Saturday, April 30, 2005

I'm not even supposed to BE here today...

So I am supposed to be on vacation. For the last couple weeks I have been burning it at both ends, traveling around the country, working on my economics until all hours, getting up before 8 every day (which for an independent researcher might as well be sunrise). All for the purpose of going on vacation. Two weeks in the green of Guinea and

Sierra Leone. Hiking, beach, no sandstorms, seafood served grilled on every street corner and not a frigging camel for miles. Doesn't get any better than that. Matt and I bought tickets two weeks ago. I was dancing on air all day, running around in the 105+ degree heat doing errands all morning, and I didn't care. Bags packed. Off we go to the airport. There is no one at the airport. No flights today. Huh? We have tickets to Conakry. We think we screwed up the day or the time and double check the tickets. Nope. Air France has sold us nearly $500 of phantom airfare. There are tickets yes, but the flight does not exist. Sorry. Bitch that it isn't refundable. Have a nice day, if you could just move along please.

So we go down the Air France office, which closed because it is Friday afternoon in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. I calmly but deliberately explain the situation to the guard at the gate. It is the same tone my mother uses about three seconds before she flips out at the car rental / bank / concierge. He got the message and found perhaps the only woman in Mauritania not praying to help us. Yup. We sold you a ticket for a flight that doesn't exist. Sorry about that. There is a flight tomorrow. You can try to get on that one. Good luck. Have a nice day, if you could just move along please. So I am still in Nouakchott, bag packed. Maybe we'll go tomorrow.

I don't really have too much to complain about though. I went to Dakar last weekend. Where they have good food and beer. And Matt flew me down. Literally. He is taking flying lessons so he and I and his flight instructor and his flight instructor's girlfriend took a 4 seater Piper down to Dakar. The little planes are lots more fun to fly in that than the big ones, although the take offs and landing are a little hair raising when your pilot has only about 15 hours of flying time. The desert looks incredible at sunset as you fly over.

Other than that, not too much is going on here. Mauritania is hot and the sand storm season has started. Picture blizzards of sand. You have to pull over on the road. Duck into the nearest building. They are awful. And they accompany the coming of the heat. Super.

One other little story that I got a kick out of. A couple weeks ago Matt and I are were in a restaurant. We had ordered our food. As the waiter returned with our drinks, the transformer where the electricity enters the restaurant exploded. White sparks all over the place, followed by flames and thick black smoke as the cable burned. All less than 10 feet from where we were sitting. Neither of us got up. Matt lit a cigarette. The waiter put down our drinks and beat out the fire. We sat in the pitch black of the smoke filled restaurant for a full five minutes talking about what to do. Should we leave? But he already brought our drinks. Yeah, but the food is going to take forever if the power is out. Yeah, alright. Let's go. When I told this story to my mother over the phone, she was a little bit distressed. Kristen Anne, I don't care how long you've lived in Africa. If the restaurant is on fire, leave. I know Mom, but he had already brought our drinks. She just didn't see it my way.

That is pretty much all for now. We are leaving tomorrow, insh'allah. (If it is the will of Allah) Though I don't think Allah is going to be on our side tomorrow. There are supposed to be Islamist demonstrations (which interestingly enough follows the disappearance of a weapons cache). The UN and EU have their people on lock down.

Embassy still thinks we are okay, so we are heading out. The Islamists are pissed because two weeks ago the government changed the weekend from Friday and Saturday, the weekend of the Prophet, to Saturday and Sunday, the weekend of the Infidel. All because the new big dog in town wanted them to, Woodside Petroleum Export Company.

They printed the announcement in Wednesday's paper that the upcoming weekend would be changed. Have a nice day. Now Woodside isn't really interested in working in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. But since this is where the oil is, they have asked the government to change the name. So the government is in the process of changing the name to the Democratic Republic of Mauritania. And while you are at it, could you repeal those pesky temperance laws? No problem sir. (Mauritania could be a lot more interesting when I get back in a couple weeks.) Anyway, long story short, Islamists are a little perturbed.

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