Sunday, November 30, 2008

A history of Mauritania

"Where is Mauritania?" That is the most common question I hear when I talk to people about my trip. My response is pretty standard: It's on the north west coast of Africa, above Senegal. They pretend to know what I cam talking about. But they really don't know where Mauritania is. I pretend to think that they will Google it when they get to a computer. It's doubtful they will know how to spell it. Even I have to concentrate on it when I spell it out.

Since I hope to produce a video in the style of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods, I needed to get my act together and do some research about the nation of Mauritania.

Mauritania is one of the most dramatic countries in North Africa. While it is almost medieval in appearance and lifestyles, it is also described as modern.

With such contrary descriptions it is possible that Mauritania is one of the most mysterious countries in the world.

Mauritania is located in the Western Sahara desert. The climate ranges from hot to warm. I decided to keep track of the weather online. Lucky for me it is NOT humid, until it rains and then humidity becomes a welcome change.

It's borders include Morocco, Mali, Senegal, and Algeria. It's coast line dips into the Atlantic Ocean.

The southern part of Mauritania was once part of the Ghana empire. In 1000 AD the Berbers settled in the northern area. European adventurers arrived in the 15th century. The French influence overtook the original people of the land until Mauritania gained independence in 1960.

Arabic and French are the primary languages spoken among a majority of the people. Virtually all Mauritanians are Sunni Muslims.

From all reports that I have received from friends and family the people of Mauritania are kind and generous. For the most part they welcome people from other parts of the world with warmth and hospitality.

The more I read about this country and the people who live there, the more I realize that I know very little about the land that my brother has chosen to call home.

I can't wait to smell and taste Mauritania. To experience the people and see the sights for myself. I'll do my best to share with you what I experience. But I know that to get the fullness of Mauritania you will need to go there yourself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I am an equestrian. As a younger woman I rode quite a bit. For 2 years I managed a camp horse program. It was heaven. The work was hard, but the rewards far outweighed the effects of the strain on my body.

Riding horses is just one aspect of being an equestrian. For me the grooming and cleaning is just as exhilarating. Each horse has a unique personality. Horses, for the most part, want to have a relationship with their 'owners.' Trained (and treated) properly they will behave in similar ways to a dog.

I really don't know much about camels except that they are stubborn and they spit. Baby camels are just precious and cute, but from what I see, they grow up into obnoxious creatures.

And yet, in parts of the world, camels are raised for all kinds of things: transportation, heavy hauling and food. I know that I will be able to see lots of camels in Mauritania. I am also going to have the chance to EAT camels in Mauritania.

Camel hump, properly prepared, is apparently a delicious culinary experience. As I have mentioned in a previous posting, I love gelatinous and gristley food. While watching "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain, I was told that camel meat is rather tasty. Or at least Mr. Bourdain liked it. I'll let you know in January what I discover for myself.

According to Wikipedia there are 14 million Dromedary (one hump) camels living mainly as domesticated livestock around Somalia, Sudan and Mauritania. There are fewer Bactrian (two hump) camels around the world, mainly China, Mongolia, and Australia.

One of my favorite movies is "The Story of the Weeping Camel." It's a wonderful story about a family in the Gobi region of Mongolia. After a difficult birth a mother camel rejects it's baby causing the family to intercede to keep this calf alive. Not only do you learn about the people of this region, but the ending is very moving. It's not an action film, but I highly recommend it on so many levels. (My family makes fun of my enthusiasm for this film.)

So on a couple different levels I am looking foward to meeting some camels: up close and personal. I also look forward to tasting the meat, and hump, and drinking the milk, which is said to have curative powers if the camel eats certain plants. can be an aphrodisiac. :)

I am most looking foward to riding a camel. (You got this, Paul?) Given their stubborn nature, I am not certain that they will be like riding a horse.

Then my sister sent me this video. I am rethinking my assumptions. :)

But still looking forward to meeting one of these fascinating creatures.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Equinoxe....oasis on the Sahara

You wouldn't really expect to find an oasis unless you really believed all those Bob Hope movies.

From what I am told, and from the pictures I see I do believe: Equinoxe is an oasis on the Sahara. But just what IS Equinoxe?

When people ask me about my brother, Paul and the work he is doing, most people's eyes glass over before I get to far a long in the story. It takes that long.

They aren't even listening when I begin the story of Equinoxe. Lucky you! You can read it for yourself.

You need to start at the beginning - 'A Case Study.'

Okay, so that's just part of it. The pictures I have seen tell a story of community. People coming together sharing food, fun, and laughter. If you look at the calendar of events there are Friday movies and concerts.

While you are enjoying these events you do not need to worry about going hungry because the menu offers a plethora of items - omlettes, crepes, salads, soups and La Viande au Choix - just to name a few. Take a look for yourself!

And coffee. There is a full espresso bar. A year ago Ruth helped set up the beginnings of Equinoxe. From what I am told the services have tripled and people from around Nouakchott indeed have found an oasis.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Traveling Documents

Back in 2003 my husband and I traveled to Scotland. We both had to renew our passports since we hadn't traveled out of the country since we came home in 1990 from Papua New Guinea. At the time I was a little surprised at the fact that post 9/11 we wouldn't need a 'travel visa.'

You can bet I need a travel visa for my trip to Mauritania. Not only do I need a travel visa but I had to submit a bank statement, a letter from my brother, two additional passport type photos, my 'yellow fever vaccination document' along with the usual suspect - my passport.

Yesterday I mailed these documents to an agency that promises to 'hand deliver my visa application to the Mauritanian embassy.' Really? Hand deliver?

Completing the visa application in 'duplicate' proved to be, well, time consuming. The website for the processing agency, the one that is promising to hand walk my application packet to the Mauritanian embassy, was easy to follow. They had a link to the 'visa application' which turned out to be a pdf document that still had a date of August 7, 2003 permanently affixed to the sheet. It appeared to be a copy of an image that someone had uploaded to the website. The writing was 'condensed.' And although it was condensed room for writing in your personal information was...well, it was condensed too!

One evening this week I spent two hours trying to complete the visa application by hand. When I went to print them from my computer I accidently chose the number 6 as the number of copies requested. Didn't think I'd need more than two. How wrong I was!

I'd get the entire sheet complete and I'd write in something incorrect. I'd start over again. 5 times. Finally, on the last sheet I was satisfied with the quality of the document. I gathered the materials on my list and put them in a file folder. I needed to make a copy of the application, because they directions indicated I needed two copies.

Traveling to work the next morning was very wet. Carefully I tucked the file folder under my arm and engaged the use of my rather large umbrella. Through the monsoon I carefully walked through the parking lot and up to the door of my building. As I opened the door and began to remove the fullness of my umbrella a gosh of water splashed my face and water poured onto my file folder. Once inside I saw the damage: my visa application was soaked.

During my lunch hour I realized that I had a solution. My work computer has the Adobe Writer program that allows me to edit pdf documents. Utilizing the 'typewriter' function within 5 minutes I had a beautiful document to present the the agency, in duplicate!

By my calculations my packet should be ready for the agency to 'hand walk' on Monday. Another promise the agency has made is that the whole process will take 5 business days. I have paid for FedEx to 'next day air' my completed documents back to me. So in all reality I should have my approval to travel to Mauritania in two weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Preparing....the painful part

Traveling to Mauritania takes a lot of preparation. Not only do you need to get a visa, but you have to get vaccincations. I had six:
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Flu
  • Typhoid
  • Tetanus
  • Meningococcal
  • Yellow Fever

I didn't really feel any effects of these shots until the next day. And then I felt feverish and a little out of it. Unfortunately I was pretty busy and feeling the effects of the typhoid and Yellow Fever was a bit inconvenient.

Now I get to work on processing my visa. I'll keep you posted.