Monday, October 04, 2004

Locust in my hair and other interesting things that happened to me my first week in Mauritania

So I arrived safe and sound in Nouakchott, capital of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, to begin my Fulbright scholarship. The trip itself was pretty uneventful. I sat next to two guys south from Paris, who I thought were Finish or something because of the language they were speaking, but they turned out to be Scottish. That's all I got. Sorry. The first week has been pretty uneventful. I found an apartment, met a couple people around town, and have been just generally settling in. My apartment is great. One of the Peace Corps volunteers I met hooked me up with her real estate agent, Mamouni. I believe that heis the only flaming gay real estate agent in all of Mauritania. He speaks prefect English and kept saying things like, "And just look atthe light in the reception room. A little paint, Mah-vo-liss!" I looked at him in awe for the first hour or so, but then just shrugged and realized that the light was nice and a little paint could spruce up the place. In the end though I settled on a small furnished apartment in the chic Tevragh Zeina district. It is cramped and on a busy street and expensive. Just like home! It does have its good points though, most notably air conditioning and CNN, and across the street from just about the only place in the city that has fresh produce of any kind. I live upstairs from an extremely well known Mauritanian scholar of English poetry (Geoff, you want the hook up, let me know), who was the former ambassador to Nigeria, among other places. The dude in the other apartment is an Egyptian diplomat.They think I am an American diplomat. Eh, as long as it doesn't increase the rent. It is the best of the houses I saw, one of the highlights including a place that was the only one in a block of four houses that did not belong to a colonel in the Mauritania army. And when was your last coup attempt? Six whole weeks huh? Maybe I should look somewhere else...So that is about my apartment. In other news, about the city of Noukchott. I can sum it up in one word. Sand. Everything is reclaiming land from dunes, keeping dunes off city streets, etc. The people have been very nice. They all walk around in traditionaldress. Josh and Andy, if you guys ever need to know where to bust out those Peul robes, that is all that people wear here. The dress codes for women are more lenient than I thought they would be. I don't have to cover my hair unless I am working, or it is Ramadan. Which is good. Because it is FLIPPING HOT in the Sahara. The other thing about Mauritania. Locusts. We had an infestation over the last twodays. Those things are unreal. I don't know if I can even describewhat a swarm looks like descending on the city. Maybe gnats around a dead fish on the beach on a still August day. Flies on a dead body in a horror movie... In any case, the sky looks like you are looking through a screen door. Then the little bastards land. They are about3 inches long, with pink bodies and painted wings. And they eat everything. You walk into a building for a two hour meeting, and you walk out saying, didn't there used to be a tree there? The whole country sounds like a bowl of rice crispies with them munching away.Also, walking through the swarm, no matter how hard core you think you are, bad idea.

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