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A corrupt official is hard to find

Bleating goats and Arabic music chase us through our dreams that night. Breakfast is in an open walled, low roofed concrete shed that even Kassim, bent as he is, has to lean forward to get into. Stucco over brick, red and black patterned carpet, a plastic red ceiling under straw, held up by chicken wire, plastic chairs, “Jolly” tea and packets of NescafĂ© instant coffee. Flies sip languidly from beads of milk escaping from the Dutch Lady can, they sample the sugar. They seem so content I’ve not the heart to wave them away. Or said differently, I’m too lazy and exhausted to wave them away. Food, jam and a baguette, wet at one end and so chewy in the middle that my teeth ache afterwards. The butter looks crystallized, if butter could. The temperature is mild, warm, not hot, yet, and for the first time since we left San Francisco we can relax for a few minutes, without having to worry about privacy or security or racing to the next deadline. Somewhat ironic, given that the background orchestra to breakfast is 50 caliber machine guns and mortar fire. A military training ground I think, not a civil war. In fact, Mauritania is the last place in the world there needs to be a travel advisory. Frankly, there’s hardly anyone here, and very little crime. The hundreds of sleeping policemen we passed a testimony to peace.

In the light of day we see there are many tikits. Ours and Ryan’s the newest, with yellow straw, the discoloration process not yet noticeable that will one day turn them a lackluster grey. But a roof is a roof and we care not about the color, grateful we have that one bulb for light at night (well, we didn’t actually have it to start with, but Kassim put one in). And we requested to be in the tikits, not a more modern, cinder block hotel. We felt it would add to our experience, and it did. There is a struggling but pretty garden, green surviving somehow in this climate. Kassim waters constantly, there does not seem to be a water shortage problem. For his efforts we see tiny purple flowers that add character to this deserted place that was once full of tourists.

Alioune tells us that while we are here, we are family. While it’s easy to be disillusioned by the constant request for gifts and money from some, which eventually drove us out, we also need to remember that these people, Alioune, his friends, and complete strangers, took us into their homes and made us tea and fed us when they had so little and showed us a degree of hospitality we would never see where we are from. Even the local cat has made itself at home in our car.

But enough meandering. To the wedding!

We start with a trip to the local bureaucrat for the official wedding papers. The blue-robed bureaucrat with his pencil thin mustache shakes his head. We have the wrong type of visas. We need to travel 6 hours to Nouakchott and wait three days for the correct papers. He can’t do it here. And then it takes 2 months to process. I’m lost. This is not what the previous official that Alioune had asked had said, nor the Canadian consulate. We expect Alioune to be angry, loud, quick talking, but he is calm and reasons with the man, although to no avail. The man refuses to be bribed. He tells Alioune, politely, that the previous official is a ‘fucking idiot’. He does not say this about the Canadian embassy but we’re all thinking it. People come and leave the office, viewing the proceedings: a woman in a white and purple robe with lime green sleeves, another in purple robe with dark green sleeves, a younger girl in vibrant blue, a guard, a man wearing a turban, and so on. The conversation takes an hour.

At the end Rick is very sad. Me, not so much. I had given a 20/80 chance of everything going smoothly on that front. This piece of paper, it means so much to him. But later he talks with Bia, and Bia tells him it is not the papers that are important, but the celebration of love and commitment. Bia is wise and Rick regains his momentum.

However, while Rick is hanging with the lads and getting sage advice, I am with the women and learning the true secrets of a Mauritanian wedding…

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