By Cherno Auspicious
My phone buzzed, I jumped in utter surprise and rushed to grab it to be sure if it actually was 06:30. To me, I slept less than an hour, even though I slept for precisely 6 hours. My alarm clock woke me from a dream that I can’t recall in full, but part of what I remember was being at the Banjul International Airport where I was about to board a plane to Dakar then to United States of America. So, you can imagine how I felt the moment my phone rudely woke me up.
The date was the 19th of August, on a Saturday. It was a special day in the history of my life. It was the day I was supposed to experience life outside Gambia. I quickly pulled my towel from where it was hanging and rushed to the bathroom.
After an hour or so, I was set to leave for the University of The Gambia campus in Kanifing. Going to school had never been so exciting. It is normally said that change is as good as a rest. Of course, I couldn’t agree more, based on my mood that very morning.
When I got to the school, I saw a couple of enthused students who were happily lifting their suitcases and positioning them on top of the bus. I exchanged pleasantries and hurriedly secured myself a comfortable seat at the back. I knew it was a long journey we were embarking on; therefore, one needed a comfortable seat.
“Please, call me on 3805753 in case you guys are set to leave before my return,” I said to a colleague shortly before I left for the shop where I bought a loaf of bread [the second staple food for Gambians] and a bottle of wonjo.
“I’ll call you when we get to Barra,” my colleague responded with a grin, as the morning breeze couldn’t allow him to stay away from sharing jokes.
A bus of 76 students was set to leave the campus at exactly 12:40 for Banjul Ferry Terminal. It was a tough undertaking to cross to Barra due to the never-ending queue of vehicles at the ferry terminal. In fact, the Minister of Youths and Sports had to personally come with his wife to see to it that our crossing was facilitated. After six hours fifty-one minutes, we finally were granted space in the ferry.
The time was 20:42 when we eventually found ourselves in Barra. The journey to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania was getting started. The trip was aimed at embarking on a research on the theme: the Role of Aquaculture in Sustainable Development. This trip was organized by the Economic and Management Sciences Students’ Association, ECOMANSA. I commend them for that bold step!
After doing all that we were supposed to do, such as prayers and eating, it was already 22:30 and that was exactly the minute we left Barra. The next stop was in Amdalia, then Karang where we left at precisely 01:34 on Sunday, 20th August. The bus wasn’t boring and it was as if it were 13:34, even though it was late.
There was an interesting and loud discussion in different sections of the bus. The likes of Abideen Hydra, Toumani Darboe, Baboucarr Ceesay, Idrissa Fdera and a few others turned the bus into comedy platform. They actually squeezed my intestines through extreme laughter. However, we needed the laughter.
We slept, woke up, slept again and woke up again and then realized that the time said 06:30. Wow! We were deep inside Senegal already. We stopped in a small village between Gosas and Touba, to perform the Fajr Salaah. After 15 minutes or so, we hit the road again and got to Touba at 07:30.
At 11:37, we were stopped at a Senegalese checkpoint that was staged few miles before Saint Louis. The officer asked us to tender all the necessary documents, and we did. But there was a problem because it seemed our driver misplaced a particular document of his. He said to the officer that he wasn’t sure if he had left that document with the officers at Touba. Disappointedly, this unfriendly officer told the driver to get all the way back to Touba [a four-hour drive] to get that document. He wasn’t the least ready to negotiate about that. That really jolted us all as delegates. All of a sudden, a miracle happened. The driver jumped from the bus and moved with tremulous motion towards the officer and tendered the document to the officer. He just found the document from beside his seat.
We hit on the road again while those enraged were placating once again. We wended our way towards Roso, the Senegalese-Mauritania border. We rolled in there at 14:45. There, we needed to cross via a ferry. Actually, whatever the custom was for, we were told the ferry would be available at 16:00. Well, one could clearly see the ferry parked on the other side.
We waited in good faith and at 17:10, we were able to cross into the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. There too, we waited while our documents were being processed by the Mauritanian custom officials. While we were waiting, most of us used the opportunity to exchange our monies with the Mauritanian Ukiya [Mauritanian currency].
We were ready to depart from that terminal at 19:00. I was surprised when I was told that from the border to Nouakchott [our destination] was about two hundred and thirty  kilometers. To make it worse, the route is so crummy and crappy that it extends the number of hours one should have used had it been the road was deluxe and in good shape. Well, while in the bus, I engaged myself in interesting discussions just to ease my uneasiness.
I was awakened by the loud noise and extremely bright light bulbs that glittered around everywhere. I said to myself, “Alhamdulila, Argana Nouakchott”. We got off the bus, prayed and then I decided to walk to a nearby “narr” shop. I went to him because I could read friendliness and openness on his face. Luckily, he understands Wolof. While I engaged him in casual discussions, he came to tell me that we were not in Nouakchott, but Chickens [Don’t ask me about the Chickens lol]. In fact, he said that we had about one hundred and ninety-eight  kilometers to cover. That statement of his really demoralized me. From him, I bought a simcard and called my dad back home. We spoke for a while, as I knew that the credit wouldn’t allow me to stay longer on the line.
At 22:50, we got back on the bus while it jolted us all the way to Nouakchott. This time, we refused to entertain boredom. Baboucarr Ceesay and I took it upon ourselves to share jokes just to make everyone forget the tedium and weariness for a second. The night was dark; the delegates were tired and uncomfortable, and needed, but could not get, any opportunity to bathe, for almost two days.
As we got at the edge of the famous city of Nouakchott, we were welcomed by Mauritanian brothers, who drove with us all the way to our residence. We finally got to the hotel that we booked, Resience Sahara at 02:13, on Monday, the 21st of August.
One could easily notice how the gloomy faces were transforming vivaciously once again as we were led into the well-structured and well-furnished hotel. First, the ladies were led in, and showed their respective rooms, while the men waited outside. Later, the men also were given their respective rooms. That could already remind one that hey you are in an Islamic Republic. There was no much interaction between men and women.
Inside the hotel, people cheered. The hungry bros were then faking smiles for the structures and then, the available wireless. There was chanting and ranting in every nook and cranny of the building when a few men came with a big barbequed goat wrapped in a cement paper. It was a well needed package, as everyone was in dire need of food; other than bread and biscuit, the most popular food during the journey. Some went to have their bath, while the rest sprawled in the spacious rooms while waiting for the call to dinner. While some were reflecting on the long journey and recovering from the unimaginable fatigue, others were already establishing rapport with the indigenous people.
It was already almost 05:30 on Monday when we were finally set to bed. Seriously, I know of some who, because of their overly exhaustive job that they did in the course of the journey, couldn’t even touch water before going to sleep. They intended to lie down and relax a bit before visiting the bathroom, only to wake up seven hours later.
The Mauritanian trip was beginning to be described as the best after resting for two days, plus enjoying the facilities that the country offered us. The accommodation alone was something to be proud about. The delegates described it as “beyond expectation”. The delegates were divided into different groups to comfortably occupy the different rooms in the apartment.
As part of the activities to accomplish the task necessitating the research trip, a committee was set to visit the Ministry of Fisheries to collect necessary data. It was indeed a success there, as almost every relevant official in the ministry made it his/her duty to help the committee get every answer they demanded for. That was a plus point for the executive of the ECOMANSA.
Very many interesting sites were visited by the delegates. First of all was the memorable visit made to the desert. The desert trip was a looked-forward-to-trip, and everyone showed keen interest in visiting the famous desert. That midday, we got set and arrived at the desert at the peak of hotness. The heat that the sun emitted was able to drain enough water to dehydrate one. I was figuratively swimming in my own sweat. We thought we carried along more than enough water to sustain us there, but we were wrong. It was so hot yet so exciting. We mingled, took beautiful shots, and got lectured on some vital issues about the desert. Actually, I’ve already missed the site.
The University of Nouakchott was another spot that we visited. It is a few kilometers from the apartment we lodged in. It inspired us to see an inspiring, well built, and a university that is situated in the same vicinity. The different faculties were shown to us. The School of Business, School of Biology, School of Information, and the School of Medicine were some of the faculty buildings we saw. The university is built in a distanced land from the town, and that means noise was very limited. The university is situated in a very suitable area for such institutions. While there, my mind took a ride to my own university.
The people of Mauritania were so welcoming and nice to us during our stay. Among those were the journalists. They took it upon themselves to come all the way to our hotel in order to discuss with us and know the things we came for, the things we needed and provided ideas so as to facilitate the getting of those things needed. Also, they invited us to live interviews on their TV stations.
There was this particular night – I vividly remember – that a journalists came to our residence to chat with us all. I was in my room, scribbling some information on my laptop. Someone came in to inform us that the meeting was to be held in the other room so that we all were needed to go there. Forgetfully, I left at once leaving all my
gadgets right there on the floor. But when I was leaving, I left a couple of boys in the room. While at the meeting, I was busy taking pictures with other peoples’ phones. It was an exciting and an interactive meeting, and lasted for about thirty minutes.
Queerly, I got back to the room only to find out that my two phones had developed legs. Initially, I didn’t take it to be serious because my instincts couldn’t just make me believe that the phones were stolen. As an executive member, I was in the same room with the other executives, so I found it impossible to believe that anyone of them would decide to be the devil’s agent due to their credibility and reliability. Notwithstanding, I resorted to asking them all. During that quagmire, I realized that two of my roommates too were as confused as I was. They too had not seen their phones. Wow! The searching got intense. The time was almost 00:00 and we had to go out to the park that we rented for two hours to play football. I was gradually losing interest in that game even before we left for the park. However, it was already time to secure seats in the bus and still the phones were nowhere to be found. We left for the park anyway.
In the bus and in the park, many sympathizers approached me and said almost the same thing. The act is bad. Of course everyone knows that the act is bad, so seriously it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. I tried very hard to act normal during the games, even though deep in me, I could feel something heavier than a bag of salt.
After 2am, we left for the hotel. Everyone was very enthused and excited as it was an awesome outing again. When we got to our respective rooms, an emergency executive meeting was summoned. In the meeting, different speakers took turn to advise anyone who must have taken the phones in the name of jokes to return them as it was becoming too much a joke. At the end, nobody took responsibility. So, it was decided that searching would be done, but only in our room – the executive members’ room – and that the other rooms would be visited by some of our leaders to talk to them in order to pierce and melt their hearts.
My colleagues, who equally lost their phones and I weren’t allowed to go along with the leaders who went round to speak with the other delegates. So we sat in our room with high hopes that they were going to come back with good news. After what seemed eternity, they finally showed up. On their face, I could tell that they were chatting and laughing. But that changed when they met with my well refined question. “Have you found the phone?” I uttered in eagerness. “No,” responded Remi, an admin officer who went with us to Mauritania. Well, NO is indeed a very short answer for me. So, I wasn’t just satisfied. Many things rushed to my mind, but I had to comport myself and allow them execute their plans for getting the phones back.
To cut the long story short, a few minutes later, Remi and Sheikh Hydra – the able president of ECOMANSA – called us and told us that there was a girl who approached them during their tour in the respective rooms and said that she collected the phones from our room in order to teach us an unforgettable lesson. The lesson she wanted to teach us was that we should lock our rooms whenever we were to go out. Well, lesson learned. Thank you, Fatoumatta Giana.
Being someone born and brought up in the Gambia, and never left his country, of course, would give an etch face seeing certain things that I’ve never seen before, simply because it doesn’t exist place in the Gambia. Certainly, the manner in which drivers drive and how they comfortably flaw traffic rules got me gobsmacked. I have always seen drivers stop whenever the traffic lights blinked red, but this wasn’t the case in Mauritania. I’ve seen drivers completely disregard traffic signs. Rough driving is also the order of the day in Mauritania; perhaps they are experts in driving.
You may be surprised to know also that the four-passenger taxis in the Gambia are actually six-passengers in Mauritania. Instead of four passengers, the drivers in Mauritania decide to put on board up to six. The first time I boarded a taxi in Mauritania, I sat at the front seat and was indeed shocked when I was told to move towards the gearbox a bit in order to allow another guy space to sit. Full of surprise, I was when I also decide to turn back and check on the back seat just to see that were actually four people seated there. Very weird indeed. Again, because the country is an Islamic Republic, I’ve also noticed that men and women do not sit beside each other in a taxi. Amazing to some extent, perhaps because it was my first time seeing these things.
However, I have observed that they don’t have the problem of traffic jam. The roads in Mauritania are just so wide and many, unlike the Gambia, where you have few major roads and therefore drivers have to spend hours just to cover a little distance. It suffices to say that this has a significant negative impact on the development of the country. A lot of activities are delayed, and so is development.
One of the noticeable achievements the ECOMANSA registered in the Mauritanian visit is the Memorandum of Understanding that it has with the University of Nouakchott. The two schools met and discussed at length matters of importance and benefit for both schools. The two schools converged at The Atlantic Hotel, in Nouakchott, were the press and some professors were also invited to grace the occasion. The documents are expected to be signed soon.
It is a known fact that Mauritania is a dry land and rarely rains. During our journey there, which was at the latter part of the rainy season, I was personally told that it had only rained but once since the beginning of the rainy season. The weather in Mauritania is extremely hot and searing. The weather in the Gambia too is hot, especially in the month of September, but the huge disparity is that the electricity in Mauritania is uninterrupted.
We also had the opportunity to explore the different markets in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. I personally did visit Marche Capital and Marche Senkem. I’ve taken my time to observe the markets and the differences they have from those in the Gambia. In terms of cheapness, the commodities in Mauritania are far cheaper than those that are in the Gambia. In fact, many of those I went with did take huge amounts of money to purchase goods for resale in the Gambia. I’ve also notice that the businessmen in that country are very much unfriendly with the prices they charge to guests. If they realize that you are one who isn’t acquainted with the prices in the market, they tend to charge you at very high prices.
One day, I went to the market with few friends to buy some stuff. As we were in the market, the heavens opened and a heavy rain poured. The manner in which the “Narrs” reacted to the rain really surprised me. They became so confused and had to get pans in order to fetch the water from inside the market and poured it outside. Some had to leave their goods in the open and eventually got them wet. This really tells me that the “Narrs” don’t like rain. That very evening, as we were in the market and in a particular shop trying to buy some clothes, current went off. Instantly the shopkeepers started driving customers out from their shops. They closed their shops in no time. That being my first ever international visit, it was indeed something I had never experienced.
A night before we finally left Nouakchott, we had a memorable party in the residence. The night was divided in segments. There was gossip night, moment of truth and dare, and revelation of secret friends. The night was spectacular in that we all had fun to the max. It was already almost 3am when some of us decided to visit bed. For others, they decided to extend the party beyond the planned number of hours.
On Sunday, August 27th was the day that we had to say bye to Mauritania. We packed our luggage, and left the hotel at exactly 13:00. We got to Banjul on Tuesday, the 29th.