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
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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
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.