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World March Blog
28 November 2009

Mauritania

Looking through the airplane window, I see a beach… and sand that continues for thousands of kilometres. A thin black line crosses the empire of the sand: a road. In some place, the sand has overcome the road. I wonder – maybe on our way, we get blocked by the sand, or overtaken by a sandstorm? The moon-shaped dunes, like the flag of Mauritania, the moon that is in the sky lying down horizontally like a bowl, unlike in my country. Then, a fantasy landscape of wrecked ships and a big flock of white birds, later contrasted by the great migration of large black bats against the sunset from the hotel window.

Borders between cultural customs: some women wish not that we shake their hand, others will give kisses to cheeks. This also depends on the situation. On the slightly chaotic airport, two persons’ bags do not arrive. I’m one of them, and start making preparations for buying clothes, but the next day we find the bag in the airport. Magdalena’s bag is also found – it is in Las Palmas and will arrive to Dakar. The solidarity within the team makes the loss easier – various persons contribute clothes and help, and it is again confirmed that the common work overcomes personal limitations.

In the march, (see video) we are joined by the Ambassador of Palestine, two local mayors, two senators and one minister – I hear the she is a councillor of the president but also that she is some kind of a minister of sports and something. It is sometimes a bit frustrating to try to follow what is happening, when one does not understand much French or Arabic and the translators are not always right next to oneself. The President is not in town but in the meeting outside the Presidential palace, one of the senators is representing the President, expressing his support to the March.

The local team is with us all the time, coordinated by the tireless Mustapha Bokoum, whose house has acted as the center for organization and refreshment for the local team during the days and weeks of preparation. There in his house we are offered a big and delicious lunch, sitting in the floor and eating from the same common plates, as is customary in the region – both in Morocco and here in Mauritania this has been the case. Eating (traditionally with hands) from the same plate makes people closer to each other, and as the whole Base Team is in the same room, we certainly are very close to each other and need to learn some cooperation to manage to share the food in various plates in the middle of the floor.

It is hot, but the heat is dry here in the desert, even in the coast. The culture in Mauritania is a pleasant mixture of Arab and African culture – Morocco did not feel so much like Africa, but rather Arabia. Here in Mauritania already the characteristics of Africa can be felt: the ways of expressing the joy of life, the physical characteristics of the people, the beautiful clothing, and sadly, also the lack of infrastructure. Although I have to say that our hotel is excellent and all the rest about the hospitality as well, so in fact we are not personally physically affected by any lack of well functioning infrastructure. We even have wireless internet in the hotel.

On the first evening, we participate in a cultural evening at l’Espace Culturel Socogim PS, with activists from various organizations, and are especially impressed by the strong women. Isabelle discusses with the women and hears that 70% of the women in Mauritania are circumcised. Opposition to this gruesome practice is one of the main issues of the womens struggle against all forms of violence towards women and children. The discussion and the performances of the evening are great, with a lot of passion and wish to go on creating profound change in the Mauritanian society. After the event we go to the roof to have dinner, and find out that the cultural center founder Diadé Kamara has constructed a beautiful library and study room upstairs, which we’re all impressed with.

Besides participating in the march (in the beginning and the end of the march, but due to health reasons not walking in the march), the mayor of Tavragh-Zeina (region of Nouakchott) mrs. Fatimetou Mint Abdel Malick receives us in her office and also participates in the second evening’s event. The event is a dinner-party in the desert, in a desert tent. Everyone is dressed up and there is dance, recitation of poems and (mostly short) speeches. The main course is six entire goats.

On the last day in Nouakchott, we hear that the bus driver has disappeared and he was paid in advance. It is the day before the Tabaski festival in Mauritania, and everyone’s busy with festival preparations. In spite of that, three central persons volunteer to drive us to our next stop, Rosso, next to the border of Senegal.

As we pass through the desert landscape, we pass numerous cars filled with people and goats, on the way from the market where they have bought goats for the next day’s festival, where all goats will be slaughtered. We will be traveling on the festival day, but in Senegal the festival is on the following day, so we will participate in the festival in Dakar.

In Rosso, we find accommodation in a modest hotel that appears abandoned. We’re all hungry as the timetable did not work out as planned. On this day our first meal is the dinner. In the morning, I wake up earlier than anyone and go down to the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee. Our impression of the hotel as a “ghost hotel” is confirmed by the presence of not only cockroaches, but also a frog that seems to live in the dusty kitchen. The caretaker is sleeping on the dining hall floor under a mosquito net – a luxury that unfortunately is missing from the rooms. Prayer calls echo through the early morning air from the next door mosque and the mobile phone alarm clock is ringing, but the caretaker is fast asleep.

Our visit to Mauritania ends with a morning march from the hotel to the border, which is a river. In the other side is Senegal, and the town that is also called Rosso. We cross the river in two small wooden boats. Nobody is thrown to the crocodiles in spite of earlier threats.

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