We walked along the strand for a good half mile, joining many families from the city out doing the same. It was the first time in Africa I had really seen people out daytripping. In most places I have been through sub-Saharan Africa, most leisure time is spent hanging round bars drinking or chilling out near the house; few people travel out into the country, go to the beach or promenade around city centres like they do in Latin America or the Caribbean. Even in Sri Lanka, I was amazed at the number of coach trips, mainly run by religious organisations, that went round the major temples in the country. I supposed it was the lack of spare cash in Africa that meant people were forced to relax close to their houses, but in Harare, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi I had seen sizeable middle class societies and very little of this kind of activity.
And yet, here were many families from the city walking up and down the beach, many muttering their “Bon Après Midi’s” to us as we passed by. Once clear of the fishing boats, there were few disturbances on the beach (except for a number of car drivers who were passing up and down along self made tracks). I saw a large dead puffa fish with its deadly spines on the strand. A couple of old skeletons of boats were half covered in sand. Judith did not want to walk far, even though the air was curiously refreshing in the late afternoon. We stopped near a small dune, which I climbed and looked out over the desert. In the distance was a large beige tent, a cluster of Moorish families seemed to be heading that way for some event.
It was a blast from the past, the idea of living in houses in gridirons streets in cities is still a novel one, and one which sticks in some people’s craws. Ould Babah told me one day he felt he had to live in town with his job and all that, but he does not feel a free man unless he is out in the desert under his tent, living at one with the stars.
We headed back to town, trying to persuade the taxi driver to take us a different route proved futile; he was paid to go there and back, even a few more Ougiya’s would not sway him. But he did stop for us on the very edge of the city where a couple of young daredevils were showing off motorbike tricks to a gathering crowd. Nearby a bunch of youths were playing football; women and men mixed in the crowd that watched nearby. Despite all the differences between Mauritanian society and my own, it was still clear we shared so much; they laughed, they cried, they hurt, they loved, they lived and died like anyone. And here, on a Saturday afternoon, they were relaxing and enjoying all sorts of aspects of life like the world over.