Mauritania is a sparsely populated nation in Northwestern Africa, in the Maghreb Region. Many languages are spoken, including the official Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke, French, and Berber. It is an Islamic country with a mix of ethnic groups, and there is some competition between them for important roles in society. Mauritania is largely flat, and desert makes up some 75% of the land. Areas in the West alternate between the similar-sounding regs (plains of claylike material) and ergs (sand dunes). Interesting animal species include the addax, a grayish brown mammal with spiral horns, and the cheetah, who are really fast. The seashore is peaceful and undeveloped. See Parc National du Banc dÔÇÖArguin, a top spot for bird-watching, or the R├®serve Satellite du Cap Blanc in Nou├ódhibou which houses a colony of endangered monk seals.

Couscous, also spelled kuskus here, can be made from millet, wheat or barley flour. It is usually topped with vegetables, and sometimes with meat too. Tomatoes and okra, sometimes used in ground form, are typical vegetables. Thieboudienne, MauritaniaÔÇÖs national dish, contains fish, sweet potatoes, and a tomato and pepper-based red sauce. The making of tea is an art here, and it is poured multiple times to create froth in a process called tea pulling. In a morbid yet romantic ritual, sweet tea is served in three cups: one for life, one for love, and the other for death. Maybe there is some French philosophy at work here.