dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

Border Sketches
By Evelyn - 20 Jun, 1999

Page 5 of 5

Twenty minutes pass and no one else gets on. Of course not, they have not closed the border for the next three hours. Young girls and boys are circling the dusty lot selling food and drinks, which they cart around on their heads. The girls are very friendly and shy; they keep looking back and smiling at us as they make their rounds.

We end up having to wait 3-1/2hrs in the hot, parked bus until it finally fills up. Various people with odd-sized luggage pile in—one has a goat which ends up on the roof of the bus. There is one last seat which everyone decides to chip in and pay for the last seat so that we can finally leave. Next to me is a friendly guy name Thiouna who tells us that he has been waiting for this bus to leave since eight in the morning. He and his friend come to Rosso to bring in perfume shipped down from Spain via Mauritania, rebottle it, and sell it in Senegal. They are stopping in St. Louis where his family lives before they continue to Dakar.

We were warned of the absurd number of police/customs stops along the way—as many as 14 to Dakar. If we're lucky, we'll only have half that going to St. Louis. The stops are varied; at some the officials just want to see papers. At others, they perform spot-checks to see that the headlights, blinkers, and wipers are functioning properly. Really, the officials are checking for locals smuggling illegal goods (not drugs but things like fabrics, tomatoes, and particularly, sugar) to subsidize their salaries. Though we are passing huge fields of sugarcane, which would suggest that it is locally abundant, Thiouna tells us that a foreigner has a monopoly on sugar production in Senegal (and elsewhere in Africa) so prices are set artificially high.

At several customs stops we are all forced to get off the bus. One woman is discovered with a bag of sugar and the official is demanding she pay a little something to get her bag back. She refuses, saying that she has a large family to support. For about twenty minutes, she stands and the official sits, both with their arms folded in silence, until finally the official relents. The others in the bus do not give the woman a hard time since they are probably all smuggling something and know it could have easily been them in her place.

Gregg and I are exhausted after the day's journey across the border. I drift in and out of consciousness, aware of my languid body layered with dirt and sweat, thinking about how crossing the border from Rosso-Mauritania to Rosso-Senegal—two towns that share a single name—feels like the most significant culture change yet on this trip. I close my eyes and flash on the desolate road out of Nouakchott, the sounds of 15m ranting in the background. I open my eyes long enough to catch a glimpse of mud rondavels topped with thatched roofs as we pass villages outside. I think to myself that we have left Arab North Africa and are riding into black West Africa, and then I fall asleep.




Border Sketches
  The Mosque Alarm Clock
  Big Boys and Tonka Toys
  Crossing the Sahara

  New York
    New York City
West Africa
    The Gambia
  Middle East
    Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet."
-- African proverb
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