Rainbows, lollipops, roses, andů


          locusts!!!!!!!! They're back, with a vengeance! When I originally wrote about the locusts (entry of 8/9/2004) they had paid only one short visit to Nouakchott, coming and going within a twenty-four hour period and doing not a lot of visible damage. At that time, there was a lot of press coverage, and I received e-mails from people all over, asking me how bad it was. They have been back a few times in the interim, with diminished numbers and for short stays.

          This time has been different. They arrived in Nouakchott last Tuesday and their numbers did not begin to peter out until yesterday; now there are only a few strays lagging behind. The aftermath is much worse than it was on their first and ensuing visits. They were so thick that they appeared to be snow flurries. They also dive-bombed people as we walked the streets. As I watched their shadows moving across the sand, they made me think of the never-ending sweeping and swirling motions that are reminiscent of the reflections of a revolving disco ball.

          During the weekend, when there is nobody at the Peace Corps bureau to sweep, the bodies of dead locusts littered the outdoor passageway It was hard not to step on locusts as we made our way to the computer room. With the hard tile flooring underneath, their exoskeletons make a loud crunching noise as we stepped on them.

          A large tree stands in front of my house, with foliage that was so voluminous that it was not possible to see inside my apartment. The locusts picked it clean. From inside, I can now see far beyond the tree, as the bare branches block very little. And it is also possible, at night, with the lights on inside, to see into the salon. I am going to have to do something about getting window coverings!

          The lush bougainvillea that proliferate here have been decimated, with only their skeletal branches remaining. There is only one variety of tree, the neem (also spelled nim), that has been spared. Otherwise, the trees are as bare as those of deciduous trees in wintertime.

          Online news stories in August referred to their onslaught using the term "biblical proportions." For that infestation, it was an overstatement. But this time, it seemed to fit the situation, which I say even though (and you may not believe this) I was not walking the Earth during biblical times.

          I found out why the ATM at my bank was not giving money, as I wrote about last week. It dispenses only new 1,000-ouguiya notes, and the bank doesn't have any. They have been waiting for a delivery of newly printed bills from the Central Bank of Mauritania, and every day I went there, they told me that they would be there "tomorrow, inshallah." ("Inshallah" is an Arabic word that means "if you're lucky.") Just this morning, I went to see if the promised delivery had been made. I found a sign informing "our esteemed clients" that because of a shortage of 1,000-ouguiya notes (currently worth about $3.20 each), the machines would be dispensing 500-ouguiya notes. Considering how difficult it is to make change here sometimes, I jumped at the chance to make the maximum weekly withdrawal permitted and walked away with 100 of the crispy notes.

          The weather has changed since the time before my trip to Tunisia. Most of the summer, the rainy season, it didn't rain much but it was humid here in Nouakchott. Now, it is still hot, but the air is not nearly as humid. It's even possible to walk outside in the sun, though I try to avoid that at midday.

           The other day, I was getting back to my house in the late afternoon, with the sun beating down. As soon as I walked inside, I could feel the relief immediately. Gee, I thought, it's nice and cool in here. Then I went to my Travel Soother, a portable noise machine with clock and thermometer built in. I was surprised to see that the temperature 96.8 degrees F! It looks like I have a new definition for "nice and cool."

           There were a few hot nights when the inside temperature did not get below 90, and it was also hot outside. But during the last few nights, it has been much better. In fact, this morning when I woke up and checked, it was 79.

          Every week I get the online version of "The Straight Dope," a weekly column by Cecil Adams, which is published in newspapers all over the country. The column's motto is, "Fighting ignorance since 1973. (It's taking longer than we thought)." I have been a fan for many years, and get a kick out of both the questions and the answers.

           After I went to Saidou's wedding in early September, I started wondering about the phenomenon of cousins marrying each other, which is prevalent here. When I received "The Straight Dope" after the wedding, I posed a question to Cecil about cousins marrying.

           During my trip to Tunisia, when I received the weekly e-mail from "The Straight Dope," I had more limited Internet time than when I am in Nouakchott, so I just deleted them from my inbox. Just a few days ago, I received an e-mail from an RPCV who closed her service here this past summer. Cecil Adams had replied to my question in one of his columns!

           If you are curious about the genetic ramifications of this question, you can read his reply by going to www.straightdope.com. Click on "Search archive" and in the box of text to search for, type "marrying cousins." That will take you to the column of 10/1 entitled "What's wrong with cousins marrying?"

          The holy month of Ramadan has begun, marking the third one that I am experiencing in a Muslim country. (I am counting my visit to Morocco in December of 2000 as my first one.) In Morocco, restaurants were closed during the day, though food was for sale in markets. Here, I have observed that there are many restaurants open.

          The biggest news in town this week is that there is now a professionally made map of Nouakchott. This may not strike the casual reader as being particularly noteworthy, since city maps are de rigueur in most places. But not here. Up until now, we have had to make do with photocopies of photocopies, old maps labeled with places that don't exist any longer, and poorly printed copies. This one is large, in color, and based on aerial photography, so it is also accurate. Most Mauritanians don't use maps, but we are delighted to have these.