Grosso Rosso

This past weekend I headed off to Saint Louis, Senegal for a friend’s birthday party.

2005/06/13 Université den Nouakchott Garage Rosso 0:20 500um
Garage Rosso Rosso 2:30 3000um

Showing a normal lack of foresight, I showed up at the garage around noon. I was thinking that the border would be open at 3:00 and so after the two and a half hour drive I’d get there about when it opened up. What I forgot is that the schedule for the garage is fairly Mediterranean. It is hot as hell in the middle of the day so everyone hides out in the shade somewhere from about 11:00 until after the late afternoon prayer. This was a bit of a problem since the border was going to close again at 6:00 and I didn’t especially want to have to bribe someone or get arrested again.

Fortunately there were a couple Senegalese people at the garage who also were looking to cross and we all went down patrone style in a car with only four people. It was a little expensive, but the car was nice and I had enough room that I took myself a nap.

2005/06/13 Rosso, Mauritania Rosso, Senegal 0:20 150um

Before leaving Nouakchott I’d equipped myself with both Sentel and Alizé sim cards. I didn’t know for sure when my friends were headed to Saint Louis, so I was going to go to the border and send some text messages to find out the plan. Much to my disappointment, once I was in the network I found that neither card had any credit on it. Not only that, but the two Mauritanian networks (Mauritel and Mattel) were both out in Rosso. So, I went ahead and crossed the river and put credit on one of the cards only to find that they weren’t coming til the next day.

2005/06/13 Rosso, Senegal Rosso, Mauritania 0:10 100um

I didn’t really feel like wandering Saint Louis by myself, so I headed back across the river for the night. Here I ran into a small problem. My passport is pretty much full. I’m trying to avoid having to go to the embassy to get more pages in the off chance that they inquire as to how I’m crossed the river about fifteen times only having taken four vacations in the last two years. So, as I came back across I explained the situation and asked them not to do any more stamping. That was surprisingly easy.

I headed to the Rosso house to watch some DVDs, but found that the Mauritanian from which the player was borrowed had reclaimed it. So instead I did a little writing.

I’ve recently finished The Brothers K by David James Duncan. I really liked the writing and it has inspired me to write sometimes on my own. More so in homage rather than imitation since my own wordcraft is crippled by my inability to maintain focus on a subject for more than thirty seconds at a stretch.

After the rains, Rosso becomes a Venice gone disgustingly awry. One volunteer postulated a vile plot on the part of someone in the city planning department because, “it just isn’t possible to achieve a drainage system this inefficient by accident.” After having abandoned my hopes of going to Saint Louis for the evening, I attempted to pass the night at a volunteer’s house in town. My attempt was nearly thwarted by an enormous cesspool of a lake spanning the entire street.

Since many of the houses are dug out some below street level, people were having to sandbag their doorsteps to keep their houses from filling with water. I eventually circled the block and made my way into the house. After dumping my stuff I realized I’d not eaten all day and went in search of sustenance.

Sensitive to the damper that the 90% humidity put on Rosso’s normal charm, some industrious soul attempted to brighten the atmosphere by disemboweling a cassette tape and decorating both a tree and the cow tethered to it. The cow seemed largely nonplussed by the effort as evidenced by the consumption of what looked to be a goodly portion of the decoration along with its feed.

The stand I usually get sandwiches from was surrounded entirely by water and closed. So, I wandered on and eventually found a house serving “nyechna” (or at least that’s the best understanding I got before I grew embarrassed after asking to have it repeated four times). It was a sort of rice paste with bits of fish ground up in it. I wasn’t sure on the fish from the taste, but having to dislodge a couple scales from between my teeth confirmed it.

The entire meal I avoided the ice water sitting on the table because I know the Rosso is one of very few sites in Mauritania where the volunteers don’t drink the water. That and a recent cholera outbreak in the region. At the end of dinner I went and bought some tchakri from her. Tchakri is yogurt, couscous, nutmeg, raisins and crack cocaine. Well, I’ve not actually seen them add the crack, but given how strongly I crave the stuff it’s a pretty safe bet. As she was making it she called for the pitcher and dumped a bunch of the water I’d been so scrupulously avoiding into the mix. This particular tchakri was made with kosum which is more like soured milk than yogurt. I needed my fix so bad though that I threw caution to the wind and ate it anyhow.

Then it was back to the house for some Margaret Atwood and sleep in preparation for more travels in the morrow.

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