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Sunday, October 30, 2011 | Rabat, Morocco (map)

Bab Rouah, along the walls that ring the royal palace in Rabat.
From Mauritania, my work trip continued to Morocco. It was my first time back in nearly two years, since leaving in December 2009. Before I left home, friends had asked me if I was excited to be heading back. "Morocco and I have a long and troubled history," I would respond with a smile.

In Rabat, returning to my old haunts—the neighborhood of Agdal—was surreal. Every cafe, hardware shop, kitchenware store, grocer's, and flower shop dredged up weighty memories from the depths of my subconscious. The sign on a laundromat, the croissants at a neighborhood bakery, the green plastic bag of local wine shop—my eye seized on even the most innocuous details to recall some lost association. But after living there as half of a couple, I welcomed the opportunity to return alone and rediscover the place on my own terms.

Rabat's new tramway was up and running, but daily life in the city seemed otherwise unchanged.

Nouakchott, City of Sand

Monday, October 17, 2011 | Nouakchott, Mauritania (map)

Traditionally, Mauritanian men and women both cover up from head to toe outside the home. After a minute in the country's blinding midday sun, it's easy to see why.
The night before I left Nouakchott—the desolate capital of the even more desolate northwest African country of Mauritania—a sales email managed to slip through my spam blocker. It began, "Unless you've been living under a rock somewhere in the desert, you MUST have heard of Viagra..."

Funny you should say so. As a matter of fact, I do feel as if I'm living under a rock in the desert.

* * *

Thanks to a long-anticipated transfer at work, my new portfolio includes a series of projects in North Africa. This means the end—for now at least—of my Central African travels, and a chance to further explore this other familiar corner of the continent.

My first destination in the region, however, was one I had never visited and knew little about. I had read about Mauritania's spartan "desert blues" music on a blog I enjoy, Sahel Sounds, and I could