…parting is not always such sweet sorrow.

Our friends have been back to visit us and are again gone, but things were a bit slower this time round. For one, it’s not the twins’ birthday. We have actually managed to get both of them feted and fed with cake (well not Ilsa, but at least she had baked apple French toast with strawberries and fake maple syrup last Saturday) and they’ve had the friends over and we’re done. At least till July, when Elliot has his birthday. I’m impressed that we managed all this within 2 weeks of their actual birthday. Believe me, this is not a normal occurrence.

Also, kids are back in school. It’s spring; the evenings stay light; the yards and gardens and roadways are green and filled with wildflowers.  Abel and I are sneezing up a storm.

In between our friends’ first visit and their second, they spent a couple of weeks in Nouakchott closing up the house where they’d lived for years. It’s the end of an era for them. They were there before we arrived in 2001, and they stayed on after we left.

Mauritanians are an unusual people. I don’t want to generalize, but there are certain tendencies that outsiders who live there notice. And so, the difficulties they faced are in many ways typical.

For example, their landlord. They had a standard contract, renewable yearly. They gave 3 months notice. He waited til their last evening, then announced they owed him a year’s rent. “It’s in the contract,” he claimed. He threatened to surround the house with policemen, effectively holding their stuff hostage. He also pointed to tile damage obviously caused by the ground resettling after unusually heavy rains, and claimed that, although they’ve been gone for 6 months, they must have dropped something heavy. “Like an elephant?” they quipped.

This is, sadly, not unusual behaviour. The thinking goes something like this: These are rich Americans. I wanted Americans for tenants, and these have lived up to expectations:  They have been good tenants, paid on time every month, paid more than a local would have paid PLUS taken good care of the place. But they’re leaving now. This is my last chance to get as much money out of them as I can!

And so he pushed and pushed and pushed, keeping them from their supper for hours, continuing on with emails after they left.

We could relate. The same thing happened to us once. Our landlady had always been nice, until we gave notice. Then she sent in her sister, a lady that would make the Harpies seem like reasonable and kind elderly ladies. The sister brought with her someone who was viewing the house, and proceeded to insult us up and down (You’ve never cleaned these toilets in the two years you’ve been living here! And, like all Americans, you’re stupid with languages! etc. It was actually much worse, but I’ll keep it family friendly.) We were shocked, angered, and embarrassed. I’ll say the potential renter was also embarrassed. We were very hurt too—after all we’re good renters, who pay on time and who clean the toilets regularly. Also, and ironically, if you’ve ever visited a house recently vacated by Mauritanians, you will know where she got the idea that some people never clean toilets.

Our friends sighed a bit as they told us the story of their landlord, the story of the final electric bill that was $500 when it should have been about $40, other stories of acquaintances trying to squeeze a last bit of money out of them. They had good stories too, but their landlord’s tricks on their last evening left them with a bitter taste in their mouths.

It’s hurtful to be viewed as just a resource, just someone to be exploited, to be judged on the colour of your skin instead of the contents of your heart, to paraphrase someone who approached the problem from the opposite end. But, I told them, in some ways it makes it easier to leave.

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