La Douanier

Subject: I’ve got my mojo back!!!
Date: Wednesday 27th October 1999

Nouakchott didn’t actually pose any physical threat, unless you count being irritated to death as a hazard. In the end I didn’t get 2 seconds’ peace, and was forced to cower in my hotel for my stay with my cockroach friends, a growing pile of banana peel and about 40 degrees. I was continually harassed to breaking point by various guides and hustlers, and fully cracked the shits on about three occasions. One guy I even spat on, threw rubbish at him and sand, AND HE STILL DIDN’T GET THE BLOODY MESSAGE!!!

Maybe this is foreplay in Mauritania, it is such an aggressive country. Two ‘friends’ I made in the hotel, an Egyptian and a Pakistani man told me the country was full of ‘AAANNimalssss’, and every time I would sit outside in the shade for a gasp of fresh air would shout ‘EY! Sister!! This is bad country!! You must go inside!!!’ AAARRRRGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Needless to say I was slightly miffed.

I met one decent man, the Senegalese chap (surprise, surprise) at the embassy, who giggled continuously at my ‘Je DETESTE Mauritanie’, and even arranged my visa in record time. So the journey out of the bloody place was not without adventure – three and a half hours in a crammed Peugot 504, with 9 passengers rather than the regulation 7, and my butt-cheeks squeezed into something designed for one African buttock (sorry, but they have big bums here!). And all through the most arid, desolate country full of desperate-looking people. I was of course busting for the loo, but not game enough to get out. And two Mauritanians spent the whole time trying to out-pray each other, getting louder and louder, and all with the windows closed! So we arrive at the border town of Rosso-Mauritanie, whereupon we are besieged by about 20 guys banging on the windows, some with riding-crops. I don’t want to get out.

When I do, I am immediately swamped. Trying to remain calm, I select one man with a natty red pillbox hat, and try to shoo the others away. We hop onto a cart, whip the donkey into a gallop, and ride towards customs. My feeling is by now somewhat akin to really bad PMT times 1000. So in a mad, shrieking grabbling crowd of people I am ushered into customs, not realising it at the time, as there is no sign, it looks like a toilet to me. This damn Mauritanian bitch (I can’t describe her any other way) locks me in this room for the declaration. I have nothing to declare not realising you have to declare travellers’ cheques – do you?, and she yanks off my money belt, all my US dollars, French and American cheques go flying, she is quite aggressive.

Another man comes in to yell at me. At one stage she passes my passport thru the door to the hustler with the red hat, I have to yell very loud to get it back. So all my money goes north with one officer, my money etc and belt goes south with another, and I am nearly beside my self. The Mauritanian bitch drags me into another office, at which the tears start to flow! All the men hanging around (there are always about 20) thought this was very funny. This is a long story, but the upshot of it is that I was supposed to have a customs declaration signed at the airport WHICH WASN’T IN EXISTENCE, and also about 6000 ougiya that I hadn’t changed yet, due to all the madness outside. The mad bitch kept poking at my chest, made me thank one of the officers, and dragged me into Mauritania again to change the money. By this time she has made off with 1000 ougiya (8 dollars) and 20 US dollars, and she ignores my protests. As all this was happening, customs was closing, and my hustler tries to tell me it is 12:10 and to rack off to Mauritania until 3:00, opening time. I roar ‘I’M NOT GOING BACK OUT THERE!!’, I am quite beside myself. I know fully that customs closes at 12:00.

One officer takes pity, and takes me to his boss who speaks a little English. He explains everything, saying ‘you no cry now please’, then remembers the song, and starts singing ‘no woman no cry’!!! I am bundled onto a tiny pirogue (fishing boat) to cross the beautiful River Senegal, a trip that would have been excellent had I been in a better frame of mind. At Rosso-Senegal I am greeted with far less hassle, the officer calmly and without fuss stamps my passport, and wishes me a bon voyage!

I find a cruddy Peugeot again for the trip to St Louis, and breathe the most enormous sigh of relief. The other passengers are some very jolly Senegalese women in flowing boubous and matching headscarves, who chatter and laugh the whole time. Compare this if you will to Mauritania.

After about 2 flat tyres, a rushed trip to a bush (looking out for ‘les grands serpents’, and three cars later, I arrive in St Louis. It is a bizarre island stationed between two peninsulas, linked by a 19th century bridge, originally meant for the Danube! The sunlight twinkles off the water, and the surrounding countryside is green and lush. I have also befriended a Dutch couple in the Hotel, who have supplied me with all sorts of interesting info about Senegal. Lots of hassle, expensive accommodation, but also very nice! I think I am also accustomed to many types of hassle now!!! The people are also very friendly, and of course beautiful and most extraordinary to look at!

Today I will take a wee stroll to the St Louis market and the beach – apparently at dusk all the fishing boats come into the beach while boys play soccer on the beach. X

Subject: relief from Dad
Date: Friday 29th October 1999

Dearest Boo,
I got your letter from St. Louis yesterday and I must say I was relieved. Your previous missive alluded to not being very happy about Mauritania. I was waiting all week to hear that you had arrived in Senegal. You must have heard some hair raising tales before you left Maroc because your previous letter sounded quite uneasy too. It is worth considering when you move across a border, that you go with someone. It might be a little easier. It also sounds as though you’re developing muscles where you had none. Whatever – but you must take as much care as possible. A Gel on her own is vulnerable. Enough of this lecturing! This is a short letter to tell you I’m relieved. Take great trouble to care for your security my love. Love DAD

Journal entry, 27th October 1999

St Louis is beautiful. Wide, tree-lined streets, people walking about. It is an island stationed between two peninsulas joined by a bridge that came on a boat from Europe. Senegal has lots of hassle but I think I am used to it now. The streets are kind of frontier town-ish, wrought-iron balconies and faded, crumbling old buildings in beautiful colours. I can relax on a balcony outside my room although it is a little warm. It’s great!


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