|One day in New York City just prior to starting these travels, Evelyn and I found ourselves wandering around the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. We were intrigued by the many shops there oriented towards the neighborhood's immigrant population. They carried goods from places around the world that we planned to visit over the coming year.
A bit of kitsch stayed in my mind from our visit to those shopsa plastic alarm clock in the shape of a mosque.
Many weeks later we arrived in Nouakchottthe capital of Mauritania. Following a tormented night of mosquitoes, our quest that first day in town was to buy a mosquito net. We headed for the central market.
The market buzzes with activity in the morning and evening. In the afternoon it's too hot for anyone to do anything. The air that day in Nouakchott was heavy with heat and dust. The breezewhat little there was of onejust made it worse as hot wind hit one's face.
But this was still morning and, although hot, it was tolerable. We asked around at a few shops along the market's exteriorEvelyn, Tanguy and I. No one understood what it was we were looking for.
"Moustiquare" we said, using the French word for a mosquito net. Soon we had a spontaneous middleman taking us from shop to shop hoping that he could score a commission once we purchased whatever it was we were looking for. But neither he nor anyone else could fathom what that was.
We split up going into adjacent shops. I tried to explainTanguy joined me using his French. "Moustique" we said, for when you're sleeping. Ah! the shop keeper said, and pointed to an alarm clock.
We shook our heads laughing and joined Evelyn next door. Just as we did, she was being shown an alarm clock.
Now we were bewildered.
The middleman motioned for us to follow him and took off with renewed vigor. We made a beeline for a particular shop down the row. He's got it, I thought. The shopkeeper responded to the middleman's words without hesitationpointing to an alarm clock; the very same plastic Mosque Alarm Clock we'd seen in New York.