Rural Mauritania: An Impressionable Arrival

The Mauritanian Desert from the air

The Mauritanian Desert from the air

Looking past the little propellers, the horizon seemed to blur with a fine gradient layer of brown-orange dust. A color, despite the makers of Crayola, I had never seen. As the petite plane bumped its way down toward the earth, the Sahara peeked its head out from under the thick dusty blanket. Flat, hard-packed sand covered mile after mile with no end in sight. Where were the sand dunes? The oases? The camels?

We landed unceremoniously on a short runway ending in a tiny airport, if the word airport can be used to describe the lone building swallowing incomers whole. Inside was a reception desk, a metal detector, and an xray machine, the only desk staffed with a bored looking local, checking our passports and IDs.

We exited the building, stepping into a convection oven, with heat radiating down from overhead and up from the earth. Each step felt hotter and hotter, until sweat began to bead on my face and pour down my back as if all at once, mere meters from our air conditioned ride. The sweat had only just begun to evaporate inside the building, now I couldn’t remember what it was like to be dry. We navigated our way through the man-camp shipping container-like dorm buildings lined with hotel doors. The rooms looked surprisingly normal from the inside; clean tile extended under a desk, chair and bed, while a private bathroom loomed on the right. The lone noise in the room came from a constantly buzzing air conditioning unit, the hardest working equipment on site.

The locals, unaffected by the heat, went straight to playing running sports like soccer after their shift on the beautiful, lit soccer field built only for the camp. Night fell but the temperature only dropped a few degrees. The locals donned their stocking caps and down caps for their version of cold, just breaking 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

We left as we had come, and the camp was swallowed up into the dust perpetually hovering in the air. If memories are fleeting, perhaps it was all just a mirage …