These days, nothing but sand. Life in the Sahara.

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After a day’s walking, I saw what looked to be a desert commune in the distance. This made me very excited. I jumped off the camel, ran to the head nomad and said, ‘Can we stay here, can we stay here? Please, please?’. I ran-around in circles like a dog when he hears the leash and works out he’s going for a walk. I ran so fast I tripped over, head first into the sand. I then burst into hysterical laughter. He glanced at me in disgust, and kept walking. ‘Ah C’mon mate, lighten up!’. Strained tolerance. That’s how I’d describe his feelings towards me.

We ended up staying a night in the commune. Whenever I first awoke in the tent, I’d look up and see all the nomads staring at me. I’d get a bit of a fright, ‘Aaaaahh! What the hell did I drink last night? Where am I?’. I then remember I’m riding a camel through the Sahara with nomads. ‘Oh yeah’ (nodding to myself agreeably). I look at them and smile,  ‘So, how are we all this morning?’. I say this in a very strong Australian accent. That’s greeted with a unanimous giggle. I always get laughed at when I travel. I laugh too. Louder. And more aggressively. So as to drown them out and teach them that I’m not fucking a party trick! I have feelings too.

‘So, what’s for brekky?’. I don’t rate Mauritanian breakfasts. At first I thought it was just the hotel I stayed at upon arrival. But it kept happening. Breakfast generally consisted of a massive loaf of bread. I looked at it on my plate, and thought, ‘Hmmmmm’. You know when a dog gets a bone so big, at first he doesn’t quite know how to deal with it, such is its overwhelming presence. He takes a few moments to observe the bone. He might even circle it. Then it thinks, fuck it, I’m a dog, just dig in and gnaw. So that’s what I did. I picked up the monolith and started gnawing into it. It was quite a sturdy loaf, so it cracked my front teeth. I didn’t want to lose face with the nomads, so I just spat the teeth out, laughed, and kept gnawing (I was crying on the inside though). I got about 3 bites in before putting it down saying, no more, no more. I’m tender. I can’t do this. I’m used to strawberries, yoghurt and cereal for breakfast. That’s when they handed me a knife, butter and jam, with a look that said, ‘Patience is a virtue’. Balls.

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The journey from Nouakchott to Atar

Sorry. I know I’m going to keep losing more readers with these excessively long posts. This one is a monster. It’s basically a novel. If it were a novel, it would lack cohesion. It would be shit. It goes off on rambling tangents, and then comes back. Basically like when you chat to someone at the pub. I don’t ramble when I speak, just when I write. The good thing about my rambling is you’re not forced to politely endure it. Unlike when I talk to someone at the pub who has a spectacular inability to tell a story within the 20 minute allotment. And also lacks any ability to see that I’m so bored I’m about to cry. Oh for fucks sake, get to the bloody point man. In fact, don’t bother. I’m leaving.

But I invite you to stay, and click through to the other side….

Continue Reading

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Welcome to Mauritania

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This girl should be on stage in London. She was a natural performer.

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By the time this kid had finished diving head first into the sand for the camera, he was a mess. So when he went back to his tent for dinner, I quietly slinked away, whistling obliviously. Don’t blame me.

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The three wise men who were in charge of my life for 2 days in the Sahara.
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The eyes, the eyes. It’s all in the eyes. Never have I shot anyone with such a deep, penetrative stare.
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The long march back to Chinguetti

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Coffee in Mauritania

I have a very high tolerance threshold when I travel. I can endure the unspeakable. I’ve certainly mastered the art of mute suffering. There’s one exception to this – coffee. Or lack thereof. Weirdly, for all the cultural currency that travel provides, many of my favourite memories involve nothing more than a coffee (or if legal, a beer) and reading one of the many newspapers or magazines I buy on my day of departure. They remain crumpled in my bag for the duration of the trip. I enjoy this pastime at home too, but it’s not quite the same. Either way, if I can’t start the day with a coffee and some reading, I get uncontrollably irritable. Emphasise irritable. Underline uncontrollably. At home I can more or less control this. I have a coffee machine. And I get the paper delivered. Thus, in the mornings I’m capable of achieving a non-sexual orgasm.

In Africa and the Middle East, however, this is beyond my control. I was in a desert settlement in the Sahara, Chinguetti, staying with a part-time nomad (sound travel wanker alarm bells, now). I anxiously knocked on his door with my coffee satchel and said, ‘boiling water?’ ‘Yes, my friend, wait’. He wanted to give me breakfast and coffee all at once. It’s too difficult to explain that coffee is best enjoyed with a book, rather than with food. ‘Ah, maybe now?’. He walked away.

All I ever need when abroad is the boiling water. I always have the coffee. So I never understand why they never let me access the tap. It was the same in Turkey, Iran, Lebanon. Everywhere. Just give me access to the fucking tap.

An hour passed. This is ridiculous. I want my coffee. I walked back over and lightly tapped on his door. ‘Ah yes my friend. Soon’. ‘But you have the tap in there, I can see it. Let me use it. Please.’

Another half hour passed and I was starting to see some weird stuff. I started giggling to myself. Uncontrollably. At nothing. Then I danced to the music in my head. Still giggling. Oh shit, I’m cracking up. I need coffee.

I marched back over. No tentative knocking this time. ‘Hey!!’. I banged very loudly on the door. I banged it so hard it came off. The nomads were all sat on the floor. They looked up in horror. ‘I wanna read my fucking book. And I can’t do that till I have a coffee. Give me the fucking boiling water. Give it to me!! Give it to me!!’. That’s when I walked into the room and started man handling the lean little nomad, shaking him quite intensely. The donkeys, observing the scene from outside, shuffled anxiously. The kids stood up and ran away. I then went to the tap and turned it on. I pointed to it. ‘See. Water, water. Now boil it. Boil it. You fucking cunt. Boil it!! Boil the fucking water!!’. I splashed it at all of them. I then descended into racism. ‘Ay! You speak the English?! You speak the English?! Ching Ching Chong. Watuh. Watuh’. The nomads had a horrified look on their faces, as if to say ‘oh dear. This man is not only stupid. He’s insane’. In my mind, it didn’t matter that I was being racist towards the Chinese, even tough I was in Africa. All the same to me. It’s white or it’s coloured. White power!

An hour later, after I’d unleashed terror on the entire village, storming through doors and demanding boiled water, the village elder caved and gave me boiling water. Before breakfast. I scurried back to my room, talking to myself in a way that reminded me of Gollum. I had my coffee and read 23 pages of Franzen. I felt very content. Aaaaah. That’s when remorse kicked in. ‘Shit, did I say ‘Ching chong?’. I walked around the village, bowing my head and profusely apologising to everyone. ‘I’m deeply sorry mam. I didn’t mean to sexually harass you. I’m not a misogynist. I just go a bit ‘cookoo cookoo’ without my coffee’. I handed out money. Hush money, pity money. They were all very understanding. They’re used to institutional racism, theft and rape from the west. From colonial times to UN peacekeepers. The IMF to the world bank. It’s all in the script. We fuck you. Profit from it. Then we give you money (foreign aid) to preserve the appearance of magnanimity. The generous uncle handing out gifts to the savages. Yesterday it was colonialism. Today it’s globalisation. Tomorrow it’s climate change. White man’s burden and all that. It’s our world. But you’re free to live in it. If you must.

Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. I’m back now. Anyway, I got my coffee in end. White man always gets his way. Same time tomorrow?

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Transport in Mauritania

I don’t rate Mauritania’s mini van service all the highly. It’s usually a slightly traumatic process where confusion is prioritised. The engine is turned on, which would always evoke a little excitement in me, ‘Yes, we might be leaving. Finally!’. Little do I know the engine will be left running for half an hour as we play musical chairs. The guy behind me suddenly lunges forward, yelling something in Arabic. He jumps over the seats trying desperately to open the door. The people on the outside try to open it. Eventually 5 guys are trying to prise open the door. It eventually opens. The guy yells something to, well, I’m not exactly sure who, and then climbs back in. The door is closed. Then it opens again (this process continues indefinitely) and a guy points to me. ‘Who me?’. I’m being transferred to another van. Oh for fucks sake. I was happy with that seat. I eventually get another window seat, so I’m still relatively content, if a little irritated for being rudely forced to move (like when you ask a sleeping cat to get off the couch).

A guy comes to do roll call. People are moved around a few times before they construct an arrangement everyone is happy with. I never could work out exactly how they figured out who was to sit where, and why it was so important. The whole time a dishevelled peasant is standing right in the middle of everything (right in the middle, again, like an arrogant cat) observing proceedings with his hand out. This sounds really bad, but watching his hopeless desperation, he reminded me of the donkeys. The donkeys have a truly horrific life. They spend all day lugging heavy carriages, being endlessly beaten with a stick. The stick is supposed to act as a makeshift steering wheel, but the driver will generally just bash the donkey with it – instinctively and unrelentingly. When they have finished their shift, their 2 front legs are tied together so they can’t move. You can see the pain in their eyes, they just wait to die. I would’ve given the peasant money, but I actually didn’t have any left. I spent it all on the trek through the Sahara with the nomads. And there are no cash points up here. It meant I had to point to my bankcard at the bus depot, and gesture that I will pay for my ticket at Nouakchott. I don’t know what I would’ve done if they insisted on cash up front. This is the only bus to Nouakchott today, and my flight home is 7:00am tomorrow. Turn on the Starsky and Hutch music, The race begins.

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