We’ve been traveling so this is somewhat delayed. For those of you just joining us, this is an account of Donn’s trip to the Mauritanian border and journey back in a fruit truck, complete with 2 drivers and all our stuff in the back. Read parts one, two, three, and four here.

Saied 1 was slight of stature whereas Saied 2 was at least twice his body mass, a good 2 feet taller and bigger all around. I had asked Tim to put the particulars of the agreement in writing—i.e. final destination, Rabat; payment in Rabat; amount of payment; etc. Saied 2 attempted a few last minute renegotiations, suggesting things like perhaps when we got to their hometown of Agadir (an 8 hour drive south of Rabat), I could find another truck to take me the rest of the way. No. Oh, and aren’t I paying their travel expenses in addition to the amount agreed on? No. I said good-bye to Tim and climbed in with my new travel companions. We were set, cleared for departure. A port worker–perhaps sensing an opportunity about to pass–pressed me for a gift. I declined as Saied 1 behind the wheel pulled out of the border into the wasteland that is the Sahara.

There are no features there except windblown rocks that are permeated with holes. I didn’t stop to photograph them on the way down as it was not worth the gamble to stop Mohamed’s car, and I did not photograph them on the way up as the truckers were anxious to get going and I didn’t want to advertise that my bag held such electronic treasures such as a digital camera. I thought of various ways to describe these rocks. Petrified swiss-cheese. A hard, dry dusty sponge. Or my first impression, which brought to mind a walk I once took on the beach of Mauritania where I found a 3 or 4 foot tortoise shell, badly decomposed. Its basic shape was intact but it was shabby and full of holes. This was the sole distinguishing feature of the landscape during the 5 hours between the border and Dahkla.

We stopped at the café where Mohamed and I had broken down the day before and had lunch. There was a group of truckers and Saied 2 chatted with them after lunch while Saied 1 and I waited by the truck. The truck had a bench seat with two places and a spot in the middle with not enough leg room. It also had a small bed area behind the front seats. I thought, “This is going to get uncomfortable, but here I am with our stuff after 2 years in storage. This is the final part of the journey. I just need to ignore any discomfort, deal with boredom and get home.” Just then, Saied 2 appeared with a hitch-hiker. “Are you kidding me?” I thought. “Where is he going to go?” The 4 of us climbed into the cab…

We seemed to stop at every truck stop on the route and at each one, we met the same group of truckers, drinking tea, smoking, using the bathroom, talking. It was kind of like a pub-crawl through a desert wasteland. One named Mohamed spoke French and wore a dress-shirt. He seemed out of place, like a business man in a field. He asked where I was going and as I explained, I mentioned some of the attempts on S2’s part to renegotiate the particulars of the agreement. I wasn’t altogether sure I’d heard the last from Saied on it and I find it helpful, when possible, to get the reaction of locals to various situations. Are they surprised? Amused? Resigned? He immediately went and talked to Saied. To me as an American it seemed heated–I don’t use that tone or volume except when I’m put out–but in this part of the world, that’s often how people talk. After 10 minutes he turned to me and said that everything was settled. “I wasn’t thinking to talk to him about it, I just wanted your thoughts on it. Was he angry?” I thought, “I’ve got ride with these people! Worse, I’ve got to close my eyes and sleep next to these people.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “We are all brothers.”

And the topic didn’t come up again, at least not between me and Saied. However, he and our hitchhiker talked incessantly, again in a tone and volume I don’t usually use, and except for recognizing an occasional Arabic word, I didn’t understand it at all. To watch someone’s monologue totally detached from the meaning of what they are saying, detached also from cultural clues and context, is a truly bizarre experience. To me, it seemed Saied laughed much too loud and too frequently for a grown man. The hitchhiker joined in and I watched Saied 1, driving, who never cracked a smile. This was definitely the most uncomfortable part of my trip.

The communication barrier between S1 and myself, linguistically speaking, was total. He didn’t understand a word of Hassynia or French. Nevertheless, he made an effort to be civil, encouraging me to eat from our common plate, pointing me towards the sink or bathroom. Conversely, Saied 2 seemed to understand me if he had to but chose to associate with me as little as possible…

last installment tomorrow, insha’allah…

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