We’re south of St. Louis Senegal at a place called ZebraBar. Having left Mauritania two days ago, we’re official in sub-Saharan Africa. When we headed home after Jackie’s accident in the summer, one of the biggest disappointments (and therefore one of the biggest reasons we decided to return to the trip) was that we had crossed a into a new continent, but not yet crossed a cultural border into sub-Saharan Africa.
Morocco is very clearly part of Arab influenced North Africa. The parts of Western Sahara that we saw were largely similar. At least outside the big cities, women are covered or not seen walking alone.
After our journey through No Man’s Land, we got to Mauritania and the city of Nouadhibou, or as the graffiti at Camping Auberge Abba said, “Volume 1: West Africa.” Mauritania is an Islamic Republic, but it has a mix of Arab (Berber-Arab?), Berber (Arab-Berber?, we’re not really sure), and black (some of them Berbers as well) ethnic groups. Two unifying factors between all the groups seem to be Sunni Islam and Mauritanian mint tea, green tea with mint leaves and sugar poured back and forth from high heights between a tiny metal tea pot and three little cups until the right taste and level of foam (lots of foam being the right amount) are achieved.
We shared tea with the man who worked at the “camping” place where we were staying along with his friend and a Saharawi man who spoke in alternating sentences to Jackie in perfect French and then to Aron in perfect Spanish. The next day on the road, we also stopped to fill our gas tanks from our gas cans in front of somewhere we thought was a hotel and ended up having tea with several women and one man in one of the women’s home. Overall the western parts of Mauritania seemed perfectly safe and calm. People were warm and might not know any other English, but still would say, “Welcome to le Mauritanie.” Because people had us concerned for safety we stayed in a fancy hotel in the capital of Nouakchott (pretty much the only other city in this country besides the much smaller Nouadhibou in the north). We didn’t get a homey welcome with tea at the fancy hotel, but we did have a suite that was larger than our apartment back home.
Even in a strongly religious, Muslim country things started to look different. Many of the black Mauritanian women, while still covering their hair, wore brightly died fabrics. We started to see people carrying large bundles on their heads. The food began to change also. Tagines were only to be found in the “Moroccan” restaurants. Round loaves of bread disappeared, becoming soft French baguettes,something that has carried over to Senegal.
Senegal is fully across the sub-Saharan cultural divide. While the country is about 95% Muslim, you can easily find beer and liquor and we’ve seen ham on a menu (all of which were illegal in Mauritania). You hear loud music in the streets, women in bright dresses walk around freely, and luckily for us there are lots of small motorcycles and scooters, so gas is easy to find in places that would have only had diesel in Mauritania.