Donn Does Dakhla: DAY 2

A continuation of Donn’s desert adventure in search of our things, left in Tim’s garage in Nouakchott for two years. Part One here.

One of the last things I did my first evening in Dakhla was to ask a policeman where Centre Ville was. He laughed and pointed at the waterfront in a kind of shrug, as if offering something that wasn’t much use, adding “Dakhla is very small.”


Morning in Dakhla is a quiet time. In contrast to Mauritanian shops which always seem to be open, many of the markets and hanuts were still shut as I searched for a cyber café. I found a few that were closed and so asked where the bush taxis gather. At the designated spot, a shop-keeper that was open told me there would be taxis later. At 10 a.m. it was still a bit early.  I eventually found a cyber café open and seemed to be their first customer.


It’s always amazing to me how much English is used in places where the general population doesn’t speak it at all.

I called Elizabeth to see if there was news from Tim and she told me she had just gotten an email from friends in Mauritania about the murder of a friend there, just a couple of hours earlier. I sat stunned trying to make sense of it. Chris was a big guy with a bigger smile. I don’t mean to generalize but I’ve noticed living overseas that there are regional distinctives common to Americans. If we West-coasters are the standard of all that’s normal, Southerners I’ve come across really do have an out-going, social capacity that many of us have to work at. Chris had that trait in spades; a friendliness that was instantly present, natural, full of grace. I’m not just saying this because he’s dead, I’d become conscious of this years earlier. Chris’ biggest influence on me was the way he met the rampant, ethical deficiencies of Mauritania with patience and kindness. (I don’t naturally do that).


So Day 2 in Dakhla was spent, not just killing time as I’d planned (the flight to Dakhla was on Monday but Tim couldn’t meet me until Wednesday), but was spent sitting in the park, wandering around, trying to understand what type of person found kindness so threatening that they took Chris’ life. I had no answers (other than the obvious ones) and found myself repeating expressions of grief as the news of his death articulated itself in my thoughts over and over again.

Late that afternoon I received word that the drivers would need a paper I had with me on the Mauritanian side of the border. I returned to the three cyber cafes I’d found earlier in an effort to fax or scan the document. None had a working scanner or fax. I wandered by a small computer supply store and stopped to ask the man behind the desk (sitting next to a nice, new scanner) if he knew where a guy could find a scanner in this town. He offered to scan and send it for me. Mohammad had studied English ten years earlier and explained how he had no one to practice with in Dakhla. As we chatted, we scanned and emailed the document to Tim. I always marvel at how people who studied English 10 years ago and have no one to practice with always seem to speak it as well as my French, which I have been actively pursuing for the last 5 years.


Then Mohamed walked with me back to the taxi area and found a bush taxi that would leave for the border the next morning at 6 am. I knew I didn’t need to be at the border until late afternoon; couldn’t we leave later? The hotel doesn’t start breakfast till 7. I was counting on that meal and a full night’s sleep. No, Mohammad & Mohamed the driver assured me, it was best to leave early.  I thanked Mohamed for all his kindness and we parted ways. On the way back, about 10 p.m. now, I stopped in a place called Pizza Rio and ordered a cheese and olive pizza. This was my only non-goat/sheep dinner of the entire trip.

Back at the hotel, I packed and went to bed with that sense of needing to get as much sleep as possible, you know, that sense of urgency that keeps you awake. At 5:59 am, when I’d been up for 14 minutes, Mohamed the driver called from downstairs. Yes, I’m coming.


A leisurely morning was not for me.

Checking out of the hotel was uneventful except for a small game I’m starting to recognize in my travels in N. Africa and Southern Europe. I won’t go into all the details as they’re more petty than interesting but I include the general experience as a heads-up for other travelers. It’s the lies-about-the-credit-card machine-so-that-you’ll-pay-cash ruse. I’d recently had similar experiences in Spain and Gibraltar where at the last minute, for one reason or another, businesses that take credit cards suddenly don’t and “couldn’t you pay cash” and it was just becoming too familiar. In this case, I was told, sympathetically, “The connection is down.” Of course that’s possible but it seemed disingenuous. My gut feeling was unsympathetic so I refused to come up with any alternative despite the clerk insisting 3 times that the connection was down. Finally I suggested that I could send him the money someday. “Well, let’s try,” he finally offered. Voila! It went through perfectly, first time. What a miracle! Taxi’s waiting. Receipt? Thank you. Good-bye.

view from SR

…to be continued