Back to NKC, clean and hot


          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 garage.

          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 Thursday.


          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 sad.

          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.