Nouakchott, Mauritania

Subject: I’m in Nouakchott,and alliswell
Date: Saturday 23rd October 1999

Hawung oldies –
The space bar is rooted onthis machine, soIamsorry. Iamwritingpersonallyto enquire as to whether or notyouwant me to telephone home. You guys didn’tsound too happy to hear fromme, and I was quite upset as I was a bitapprehensive about goingto
Mauritania, and wanted to hear afamiliar voice.
Here’s the drum: phoning from these partsis v. expensive, nearly a half to a day’s budget for me.
The phones are difficult and spit coins out a t a rate of k nots, so I have to talk quickly.
Youhaveto talkquicklytoo, and give me as much news as possible.
Iwould like to call home as I like to give the ‘all clear’every nowandagain, but I don’t knowif you guyswant meto.
So please write and say if you want me to call,or if you would prefer me to just email.
The malaria tablets are giving me funny dreams, and I had a bad one about youguyslastnight, and wouldn’tmind speaking to you. Maybe you had justwoken up,Idon’t know. So please letme know, maybe Icould telegraminstead. I knowthismessageisvery Arabic and abrupt, butthiscomputerisabitthird-world.

Hopetohear soon,
Xxxx

Journal entry 24th October 1999

This is what the shops sell:

-metres of light cotton material in different styles which women drape around themselves
-hairspray, soap, deodorant and undies
-kids backpacks and exercise books
-western-style sandals and bags
-cheap jewellery
THAT’S IT

Today I bought a length of Malafa cloth – it was v. funny. When the woman started to dress me in it, about 30 locals crowded about, staring. The woman excitedly fished a tiny cracked mirror out of her handbag, spat on it, and gave it to me. All I could see in my reflection was one eye, and in the background, the locals looking on curiously. I was hassled a lot by the illegal money changers in the market, and I have found people to be ruder and ruder. Even when I was looking at myself in the mirror at the hotel, the manager asked if everything was all right.

Something feels a bit iffy about taking a holiday where people are so poor. When people ask if I am a tourist and I say yes, their eyebrows shoot up into their heads! I’ve had it with Mauritania and dying to get out of here. I can’t get 5 mins peace, and the only safe place is being locked in my room – alas it is v. hot and I have a heat rash on my chest. I can’t express how frustrating it all is, and whenever I talk, a million people talk over the top of me.

Some things the Pakistani man told me:
-Mauritanian women don’t cook, as until recently their slave girls did it for them.
-They get married and divorced at an astonishing rate – up to 10 times!
-He gleaned this information by offering to marry one of the girls.

I hate this fucking place.

Subject: Dad’s (& Mum’s) 4th letter
Date: Sunday 24th October 1999

Dearest Boo,
We got both your letters from Nouakchott – first things first. We LOVE hearing from you whether it’s by phone or e-mail or letter. When you called up the other morning we’d just woken up. Hence the stunted conversation. We understand if you can’t call, it’s not as though you’re ringing from Chapel St, besides you can’t go blowing your dough. Your Ma and I and everyone here are QUITE OKAY. You’re now travelling alone again and it’s probably a bit of isolation working on your mind. But do make sure you have company. It sounds as though Mauritania is not quite like you imagined, or maybe a bit unsafe?

Back here we’ve been getting used to the Bracks government. One bloke, the Minister for tourism has only had two jobs: working for the ALP political machine and a dishwasher from MacDonalds! I kid you not. In an exquisite piece of symbolism, the first act of the new premier on his first day was to order the slogan ‘On The Move’ be removed from Victoria’s numberplates. Jeff is looking forlorn and Jeffed. He’s resigned as leader of the party and nobody knows what his next move might be. Dad

Darling Bec,
Kate took us to a French play last week, starring her friend. Dad was horrified to learn that it was all in French, sans sub titles, but manfully stuck it out to the end. The Bold and the Beautiful is still incomprehensible – Amber is staying at her mother’s in a poor white trash part of town, and in mourning for her baby. Also love from the cat, who came with us to Airey’s, and had a lovely time playing with the bunnies. Lots of love Mum xxxxxxx

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