At the end of June, Donn went to the Mauritanian border and met a fruit truck with all the things we’d left in storage there 2 years ago. This is the final segment of his story of that journey. Read parts one, two, three, four and five here.
Yes, this is the truck
I’ve been meaning to ask Tim who drove from Nouakchott to the border. Saied 1 drove from the time we met, mid-day, until 2 AM when we stopped at a gas station that I think was in Layoune. Here we installed a massive gas tank on the left hand side of the truck and filled it with over 800 liters of diesel fuel. We had dropped our hitch-hiker somewhere along the way and S2 slept in the small bed behind the seats for 5 to 6 hours until he took the wheel in the wee hours of the morning.
He drove for an hour and a half and then pulled off the road where we slept for about 3 hours. When we woke, S1 took the wheel again and drove most of the day. S2 went back to lying down. Traveling with Saied 2 was like trying to row a boat with an anchor hanging off the back. At least that was the image that came to mind.
For breakfast we pulled into a small restaurant and had tea and fried eggs from a communal plate from which we pulled bits of egg off with our bread. At each café, S2 found a group of men to socialize with after the meal while S1 and I waited around the truck. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for his insistent wrist slapping at the border. I fought the urge to gesture towards my imaginary watch. Instead I waited by the truck and imagined pouring molasses on a cold day. The Saied Brothers apparently made up for lost time by keeping a stack of 20 dirham notes in a cubby-hole in the dash board and shaking hands with the officer on duty at every checkpoint. This seemed to save us bags of time which could be better spent loitering around truck stops.
S1 and S2 at breakfast
S1 played Berber music intermittently throughout the trip. Not being musical at all, it really is beyond my ability to describe but I’ll give it a shot. Only know that you need to then find some Berber music and listen to it. Ok, so it’s repetitive. The rhythm, the melody, and the vocals are all repetitive. Everything in it repeats not twice or thrice but until you stop counting. There is a musical phrase that winds through a constant, dare I say repetitive, rhythm over and over again while the singer presumably tells a story with each verse ending with the same phrase. It was not entirely unpleasant. Traditional Mauritanian music has no reference point for western ears, but the Berber music Saied 1 played was ultimately kind of catchy. I mean it was no Bob Dylan but seemed a propos to the drone of the highway, the many Mohameds I’d met, the number of times America’s shortcomings were the topic of conversation, and the multiple goat tagines that blur in my memory. At one point, S1 scanned the radio for something western. We found the theme to Flashdance. It’s hard to feel stupider than driving through the desert with two men you can’t communicate with while listening to Flashdance. I think even S1 understood that because after one song it was back to the hypnotic strains of his cassette.
Before lunch I made contact with Elizabeth who informed me of Michael Jackson’s passing. I tried to communicate this news to S1 & 2 since in my experience, pop music icons seem to be one of the most common points of reference for North Africans on the subject of The West. That and America’s failings.
I pronounced his name the way I would say it. MY-kul JACKson. Then I tried the French, or at least the Peter Sellers way. Mee-shell Zhjackson. And then the incredulous way. “C’mon guys. Michele Jackson. [falsetto] ‘Just beat it!’” Nope, Nothing. In simple phrases, trying both Hassynia and French: Il est mort. No? Hua matt. No? Unbelievable. I gave up. Shortly after that we pulled into a truck stop, perused the menu and decided on the goat tagine. A television anchored to the ceiling was on showing….. Michael Jackson. “You know him?” I asked. Of course they knew him. What a stupid question. “He died today.” “Really?” All of the sudden S2 decided to understand a few words and related it to S1.
When we reached their home town of Agadir, we pulled off the highway onto a street lined with trucks. This was the kind of place one could find a truck to rent and I was a bit concerned they were going to try and off-load me. They had already broached that possibility with Tim and I was really wondering what was going on as we pulled into this truck mall with no explanation. Fortunately, we only changed the oil and were off again. As we left Agadir, we wound up behind an empty truck from Kenitra which is a city just north of Rabat. S2, now driving again, gestured at it repeatedly and spoke at length about it. I didn’t understand a word and yet I feel I know the jist. S1 occasionally replied to S2 and we kept driving northward.
Near Marrakech I was in regular contact with Elizabeth estimating the time of our arrival, planning who would be there to help unload, etc., when…. we turned around. What??? We spent half an hour driving up and down the same section of road lined with truck stops. Are we looking for a specific goat tagine? I imagined their conversation as something like, “You know, these guys drove the old Cup-o-Tagine guys right out of town.”
Apparently, we were looking for a friend of S2’s. He had been on the phone coming into Marrakech and had arranged to meet a friend, so back and forth we went, looking for him. (I had imaginary friends too, but I outgrew them) S1 explained it to me with a Berber word but I didn’t understand. I forget the word now but when we stopped, I looked for someone that spoke French (and presumably Berber). “Excuse me, do you speak French? What does this word mean?” “Friend.” Are you kidding me? Ohhh. I wanted to slap more than his imaginary watch. S1 and I waited round the truck for another ½ hour. I tried to exude annoyance and wondered if S1 would ever find a new partner. He is using you, Saied.
Eventually S2 sauntered over to the truck and we all piled back in. Language barriers can be a gift, I suppose, as we rolled on in silence.
On the other side of Marrakech, we had our final and best tagine. This was technically a michwi, not a tagine, michwi being grilled meat and tagine being more a stew. It was actually phenomenal. Grilled mutton chops with onions, tomatoes and salt. Soo good.
Choosing our michwi, pre-cooking
Back on the road, I calculated our time to Rabat and called Elizabeth. Looks like we’ll be there around 3 AM, assuming Saied doesn’t have any “friends” in this neck of the woods, I told her. Earlier I had realized we wouldn’t be there at a time when anyone would want to help so Elizabeth suggested we stop somewhere and sleep. “You want me to prolong this?” I asked. If I was scheduled to be released from prison, would she say, “Boy, tomorrow’s not a good time. See if you can stay another week.” I suggested to Elizabeth that she let Elliot have a sleepover. The more the merrier! “Have fun, watch a movie and at 3 am boys, we’re going to unload a truck!” It’s amazing what sounds fun to young boys if pitched the right way. I felt a bit like Tom Sawyer but hey, it worked. We rolled in at 3 AM, woke everyone up and unloaded. The guard on our street, who was awake (!), also pitched in and it took us about 2 ½ hours.
We’ve discovered we’re missing a few small items including Elliot’s Louisville Slugger baseball bat, which Elizabeth saw in the truck as we were unloading, but all in all, it was a successful trip. I made it home alive and we have our STUFF. Was it worth it? I don’t like to think about it. Would I do it again? Not without putting something about “friends” in the contract. Does Elliot miss his Louisville Slugger? Yes. I only hope S1 uses it to keep S2 in line.