We returned to Nouakchott to see that the city is noticeably cleaner than
ever before. There is currently a campaign to clean it up – an initiative
that this entire country desperately needs.
Everywhere we go, there are mounds of garbage that have been raked together
for collection and disposal. In several locations, we have encountered the
men who are doing the work. The few Mauritanians whom I have talked to
refer to the workers as soldiers, so they must be the guys in the army,
doing something productive with their time. The surprising element of their
attire is that the work uniform consists of Bermuda-length short pants,
something that adult males rarely if ever wear in public, and of which we
have been advised to avoid wearing. They do look nice in their navy blue
shorts and matching shirts, though.
A sign at one of the traffic circles announces “La Propreté = Santé”
(cleanliness equals health), and it is about time that people here see the
connection between the two.
One of the results of this campaign is that some of the market places have
been modified in order to accommodate the clean-up work. Near the Marché
Capitale, for example, there is a large old tree under which many rope
sellers have set up shop. There is every manner of rope, cord, and twine on
sale there. I went to buy some nylon cord and found that all the men who
had worked under the tree were gone. I asked around, and somebody
nearby led me to my old rope guy, now working around the corner in a
A few blocks from there, I went to the Marché de Charbon to buy vegetables
in order to make a new vat of soup. The entire row of shops usually has
produce spilling out into the front, with vegetables in a display at least
four to six feet deep. I hardly recognized the place because all the
produce in front of the shops was missing. My vegetable lady said that it
was because of the clean-up initiative.
Unless the government has a new secret plan in the wings, it doesn’t seem
that this clean-up is going to have any long-term effects. There are no
rubbish containers to collect the next round of garbage that people are
inevitably going to throw out. Nor is there an announcement regarding
regular collection of refuse.
After being back for a short time, the heat made life almost unbearable for
a few days. By Tuesday and Wednesday, temperatures climbed to the mid-90’s
inside my house, making for uncomfortable sleeping. Fortunately that did
not last for too long, as inside temperatures became much more tolerable by
Since Ross had been in Nouakchott for only a few days by the time we left
on our trip at the beginning of March, it was now time for him to get
inside a real Mauritanian household. We arranged to have lunch at Mamadou
the Tailor’s house on Thursday afternoon. I think he enjoyed the visit out
there, along with the welcome from Mamadou’s family, the rotating cast of
characters, and the opportunity to eat with his hands.
Saidou was in attendance for the meal and he asked me to explain to Ross
that he enjoys having people come to visit and eat with the family – that
if more than three or four days go by without a visitor at meal time, he is
Saidou also took the occasion to announce to me that just twenty-five days
earlier he had taken a second wife. There has not been any public party
about this yet, but he seemed to say that that would happen eventually.
I enjoy reading all sorts of travel books. I get a certain amount of
vicarious kicks out of seeing the way that other travelers deal with the
myriad circumstances that we inevitably get ourselves into when we take to
the road. Tim Cahill’s Pecked to Death by Ducks was
attractive by its absurd title, though I knew little more than that about
it. There was only one place – Bali – where Cahill and I had both traveled.
Other than that, the greater emphasis was less on the places he went than
on the things he did when he got there. In that respect, we are miles apart
in our interests, as I would never consider going into a war zone, hiking
in a desert, wilderness camping, exploring caves, mountain climbing, ice
fishing, kayaking, diamond mining, hanging out with low riders on drugs,
being part of a search and rescue team, tracking animals, paragliding,
charioteering, or communing with grizzly bears, bison, moose, mountain
gorillas, clams, or llamas.
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith is the second book
I have read by Anne Lamott. She chronicles her personal quest to find
spirituality and faith in her life, starting from a drug- and
alcohol-ridden adolescence and young adulthood, through the birth of her
son, and into an a more settled and self-accepting maturity. She couldn’t
have done it without including her sense of humor, which helped make her
approachable and readable.
Having heard Sarah Vowell’s voice on NPR’s “This American Life,” I was
particularly looking forward to reading Take the Cannoli (Stories
from the New World). A few of the stories are ones that she has
read on the air, such as the unforgettable delineation of personalities of
her fellow students who constituted their high school’s music department:
the distinctive if not stereotyped orchestra, band, and chorus geeks we
have all been or known. Vowell is a history buff who peppers her writing
with lots of fascinating tidbits.
Living in the moment sounds easier than it is – at least for me. Africa is
the perfect place for me to learn how to work on this. While living here, I
have turned this seemingly simple concept into a perpetual and elusive
quest. When I saw Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are:
Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life on the shelf of the Peace
Corps house in Conakry, I snatched it up so that I could see what I might
be able to learn and incorporate into my life on the subject. He does make
this difficult (for me) task sound much more attainable, and I have begun
doing some of the exercises he recommends… a few small steps toward being
the more grounded and present self that I want to be.