Before we leave, the customs officers give us six (!) large baguettes to bring with us. If you are for once invited by officials (police, customs, doctors, military) in Africa, it seems that they always turn out to be amongst the most generous of hosts. It is as if they feel an obligation, as the country’s officially employed, to show the good face of their country. Whatever the reason it is nice!
Shadow at noon
By noon, we halt by a group of houses that line the road. A row of several barracks stretch along the road. In each of them is one or a few rooms. One of them hosts a small shop, but the prices are close to double those of Nouadhibou. We wait to shop until the next petrol station or larger village, where prices are often better.
Attached to one of the barracks is a big canopy, and underneath it on the sand is a carpet. It is a place of shadow, perfect for a short rest and to wait at for the midday heat to pass. A weak breeze occasionally cools the skin. We boil some pasta for lunch. A bit later, some local men come to do their prayers at the same place. We move to one of the carpet’s corners, but are able to stay inside the shade. If we would have to enter the sun, we’d been better of to continue cycle. It is unbearably hot to stand still under the sun, but the breeze when cycling cools down a little.
The air is so hot and dry that my shorts rustle like paper when I move. A few meters away, on the straight, flat road, cars – mostly Mercedes – rush past fast. One every ten minutes maybe. Rarely enough to break a silence; often enough to create a kind of rhythm.
In Chelkha, we stop by the petrol station. The village is small – seemingly a quite new settlement – and the petrol station even so new that some people in Nouadhibou didn’t know about it yet. There are so few stations along the road, that if a new one comes it usually doesn’t take many days from that the first truck has passed until the rumor of the new station has spread to the cities.
The station is owned by a father and his son. As the sun sets, they walk out together to the roadside. There they turn towards Mecca and pray. Earlier, the son sang out a prayer over the small village; towards the dark sky above – grey-blue clouds closing in from the East.
We tell the owners that we intend to cook some spaghetti for dinner, and ask if they want some too. Instead they give us spaghetti from their shop, which they prepare in their own way. Cooked in small pieces and then fried together with dried camel meat, pieces of potatoes and some onion. They show a warm hospitality, and believe it or not but spaghetti with camel meat was delicious!
We sleep on our mattresses just outside the stations small shop, under the open sky. The father and his son also sleep outside, on beds which they’ve brought outside. There is a little rain during the evening and early night, but just a few drops – nicely cooling on the face. They evaporate from the day-heated ground almost as quickly as they fall. I lie down to rest; cover my face with a scarf against the wind and the sand that it carries. We are given tea. There is a beautiful mix of low, distinct sounds. The whining wind and some crickets’ assiduous chirping at distance. The crackling from the radio and the charcoal grill. And the tranquil sound as the father pours tea back and forth between the small glasses. A soft, quick gurgle – a sound like waves reaching land.