It all started when my friend Mary forwarded me a list of furniture being sold by someone in her building. I noticed bookcases on the list and called the woman. You can never have enough bookcases, especially if you got some fun Christmas-era packages.

I spoke with the woman who’s moving, an Asian woman named Jean. We arranged a time for Donn and I to come see the bookcases and a desk. She told us “number 11, second floor.”

So last night we went to Mary’s apartment building, which is one of the nice ones in Agdal behind the lycee. We mounted the stairs to the second floor (3rd floor to Americans), and found number 11. We rang the bell.

The door swung open and a man greeted us with a huge smile and ushered us inside. His wife came to greet us, kissed my cheeks in welcome, and cleared a spot on the couch for us to sit. Their 3 young children eyed us without much curiosity and went back to watching some Disney program in English with Arabic subtitles.

This didn’t seem to be Jean. For one, she’d sounded Asian and I’d spoken English with her. This woman was Spanish and I was speaking French with her. I felt uncomfortable. But the man, named Ahmed, had by this point brought in mint tea. He poured with a flourish. He mentioned he was Mauritanian. “We lived in Mauritania, in Nouakchott, for 6 years,” said Donn in Hassiniya. Exclamations! Kisses! Offers of dates from Atar. We settled down with our glasses.

“So, when are you moving?” asked Donn.

“Moving? We’re not moving,” said the woman.

We asked if anyone else was moving. No, no one in their building, they said. Except, there’s an American woman named Marie who is moving in June?

We’re friends with her, we replied. She’s the one who told us about this woman who is moving. “She’s called Jean,” I said, the American pronunciation sounding harsh. No, no. They shook their heads. They knew no Jean. “Second floor, number 11,” I said. Yes, they agreed, that is this apartment. But they knew nothing of the situation.

We ate dates and talked of Mauritania, of Nouakchott and Atar, of how sad it is now that the entire country has destabilized and terrorists have moved in, kidnapping aid workers and tourists alike. “Chingeutti and Oudane are empty,” Ahmed said. Tourists are afraid to go there. Together we agreed—the Mauritania we know is peaceful and calm, its people welcoming. Ahmed himself is a case in point of this.

Just then their doorbell rang. It was our friend Mary, who was surprised to see us. Her printer was on the blitz and she had popped over to use theirs. “I didn’t know you knew them,” she said to us.

“We don’t,” we told her. “Where is Jean?”

It turned out that Jean lived in the OTHER building, second floor, number 11. Ahh. Crystal clear now. We said goodbye to our new friends and went off to find the right apartment and apologize for our lateness.

Today I told my Moroccan/Mauritanian friend about it and she laughed. “If I saw that in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it,” she said. I had to agree with her.

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