You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2006.

Or should I call this post: Reunited and it feels so good!

Even though having Donn back means I have to listen to a lot more Bob Dylan than I really want to, we are all doing great and very happy to have him here.

Elliot and I arrived at the airport and were standing outside, waiting, when a young man swigging a bottle of Coke came up and asked me who I was waiting for. “Mon mari,” I said (my husband) and he said, “Ok, come inside.” Surprised and mystified, I followed him. He spoke with the policeman at the door, who nodded at me, and then Elliot and I went into the main room of the airport. The airport here isn’t very big—there’s a main hall, very basic and echo-y, a hall for departing flights with molded plastic seats and one for arriving flights without seats but with a conveyor belt, and that’s basically the whole place. You walk outside to actually board your plane. There’s a man who wanders around holding a tray with some tea glasses and a spring of mint, and for 10 or 20 ougiyas he will pour you a glass, expertly and quickly getting the foam on it. Yes of course the glasses get washed sometimes—only an American would think of that!

Once inside, we stood for a while at the barrier that separates the main hall from arrivals, but soon the young man came and ushered us all into the arrivals hall. I was amazed. It’s years since visitors have been allowed back there. I still don’t know why we were among the lucky ones, while others waited outside. We were able to smile at Donn through the glass as he went through customs. It was fun to see the surprise on his face as he looked up and saw us grinning at him!

He got through quickly. I’d run into another friend there—a Mauritanian man—and it was rough that HE got to hug and kiss my husband, in the warm greeting style of Arabic men, while all I could do was smile at him and wait impatiently until we were behind the closed doors of our house to even hug him. Sigh… Darn cultural sensitivity!

The porters hopped and skipped all over the moving conveyer belt. Donn found his first 2 bags quickly, but the 3rd didn’t come and didn’t come. Others were also waiting impatiently. We had two cases but were waiting for the box containing books for Oasis and some medical supplies for a local clinic. Finally the conveyor belt stopped moving. No more bags to come.

We stood at the only counter while someone rapped hopefully at a door behind it. We know that door—it leads to an office where we spent some time the FIRST time we came to Mauritania, with 11 bags, NONE of which arrived with us. Eventually we got 9 of them but 2 never did come, and no, not a penny was reimbursed to us either. That was the now-defunct Air Afrique. Would Royal Air Maroc be any better?

Not apparently. No one was there. We waited, and after about 20 or 30 minutes a man strolled casually, even sleepily, behind the counter and opened the door. He came out with a large accounts book, and began writing down people’s names and claim numbers. People crowded round. He coincidentally stood RIGHT IN FRONT OF DONN but others, with an ease born of elbowing their way to the front of lines from birth, effortlessly pushed him right out of the way and got their claim numbers in first. It was rather impressive to watch. We have such a long ways to go to be able to do it like that, although I do try and practice sometimes.

Finally, the man seemed about to take Donn’s claim number—but then he hesitated and changed his mind. He went back into the office, came out, and stood at another place on the counter. Donn found himself again at the back of the line. It was just after 4 a.m. We gave up and went home.

Our guard gave him an enthusiastic greeting. Hug, hug, kiss, kiss. Elliot and I hurried ahead to unlock the door so he could rush in and wake up the twins. As Donn came up, I did remember to “casually” notice the message stuck in the Christmas bow.

We opened the door. Elliot waved the light saber. Abel, obviously still half-asleep, tumbled through the door shouting SURPRISE. Ilsa slept on, for a few more minutes anyway. Then we had a joyous reunion. She showed him her decorations. He managed to eat a few cookies. Through it all, Michelle, our house guest, slept on, undisturbed. She’s found an apartment and is trying to get water and electricity. More on this later.

It was after 5 a.m. by the time we got to bed.

The last piece of luggage arrived today, Tuesday, 3 days later.

He still has jet lag and since I’m a light sleeper, it’s like I have it too. But the kids are on vacation this week (Vacances de Toussaint) and after today, so am I, so who cares? We’re enjoying late mornings and lots of extra hugs.

Even the Bob Dylan is sounding better than normal.

Donn comes back tonight—in about an hour, to be precise. It’s currently 1:33 a.m. Elliot is in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies—he wanted them to still be warm when Daddy got home. The twins wanted to stay up too but didn’t make it—they’re passed out, books sprawled across their chests, mouths open. I’m supposed to wake them up when Elliot and I  leave for the airport. They expect that they will stay awake so that they can surprise Daddy when he comes in. They are planning to turn out all the lights, and wait on either side of the door with their light sabers. Then, as the door opens, they will turn on the light sabers, clash them together, and shout SURPRISE. I don’t see this happening, but didn’t bother break their hearts by pointing out that fact.

Also, the door has been decorated with a red Christmas bow, with a message tucked into it. Ilsa has instructed me to say casually to Donn, “Oh look at this! There’s a note. It’s probably for you.” I’ll try to remember.

We have spent the day getting ready. Awaiting him is a veritable feast–not that he’ll want one this time of night. There are 2 apple pies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and popsicles made from the local kool-aid equivalent. Apparently our love language round here is food. I learned about love languages in childhood. We had 2 main ones in my family; food and guilt manipulation. What are the others?

The plane is supposed to arrive at 2:30 a.m. Elliot will ensure we are there on time—he’s already watching the clock and fussing at me. He can’t stand to be late. (Sometimes we wonder whose child he really is and what the fairies did with ours.) I’m bringing a book. They don’t let you in the airport at all anymore—you have to wait outside—and sometimes it takes a while to get through, especially with the Mauritanians’ curiously fluid views on waiting in lines. The only carts available have a porter that comes with them, and Donn won’t have Mauritanian money and I forgot to get change. I only have 1000UM bills, and that’s waaay too much to tip a porter. I hope it doesn’t get nasty.

We’ve been apart a long time—far too long. We’re all looking forward to this reunion very, very much.

Time to go. Elliot is dancing with impatience. The plane should be landing soon!!

In one day, we became rich beyond our neighbor’s wildest dreams, although this made sense once we found out their dreams. We did this by selling our house, giving away our ’84 Volvo to a deserving high-schooler who used to baby-sit free, and stepping off an airplane in our new home, Nouakchott.

Stepping out into that warm, dusty night five ½ years ago, I had no idea of my newfound status, although the small boys converging upon me should have given me a clue. I brushed them off inefficiently, too overwhelmed by a 28-hour international flight, complicated by 3 small children, to pay them much heed.

Soon, however, my neighbors began to make my status clear to me. They knocked on my door, day and night, to ask for help. “Pay my rent,” said a woman with gold rings in her ears, wearing a fairly-new muluffa. “I need money for lunch,” announced the man who delivered our water, although we had just paid him amply for his services. Neighbor children swarmed the house, eyed my kid’s toys with great awe, and proceeded to pocket a few small things; Hot Wheels cars, broken sunglasses, Barbie furniture, hair clips.

“I’ve never had a million dollars; I suppose you have,” said Abdel Khaliq to Donn one day. He’s originally from Atar, a dusty town situated in one of the hotter parts of Mauritania, near an oasis. “No,” protested Donn, whose bank account is less than $1000, but it made no difference; Abdel didn’t believe him. Everyone knows Americans have more money than they could ever use, always, springing up from a magic well in never-ending supply. Besides, $1000 was far enough beyond his experience. “If I had a million dollars,” Abdel went on dreamily, “I’d buy a house in Atar and drink camel’s milk whenever I wanted.”

This was towards the end, when the relationship was beginning to sour. We were so naïve, we had no idea of our responsibility as rich Americans, nor of obligations placed on us in the guise of friendship. Some offered friendship for its own sake, with no thought of return. But others had different aims.

It’s a very strange thing to suddenly be rich. Yesterday at the kids’ school, a man I know slightly (he sells vegetables and has ripped me off several times) presented me with a piece of paper and a story of how his wife is in hospital and he needs money for medicine. It could be true; it could be a story. It made no difference—I opened my wallet and showed him that it was empty. “That’s ok,” he said. “You could just give me some euros.” I stared at him in amazement. Apparently he thought my magic money supply was in my car; I just had to press a button and voila! Euros or dollars or ougiyas—whatever I needed.

Even though this aspect of life can be frustrating for the adults, I love the effect that growing up in a poor country is having on my kids. When we first arrived, Elliot was 5 and the twins had just turned 4. For the first several years, they thought we were really rich. (which we are, really. That’s one of my many points) It was fun when we first went back to the States 3 years later. “We’re really rich,” Elliot confided to a new friend. I watched his mother’s eyes going in amazement from his slightly-faded t-shirt to the borrowed and battered old mini-van we were driving to me. But I didn’t bother explain.

Now they’re older, and wiser in the ways of the world. They know there are a lot of things out there that they can’t have. Their school is located on the grounds of the French Embassy, and it’s the best school in town—everyone wants to go there. The son of the Spanish Ambassador is in Elliot’s class, and so is our landlord’s daughter; the president’s kids attend; many of their classmates are the children of diplomats, or have parents who work for big international companies, not mostly-unknown NGOs.

But I think this is healthy. They walk out of our gate in the morning, dressed in clean clothes and with full tummies, and see a herd of goats tended by some small, dirty children who will not be going to school. They go to an international school where other kids have newer, trendier clothes and take tennis lessons and never hesitate an instant when signing up for book clubs or extra-curricular activities. On their way to and from school, they drive past villas, whose inhabitants travel for vacation to Spain, and tents, whose inhabitants travel for vacation to the desert. They are learning to see that they’re not rich and that there are many things they can’t afford—and yet, that they are rich, with plenty of food and warm beds and toys and books galore. It’s a good balance.

Ilsa arrived home at lunchtime yesterday, happy, exhausted, and truly filthy. Playing in the dirt for 3 days can do that for a girl. She’s still talking about it. “…and we built a sink out of mud bricks and it had a drain!…and we got to ride on top of the Land Cruiser when we visited other villages!…and we named the baby sheep and we had a rule: if you caught it you got to name it!…etc. etc.” I had to take a pumice stone to her feet to get them back to their normal colour.

Mauritania can be divided roughly in two, although of course in real life it’s not this simple. The people from the north are the Maures. They usually have some kind of Arabic background; they were traditionally nomadic camel herders, who live in fixed houses only during the gaytna, or date harvest. Their language is a dialect of Arabic called Hassiniya. To the South live the Pulaar people. In culture and language, they are more typically African, and are in fact a sub-group of a large West African tribe. Although we have some Pulaar friends, we have ended up knowing more Maures, which is why I have stories about camel’s milk and baking bread in the sand and the rustly spikes of the date palms against the desert stars. I haven’t had a lot of experience with the Pulaar villages of the south, so I was glad that Ilsa got to experience it.

No dates, she reports (they are a more northern thing) but she drank zrig every single day without complaining! She won’t do this for me, of course. She slept in a mud hut with a straw roof—her dream come true. One night there was a sandstorm and they had to move inside, but she was lucky to still  be in front of the low window, she reports. “But didn’t the sand blow on you?” I asked. I’ve had experience of the stifling air, the grit silting into noses, ears and mouths, when one sleeps near these windows which have only poorly-fitted wooden shutters, no glass. But no, she slept just fine. And she’s so happy to have had some excitement in her life at last!

“It’s forbidden to fast today,” Sumaia says. “It is required to feast. You have to eat.” She looks lovely in a new blue outfit, and smells wonderful too. All the women in her family got new perfume in honor of the day. She is explaining the feast to me, the Eid al-Fitr, which signifies the end of Ramadan. This feast can be officially one day or officially three days, and as far as I can tell, it’s up to the individual or the individual’s boss which it is. Many people seem to take two days, but international businesses usually give only one.

“Tomorrow you can start fasting again if you want,” Sumaia continues to explain. The 6 days following the Eid al-Fitr are good for fasting—they are equal in worth to a whole year’s worth, according to certain Islamic traditions. Since women in particular always have days that they couldn’t fast during Ramadan that they have to make up, many fast during these 6 days.

Yesterday WAS the end of Ramadan here in Mauritania. We went to sleep with the sound of the neighbours’ specially fattened sheep bleating in our ears and woke to the same. In the morning, we could have gone out to see a dead sheep in front of most houses, its throat slit and blood pooling beneath it. But we didn’t, because we had more important things to do, like sleeping in and letting the children watch a movie in English with English subtitles. Why did they do this, you ask? I don’t know. This was a movie borrowed from a French family for the express purpose of improving their French. Their English is great—they don’t need subtitles.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated with roast goat or sheep, gifts of meat to neighbours or to the poor, and new clothes. It’s fun to go out and see everyone—no matter their station in life—dressed in something new and bright and clean. Even the little girl who lives in a tent across from us, who loves to greet me and whose hand is usually gritty with dust, was bathed and clean, hair freshly-braided, and wearing a brand-new pink skirt. She looked adorable! If previous years are any guide, she will eat and sleep in this new outfit for the next several weeks, until it looks like all her other clothes.

Because everyone is expected and wants to have new clothes, the marketplace is a terrible place to go during Ramadan—unless you thrive on being jostled and pushed and trampled! Prices tend to be very high, too.

We have a leisurely morning and plan to spend the afternoon visiting people. However, our guard (a man we pay to sleep in our garden every night and to water it in the morning; theoretically deters thieves) appears at the door around noon, a covered plate in his hand. He is sharing his sheep with us.

We’re not hungry yet, as we had pancakes about 10:30, but I call the kids in to wash hands and we gather round. The plate contains roast sheep in onion sauce with fries on top, and is scooped up and eaten with bread. His wife is a good cook and the meal is really tasty.

In the afternoon, I go round with plates of cookies to greet the neighbours and we plan to visit several friends. We only make it to one house, but we have a great time. Sumaia decorates our hands with henna, a traditional way of celebrating. I now have a pattern of flowers and curlicues on my right hand that extends from my little finger down my palm and past my wrist. It’s lovely. (I know you want pictures but the camera is broken–sorry.) I bring a plate of cookies to their house, and leave with my plate filled with coconut balls, home-made biscotti, and crepes. The henna still isn’t dry, so I hold my hand carefully as I drive. We’re invited to spend the evening with some American friends, eating chili and home-made ice-cream and apple pie.

Today we visited Rana’s, and watched her drawing henna patterns on her sister’s hands with black dye. “Isn’t that dangerous?” we ask. Rana shrugs. Yes, it is, but her sisters want it, they won’t listen. Tomorrow, almost everyone will be back to work.

Tonight is the last night of Ramadan—we think! We can’t know, though, until the imans see with their very own eyes that tiny sliver of new moon and the announcement comes out on the radio, and through the loudspeakers mounted on every neighbourhood mosque. Regardless, the kids have the day off school tomorrow.

Elliot just got back from a Boy Scout camping trip to Atar. Their leader this year is a Marine colonel. The advantage of this is that he has a sat phone with him, which gives me peace of mind. However his car breaks down just like everybody else’s, we learn when they are 3 hours late getting back.

The purpose of this trip was educational—they toured a gold mine and got to see (from a distance) a blast. They are tremendously excited about this, and describe it to me repeatedly in great detail. They also did a 6-mile hike—complete with backpacks. Sounds a bit military to me but I suppose some discipline won’t hurt the boy—he certainly won’t get it from me. From me, he has learned to always have a second cup of coffee, that homemade cookies are best, and the art of saying, “Ok, just let me finish this chapter first.”

Ilsa gave me quite the shock the other day when she came home begging to be able to go on a village trip. This is the child who has hated village trips ever since our 3-week trip up north one July, when there were nonstop sandstorms and we thought it was cool when it got down to 95 degrees and the whole family had giardia. I don’t know why this affected her so much!

I suspect the attraction this time was Matthew, of CTA fame. His family had been invited for the feast (end of Ramadan) and he invited Ilsa to join them. For some reason, this sounded wonderfully exotic to her. I’m not taking it personally. She thinks her life is boring and longs for adventure. I’ve tried to explain that many people would think locust plagues, drinking fresh camel’s milk out of a wooden bowl, or sleeping under the desert stars were adventures, but she is not convinced. I personally blame Hollywood, although I must admit our special effects are not that impressive. Also the soundtrack to our lives isn’t very good. Maybe we need a better agent.

I told her it might be a poor village and she would have to eat whatever was put in front of her, no matter WHAT part of the animal it once had been. I brought up the sensitive subject of dates.

“Actually I don’t hate dates,” she said. “I never have. I just don’t like how they feel in my mouth.”

I choked. My mind flashed back to all those times we had made her eat just ONE date, amid protestations and dramatic choking and gagging effects.

Maybe if they ate dates in Spy Kids, she would have liked them all along.

I found a piece of paper lying on the floor in my room. I reproduce it below in its entirety, including spelling and grammatical compositions, although I can’t show you the drawing.

 

C.T.A. NEWS

Four friends are forming a new organisation. The C.T.A. is the name. Matthew (last name deleted) is a 10 year old boy happy and kind and his sister Esther, a bright happy Girl. Abel intelligent but capable of rages and Ilsa, a girl who does not (underlined twice) adore every language.

These four friends all injoy exercicing, to play and love mysteries!

Writen and illustrated by Ilsa.

 

We had the following conversation.

Me: “Is the CTA a secret?”

Ilsa: “Not anymore. It used to be, but Elliot found the paper.”

Me: “What is the CTA?”

Ilsa (shrugs): “I don’t know. Abel wanted to name it that.”

Abel: “No I didn’t. I wanted CIS.”

Me: “What’s CIS?”

Abel: “I don’t know.”

Me: “So it’s not secret? So you wouldn’t mind me telling people about it?”

Ilsa: “No.”

Me: “What if I put it on my blog?”

Ilsa: “Sure. It’s not a secret. But why would anyone care?”


Maybe you don’t. But who couldn’t love a 9 year old who describes herself as “a girl who does not adore every language” ? Not me. She really cuts right to the heart of what’s important in describing someone. I see a great future ahead :)

PS the weird thing is that I posted this yesterday, saw it on the blog, and today it’s not there. I’ll have to tell Ilsa, since she loves mysteries!

I’m sitting on a plastic mat under an enormous lemon tree in a paved courtyard. The evening breeze is pleasant and cool; overhead a few stars are visible through the city lights. My friend Rana sets a plate of dates near me, and Ilsa turns to me and whispers, frantically, “Do I HAVE to eat dates?” Her entire face wrinkles in dismay at the thought.

“Just one,” I tell her. “But try not to make a face.” I don’t know why all my kids hate dates—after all they’re pure sugar—but they do, and it’s not well understood. It would be as if you invited an Arab family over and offered their child m’n’m’s. Wouldn’t you be mystified if that child pulled a horrible face and choked over them?

Rana is Palestinian and we are breaking the fast with her and her family. The call of the muezzin, signifying the end of a long day of heat and thirst and deprivation, has floated to us on the air, and the family is gathering round. Rana has told me earlier that this year, her seven-year-old brother is keeping Ramadan. It’s a matter of pride, a way of showing that you’re growing up, but by the end of the day, he can barely whisper to her, “When will the call to prayer sound, Rana?”

We eat dates and drink bissop, a sort of iced tea made with hibiscus flowers, cranberry-coloured and tart-sweet and refreshing. Then we gather round the plates and enjoy the feast. There are fatiyahs (meat-and-onion filled pastries) and salad, and harira soup, the traditional Moroccan soup served during Ramadan all over the Arab world. It has chick peas and lamb and lemon juice and all sorts of other ingredients, and it is superb. The Palestinian version is very nice.

Then we have succulent lamb served with fragrant saffron rice, vegetables and home-made yogurt. Afterwards we sit back with sighs of contentment. We opt to stay outside as it’s so hot. This family speaks Arabic but little or no French, and only Rana speaks English. Abel scores points by reciting the Arabic alphabet, the entire family helping him over the rough spots. Afterwards, the kids play together without a common language, racing and wrestling and shouting.

I announce regretfully that we must leave; Elliot has a geography test tomorrow that he hasn’t studied for yet. School ends at 5:30 and this invitation was for 6, although we were late. The family protests—no, no, dessert is coming!

Dessert is incredible, the pinnacle of an already-excellent meal. There are 3 kinds of pastries—all still hot. I can’t remember their proper names. One I call honey balls; deep-fried balls of dough coated with honey. Ilsa loves these. Another are crescent-shaped pastries, stuffed with raisins, nuts and coconut, also dripping with honey. I especially love these. The third is a kind of honey-drenched cake with a topping that has the crunchy consistency of cornmeal. I don’t know what it is, but it’s good. With this we have Palestinian tea, which is black tea with an herb added. I forget the name. It’s got a sharp scent, a little like eucalyptus although not that strong. They give me some to bring home to add to my own tea, and a plate of pastries to enjoy the next day.

The next evening finds us breaking the fast with an international group of women—Swiss, Mauritanian, Sudanese, American, Palestinian. The harira is from a box but it’s still tasty. There are crepes, cookies, and bread, plus the inevitable dates and crème fraiche. The kids slouch, bored, their noses in books. We were invited to a party but it turns out to be more of a discussion group, and they the only kids with the exception of a shy and inarticulate three year-old. Afterwards they are still hungry, so they eat sandwiches at 9 p.m. before heading off to bed.

The following night, we are again invited out. (What a week!) This time, we visit Moroccan friends, and the harira is the best we’ve had yet. There are dried figs as well as dates, and crepes and bread. It’s wonderful. We drink Moroccan tea; lighter than Mauritanian tea, sweeter and more minty. I visit with a good friend that I haven’t seen for almost 2 years—she’s been studying in Morocco and this is her first time to visit her family since January 2005. We talk and talk, but it’s ok, because the kids are playing with her younger siblings, and don’t want to leave even when it’s past their bedtime.

Finally it’s Friday. Three friends spend the day at my house—it’s their period so they’re not fasting, as you are considered unclean and God won’t hear your prayers during this time. My house offers a safe place to eat without upsetting other members of the family. We eat spaghetti and salads off large plates, gathered round a common platter with spoons in hand. Afterwards I make iced coffee with lots of sugar and cream for them (black for me).

In the evening, we head off for a picnic on the dunes with a group of fellow Americans and Canadians. We miss the turn-off and end up driving through a herd of camels, coming in for the evening with their herders. They really do walk in single file. A visiting Canadian nephew tumbles out of the car to take some pictures. We drive through piles of garbage and eventually end up on a low dune, sitting amongst some scrub brush for a picnic while watching the sun sink toward the horizon. Afterwards, on our way back into the city, the policeman at the checkpoint is mystified by our behaviour. I think it’s the piles of trash that we’ve just driven through that confuse him. The real dunes are away north and east of the city, and he’s not too clear on the word “picnic.”

It was a wonderfully social week. The problem with all these break-fasts, though, is that I wasn’t fasting during the day. Guess it’s time to dig out my exercise videos and try to get some of this off before we begin our own season of feasting, with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up.

It’s true that today was a sandstorm day. Sand blowing ankle-depth in the streets, gritty in the crevices of your elbows and throat, crunchy between your teeth. But I spent today as I have spent the past several days—worrying about something to do with water.

Our water supply has been fine since the Intrepid Twins plumbed the depths of the cistern. The water heater in my bathroom has been fine since it was disabled Saturday morning. But when the plumber was there dealing with the heater, he noticed the Song of the Toilet,  which began with a charming sort of hum and built in a gradual crescendo before leveling off with a sort of throaty shriek to signify a full tank once again. It’s always done this. Sure it was annoying in the middle of the night, but you felt that the toilet took great pride in a job well done. There was a sort of satisfaction to that shriek, a sense of completion.

The plumber, however, wasn’t impressed. He muttered something about old pipes, took off the lid and started fiddling with things. He announced that some orange part needed replacing, so my friend Tim promised to take care of it.

Tim came back Sunday afternoon with the new orange bit. (If you want technical terms, call Jodi—her husband’s an expert) He replaced it and flushed. The water poured and dripped and poured and dripped. It didn’t sing, but it didn’t stop either. The floater floated, the water poured, and soon came the ominous drip! drip! of an overflowing tank. I rushed for the mop again.

We spent the better part of 2 hours watching the tank refill. It would overflow; he would adjust it. It would fill ¼ of the tank, too little for flushing; he would adjust it again. Finally he needed to go. I told him I’d fix it later, enjoying the mental image of myself as Fix-It Woman. But I couldn’t find a screwdriver. Finally I used the one off Elliot’s mini-Leatherman’s tool that he got this summer. With great effort, I adjusted it; it overflowed. I adjusted it again; it overflowed again. Eventually, with many threats about goats and garbage dumps, I gave up. (Oh, like you don’t threaten inanimate objects?)

This morning, when I got up, one of the lenses fell out of my glasses. I couldn’t find my glasses repair kit (I can’t find anything without my glasses! That’s the point!) but I was able to renew my damaged image as Self-Reliant Fix-It Woman by using, again, Elliot’s mini-Leatherman’s tool. (I want one of my own for Christmas) This image lasted until I started my washing machine and noticed that instead of filling up with water, it was pouring all the water out the bottom. So Tim got to spend the morning here again. (Overseas, you always call a friend before a professional, especially since your professional may not have a clue what he’s doing) He managed to fix it, but the toilet is still awaiting a new floater bit.

Maybe tomorrow everything in the house will work.

On the other hand, maybe some defensive pessimism would serve me better.

As usual, on Saturday afternoon we went to the beach. The sky was overcast, the water just the tiniest bit cool as you got in, which was nice—2 weeks ago, it was like bathwater, just as warm as the air, and not refreshing at all. Cooler water signifies the change of season; the end of the humid, sticky, unpleasant season is in sight! The waves were big and breaking close in, and several times, in spite of my efforts to dive underneath them, they caught and tumbled me towards shore. Throughout it all, the kids played, undeterred by the rough seas and currents. They rode the waves on boogie boards, shouting and spluttering as they shot onto the beach and landed with a crunch in the shells.

Towards sunset came a shout. Dolphins in the water! It’s not unheard of to see them, but it is rare. These were so close to shore that if I’d still been in the water when they came, I’d have been in the midst of them. They were heading south quite quickly, about 8 to 10 of them, leaping and frolicking and diving. Abel ran alongside the shore, following them, and saw one leap into the air and catch a fish in mid-dive. They leapt into the air and flicked their tails; they did back flips and forward flicks. One little girl did cartwheels down the sand in her best imitation.

We followed at a slower pace along the beach, and came upon a treasure trove for small children—a heap of dead sea creatures, caught in nets, unusable, dumped. There was a small nurse shark, reddish in colour, that Elliot claimed (But WHY can’t I bring it home, Mum?), and a baby squid, complete with bulgy eyes and squishy tentacles, and several sting rays draped bonelessly over each other. I pointed out the sharp barbs on their tails to the children. Once Donn stepped on one in the ocean, and his entire leg swelled up and hurt for six weeks. Ick. Makes me not want to go swimming ever.

I love days like this at the beach. We usually go in a big group, our common link that we all speak English. We head north of town, to a deserted area; we occasionally see a few fisherman but that’s about it. Now that the road north has been built, we usually don’t have to get out of the way of four-wheel-drives crammed with people and boxes flying by on their way to or from Nouadhibou. We used to have to look both ways to go into the water.

There aren’t millions of people suntanning, frowning when your children run by. There are instead millions of shells, millions of translucent crabs scuttling by, in all sizes from giant to gnat. There are bloated dead blow-fish, and plastic trash that’s been dumped offshore by some passing ship, but you can also find bits of nets from the fishermen, once-in-a-while glass floats, ancient sea-turtle shells, dead sharks and squid. There’s plenty of room for an impromptu soccer game.

We drove home past the herd of camels, come in for the evening around the group of tents set up by the road. We debated whether or not to stop and buy fresh camel’s milk, but opted not to, since I really didn’t want any, just wanted to be able to tell you about it :) But we saw others who’d come out from the city to buy some fresh camel’s milk to drink with their dates at the break-fast, the end of a day of fasting. At certain times of year, this little nomadic group is always there. We see their tents on our way out in the afternoon; their herds being watered at sunset and the light of their cooking fires when we’re on our way home.

In the evening, cool breezes rustled in the sugar cane behind the gazebo. We had what I called a Lifeboat party—women and children—since none of the men could come. Debbie and Karen and I ate our hamburgers and chatted while the girls whispered in the corners and the younger boys played super-heroes and the older ones played Age of Empires on the computer. The mosque recited an entire sura (chapter of the Koran) over the loudspeaker for about 45 minutes, like it does every night during Ramadan. We talked about life overseas and our kids and our summers, till it was time to get our really-mom-we’re-not-a-bit-sleepy children to bed. A good day.

October 2006
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