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Mauritania: the perversion of numbers

Television, radio, newspapers, internet – all fictitious guarantors of absolute truths. However, it’s these platforms that inform us about what’s happening in the world.

Every day we see similar looking photos, numbers and statistics that we think we’ve already seen. For example, last year we saw photos of the Horn of Africa, this year it’s the food crisis in Sahel. There are photos of mothers, children, hunger and malnutrition.

What is the difference? Have we become immune to the pain of others? I don’t think so.

If we stop for a minute to really look, to really listen, our stomachs turn and our skin reacts and we are horrified by what happens in countries thousands of miles away.

But, this is the mechanism that allows us to look without seeing and hear without listening? This is the mechanism that allows us to forget – two minutes after watching images of the drought in Sahel, what is happening there?

Behind every face

Oumou, two, at his home in Sabar II, a village of rectangular mud houses. Oumou's hair has an orange tint, a sign of malnutrition.

I have an opinion, of course it may not be right but here it is: we don’t know the people affected in Sahel.

18 million people have been affected with more than one million children being at risk of malnutrition.

All we see are generic figures, faces of children and families we do not know. However, behind every face there is a child, a mother, a father, a story.

Today I met Oumou. He is two and has an orange tinted hair – a symptom of malnutrition. The way he smiles reminds me of Pablo, a friend’s son.

Oumou is embarrassed when he meets us seeing as we are two foreign strangers in his village, which is rare for him to see. He covers his face with his hands.

It takes him half an hour to leave his mother’s side and run around us but he doesn’t get closer. Pablo does the same when we don’t see each other for a while.

Pablo is half a year younger than Oumou but he is much bigger. Both have the same naughty smiles and are looking forward to playing, touching everything and they both get angry when someone takes something out their hands that can be harmful for them.

Children just like ours

In the media, we see sad and hungry children all the time but nevertheless, they are still children.

If they aren’t too weak, they still want to play. They run, fall, cry, they don’t like it when their mothers clean them and, above all, they laugh.

Despite the lack of harvest this year, the lack of rain, losing four of her six cows and the worry of her child’s weight and education, Kadiata Moussa still picks up her baby and smiles.

If our television could take us to villages as Sabal II and we could sit and have tea with their women and men, where we could play with children, know their names, their gestures, their stories, their smiles, their favourite games, it would be impossible to forget about them when we turn off the television.

Why? Because they are just like ours.

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