Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Driving in cars with boys

Our trip to get there, to arrive safely back in Molly's living room, was something of a bad dream. I'm hesistant to explain it here. It's the part in the story where I write to my mom telling her not to read anymore, but I'll go on with it.

It was mid-morning and we'd arrived back at our auberge in Chinguitti just in time to take the taxi back to Atar there we would get a taxi to Nouakchott where our friends were waiting for us. The owner of our auberge, Cheikh, offered us the services of his taxi driver friend who was going a little bit later in the day to Atar. It made sense since all the taxis leaving out of Atar wouldn't leave until after lunch anyway and this way we could rest comfortably here until then.

I took my time showering off the desert watching the sand cascade out of my hair and twirl in the drain. The cold water almost burned my skin it'd solar stored so much sun. We ate a lunch of cooked rice and carrots, overdid ourselves on the usual three rounds of tea by drinking nearly eight or nine petits tasses, then just laid with the breeze letting the hot of the afternoon come and go. When it became time, I asked Cheikh about our taxi. He said his friend was coming. But then when later came and friend didn't come, we headed into town to find some kind of car to Atar. We asked about and finally found a man driving a station wagon who said he was going all the way to Nouakschott. He already had two passengers and was intending to pick up more in Atar. The car jangled and moved rather precariously on its axle, but we had it in our head that we'd be in Nouakchott by night and we were soft-skinned and wide-eyed our desert trip, as if anything could go wrong.

I even hate to relive this, but here goes. We piled into the taxi getting rejolted out of our post-desert slumber to a dusty gravelly road coming at us fast and quick and loose. Dust filtered through every crevice and covered everywhere in the car. I wrapped a scarf around my head till only my eyes showed. The driver swerved down the roads only just controlling the car but I practiced my new state of zen and tried reading. I grew up driving a station wagon on gravel roads in South Dakota if ever there is one truth it's that it's not an easy task to drive fast and stay on the road. But I begged innocence and figured we'd be okay.

And we were. At least for that leg. We arrived in Atar. Tsilat and I waited at the station while the driver went to get the car washed of dust. We had toilettes and tea and some small fried doughnuts. Three little boys tried to talk to us and when they asked our name the one boy staring intently at me screamed out "Michelle!" and I realized he'd read the necklace from Egypt with my name written in Arabic.

Our driver came back with one more passenger and we finally thought we were on our way. We counted down the hours figuring we'd be in
Nouakchott by midnight. The sun was just setting as we left and a flash of a premonition from Gray about never traveling at night in Africa and here it was nearly night, here it was Africa, and here it was me in a taxicar and somehow I still thought it would be okay sending off my last message before we went out of range to Caleb and Molly waiting for us in Nouakschott, "We'll be there by midnight."

This whole time Tsilat and I had been slowly enleve-ing taking out my braids. I felt like I had half the sand of the Sahara stored in my tresses, my braids, and I was ready to be done with them. We stopped once just as the sun sashayed to a close for the men to pray. When they got back in they started to batter us with their questions about our marital status, what we were doing here, about how pretty we are, about how we should find husbands. At first it was just annoying and then persistent and then demanding and rude and scary. A shift in the car, a wall put up, a serious gap of seperation and not a pretty one and not one we had control over who could cross.

We stopped in some small town and picked up a large women dressed raggedly carrying a large bag. She bantered with the men and helped pull out my braids and the atmosphere changed slightly though I didn't feel I could trust her much. Then the driver said he was going to drop her at her village some ways off the road. It didn't seem like we had a choice to say no, but none of our other taxis had been like this. I wasn't sure what we w'ere getting into. All our other taxis had driven straight to the destination and now we were in one that didn't and with unpleasant, potentially threatening men. The circumstances we're entirely out of our hands with very few cities in between Atar and

As we were driving off-road to take the woman home the driver sensing our discomfort and our fear said he was going to stop for the night at her house eat couscous and drink tea. Obviously not something we wanted to do considering the circumstances and how much we just wanted to get to Molly and Caleb waiting for us. We continued never straight always forward.

We arrived in Akjoujt about midnight, the only semi-large town between Atar and
Nouakchott and everyone got out of the car except us. Pretty soon men started coming up to our window leering in "Hi How are you?" and asking "Are you from America?" It was the first and only time we encountered so many English speakers and in this case it wasn't a relief. In the midst of trying to fend off jeering men, the taximan came back and told us to get out he was going to go run an errand. We looked worriedly at each other and talked frantically asking to stay with the car. The last thing we wanted was to get out, out there. The driver refused and started yelling at us to get out, but we sat there preferring the car to being prey on the side of the road. The driver was angry, slammed the door. He got in and flipped the car around and took a side street into the interior of town. He was driving fast and angry and then stopped abruptly in front of a dark house. He jumped out and went in, and we still weren't sure how safe this was -- a dark road, two girls in a car. We clung to each other in the silence and then started talking options.

The driver came back and did his crazy drive-thru back to the station. We called Caleb to get his advice and it was nice to hear a calm, reassuring voice on the other end. He said to find a way out of our situation, we hung up with a promise to call later when wWe got out and walked up to what looked like a restaurant with a woman sitting in front. We asked her where we were, how far it was to
Nouakchott, if there was someplace we could stay. We got the answers: Akjoujt. 230 km from NKT. Rooms could be rented here.

Just as we got back to the car to get our bags, the driver was adding more seats "C'est pour des enfants." It's for some children he said in French and we saw the women and the children who'd be joining our car. We were relieved to see more innocents and so we wouldn't be the only women. They all nodded their heads to Nouakschott? so we decided to take our chances and continue on. Another message to Caleb and Molly before heading into the night "We're still on our way."

I'll continue the rest tomorrow.


At 4/5/06 18:04, Blogger runtim said...

you did not just say 'tomorrow' !

At 5/5/06 13:54, Blogger runtim said...

HELLO? Where's the rest of the STORY!?


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