In Nouakchott, it’s pretty much always hot, but there are definite seasons if one pays attention. For example there’s the rainy season, when it might rain as much as 6 or 8 times in a good year. This is also known as the humid season for those of us along the coast, and it lasts from July to October. In the interior and especially to the south, along the Senegal River, the desert flushes with pale green grass. It’s the locals’ favorite time of year—lechrive. The animals get fat (sort of—this is a desert) and give more milk. Many people have told me that basically the best that life has to offer is to travel to the desert during this time, sit under a big tent, and drink fresh milk from a large wooden bowl. Mmm-mmm. They are always surprised when they sense that I don’t agree. Ignorant Americans!
After lechrive (to pronounce this properly you must say the “ch” like the Scottish do with loch…a sort of guttural snarl. LeCCCCCCCHHHHreev. Like that. Good. Try not to wrinkle your nose so much), a hot, dry wind blows across 3000 miles of sand, gathering strength as it crosses the bleak arid stretches. It bleaches the grass to a straw-like colour and consistency. It bleaches your hair to a straw-like consistency too, and keeps it looking like you haven’t washed it in, oh a week now, even when it is theoretically still wet from the shower. This time is called tiviski (tiviskee). This is what’s going on now.
It’s been hot, but dry, so at least we’re not dripping. You know it’s hot when you go outside in the dark at 9 p.m. and it is still 93 degrees, which is how it was last night. Yep. This year tiviski seems unusually hot because the nights have brought no relief. The wind dies at sunset; the air stays warm. Clothes hung on the line dry in about 20 minutes.
The last few weeks at the beach, the current has been strong and the waves have been rough. Swimming has been next to impossible—you are basically just fighting the waves to stay upright. Sometimes you win; sometimes you get tumbled. Last week was great for boogie-boarding though; I got some fantastic rides.
This week, for a change, was dead calm. The wind off the desert meant that the waves had good shape, but they were tiny—two feet tall and breaking about 10-20 feet offshore. A perfect day for beginners to practice. Donn’s a surfer, and at various times the kids have shown some interest, but it’s been sporadic at best. (Although for several years, Ilsa’s career goals included “princess surfer.”) But yesterday Abel really took off! Um, literally, I guess. He showed great form and got really good rides! Much better than the ones I managed to capture, because this camera has some sort of annoying delay.
That’s Abel behind him on a boogie-board, waving. He’s not really about to decapitate his other friends–it just looks that way!
Many people were at the beach yesterday. It was a strange day. Usually the wind is off the desert, therefore hot, in the morning, and mid-afternoon shifts to the north and cools down. But all day, discouragingly, the wind stayed off the sand. In sharp contrast, the water was actually cold—oh joy! It was very strange to stand waist-deep and be icy, even going numb, in your lower half while your upper half was practically sweating in the hot wind. The water was so cold you had to keep swimming or you started to go blue, and some people (Abel) went blue anyway about the lips from staying in so long. There was a school of fish in very close, right around us, flipping up the silvery waves then just as suddenly disappearing and reappearing again. Several times, we saw large fish just a little further out leaping and diving.
Of course, those of us with, shall we say, active imaginations began to think about sharks. Sharks are attracted to schools of fish, and cautious people say you shouldn’t swim where they are. Someone even said, “We’ll get sharks or dolphins.” I knew which one to vote for right away! I kept a sharp eye out for fins cresting the waves, and made sure to always have others near me—experts say this cuts your chances of shark attack in half. Of course I wouldn’t abandon my friends to their fates (what horribly suspicious minds you’ve got!), but we could all yell and thrash about together when the sharks came, and alert stronger swimmers.
The water was filled with strange stinging things, technically known as “oowies” (not owies, say oo). They don’t actually hurt, but they are annoying. No one knows what they are. Some say they are the drifting tentacles of summer’s dead jellyfish. Others suggest sea fleas, or stinging seaweed. I don’t know what they are, but oowies are not uncommon in November, when the water is first cold.
I’d come out of the water and was standing on the beach when I finally saw the shark. It was dead, about two feet long, and in the hands of a 7 year-old boy. I don’t mind them this size, but I’m hoping it’s full grown. What if it’s just a baby shark? I mean, look at those teeth—don’t they look like baby teeth?
When we first arrived at the beach, we noticed a horrible smell—like burnt toast only more in your nose and not so homey, coming from our exhaust. We turned off the car and went swimming, noticing that we could still smell it, although we thought about how still the air must be for it to linger so. We came out of the water and ate lunch and could still smell it. This didn’t worry me, but Donn was inclined to fuss so he went to look.
Our engine was on fire, and had been smoldering away the entire time! We doused it with a fire extinguisher but it went on smoldering for quite a while. Hours later when it was time to go, Donn wanted to start it but I was afraid it would explode. We all stood well back. It started ok though and we managed to get the car home, although it really stunk. Donn thinks it needs a new clutch. It certainly needs a new something!
I think it’s the weather.