The thirdworld does not maintain its spacebars

Subject: Bonjour from beautiful, sunny NouakchottNOT
Date: Saturday 23rd October 1999

Hello again everyone,
This is the third timeI am writingandsending this letter, so I will makeitbrief.
The thirdworld does not maintain its spacebars
Goats eat rubbish in the main street while men dump dung next to it.
Iarrived on a Thursday night, everythingis shut on Fridays and Saturdays, soI am stuck here for another 2-3days until I get my Senegalese visa.
The men and women are very beautiful, but don’tlike having their pictures taken.
I won’t be going to the desert, but straight south to Senegal, as I don’t like being here on my own, luckily the border is only 4 hours away.
The people at the grand marche are friendly, however I bought deodorant for 7 dollars, awesome undies for 20 cents, which are already unravelling.
The croissants are excellent, but the food sucks, Ibought for 200 ougiya ($1.50) a plate of yellow cous cous topped with camel meat and turnips, and
what lookedlike slime.
The hotel is good, although cockroaches skitter over my feet.
The society is less segregated, so I am happy!
Thanks Natalforthe breville foot spa suggestion. X

Letter to olds: 23rd October 1999
Hotel Adrar, Nouakchott

Dear Mum and Dad,

I have settled down in the dingy TV room of this hotel, under the watchful eye of a Gambian man, and the brisk manageress, who is actually really nice under her manner! I am half-watching an Arabic soap opera – as usual it is full of men wearing teatowels, women wearing too much eye makeup and heaps of those nomadic tents and old ladies pouring tea. And excessive use of the zoom lens.

I arrived last night about 9pm in oppressive heat, but finally felt as though I was in Africa. Nouakchott airport has one terminal/baggage pickup/customs office/money-changing shop – the only thing missing was the sound of squawking chooks and bleating sheep.

I thanked my lucky stars I was christened by the taxi drivers in Morocco – I leant nonchalantly against a tree, waiting for the outrageous prices to go down. Even making a couple of them laugh. After hopping into about four different taxis, I settled on one with an English-speaking driver (bad move!). Looking around, I realised there were no door handles, and that I couldn’t jump out if I wanted to. A policeman wandered up and got into a conversation with the driver. Hammering on the window and pretending to be too hot, I jumped out and quickly found yet another taxi. When we arrived at the hotel, I honestly thought I had been dumped in the wrong part of town – it is hard to describe, but the whole city looks like slums to me. Chasing the cockroaches away, I flopped onto my bed under a v. rickety fan.

The next morning I quickly realised I had arrived on the wrong day – in Mauritania, everything closes on Friday and Saturday, so I would have to wait until Sunday morning to visit the Senegalese embassy for my visa.

Nouakchott on a Friday is unprepossessing. Wide, sandy streets, rubbish blowing everywhere, and the occasional old Mercedes. The Mauritanians obviously want to break the Moroccan world record for number of people in a combi van. You see battered green vans with about 10 guys hanging out the back (about 20 inside) – and I have to catch one of these to get to Senegal!!

I found a grocer who sold me two oranges, French bread and two wonderful croissants, which he pulled out of a fly-blown box with v. grimy hands. I settled down on a crate under a tree to eat, and watch a goat skitter across the road, looking for rubbish. Then two men came and dumped some dung in front of it – and this was seriously the main street!

So feeling some unease at the dinginess of this place, and the fact that I was stuck here for another two days, I visited the ‘Grand Marche’, which felt to me like a proper African market! Also my spirits were instantly lifted by the friendliness of the people – women waved and smiled, and one man tried to sell me huge undies. He and his friends fell about laughing when I put them on my head to show how big they were!

The Mauritanians are extremely elegant and well-dressed, I feel rather small and shabby next to them. The Moorish men (Arab and Berber) waft about holding hands, wearing enormous pale blue robes (rucked up at the shoulder), and great big black or white turbans that cover the nose and mouth. Some even wear sunnies, which makes them look like arms dealers from a bad movie. The women are wrapped from head to toe in a very light patterned cloth, which looks like a sari. They have black henna-ed fingertips, and are often extremely fat!

Then the next group of people are the Senegalese/Mauritanians, who are very dark skinned, and according to the caste system here, are at the bottom. While I was having my breakfast this morning (coffee is weird – they boil the milk, and put the sachet of Nescafe on the side), I chatted with this woman selling peanuts – it was hard not to gawk at her. She had a long batik cloth robe on with matching headscarf, upon which was perched a huge tray of peanuts. Swaddled in a yellow cloth on her back was a tiny baby, with little twists of hair sticking up all over her head. Then walked past about three stylish women, I think from Dakar. Two were about six feet tall, with tight-fitting white lycra dresses to set off their skin, and elaborate hairstyles. The third was sporting cornrows, and complicated black and gold ruffles jutting out from each shoulder. It is all v. theatrical, but no-one turns a hair.

Even though everyone is very beautiful, I have no desire to stick around here and go to the desert, as when the Mauritanians are aggressive, they are REALLY aggressive. Last night before dinner, I was woken from my nap by a knock at the door. The manageress was motioning me to come with her. Standing in the TV room was the dodgy taxi driver from last night! He asks if I remember him and says he has come to see me especially. I talk to him a while and he pesters me continually – how long am I staying, who I am meeting and so on. He also claims to know Australians but can’t remember what cities they come from.

Then he drops this clanger – he tells me that last night his dodgy ‘taxi’ was in fact a private car, and that he ‘took pity on me’ – the copper he was talking to was actually questioning his morals, and insisting I take a regular taxi!!! I digest this for a while, then politely show him the door, and return to my room to fume. And I nearly went with him!! However Africa poses these problems for me:
1. Public transport is anything on wheels, and rarely marked. If it is, the route numbers are Arabic.
2. The streets are never marked, and the Lonely Planet maps imprecise.
3. People in these parts don’t read maps anyway, so you can’t point anything out, or say what street you’re on, or anything! And often you pronounce it wrong anyway!

So often I have to rely on ‘the kindness of strangers’ who point me in the right direction. I have to trust my own instincts a lot, sizing up people’s faces and so on. So that little experience was enough to chase me out of the country for good. And the border of Senegal is only about four hours away. xx

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