My only prior trip to Mauritania was in 1987 when I visited the capital, Nouakchott. Having spent over two decades since living in or visiting 30 other African countries, I was not excepting to be surprised. However, from the time we left Senegal last Thursday – my home for the past eight years – to arriving back today, it was a constant source of amazement. Who could have known that all that separated me from a vastly different country was a ferry ride across the Senegal River?
The road between Nouakchott and the border with Senegal is the major economic lifeline of the country but it is hard to imagine that this narrow strip of macadam, eaten away by sand and salt air, regularly covered with sand dunes, and filled with bone-jarring potholes, is what facilitates commerce between two countries; the overall impression is a sparsely populated moonscape.