When I was in Mauritania, visiting my Peace Corps son, I stayed in what was called the United Nations Building. Lest you imagine that it was a posh hotel with eager servants caring for my every need, it was a small, spare mobile home, but certainly met my needs. This was my last night in the country; I was leaving the next morning to return to Dakar on that wonderful (ahem) airline, either Air Mauritania or Air Senegal, whichever logo happened to have changed that day on the side of the plane. (All the same plane, you realize.)
Packing things kept me busy, then I thought I’d go for a walk. I opened the door; it was dark as pitch outside. I looked at my watch; surely I hadn’t missed dinner. No, it was about 3 in the afternoon. I opened the door again—it was still totally black outside. Even my hand in front of my face, was hardly visible.
This seemed very strange to me. Had I just lost my mind? Then I noticed the strange, soundless noise. Yes, soundless; yes, noise. Something that felt like it hurt my ears. I closed the door, then opened it again. Still dark, still 3 p.m.
Remember the Shirley Temple movie where she was “transported”—I was wondering what had just happened. I even went the direction of a nuclear explosion somewhere, because now I realized that the darkness was loaded with arm-scratching sand.
It was a simple windstorm. That’s what everyone told me when I ventured out after the darkness had lifted and the sun had returned. (A hot sun every day—one day, I was in town, and unfortunately happened to see a thermometer…132 degrees….and it was in the shade. I was in the sun.) I don’t “do” sun well, so now here was a sandstorm or windstorm; you take your pick.
A kind Mauritanian, noticing my distress—I think I leaned against a building to avoid falling down—stopped to make certain that I was “okay.” I assured her I was just fine and thanked her for her concern.
But my brain wouldn’t stop working. How did the people here survive at work when the sky during the day would turn this dark? How did animals react to the unexpected “blackout” and the howling wind? But at least now some old movies made better sense. When a camel caravan would go crazy or when a French army outfit would suddenly disintegrate before no visible enemy except this sudden darkness and the high wind that followed, was now explainable.