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Day 22: Zouérat

Zouérat, Mauritania 
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The reason why ironmongery is Zouérat's growth industry. Drought has brought great demand for shelter as nomads come in from the desert.
Michael Palin - SaharaThey came in from the desert five years ago and still have no mains water, relying on the irregular visits of the water cart. Nor do they have electricity, though a neighbour has recently let them have a lead off their supply. She proudly points out an uncovered cable snaking across the sand from the fence next door. They have a goat and live mainly off rice and couscous. A younger sister makes some money clearing sand from the railway line. One of her boys goes to school; the other doesn't, because he is mentally handicapped and there is no provision for him. There is, in all this, not a trace of self-pity. They simply hope the rains will come and turn the desert green again and enable them to return to the life they know best. Meanwhile, home is a tent of explosive sacks behind a fence made of oil drums.

'What makes you happy?' I ask.

Even mother, nervously twisting her beads, smiles as this is translated to them. They don't even have to think of the answer.

'Whatever God gives, makes us happy.'

Outside in the street, the gang of children following us down through the rubbish in which the goats graze doesn't look as if much makes them happy. In too many of their eyes is the flat, unresponsive blankness of poverty. In the livelier ones there is something more, a sullen resentment looking for an outlet.

An interesting incident on our way back to the hotel. Despite the present government's desire to keep it quiet, it's well known that Mauritania was one of Saddam Hussein's staunch allies, so much so that Saddam sent his wife and children to the town of Atâr, 100 miles south of here, for safekeeping during the Gulf War. Roger has noticed a painted sign portraying Saddam, looking dapper and suave in suit and tie, above a tyre shop. When he asks if we can film it, not only is the answer no, but Abdallahi, our man from the ministry, makes a personal visit to the shop and demands that the sign be taken down instantly.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 22
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Zouérat
  • Book page no: 79

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