| And what would the rate be from oogs to CFA (the money of many ex-French colonies of West Africa)? The touts are shouting at us to hurry as the border is closing in 15 minutes. Reluctant to change with them without first knowing the rate, we look around and see that we are standing in front of a bank. Great! We enter to find that it is clean, air-conditioned, and virtually empty. There is one woman behind a too-tall counter; she is getting ready to wrap it up for the day. I ask her what the exchange rate is and if they will change our oogs, to which she answers "I don't know the rate, and no, we don't have CFA here." We are amazed that this is a bank at the border of two countries.
I poke around the adjacent offices to find someone else to ask and eventually a man gives me a rough approximation while telling me that there is no official exchange rate because the ouguiya is not traded on the market. At this point I am too frustrated and harried to think straight, so I throw up my hands and let Gregg do the math. Meanwhile the touts outside are telling us to hurry, hurry, hurry! We end up changing with them in a food boutique and are pushed off in the same direction of the run-down shacks we saw earlier.
We clear customs without even showing our declaration form and are followed by a Senagalese man who wants to be our guide across the 500m of river that separates Mauritania from Senegal. He is trying to tell us that we need him to help with border formalities on the other side. Gregg points out that Americans don't even need a visa to enter Senegal—what can be so complicated? He doesn't relent and gets in the little boat to cross the river with us anyway.
It turns out that there are no border formalities on the Senegal side of Rosso, but the guides have devised a mutually beneficial system with the Senegalese 'Director of Customs', who gives a nod to the guide and waives us pass, making it clear that we owe the guide for his 'services'. Eventually, they lead us to the transport depot where we are told a bus is leaving in twenty minutes for the town of St. Louis where we are going. The bus is empty except for a woman sitting inside, sweating and swatting at flies. We learn that she is Senegalese but lives in Nouakchott where she works at the French embassy as a cook. She is widowed—her husband was killed during the border violence between Mauritania and Senegal in 1989.