Thursday, December 30, 2004

A Completely Different Culture

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- Jidat Mint Ethmane grew up in a nomad family in this impoverished nation in the western Sahara. When she was 8, she says, her mother began to force-feed her. Ms. Ethmane says she was required to consume a gallon of milk in the morning, plus couscous. She ate milk and porridge for lunch. She was awoken at midnight and given several more pints of milk, followed by a pre-breakfast feeding at 6 a.m.

If she threw up, she says, her mother forced her to eat the vomit. Stretch marks appeared on her body and the skin on her upper arms and thighs tore under the pressure. If she balked at the feedings, her mother would squeeze her toes between two wooden sticks until the pain was unbearable. "I would devour as much as possible," says Ms. Ethmane. "I resembled a mattress."

Today, Ms. Ethmane, 38 years old, is slender because her family ran out of money to continue the force-feeding technique, known as gavage. The term stems from the French word for the process used to force-feed geese to make foie gras. Yet in a recent interview in her family's one-room house, Ms. Ethmane says she still believes in the practice. "Beauty is more important than health," she says. Her husband, Brahim, agrees: "It is thin women who are not healthy."


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