cool me down, even when I dressed in the socially acceptable shoulders-to-ankles fashion.

I got pretty attached to this goat, one of the two young ones that would greet me in the morning as I filled my bath bucket. When I started sleeping next to the goat cage, one of them started randomly bucking heads with the metal door to the goat house, which is, to my estimation, not the best way to wake up in the morning. This goat was, to my dismay, taken from the goat house a day or two after I took this picture, and thrown in a bag as he screamed, terrified. My inner vegetarian was pretty much ready to vomit… why did they take the cute one?

2) Aana n ͨ uud menvga ͨ ileyn maa nistraah ͨ aagib leqda.

I thought it a bit strange when the trainers first told us that Mauritanians may be offended if you leave before drinking three cups of tea, but it’s also quite normal to fall asleep between rounds. One of the nicest parts of life in Mauritania is that, since the mid-day is pretty universally recognized as unbearable, every afternoon is highlighted with a mid-day nap. I hear that current volunteers complained about the hectic schedule when they came to Rosso to help with training—there just isn’t enough time for afternoon naps. That’s understandable.

My training family’s home has the wonderful feature of a hangar, or “limbhar.” Hangar’s are pretty ingenious—they enable nap-taking in otherwise open areas, such as neighborhood streets. The breeze is pretty great, but one day was outright windy, and street trash blew on me during my nap. That also made me irritable.

3) Eywe, aana vit ͨ ravt il kelma “Chebujin”.

My host Mom is pretty cool. A popular lunch dish here is chebujin, which I’ve heard is Senegalese (the name is Wolof), it’s eaten in different parts of Mauritania, but it’s especially popular here. Throughout training, the daily chebujin progressively got bigger and bigger vegetables in it and increasingly had truly amazing ocean fish. “Cheb” is such an important part of my experience here in Rosso that I’ve been trying to look up restaurants where people might be able to get it in DC. It looks like there may be a few places with “West African” food, but I’m not going to recommend any until their cheb passes the test of my discerning taste buds. The bottom of the next photo has the final product she’s cooking here.

4) Il mula-khareetha ma ͨ luum hatta.

When taking pictures of my Mom and brothers in the house, my Mom insisted that I bring the camera out to the family’s field, where my father works and we often eat lunch so my Dad doesn’t have to walk back and forth. The field is really peaceful, and I can generally get in a pretty sweet nap there. I wasn’t sure what would happen when I took my camera out—I had started to take a picture of my host father before and he refused, seeming to be embarrassed. When I took it out in the fields though, as we sat down to lunch, my Dad yelled “Wait!” I wasn’t sure what was going on. He quickly threw on his bou-bou, the traditional dress for Moor men, grabbed his hoe and put on the farmer’s hat. As I took the picture, he said “Mula-khareetha” which translates to something like “man of the fields.” Mauritanian Gothic. My host father was a pretty key element in making me realize that I was, indeed learning Hassaniya. He was the gracious translator of Sean’s Hassaniya to the family’s Hassaniya; I’m glad to have this tribute to him!

5) Ebdey, aana maani raagid, aana shilt m ͨ a is-sukaar.

I thought I’d be smart and not bring all my Chinese tea to Mauritania. I told Ken, the owner of the tea shop in Bloomington, that I wouldn’t need to bring too much tea since the (Arab?) tradition is to greet people and pass time by having three cups of tea. Little did I realize, having three rounds of tea in Mauritania generally ends with having a constricted feeling in my lungs from the syrupy-sweetness. Sometime in the first month, I started to feel like my teeth were rotting out from the inside. One night, I lay awake, sweating and fidgeting in my mosquito net. It was the last time I drank tea at night. I love the sweet mint tea, but it isn’t always coupled with the repose that I get from other tea.

An extra bonus of having my camera in the fields: my brother didn’t realize I was taking this picture as he made tea—the most artful tea makers will poor the tea from a good height, back and forth between cups, in order to make foam. Someone asked a Mauritanian why they liked foam; the answer was “It looks nice.”

6) Aana nitkellem Hassaniya bi-h illi Samba ‘asbar.

Finally, this is a tribute to Samba, our wonderful language teacher. Coming from a year of graduate school, I was maybe a bit too used to sinking my teeth into what I don’t understand and trying to chew. Samba patiently answered all of my questions, sometimes at the expense of everyone else’s attention span. He’s a pretty great teacher, and an awesome role model—an important thing to find when I didn’t know how to interact with the children calling out at me on the street. Of course, he may have taught us some useful Hassaniya phrases for dealing with children.