The No-Man’s land

The no-man’s land, a 3-mile strip of dusty desert between Morocco and Mauritania, was what I had expected. A potholed dust track lined with car wrecks, rusting refrigerators and computers piled up between the dry shrubs, and one scavenging species approaching every living thing that crossed: human beings. Some lead you to a dead-end where your car gets stuck then rob you, my driver says. I see a camp of thugs and rowdies but don’t feel afraid. These are petty thiefs, not armed robbers. Arriving at the paved road on the Mauritanian end felt good. I got my stamp quickly but my driver was held up and we had to say goodbye.

It took me about twenty minutes to be picked up by two friendly Mauritanian men in a comfortable black car. The road to Nouakchott is good, and at sunset we pulled over for prayer in front of a roadside tent. As travelers, they combined several of the five daily prayers into this one just after sunset. Sitting next to them, head down to communicate respect while they were saying their prayers felt – pure.

Impression of the desert, with dromedars.

Sitting there, in the Mauritanian desert in the evening cool, the traveler’s spirit came back to me. I understood this was a designated praying point consisting of a pitched tent and the availability of camel milk. Lakhlaf (whose name I remembered the second time because it sounds like “luck love”) and the other man nicknamed “papá” sat down direction Mecca and said their prayers. I sat down cross-legged and listened to their calm and sincerely voiced “Allahu Akbar” and felt truly happy.

Why? What is my own religion? I let some desert sand run through my fingers. Nature, perhaps, feeling connected with mother earth.

A while later, we stopped for another pause at a roadside restaurant to have tea. On the pole next to the entrance a freshly cut off goat’s head and a Tajin lid. They laid down on the plastic carpet and asked me to do the same. Goat served on a bed of rice – this would be my diet during my stay in this fascinating country.

We arrived in Nouakchott and drove straight to the house of monsieur “papa”, where he introduced me to his younger brothers. I also saw some women (his wife, his daughter?) in the house but they were living in a different room and a different world just a few generations of emancipation away.

In a large spotless room, the only one in the house with air conditioning an a large flatscreen TV I could lay my head down.

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