The best place to see it was the Locust compound itself. It was situated on the far side of town, beyond one of these sprawling squatter settlements. Although nicely shaded by acacia trees, on the east side a massive dune threatened the vehicles in the parking lot. It was about thirty feet high of pure sand, and from the top I could see Nouakchott Airport and the centre of the city to the west, and a series of sand dunes to the east, gradually migrating towards the city. They swept the sand up in some areas, to clear roads and the like but it was fighting a losing battle.
Sand was everywhere. It was in every room of our apartments, it left a film across the furniture. It stuck to my clothes, I found heaps of it in my suitcase, despite keeping it shut for most of the time. It took about three months after the trip to get rid of the last of it. My shoes were a dusty red, my hair, what little I have on the head, needed washing twice a day to keep it unclogged. And it got into the food. Perhaps it was on my fingers as I picked up my sandwiches, but there was that tiny little feeling of grit in every bite that suggested it had got in during preparation.
There were no real shops underneath our hall, nowhere we could get the provision for breakfast or the little snacks and toiletries that made life worth living. We walked a couple of hundred yards to the main crossroads, across the main road and into the corner shop. Like Arkwright’s store from the old BBC comedy series it was Open All Hours. Every morning as the sun rose, the large wooden shutters would be pulled back and stockpiles of goods would be piled up in the spaces. A wide central counter filled with everything you would ever want, crisps, sweets, cigarettes, toilet paper, writing paper, tissue paper, crepe paper, scissors, knifes, cutlery, plates, cups, mugs, oil, margarine, jam, marmalade, peanut butter, coffee, tea, dried milk and water, water , water. Little bottles of water, big bottles of water, huge bottles of water, large vats of water. Big bags of biscuits, little boxes of biscuits, crackers, crispbreads, nuts. And what could not fit on the counter was piled high on ledges that went twelve feet high into the roof of the shop. Squeezed between shop and street, more cabinets and plastic wrapped buy-in-bulk goods filled every other space. It was a family run business, the father figure generally sat on a stool on the step next to the street, passing the time with every other man that went by. Behind a low counter tucked at the far end of the street a woman, her massive body covered in a series of wraps would guard a small money box. She seemed never to know the prices of anything, and the owner would heave himself over, look sneeringly at Jude and my purchases and think of a number, which would be tapped out on an ancient calculator before we paid with our fraying Ougiyas. Always a steady stream of customers, open right into the night. The glaring fluorescent lights would shine out on the street late at night.
That area of town was one of the liveliest corners at night. To the north, a line of restaurants were open well into the night. Most of them were open onto the street and serving up a barbecued menu. A fabulous restaurant set amongst pools and shady trees served up all manner of local and French dishes; I had fresh croissants there a couple of times.