Last Monday, Abdellahi called me at 6:00 PM. I was still working
at the bureau. He told me that the owner of the building was
there to meet with me. I said I could not come then, so we set
up the next evening to meet with both of them.
The following day, I got home in plenty of time for the appointment.
I was hoping that the owner would be younger than I, so that
he would have to be automatically respectful of me. But I lost
the shaybahni sweepstakes: he was significantly older!
The first thing I did was invite him in, so that we could be
sociable for a bit, in typical Mauritanian fashion. I was surprised to see
that he refused to enter my apartment. In addition to being hospitable, I
wanted to be able to show him the walls that needed to be repainted. Only
by coming inside could he see that the walls were riddled with cracks and
needed to be plastered and then painted. Since he wouldn't come in, though,
we had to have our discussion standing up in front of the building.
Abdellahi had been placing his emphasis on the fact that there
were dirt marks on the lower portions of the walls. As we talked about it
with the owner, standing in front of the building, he said he knew that it
was the heat that caused the cracks in the walls, so they did not blame me
for those. He said that the cracks would be repaired at the expense of the
I tried to interject some reason into the conversation: that
when the cracks are fixed, they will have to be re-painted, and that when
the walls are re-painted, the new paint would be applied everywhere
on the walls (wouldn’t it?), rather than just over the areas where the cracks
Unfortunately, our discussion didn’t get anywhere, though.
Abdellahi translated from Hassaniya to French, and we made no progress toward
understanding each other’s positions.
When the owner left, Abdellahi continued his spiel in the same
manner that he has been using during the last month. During the time we were
talking, I had some visitors arrive for dinner, so I was not only anxious
not to have the same broken-record conversation with Abdellahi, but
to move on to a more pleasant activity.
Abdellahi stood at my door, continuing his harangue, and all
I could say was Ma’salaam (go in peace, with the main emphasis for
me being on “go”), and then closed the door. Enough!
I didn’t see Abdellahi until the next evening, at which time
we were both our chipper selves, giving many happy greetings to each other
and shaking hands, as if nothing had happened.
Then, on Thursday, he caught me as I was coming home. I surprised
him by inviting him in so I could show him the walls. That morning, I had
taken a sponge and some cleanser to them to remove the offending marks, most
of which had been made by somebody who had brought a bicycle into the house
one or two times when there was no guardian on duty.
As we stood there, Abdellahi told me that the owner wanted
me to know that I had been a good tenant for two years. The painting would
cost only 9,000 ouguiya to touch up and the tiles would cost only 2,500
ouguiya to put back into place, so let’s just drop the whole thing.
(The rent is being increased by 10,000 ouguiya per month as of the
first of July.) Now that’s something I can do: drop the whole thing!
We thought that
Erwin’s taking over my electricity and water accounts would make for an easy
transition. We were only partially right. Erwin and I went together to the
SOMELEC office on Tuesday, asking that my account be transferred to Erwin’s
name. “We don’t transfer accounts any more,” was the reply. Now, the account
has to be closed, then a new account opened.
I had with me
all that I thought I would need in order to close the account: the original
document opening the account, the most recent bill, and a photocopy of my
passport. I had remembered that there was a need for the passport when I opened
the account, so it may be needed again.
Yes, they needed
the copy of the passport, but not just to see it. They had to keep
a copy of it. Off we went to get copies. When we finally left the SOMELEC
office, they told me to come back on Thursday, as the final bill would be
prepared by then and I could pay it.
Our next stop
was the SNDE office, the water company, where the chief of the agency saw
us in his office, took the information he needed, and told us that my final
bill would be ready on Thursday.
I have to be able
to prove to the Peace Corps that I have paid my final bills and do not owe
anything to any agency here, so it is important for me to get documentation
of the completed job. Without it, I don’t get my ticket home from the Peace
On Thursday morning,
I stopped first at SOMELEC. Once they deducted the deposit I made when I originally
opened the account, there was a small balance, which I paid. Then I had to
get the signature and, more importantly, the rubber stamp of the head of the
agency. Surprise: he wasn’t there. As in most cases like this, he was the
only person who could perform this function.
I made myself
comfortable squatting on the floor outside the director’s office. After a
while, one of the employees saw that I was there and came out to offer me
a metal folding chair to sit on. It had a large hole in the seat and no back;
I thought I was better off crouched down on the floor, so I politely refused
the broken-down chair.
The only way I could think of to guarantee that the agency
chief I would be there sooner than later was to start doing something. Sure
enough, as soon as I took out a bunch of papers to go through and sort out,
The chief surprised
me by speaking English, saying that he had learned it in Saudi Arabia, where he had lived for nine years.
He was happy to hear me greet him in Hassaniya, which he said was better than
his English, but that was clearly not the case. He looked at the paperwork
and gave me the rubber stamp that I needed.
That done, I headed
off to the water company. Once again, the head of the office was very friendly
and efficient. My account had a credit balance, so he filled out the proper
papers and I was able to leave the cashier with more than 8,000 ouguiya.
At the end of the week, Erwin moved his belongings into one
of the spare rooms over the course of two days. He also brought
over his refrigerator, so the kitchen looks quite decadent now,
with two refrigerators in there! I have already found buyers
for my refrigerator, so I will be able to unplug it, clean it
up, and get it ready to make its next trip.
On Friday, having moved out of his old place, Erwin asked if
he could stay at mine. He just needed four nights there, since he is going
to Austria early this week. When he gets back
to Nouakchott, I will be gone. As it turned out,
he stayed only on Friday night, then moved to other friends for his final
In addition to
closing out the utilities, I was able to complete two reports that have to
be written before I leave here: the Description of Service (DOS) and Final
Now I need to
make the rounds so I can say good-bye to people. On Saturday I paid a visit
to my former French tutor Ali, his wife Tislim, and son Baba. Ali will be
teaching French and Hassaniya again at Peace Corps training this summer, so
he goes off to Kaédi today to prepare for that.