Terjit Oasis, Mauritania, October 21 - 22, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Monday, October 22, 2007

Most Mauritanian men are especially fierce looking in their long blue robes and big turbans, usually wrinkled and old looking beyond their years from the extreme sunlight and dry Sahara climate.   And they don't act like they want to be your friends either.  Whereas elsewhere in Africa most people are warm and welcoming, I found many of the Maures to be brusque and standoffish.  My impressions were consistent with account I recently read of Mungo Park's expeditions in West Africa in search of Timbuktu in nineteenth century era of exploration of Africa's interior in which he also noted the Maures' unfriendliness. 
Outside of Nouakchott you also see rather few women outside in Mauritania.  Those that are out, however, are not veiled and mostly wear bright-colored dresses in African patterns rather than the drab black and gray shrouds prevalent in the rest of the Arab world. 
Perhaps most women just stay at home in this strict Muslim country, or perhaps some of them are so obese as to be housebound.  That's not entirely a joke.  Fat women are considered sexy in the much of Africa and the Arab world and especially so in Mauritania, to the degree that human rights groups have made an issue of the prevalent force-feeding of milk and gruel to teenage girls to make them beautifully fat as a form of abuse.  Loose fat sloshing around and lots of cushion for the pushin' - now that's what's considered hot in Africa.  The rotund ones must all stay at home, though, because I actually saw fewer corpulent beauties in Mauritania than I recall from Egypt, Jordan, or Morocco. 
We backtracked part of the way from Chinguetti and then turned off the (apparently EU funded) tarmac main road into an impressive desert canyon.  The sand dunes, brown and black rocks, acacia thorn trees, and brilliant blue skies created another very satisfying "Real Africa" atmosphere as we got bogged down in the sand a couple times on the short drive into Terjit. 
Terjit itself is a cool, humid, date palm oasis in a narrow canyon, with hot springs that feed into several natural pools between the palms.  The village below the oasis sprawls down and out of the canyon, and with its wattle and daub huts arranged helter-skelter along a single sandy track has a very stereotypical African village look about it. 
Everywhere we walked in Terjit we were followed by herds of little children begging for cadeaux.  One was thrilled by a business card from Morocco ben gave him while another was ecstatic over a nearly empty pen I gave him for posing for a photo.  In many parts of the world I've seen people who have rather little, but Terjit is one of those extreme places where people seem to have virtually nothing. 
Our campground at Terjit was situated alongside the canyon wall just above the village and just below the oasis pools.  The campement was one of attractive round white-stucco huts with conical roofs that seemed very African looking but were much nicer than and entirely unlike any of the dwellings in the village.  After dark there was not a sound of a single light from the village below.  The canyon walls, however, created a phenomenal echo effect of all the sounds we made. Thus, when the first glimmer of the dawn's early light appeared the early risers' loud conversations and simple attempts at wit as they were wandering about in their head torches banging pots and pans around were magnified and repeated as the echoes resounded back and forth between the canyon walls.
"Feeling peckish.....peckish........peckish.......peckish?
"How ya doin', ol' boy........ol' boy........ol' boy..........ol' boy?"
"How'd ya sleep...........yasleep..........yasleep.............yasleep?" 
I've never quite understood why some people feel the need to ask you first thing in the morning about how you slept.  Some people seem to treat it as the polite thing to do but are usually not interested in an honest answer.  It's something that's always struck me as rather intrusive, much more so than the simple "How are you?"  To me it's almost like someone asking you about your bodily functions, something like, "Everything come out OK?" when you return from the toilet or "How are your shits?" when you have diarrhea.  It's especially annoying when you wake up early and are still half asleep (or perhaps a bit hungover) and in desperate need of emptying your bladder, when some chipper bastard runs over to you with a smiley face and asks, "How'd ya sleep?"   I just want to say, "What the f**k is it to you how I slept?" 
Breakfast was scheduled for 7:30 that morning, but the meager offerings were already being cleared away when I arrived at 7:20.  I vowed to (and threatened) everyone that the next time it was my turn to make breakfast I was going to pour boiling water from the kettle over the hands of anyone who tried to approach the breakfast table early for anything more than tea or coffee.  And if you're still wondering, the answer to the question is, "I had a horrible night and hardly slept a wink in my overheated stone oven of a hut!"

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