January 26, 2004

24

Africa Blog
Those of you who like watching exciting telly, will recall the TV series '24', where Jack Bauer goes through 24 hours of trials and tribulations in order to save the world. I recently went through a similar 24 hour experience, and although, unlike Jack, I didn't die and come back to life, it was a long and wearing experience.
My 24 hours started on the train...

11pm - It's freezing cold, and some of the windows are missing. It's pitch black and I've been on a hard wooden bench for hours. All the available lying down space has been taken by others. There is so much sand blowing in the train, that I have to keep my eyes shut.

3am - The train stops in the middle of nowhere, and a bunch of people get off. We are surrounded by giant pick-up trucks shining their headlights in our faces.
The other foreigners I'm with negotiate a vastly inflated price for the pick-up truck to Atar, the nearest town. I've eaten all my food. I'm very hungry.

4am - Due to intense negotations it takes an hour to get the pick-up moving, including the time to get all the luggage (including a bicycle) on the roof. The truck has 2 people in the front seat, 4 in the back seat, and 6 of us in the rear boot compartment.

5am - I am in the middle of the MOST UNCOMFORTABLE journey I have ever had the misfortune to make. I am cold, tired, and unable to move at all. Even my feet won't move due to the foreigners keeping some baggage with them in the truck, including ridiculously, a guitar.

6am - I am so uncomfortable that I actually have a mild claustrophobic panic attack. This is the first time this has ever happened to me, and my stomach suddenly feels violently active. I am taking breaths and counting up to a 1000 in my head.

7am - We finally arrive, and a guy that the Italian with the guitar met on the train, leads us to a place to stay.

7.15am - The place is a room with 4 mattresses. I don't have a sleeping bag. I ask if there are any blankets. I am given a filthy sheet.

7.30am - We are sitting drinking tea. I am totally exhausted. We all know it's impolite to leave before drinking 3 glasses of tea. The tea takes forever to make, and after each glass I am calculating how long before I can sleep.

8.30am - I go to sleep on the mattress, fully clothed, covered in a dirty sheet.

11.30am - I am woken by the sound of the Italian playing Bob Marley songs on his guitar next door. The Mauritanians are clapping and shouting.

12pm - I decide to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, before I get given any more tea.

1pm - I've asked around town, and they say the truck to Chinguetti goes at 3pm.

2pm - I eat at last.

3pm - I wait in a deserted, dirty patch of ground for the truck.

4pm - I'm still waiting. People have come past and tried to sell me tourist crap. Kids have come and stared for a while.

5pm - I'm still waiting. The local kids now know me as 'the guy from England waiting for the truck to Chinguetti'. They keep coming and talking to me about football. They don't understand why my French is worse than theirs.

5.30pm - I finally get in the truck, and thanks for small mercies they don't have enough passengers, so there are only 3 people in the back seat, including me.

6pm - The guy sitting next to me tells me he is a professor of the Koran. He spends the next hour chanting very loudly.

7pm - The driver stops. Everyone gets out by the side of the road and prays. I stay in the truck, feeling like a lemon.

8pm - We arrive. The town's power supply is out. It's pitch black. The Professor takes me to an Auberge. I am dreaming of a good nights sleep. The Auberge has only mattresses in a room. 'I want a bed', I wail, 'I don't have a sleeping bag', 'I need a hot shower'. 'Everywhere here is like this', he replies.

8.30pm - I have fled in despair, and am crouching under a tree trying to read the guidebook with a cigarette lighter.

8.45pm - I read about the most expensive place in town, 20 euros worth. 'They must have beds', I think. I start walking. It is pitch black, and the streets are sand-filled and don't have names.

9pm - A kid takes pity on me, and leads me to the hotel. It has a room. It is nice. It has a toilet and a shower. I am ecstatic.

9.30pm - I realise the hot water is solar powered, but am so dirty I take a cold shower.

9.45pm - I eat chicken and chips in the hotel restaurant (tent). There are 6 other people there. They are all French. We have a 2 minute conversation, then I eat in silence while they yap in French.

10.30pm - I get into bed feeling like I have been hit with sticks all day, and had sand thrown all over me.

11pm - I am asleep at last..

Posted by paul at January 26, 2004 03:48 PM

Comments

Jack had it easy. I am knackered just reading that. Mind you I am knackered anyway.

Posted by: Kev at January 26, 2004 09:30 PM

Ummmm.... serves you right? ;-)
Anyhow, I went to the office, like 20 times already this month. The same office, taking the same phone calls, with the same people, the same bike ride, the same shite weather etc etc etc. Enjoy the discomfort, as the comfort comes more welcome.
(actually, the things may seem similar here, but the variations are very subtle. And thats ok with me. I'm glad I'm not you today!!!)

Posted by: tom at January 26, 2004 09:53 PM