A few hours into the night ride, a grinding sound woke me up from sleep. Our bus had developed a problem. It clattered to a stop and we were all asked to alight from the bus. It was pitch-black and I shivered lightly. Perhaps, it was a shudder of fear or from the cool temperature. It was surprising that the atmosphere was cool when it was blistering hot a few hours ago. Mothers rushed to the edge of the sand dunes, spread their wraps and laid their babies. Some sat on the sand, while others stood and lingered around the road, but moved away when they saw the bright lights of approaching solitary cars or trucks.  After making a few frantic calls, the two drivers and their assistants stayed inside the bus and slept. It was not quite long after I sat on the sand, I felt a midge sting; it felt like a sting of a red ant. Afraid to be beaten again, I stood up. When I got tired of standing, I laid my bag on the sand and sat on it. We were informed that we wouldn’t be able to go any further until we could get help at dawn. So many thoughts ran through my mind. What if a desert hyena came after us? What if bandits attacked us? I waved the thoughts away but for some reason, the darkness was threatening. For no reason, I found myself sobbing.  It didn’t last for more than thirty minutes before I started nodding off in sleep. I just had to force myself to sit on the sand, with my legs pulled up to support my head. It took day light too long to arrive. It was the sound of the drivers banging away at the bus that woke me. They fixed it themselves. The problem was the throttle.
The roads were constantly going uphill; it became quite obvious that we were climbing a high terrain. When we eventually seemed to have leveled out on flat scenery, it was littered with corpses of dead bloated animals. There were a million plastic bags floating all over. It was a surreal scene. It was either that environmental sanitation was not taken seriously or the floating debris came flowing from afar to concentrate at a particular plain. The dead animals might have strayed or wandered off to their deaths.  A few hundred miles into our drive, we got to a customs post. Two cruel looking Arab men with rifles waved at our bus to stop. One came into the bus and looked at our faces and then at the corners of our seats as if we might have something hidden at the corners. Another came in and asked us where we were coming from. The driver responded for us.  They didn’t take much of our time and we were on our way again. Between reading, watching sand dunes and sand hills, I dozed most of the time. I did grab my water intermittently. Before I knew it, nightfall came. It was a relief to finally pull into Nouakchott.  It had a city feel to it, but it was nothing like Lagos. It looked more like a small part of Lagos, say Yaba. Passengers were eager to step out. The Ghanaian baker women gave us her number and told us to call when we were settled. She was willing to show us around town. I was not sure that we were going to take that offer. It would have been nice to be shown around town, but our eyes were stretched towards the Western Sahara. We hugged and said our goodbyes.
 We waved down a taxi and headed to the Catholic mission in the heart of town. The parish priest there was the friend of our priest friend in Nouadhibou. He was expecting us. When our taxi pulled up to the gate, the walls of the parish was towering. An elderly dark-skinned man opened the gate and told us that the priest had been expecting us. He was not around; he was conducting mass. We were showed to our room among the long-lined house of guest rooms. It was a neat and cozy room. We hurriedly took a shower and were directed to the kitchen where a meal was already waiting for us.  When the priest showed up in the morning, he was quite pleasant and inquired about our long trip. He said he came in late because of errands and parish visits, so he didn’t want to disturb us. I would have mistaken him for a Nigerian but he said he was from some country in West Africa, Gambia, I think he said. He couldn’t have breakfast with us because he had to hurry to another mission.  At the dining table for breakfast, a young handsome looking dark-skinned young man served us. He spoke little English but had fluent French.
After a sumptuous breakfast of French bread, tea, eggs and fruits, we were told that buses to Nourdhibou didn’t leave on that day. So, we decided to explore the biggest market in the city. I could have mistaken the market for Tejuosho market except that there were more Arabs there than in Lagos. The people were either dark skinned or fair skinned with curly hair. As we got out of the taxi, we were attracted by a pile of beautiful bright fabric. We walked up to the man selling them and started to ask for price, all in the French we knew.  We didn’t quite conclude and another pile of clothing called our attention. Before we could get to it, an average height Arab man walked towards us. He spoke English. It was as if he imposed it upon us to be our escort. He took us around different stores, advised us on what to get and what not to get and took us to the stores he considered the best. I kept wondering why he was so generous with his time. I couldn’t guess because his assistance didn’t end there. When we ran out of money and needed an ATM, he took us to almost all the banks close to the market. He must have spent close to four hours with us; trying to make sure we found an ATM that could accept a visa card. It was an ordeal but he stuck with us throughout: a priceless side to the Mauritania hospitality. It was later that I discovered that he was a boss with his own stores. He liked helping tourists, while his boys tended to his stores. When we got back to the market, we were acting like kids in a toy store. There were so much to choose from. In the middle of haggling over the price of a tunic outfit, the man who was showing us the different colors to choose from, abandoned us and his store and took off. I thought a fire had broken out somewhere and he was running to someone’s rescue until I heard the prayer cry from a nearby Muezzin. The market was like an abandoned homestead. Nobody tended to the stores. Apparently, they had no cases of theft.  We waited till they were done, then concluded our transactions. We lingered and walked through a number of jewelry and leather slip-on stalls before heading back to the Catholic parish. The kitchen help had prepared and served our lunch. It started to feel like a real vacation. A little bit before evening approached, we decided to look around and try out the restaurants. There was nothing close to a Nigerian restaurant, so we settled for a French-Morocco restaurant. The owner was a French lady and the items in the menu were quite pricey. It might have been worth it when I considered the well-dressed black young men hovering over us for every need we had, from scooping to taking away our used glasses. They might as well have fed us.
 On our way back to the parish, we stumbled upon what we’d call a juju object. It was bigger than any juju object I had ever seen. It looked like a humongous animal trap, cluttered with cowries, palm oil, feathers but I couldn’t keep looking to see all the objects attached or poured on it.  I hurried away from it but my travel mate had the nerve to take a picture of it. Just before we opened the gate of the parish to enter, I saw an average height dark-skinned young lady hawking T-shirts. She looked so much like, Kike, a friend of mine in Lagos. I was almost sure she was a Nigerian.  We exchanged cursory glances and moved on.
 
Trapped in the fringes of their dreams: Nourdhibou.
Early the next day, we were on our way to Nourdhibou. The mini bus was full to the brim but not as packed as the long buses we had taken previously. It was to be a seven-hour drive to our destination. We moved across the same terrain, the same landscape we had seen for hours and days.  A few hours into the drive, the driver pulls away from the road and swings into the sandy desert land. I looked around the faces of the other passengers, everything seemed calm until after about a half a mile away from the main road, he stopped and hopped out of the bus. The passenger’s side of the door was flung open and everyone seemed to be hurrying out and running deeper into the desert.  My first thought was, bandits! It had to be arm-robbers.  I ran even faster. They were mostly just men running, though there was only one other woman and my travel partner, in the bus. I was the only woman running with the men. One of the men slowed his pace and tried to stop me by waving angrily at me. I ignored him and continued scampering along. Suddenly, they all started kneeling down.  I stood transfixed. It was their prayer time. Embarrassed, I sauntered back to the bus. It was not long; they were done and returned to the bus. We pulled off. The pulling in and out of desert sands for prayers became a routine I got used to. They must have prayed more than a dozen times in that singular journey.  As if that was not enough, a loquacious Arab man sitting next to us in the bus wouldn’t stop talking. He shared that his father was from Mauritania and his mother from Morocco. As a professional musician, he played a special musical instrument with a contemporary Arab band and they traveled around Europe most of the time.  He went on to say that he dreaded dating European women because they were needy and clingy. They fall in love too hard and they wouldn’t share their men. His last affair with a European woman was abandoned in the middle of winter because the lady wanted him just for herself. She had tried to convince him to divorce his wives. All she talked about was love.  The man went on and on. His two wives lived together in a two storey building. One lived below and the other on top. He was quiet for a few minutes until we passed a herd of camels sashaying through the desert.   He looked at them, smiled and said, “You ladies should try camel milk. It’s an Aphrodisiac. Men can go days on end once they drink camel milk.” He ended with a wide grin. We thanked him for the enlightening information, but he offered to give us our first taste of camel milk. We just ignored him since we couldn’t muster up the nerve to tell him to shut up!
 
 A few hours later, he started snoring. Another passenger in the bus asked us where we were coming from. When we told him, he shared that he had been to Lagos for a non-governmental organization workshop. He worked with NGOS around West and North Africa. We were to call him as soon as we got to Nourdhibou because he had offered to show us around.  He could have passed for an average West African man, but he said he was from Mauritania. Nightfall came and we decided to close our eyes and sleep, since there was not much to be seen or admired in the desert. The nap was, however, interrupted when we were stopped by screams and threats.  The driver had sped past a customs post.  He reversed and acted as if he didn’t realize that he had to stop at the post. We pulled into their vicinity; they searched our belongings and then marched us into their office. Everybody else was cleared quickly except for us, the Nigerians. Inside their tiny office were a stack of photo albums. One after the other, we were queried. When it was my turn, they flashed their torch-lights into my face and pointed at the pictures of run-away women in their tattered albums, then asked if it was me. One of the women was older and had only one eye. Yet, they repeatedly asked if that was me. I didn’t want to be rude, so I kept saying “non!”  I don’t think it was French they spoke; it was not English either.  They told the NGO man who spoke fluent English to let us know that it is women like us that run away and become prostitutes. We nodded our heads. Next, they checked our passports and asked where we were headed. We told them. The questions were endless: what were we going to do at Nourdhibou? Who were we going to see? Why? How long have we known the person that invited us? The questions didn’t stop.  Finally, they released us.
 

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