Busy fish market

Prayer time on the beach

Waiting for the boats to come in

Chopped up and ready for sale

Fresh fish on the sand

The day's catch

A new boat arrives

Unloading the boat the traditional way

Mosquee Saudique

Cell phone market

Merchants by the side of the road

I like what you've done with the place

Main intersection in the late afternoon sun

Abandoned car by the side of the road

Cell phones are everywhere

Great chicken tajine for five dollars

Sidewalk cafe at night

Nouakchott, Mauritania

Into Another World

December 29, 2012

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

- Bob Dylan

There wasn’t much to see on the ride to the Nouakchott, the capital. There wasn’t much to see in Nouakchott either. The city of 800,000 sprawled out a few kilometers from the ocean as a collection of dusty streets and uninspiring concrete construction. The Grand Mosque was pleasant and other than lots of stares I didn’t really draw that much attention. Across the street from the mosque was a large market consisting mainly of used cell phones. If you have ever wondered what happened to that cell phone you had 10 years ago I can tell you that it is probably in Africa.

The real action in the city happens at the fishing port. To get out there I needed a taxi but as I found out there really aren’t many of those in Nouakchott. Instead you just flag down a car and tell them your destination. If they are going that way or want to take you then you negotiate a price. If not then you wait for the next one. It is a pretty efficient system and for about $2 I was on my way.

Getting out of the taxi I could already smell that I was near a fishing port. Here, as in Saint-Louis, traditional wooden fishing boats pull onto the beach and are unloaded the old fashioned way. A human chain of people is formed to real the boat in and then the catch is carried off in buckets on top of people’s heads to the nearby market. All of this occurs amidst a sea of people on the beach. There are young kids playing soccer, old people praying, vendors selling food and drinks, men fixing boats, etc.

In the fish market the catch is processed. Men quickly scale, chop, and gut fish as it comes in. Your shoes crunch the hardened fish scales covering the concrete floor as fish guts are discarded to the side, left for the birds and cats to scavenge. It was certainly a different atmosphere from any Western fish market I have been to and a nice colorful representation of life in Mauritania.

Back in the city in the evening the streets were busy but relaxed. I managed to find a nice sidewalk café for dinner that seemed popular with locals and served good looking plates of food. My first waiter spoke only Arabic so he had to call over another one who could speak French. I ordered a chicken tajine and waited, watching the city life. To my right there were boys playing pool outside. To my left a man was on his laptop reading a digital copy of some type of Islamic scripture while also checking his Facebook page. I guess this café had WiFi too. Of course the one thing conspicuously absent in all of this was any form of alcohol; it was strictly tea, coffee, water, or soda. But maybe that’s why it felt so pleasant.

After dinner I stopped in an upscale looking bakery on the corner. Even at 10pm the delicious smell of freshly baked bread had enormous power. One of the benefits of the French colonial vestiges is undoubtedly the high quality of traditional French breads and pastries in these often unexpected places; clearly a far superior colonial heritage than British tea drinking. I ordered some pastries for dessert and breakfast the next morning and headed back to get some sleep before another day of travel.