What makes you remember a street? Is there an area in town to which you return often? Why? We all know how specific areas within any given city have their own feel and pace, depending on the time of the day. I was always a walker and in whatever town I lived, I always developed a fast understanding of my own favorite neighborhoods. In the case of Saint-Louis, it’s the northern part of the island, or the sandy stretch of land further north by the Mauritanian border in Goxum Bacc and Sal Sal.
During the Covid-19 pandemic I started my days by walking around the island very early in the morning, and the first thing I do is check the surface of the river as some sort of a fortune teller or weather forecast. I would also choose my first walk or bicycle route of the day always by the river even in the non-pandemic times.
With Covid-19 the pace of life has changed and even more so with the Ramadan in full swing. This change will – I hope – manifest also in my video installations for Afropolis. I have chatted with friends and listened to them talk about their hometown and it has been very interesting to hear what they like about this town and how they would change it if they could. I chose to shoot on the streets with a mini DV camcorder on purpose as I have come to realize that digital does not always convey so well what I am hoping to show. I like this extra-economical boundary of 60 minute-cassettes because that puts me in a completely different mood with planning my work. Additionally, it has been my interviewees who gave me ideas for locations to shoot.
The difference between the desert and the city of Nouakchott is striking, but on a second thought there is something about the city that marks the visitor with strangeness and resemblance of the desert, like vague echoes from just outside the city where the vast space of sand and quietness hits you on the face. I made a video installation for one of the upcoming exhibitions on Afropolis and in this work-in-progress you can see images shot in Nouakchott in one day during one walk. As such, the film attempts to show one omnipresent aspect that strikes me the most in this city: privacy. Everything seems hidden, private, behind walls. In comparison to cars, edestrians are a rare sight. While shooting, I was also interrupted by guards on every second street corner and got momentarily interrogated by a police officer. Public space in Nouakchott seems more private than anywhere I have ever been. I call this short film a prelude to the documentary that I am going to make later on. It has footage also from the desert, shot in a very improvised way on a couple of short and very windy moments, during a trek between Chinquetti and Terjit.
This is a short update to what has bee going on in my neighborhood in Saint-Louis since November 2020. The island has become one massive construction site with new canalization and soon-to-be paved streets and cemented sidewalks. It feels as if everybody were preparing for the better day, including the town planners – a new post-covid face lift in the making? Apart from this, life goes on more or less the usual way except for small businesses, many of which are still in an extended waiting mode for the borders to be opened to non-residents or European tourists. When the day comes, we will all be able to walk the streets with a little less sand in our sandals!
The Mauritanian tent has found its way to contemporary architecture in Nouakchott. If you stroll the streets of Ksar, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, you will not miss the tent shape in practically every other house. It’s a symbol of a lifestyle in which the movable home is now built in cement and bricks and glass and functions as a fixed space to welcome guests. It’s also a very visible statement telling that the owner of the house has roots in the desert.
Anyone who has been to the desert knows the soothing effect a tent can provide against the scorching sun and hot winds, and how it allows you to feel the evening breeze on your skin when the walls of the tent have been rolled up. You can now find that same effect also in the city: some restaurants and cafés such as the famous La Palmeraie has made their own modern interpretation of the tent part of the attraction in their already very inviting garden and terrace. Some designs – usually it’s the simple and practical ones – are just meant to last and in Mauritania the tent is definitely one of them.
You can consider yourself lucky if you get a seat in these small and often crowded Tata city buses. Packed they may be but they are a very cost effective way of transport and often fairly fast too. In some parts of the town they are my favorite choice, simply because I like people watching and you get a good view of the streets on a window seat.
I keep admiring the collaborative nature of the fellow passengers in situations in which the bus seems like it can no longer take more people and yet you can still squeeze in. When the bus is packed, you just find a corner or sometimes a seat that is offered to you, and hand out the money for the bus fare to someone next to you. The money then travels from hand to hand in order to reach the cashier at the back of the bus and similarly, the bus ticket then finds its way back to you.
Long distance Senegal Dem Dikk buses operate between major cities in Senegal and although there usually is some hassle just before everyone finds their appointed seat, the rest of the trip goes very smoothly. The buses leave for Dakar twice daily and last time it took me less than four hours from Saint-Louis to Dakar and to Ngor. You can hop off the bus at a couple of stops before its final destination in Liberté 5. These days you can reserve your ticked with an app – booking in advance is obligatory – and pay it with Orange Money, in which case there is no need to even go to their office before your trip. Bon voyage!