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So in January, we got our first visitor ever from Mauritania.

beachNo, not Mauritania. This is Ecola State Park, on the Oregon coast. Where the Ewoks were filmed, where the forest planet of Endor is .

No, scratch that, that’s not true. This guy’s best friend actually came–remember?–with a group of people from all over the world. But this was the first time we knew someone was coming ahead of time, and we planned on it. (well sort of.)

We saw him in November in Nouakchott, on that trip that I’m taking so very long to tell you about. “I’m coming to America in January,” he told us. “I’ll see you then.” We gave him all our contact information. He’s a great guy, genuinely nice, a former student who’s doing really well and has far outpaced us in life.

On January 1st, he wrote me privately on Facebook, telling me he’d arrive in San Francisco on Jan 10th and come to Portland 2 days later. I wrote back, welcoming him, and asking him to send us his flight info and itinerary. He cunningly maintained radio silence. I wrote again on the 8th, 9th and twice on the 10th, since this was the only contact info I had for him. Finally on the 10th I wrote his friend back in Mauritania, who told me he was supposed to arrive in New York that day. He contacted me late that night and told me he was going to buy his ticket to Portland next day. And so he showed up at the airport about 10:30 on the night on the 12th, Monday. He had hoped to arrange several meetings with some local government officials, but they were unable to fit him in when he called them on Tuesday morning.

Things he experienced for the first time on his first trip to America:

  • wearing a seatbelt
  • Thai food
  • wearing a seatbelt every time he got in the car, no really, every single time, it’s not optional, put it on please
  • Mexican food
  • sitting next to someone who was drinking. (Mauritania is a dry country, and he had never seen someone drink alcohol before. He flew Air France. He told Donn he was afraid his seatmate would go beserk after the small bottle of Merlot. He had no idea what to expect)
  • forests
  • fish and chips
  • how to successfully put on a seat belt (clue: it doesn’t go behind your head)
  • jet lag
  • indoor heating

The weather was glorious, freakishly warm, in the mid-60s. We took him to the Oregon coast, where Donn and I walked round in shirtsleeves and he wore a thick parka that we’d loaned him. He commented on how much he liked that the sun wasn’t as warm, the light more diffused this far north.

trees at oswald

We walked through a small bit of old-growth forest on the way to the beach. He was amazed–he’d never seen trees like this before, thick and hoary, moss-covered, reaching far into the sky overhead. We all enthused about the air, so sweet and refreshing, and we all took great gulps. He commented on how great trees are–“except at night, when they can kill you,” he said. What? we said. Kill you? we said? What? we said.

Yes yes, he explained. Everyone knows that trees put out oxygen during the day but carbon monoxide at night. Um, no. No they don’t, we said. Really. Truly.

We knew Mauritanians didn’t like trees. They don’t have many of them, living in the Sahara desert as they do, and the few they have they tend to cut down. It’s common to visit a house and find the entire yard has been paved over. But we thought this was because they believe trees attract mosquitoes and because they needed the wood for charcoal.

I think we convinced him.

He also told us tales of life growing up in a small village. When he was in high school, his mother paid a local woman to serve him zrig every morning on his way to classes. Zrig is a mix of milk (usually powdered, in the city at least), water and sugar. It sounds innocuous but I never really liked it and my kids all hated it. The story he told us gave us a reason why. Apparently in parts of the country they add sheep’s urine. No that’s not a typo. Even he agreed it was gross. He said it gives a sort of astringent quality to the drink. I say it gives me an excuse to never drink it again.

On another day, Donn took him down the Columbia River Gorge, an area of breathtaking natural beauty, lush with green ferns and flowing with waterfall after waterfall. They stopped at Multnomah Falls, the biggest, and hiked up to the first lookout, along with many many other people. We’ve been there countless times, and have seen prom pictures and wedding pictures and myriad tourist pictures being taken. (aside: don’t people taking photos with tablets look silly? Remind me to never do that)

A woman and a photographer were there, and her top fell off–twice. So this was the first experience of topless photos done–and it would be done in front of someone from one of the most isolated and inhibited cultures in the world. You just can’t plan things like this. I can only imagine the stories he’s telling.

He left on the Friday, early, still jet-lagged. He is, always, unfailingly polite, but I think he had a good time. Overwhelmingly new, but good. I think he’ll be back.

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When Michelle and I knew each other in Mauritania, we both went to the beach pretty much every single Saturday. We all did (we being a large-ish group of expats). There wasn’t a lot to do otherwise, and it was a fun family and friend day. Here is a sample story of a fairly average week, except for the shark and the car being on fire. Although honestly, it was a fairly average day since that level of “excitement” wasn’t unusual. (edited to add: i just added in the link. Sheesh. Why didn’t someone tell me?)

Michelle now lives in Kansas. (I need more coffee since I wrote “Michelle know lives.” Be right back) For those of you a bit vague on your American geography, Kansas is right smack in the middle of this vast, continent-wide country, big on amber waves of grain but low on shining seas. She hadn’t been to the beach in 3 years, and she had never seen the Oregon coast. Naturally, we had to take her.

We also took Eve and her artist husband. I have been very worried about Eve lately. I think she’s been quite depressed. She won’t leave her tiny dark apartment, even when we invite her places. She sleeps a lot, and doesn’t get up even when we come to visit. So I was very happy when she allowed herself to be persuaded to come with us. Her husband deals with past horrors through painting beautiful pictures, but Eve doesn’t have that outlet.

We drove to the middle of the State in order to visit my favorite beach, Fogarty. We went here last month with the kids and it was gorgeous and sunny. Yesterday was foggy and overcast, but warm and not raining. For the Oregon Coast it was enough.

Fogarty has lots of driftwood and kelp.  There are enormous tangles of kelp, like ropes or intestines.

Sometimes the kelp is stinky, but always, it is interesting.

It lies in swirls and loops; it attaches itself to rocks and wood.

heap o’ kelp

Fogarty also features lots of driftwood, offering places to sit and relax and enjoy the view.

Aside: Those steps did not used to be there. (what horrible syntax) I am a horrible cantankerous grouch when it comes to beachside development. This would ONLY be good if I lived there!

I call this one “dragon driftwood.” It has been there for years and years, lying there through storms and sun while I was off gallivanting round the globe and living in the desert where the beach has no such logs. (It looks more like a dragon from the other end, but I liked this angle. Squint a bit and use your imagination.)

We explored the bottom of the cliffs and got our feet soaked in the process.

We looked at strange protrusions in the rock face.

We took lots of pictures, even Michelle, who still has pictures from 3 years ago on her memory card.

looking north

I love how the incessant wind shapes the trees.

Even though it wasn’t sunny, it was pleasantly warm. After a while we left the coarse sand and kelp

and drove further south, stopping to look for whales. All that kelp bobbing about in the waves does make the Oregon Coast a good spot for whale watching. In fact, when we came down with the kids for the day last month, we spotted 3 whales! Yesterday we had no luck though.

We went as far as Depoe Bay, where we bought enormous ice-cream cones and coffee, then we drove home. Eve was the happiest I have ever seen her. “I am so happy,” she kept saying, as if amazed at herself. “This is Paradise,” she said at one point. Who cared if the sun actually shone, rather than merely peeping through the fog? Who cared if the whales spouted and showed themselves? It was another perfect day.

Monday was my friend’s birthday. Her husband was out of town, and I felt her 14 year old son could not be relied upon to take her out for dinner, or even to do dishes. He is a great child, a good friend of Elliot’s, but I had a hunch on this one. “Mom cooks every night,” I could see him thinking. “It’s what she does. Obviously it is something she would do tonight, since it is evening, when she cooks.”

So I had her over for dinner. I also let Ilsa loose on the cake. Ilsa loves to make cakes. Ilsa would make us cake daily if we let her, and we would be even fatter than we are. She made a cake and I made various other things, all in about 2 hours, and all was chaos in the kitchen and we had to cool the cake in the fridge before we could frost it but it  worked out.  I invited some other women over, and banished everyone else to their rooms and we hung out and laughed and talked and a lovely time was had by all.

We’ve been having fun with candles and lanterns lately, taking advantage of the fact that we live in a place where lovely handmade things can be easily purchased. The hardest part is choosing.

fun with candles

Fun with candles, including an alabaster candle-holder from Egypt. Ok, that one was a present from someone, not bought locally.

lantern in cornerThis lantern was my birthday present from Donn. We live upstairs in the top half of a house, and we put it in the corner and liked it so much we bought another one for the other corner. We still need a third. If you come to our house after dark, we will light these candles for you to see as you enter.

bday lantern two

It was a fun weekend. A friend from Fes visited; we hung out, drank Starbucks (her hostess gift), went out to the Potteries and found gorgeous bowls and vases and plates on sale at prices ranging from $1 to $4.

I love the Potteries.

pots and pink wall

Soon you will get tired of me posting pictures from there. But luckily for you, my camera died so I only got two pics this trip.

stairs

We’ve also gone to the beach. These pics were actually taken two or three weeks ago, before the visit I wrote about. These were taken at a different beach one Sunday afternoon when Donn and I left the kids home doing school work.

snaky patterns

I think Rabat has some of the most interesting and beautiful beaches.

why is it crooked

Donn: Why is it crooked? Me: It’s artistic. Donn: You did that on PURPOSE?

mussels

I love love love all the tide pools teeming with life. It’s a rule of English: tide pools must teem. Don’t fight it.

rocks at sunset

Rocks at sunset. These pics do not do it justice. I am going to have to break my rule and start posting my husband’s work, and then people will steal them, which will make me cross, and then I’ll stop again. It’ll be fun! Stay tuned.

On Saturday we went down to the rocks to photograph and I forgot my camera. Typical. “Remind me next time,” I said bitterly to Elliot, who wasn’t listening.

Drive just south of the city, past the Oudayas at the mouth of the river with the huge cemetery running down to the sea, past the lighthouse and the surf school, past the bicycle market. To your left are line upon line of apartment buildings and to your right is the Atlantic, in deep green today, and the setting sun is sometimes in your eyes as you follow the curves of the road.

Here you are: you are getting to the part where the cliff face falls down into rocky shelves and tide pools, where fisherman stand on the very edge of the sea and get soaked in the spray and as always, you worry about them being swept away. (I don’t know if it happens or not…is this part of a fatalistic view of life where preventative measures are not taken, or is it just not really all that dangerous? Some day I will find out and tell you.)

We swerve across oncoming traffic and park in a tiny spot in front of what looks to be an empty apartment building, newly built. Taking our lives into our hands, we commend our souls to God and cross the street, where we find ourselves at the top of a cliff. This area has an enormous shelf at the bottom, complete with tide pools, casual boulders scattered about, and a sandy bit where boys are playing soccer and turning cartwheels and flips.

We make our way down. Ilsa climbs an enormous rock and pulls out her sketching book and pencil case from school—the one I just had to replace because the first one got stolen. She drops a brand new pencil sharpener in the sand and I stoop and put it in my purse with a sigh. Boys come to show off, climbing behind her on rock, doing flips down the side, glancing sideways to see if she’s noticed their antics. They faux fight, they race. Ilsa sketches on, unmoved. The wind blows her long blonde hair behind her as she bends over her paper, concentrating on the silvery mermaid she is drawing. “I like to be the only one on the rock,” she tells me.

Later she decides to go rock climbing herself. The boys follow to where my daughter is scrambling up, her hair a golden curtain. It’s obvious to me what’s going on but Ilsa is oblivious still, disdainfully scorning a proffered hand when coming down, appalled at the offer of help which she interprets as doubt in her ability. She is a mystery to them, in her black leggings and tennis shoes and long hair, clambering all over the rocks. She fancies herself a tomboy and mocks the “Barbies” at her school, but she’s really quite feminine in many ways.

The boys continue to approach in a sort of dance. They don’t come too close, they take turns; there are definite rules to this. I think that I could map this out, the way they circle shyly, the way they punch each other and vie for who can throw his body into the air the highest. We are near a shelf of rock covered in tide pools. The boys strip to their underwear, run across the rocks, and suddenly dive into the one deep pool in all these tiny ones. I catch my breath because it looks so improbable, like they’ve somehow found a tiny stretch in the space-time continuum, a baggy part, where they can splash and play. It’s still dangerous, but it’s fun too, like watching those scooters weave through traffic—there’s freedom there.

A lot of this is done with sideway glances at Ilsa, who continues totally unaware. I’m glad for it, but part of me wishes she could see her power without being damaged by it, and that this knowledge could be a pool unexpectedly deep enough for diving set in the rocky shoals of the upcoming years. We leave them, still splashing, and set our faces towards the cliff that is our way home.

Sunday night, just before sunset, we loaded the cameras and twins into the car and headed just south of downtown Rabat and the Oudayas. It’s a beautiful area. The land falls down sharp rocky cliffs, at the bottom of which are rock shelves visible at low tides. The ocean surges up around the edges of these shelves, sending up enormous crashes of surf. Yet fisherman are always visible, lone figures in oilskin boots, standing with poles at the very edge and getting drenched with spray as they are dwarfed by the sudden-rising waves. I always worry about them, as it seems more than likely that they’ll be swept over the edge. I can’t decide if they are just fatalistic (which I’m sure they are; every North African I know is) or if they just know more about it than I do (also true).

The sun was low in the sky; the sea opalescent in the mist. The distant fishermen leaned far out into the surf. I don’t know what he was fishing for. Fishermen are a common sight along the coast, with long poles, but the stuff offered for sale by the side of the road doesn’t seem to me like things caught with a pole; mostly tiny crabs and mussels and other fruits de mer. Do you catch such things with long poles off steep rocks?

***

The weather has been terribly humid lately, the air so hot and still that even someone walking  past stirs it, creates a slight movement of air, as if the air really were water and we were drowning in it. I move languidly, like seaweed, and have a hard time getting things done.

***

This morning, Donn and I both had unexpected free time. (He had a cancellation; I rearranged some things and put off others) We headed down to another beach for a couple of stolen hours. This is the beach where Donn went surfing with a friend, went over some rocks to dive in, and got snatched by a wave, dragged over the rocks, and slammed into coral and sea urchins. He came home limping, missing large patches of skin, his feet like pincushions full of urchin spikes. In spite of this, he went back. (“It’s a bit tricky,” he told me)

It’s a beautiful beach, and we mostly had it to ourselves, thanks to Ramadan (people won’t swim as they might unintentionally swallow water, thereby negating their entire day of fasting). We sat in the sand, under a sort of permanent umbrella, staring out at the deep bottle-greens and watching white egrets stalking amongst the tide pools bursting with eels and crabs and millions of prickly sea urchins, just waiting to stab their toxic spines deep into tender feet. The water was calm, the waves only about six inches if that. It was very peaceful.

bouznikaI like how this shows the rock shelves, although without the cliffs or the huge pounding surf.

crabbyCrab in tide pool

On the way home we stopped by a sort of farmer’s market. All along the coast road were tiny stands, many just a chair under an umbrella and buckets of produce out in the sun. Some had hutches with rabbits, or strings of live chickens. Just behind them were fields of vines hung with tiny sweet green grapes, or staked tomatoes ripening in the sun. Men on bicycles stopped to bargain and departed with handlebars slung with plastic bags full of grapes; women in djellabas deliberated over dusty peppers and eggplant. We stopped at a bigger stand, with 3 or 4 tents in a row, and bought melons and tomatoes, better and riper and cheaper than in the supermarket, and took the scenic road home.

sunlit grapes

buckets o' produce

Ramadan continues. We’re about 2/3rds of the way through the month. Every night, the imam at our neighbourhood mosque reads a long sura, or a chapter, of the Qu’ran. (There are 30 chapters so you can get through it in one Ramadan). He is getting popular, and the sidewalks are crowded with parked cars. When it ends, the little street in front of our house fills with hundreds of people walking home, chattering away, their voices like flocks of birds.  I like to go out on our balcony and listen, unseen, to the cadences of their speech.  But I’m not so intrigued at 3 a.m., when a drummer passes along, pounding out loud, intricate rhythms, to wake the faithful so they can eat once more before sunrise. In the late afternoon he comes round again, banging away, to get paid for his services, but I don’t want to be woken at 3 a.m. so I don’t pay him.

Ah the joys of the internet age. Travel is cheaper and easier, but reporting on said travel is not always the same. We’re back now, with a computer whose hard drive has been completely reformatted and is still having some issues.

Where were we? See if you can tell…

sheep may safely grazeSheep may safely graze…

oh my sweet Westley“Oh my sweet Westley! What have I done?”

cliff at Rhossili

worms head

Worm’s Head, Rhossilli

Can you see the worm? No, me neither. Does it help to know that worm is an old word for dragon? No, not really.

wanna-be-in-a-bandWanna-be band members.

It’s normally a quiet time of night. The kids are finally in bed, a mere 2 hours after official bedtime. Summer bedtimes. We’ve got all the windows still open in spite of the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, windows in Rabat don’t come with screens. As someone who has lived in many places in Rabat in the relatively short time we’ve been here, I can say this for a fact. It mystifies me, since Rabat is quite developed and civilized. Yet Nouakchott’s windows all had screens, albeit often with enormous holes in them. Now we get lots of flies and mosquitoes through our wide-open windows. I don’t care. We get the most delightful sea breezes. Plus, I’d rather be eaten than baked.

The neighbours seem to have acquired a new, extensive drum set and set it up in the garden. We are being regaled to rhythm after rhythm. Their timing seems a bit unfair, since Elliot’s dearest wish is for a drum set and his birthday is Saturday and he’s not getting one.

Yesterday afternoon, we took 2 British girls with us to the beach, both of whom have grown up here, and they announced that our normal beach is the most dangerous. It’s true that there is quite an undertow, but the beach in Nouakchott was much worse; I remember standing in water which was flowing so strongly to the south that it was like standing in a river. The children all learned to swim in strong currents. Unfortunately, I realized yesterday, this means they have no fear of the water, and Ilsa in particular had a hard time keeping to the “not past your waist unless with an adult” rule. Since Ilsa is only about 4’6”, she feels that she is being discriminated against, and constantly pushes to be allowed further out.

The beach was crowded, as usual, with parasols of all colours and people in various stages of dress and undress taking to the water. The tide was unusually high, so that we had to move our rented parasol three times. Each time the vendor came scurrying up to help. His skin was the darkest I’ve seen, a deep copper brown and crackly like ancient leather, and he had a large mole on his bare shoulder that would have set a dermatologist to screaming for joy and calculating the cost of a new addition to his summer home. The first time, I was very happy to move, since the churning tide had deposited in the sand a large, stinking dead rat. (Query: Why do dead rats always seem to be lying on their backs? Discuss in comments) I hope this is not too much information. It rather spoiled an otherwise perfect afternoon of blue sky and sparkling green sea and white waves and shrieking children. Fortunately the boys playing football around it decided to bury rather than step on it, and it was soon hidden; out of sight and out of mind.

The vendors were out in full force. I was offered cups of instant Nescafe, lollipops, little packets of chocolate biscuits labelled “mini THANKS,” ice-cream bars, and fresh, piping hot doughnuts. All these things were carried up and down the beach to cries of “BEIGNETS!” “J’AI LA GLACE!” and other, mysterious things shouted in Dareja.

Two camels with decorative saddles were being led up and down as well, usually with children swaying on top, all huge smiles and clutching hands. The vendors obviously settled on the one obviously white family as a prime retail option, as the camels always came obnoxiously near to our little red-and-white striped umbrella. Several times, I was afraid the camel was going to step on a surfboard, which would obviously have a lot of repercussions. Luckily, the huge animals always managed to sidestep the fragile boards.

I’m waiting for Donn to finish his guest post on his trip south. In the meantime, we’ve managed to make a little more progress on tackling that last pile of boxes. We bought a cedar…hutch, I would call it; what would you call it? It has two shelves and then a cabinet in the bottom. It smells heavenly, and the two knobs are crooked. I love things that are obviously hand-made without levels, just eye-balled, apparently by a hunchback.

I think hanging art work on your walls is one of the most important parts of being settled, because it’s one of the last things you do when arriving, and taking pictures down is one of the first when leaving. One of the main reasons I married Donn was because I really like his photographs, and it feels good to have them hung again on the walls of our home. (Interested? Check out his website, which needs to be redone but will at least give you an idea).

Yesterday afternoon, we went to the beach. The surfing wasn’t very good, and the tide was low, but it was so very hot in our apartment that we felt it would be enjoyable. Also, since I’ve spent most of the week sitting around reading under the fan, it was felt it would do me good to get off the couch. And it seems to have done me some good. I don’t know if it was the Vitamin D/sunshine, the chemicals from my sunscreen seeping into my skin, or the fact that I’ve been back a week now and jet lag can be considered officially over, but as of this morning, I feel human again.

We went to our regular beach, which has a name (Oued Yqem) but we just call it “The Normal One” as a nod to our insane creativity. It has a river emptying into the ocean, which sometimes means a little too much trash floating around. How much is too much? Not much. I was less than thrilled, as I hopped my way over the burning sands to the cool water’s edge, to see broken glass shining in the sunlight. This beach is popular with all ages, and it’s only a matter of time before someone (I hope it’s not one of us) gets a really nasty cut.

You can rent umbrellas at this beach, I realized yesterday. Always before I’ve wondered why that insane woman wearing a baseball cap under her headscarf was yelling at me. Finally, yesterday, she gestured up at a beach umbrella. Ah, ok. And then a man came up to me and offered to rent me one. I will definitely do that next time.

Yesterday also marked the first time I saw Moroccan lifeguards. No sitting, bored, with white noses in little white towers, nor skimming up and down the beach in snazzy 4WDs for these guys! Wearing the brightest neon yellow caps and shorts, a colour so bright that light seemed to fall into it, they spent their time striding up and down and blowing their whistles. I think that was all they did–blow whistles–but they did it well. Up and down the beach they went, blowing their whistles, herding swimmers into a certain area of the water where, according to the kids, there was the most seaweed. It seemed really random. I could not figure out why certain people were whistled at and others weren’t, but thankfully they ignored me.

A man with a cardboard box wrapped heavily in duct tape strapped to his back walked up and down the sands, yelling, “Ice-cream! Ice-cream!” What a good idea, I thought. We were with my friend Shannon and her boys, and when all the kids got out of the water and were standing there, the ice-cream man came right over and stood there, hopefully shouting at us, but we ignored him. Who knew a Moroccan beach would have so many opportunities for cash?

The kids didn’t care. After the beach, we usually stop for an ice-cream bar at a little shop called “Hanuty,” which means “My Hanut.” It has a cute logo and is cleaner and better stocked than most hanuts–really more like an American convenience store. It tends to have floating prices; last time the ice-cream bars were 17dh, this time 18dh. The younger the worker, the higher the prices. We sit around on a little patio and eat our ice-cream, then we say goodbye to Shannon and her boys, get back in our own car, and head home–about a 20 minute drive.

Welcome to summer.

Last Sunday, as you may have noticed, was Mother’s Day. The fact was brought to my attention by the internet, as with so many other things. I lost no time in pointing this out to my family. I know mothers who despise this holiday as false, a time when people feel forced to buy flowers, chocolate, cards, make their mothers breakfast in bed. I say I will take what I can get. So they feel forced to do it? Great. No worries here. It’s not like I’m getting chocolate and flowers without this.

The problem was that the morning was really busy, and then we got trapped downtown. May 10th was the day of the Rabat half-marathon, and the planners in their wisdom had blocked all the main roads to get out of downtown, through those enormous thick city walls. We ended up trapped, pointlessly driving 10 miles out of our way (I was sure there was another road across the valley from Salé but I was wrong), only to come back and find that the roads were open but full of people trying to jog. We wove through crowds of marathoners, in awe once again of the planners of this event. Surely they might find a compromise, where one road would remain open and the marathoners wouldn’t have to compete with cars for the road? But then, where would be the sport in that? we realized, as we swerved around a red-faced, sweating man who was just trying to cross the four-lane thoroughfare.

We were in a hurry because we’d arranged to meet friends at the beach. We finally got our own car, and that means Donn has been able to make surfing once again a regular part of his weekends. We got to the beach after everyone else but that was okay; come on, it’s the beach.

Almost the first thing I saw, besides the sun sparkling on the waves, were the puppies. There were 3 adorable puppies needing a good home. Needing, I tell you. We didn’t end up bringing one home, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the twins, let me tell you.

Donn and Abel went surfing. The rest of us boogie-boarded. The current was strong and relentless, with a fierce under-tow, but the whitewater was fast enough to give some really fun rides.

There were lots of Moroccans at the beach. We saw some horses (mercifully under control this time) and a group of men playing soccer (football!) on the hard-packed sun. Most Moroccan men were in swimsuits. Moroccan women fell into one of two groups; one group were in teeny-tiny bikinis, and the other frolicked in the waves fully clothed. Neither group actually swam, although that might have been thanks to that ferocious current.

Yeah. I wouldn’t want to do that either. And no, I don’t know what they did afterwards, if they sat in their cars and dripped all over the upholstery, or if they somehow managed to change. I imagine the former, since I didn’t see any modest changing huts, and I can’t imagine a woman who goes swimming in head-to-toe clothing being comfortable changing behind a towel held up by a friend, or between two car doors.

Is it getting too late to post this? Never mind, here’s a gratuitous cute-puppy picture, which will make you forgive and forget all:

gratuitouspuppy

Also, a picture of my new couscous platter, just because, even though it doesn’t really fit with the rest of this post:

lemonavocado

And here’s Abel, on our balcony, my little shaggy surfer dude with his Very Own Surfboard (it’s Donn’s old one, broken in half and repaired) in the background.

shaggysurfer

Although both were settled by people related to each other and both have the root “Moor” in their names, there are many differences between the two neighboring countries in Africa where I have lived. This is part one of a semi-regular series in which I will choose a topic at random and natter on about it for hours.  Today’s topic: Sharks

Mauritania is an isolated, conservative country. I have never seen a Mauritanian woman in public who wasn’t wearing a muluffa–never once, in 6 years. Mauritanians don’t really go to the beach, and when they do, it’s a treat to see them fully clothed, dipping just one toe in the water, reminiscent of photos of Victorian-era Americans strolling on the beach in button-up boots. Once, at a beach close to town, Donn spotted a Frenchman in a Speedo chatting with two Mauritanian men whose long, pale blue robes swept to the sand. Another time, we were on vacation in Senegal. Some Senegalese sported swimsuits; those who couldn‘t afford them simply stripped down to their underwear and plunged into the waves. We spotted two Mauritanian women in mulaffas on the beach, who had rolled up their mulaffas to their shoulders and obviously felt very bold and near-nude, showing off their upper arms like that!

Swimming is not something that has arrived in this desert land, and I’ve heard of kids growing up along the Atlantic coast or on the banks of the Senegal River who never learn, and who have fallen in and drowned. This seems incredible to me but I have it on good evidence.

In the 6 years we lived in Mauritania, we went to the beach nearly weekly. We would drive about 15 km out of town, north of the fishing village, and far enough out for privacy. There are no laws in Mauritania that would prohibit a Western woman wearing a swimsuit at the beach, but I don’t know many women who enjoy the feeling of being on display. Sometimes, fishermen would come across our little bathing party, and they were usually fascinated. Once, two young men sat down on a dune with huge smiles on their faces and stared at us. You could see them thinking that this was even better than television! We sent Donn to send them away.

But I’m getting off my topic, which is sharks.

Mauritania was until recently home to the world’s richest fishing grounds, although they’re being over-fished at a startling rate. Nonetheless, it’s not unusual to walk along the beach and see squid, dolphin, sting-rays, blowfish, cuttlefish, and more–washed up on shore, or flung out as useless from some local fisherman’s net.

We didn’t see too many sharks on all those beach visits, and for that I was thankful. I don’t like sharks in the water with me, because their teeth are sharper than mine, for one, and their eyesight is better. I feel at a disadvantage in spite of my superior intelligence and ability to type very quickly and play Pathwords on Facebook. But one memorable day, we did see, and photograph, a shark. It was very small and quite dead. And, my sister-in-law reassured me that this kind eat crabs, not people, which wasn’t as comforting as she apparently felt it to be–according to Donn’s research, most sharks chomp an arm or leg to see what you are, then spit you out. You then either bleed to death or your blood incites them to a frenzy and they eat you anyway. Yeah.

Here in Rabat, those weekly beach visits haven’t happened. First of all, we don’t have a car yet. Second of all, this winter was cold and rainy, enough to discourage even my fanatical husband (he grew up in California and Hawaii, which explains a lot, actually). We have only been to the beach as a family one time in the past 8 months, although he’s made several surfing trips with friends. It was a beautiful beach, complete with out-of-control horses and prickly dark purple sea urchins, their dried shells fun to crunch underneath a sandaled foot but live ones not so fun for Donn, who managed to get a few prickles embedded in his feet.

I saw my first Moroccan shark the other day at Marjane, carefully arranged on ice. Marjane is another difference between these two countries. Mauritania has nothing even close to Marjane, which is this enormous “hypermarche”–a store that sells groceries, toys, clothes, appliances, and dishes. Like France’s Carrefour, Marjane is always located with a little mini-mall, and, at least in Rabat, always has a Pizza Hut near it. Mmmm, Pizza Hut. I hadn’t eaten at one since high school until we moved to Morocco, and I’ve eaten at one here 3 times in the past 8 months. Obviously my resistance to fast food, or whiny children, is weakening. Also, in my own defense, we don’t have Vincente’s or Flying Pie here, and non-American pizza seems to come only with a cardstock-thin crust.

Mauritania has no chain stores at all unless you count Orca, which I believe also has a location in Dakar. A place with no copyright laws, it boasts a “McDonalds”–a basic hole-in-the-wall storefront in one of Nouakchott’s slums, which I’m betting is the world’s only McDonald’s that serves chebojen (fish and rice) but no hamburgers. It also has a “Pizza Hot” and several other knock-offs, my personal favorite being the Michelin man.

Rabat, especially, is like a different world than Nouakchott. (Although, to be honest, it’s Nouakchott that’s the different world. That’s where the name of my blog comes from) Here, streets are paved, there are green spaces, and it is possible to acquire power and water at your house on the same day they were requested (that is not urban myth. It happened to us). In Nouakchott, I hear that more and more streets are being paved, but it wasn’t unusual for the phone company to perform a pre-emptive strike and cut off power before our bill was even due.

I miss our beach visits, but I prefer my sharks on ice.

shark
Also, whatever these appetizing things are.

mmmfish

And these.

redfishpeacockeyes

Bon appetit!

So, to sum up: In Mauritania, we saw sharks on the beach. Here, we see sharks on ice. Viva la difference!

June 2019
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