We don’t know anything about Mauritania
(excerpt) At night I hear the noise of a biogas plant from two kilometers away. That steady and almost inaudible sound fills the air like a car standing next to me with the engine running. At dawn the wind rises with the sun, becomes loud and overwhelming. I live in Schleswig-Holstein (the northernmost federal state of Germany) on dripping wet marshland between two oceans. Wherever I am, it’s never more than 60 kilometers to a shore and it rains almost all year.
When I heard about Mauritania first, I knew nothing about the country, its people or even its location on a map. I have that in common with most Germans. As Europeans, we usually get interested in a foreign country, when we have economic interests, or if its people become a threat to us of some kind.
The land where I live is green and rich of grass. – Mauritania consists of pale hues of sand and stone, as if the whole country was painted with watercolors. I see pictures of brick shaped houses. Desert wind blurs the horizon.
Outside of my own window the fog sucks on the sponge wet earth. These days people in the nearby village fight for their right to cover their roofs with glazed pan tiles. They rebel against an article in their village statutes, which allows them to use matt pan tiles only.
In Mauritania people defend themselves against article 306. It’s the blasphemy and apostasy law. Practically anyone can be sentenced to death or end up in prison. The smell of insecticide dwells in crowded cells.
I am blown away – by the wind that storms outside. Gusts shape the trees. Even in a calm most branches look like waving flags due to the west wind that has shaped them. All growth is pushed to the east coast, where the bigger cities lie.
Trees in Mauritania, if there are any, stand alone, thin and small with shriveled barks, but with treetops fanning like fountains. Slaves rest in their shadows. For generations hundreds of thousands were born without history, raised without knowing their ancestry. – The desert is the perfect monument for a culture of remembrance, which commemorates the erasement of identity. – Or maybe to erect an empty plateau here as a memorial? It would be cleaned every day from wafting sand – a gesture that symbols the will to keep the remembrance alive against erosion of memory.
Jan-Christian Petersen (11.7.2020)