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Sahara

Day 30: Nouakchott

Nouakchott, Mauritania 
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The southern Saharan look. A woman, more Negro than Arab, chews on an acacia stick, the Saharan equivalent of toothbrush and toothpaste combined.
Michael Palin - SaharaIn the office, flanked by computers and a sign on the wall, 'Don't EVER Give Up', I'm treated to a tasting of Tiviski's products, including conventional cow's milk, sweeter than its English counterpart, and less conventional but quite delicious ranges like date yoghurt, camel cheese and, the pride of her production, camel milk. Camel milk, Nancy assures me, is the answer to all our prayers.

'It has half the fat of cow's milk, and less sugar, so good for diabetics. It has a lot of vitamin C. It's good for vascular problems, women take it to have a clear complexion and they say it's a tonic for men.' Nancy smiles, and takes a breather before adding, unconvincingly, 'whatever that means'.

'One protein in it is similar to human insulin, and as camels are pretty close to humans in the evolutionary tree, so the proteins are closer to humans, and it's less allergenic than cow's milk.'

I want it and I want it every day from now on. But I can't, because I live in Europe, and the European regulations don't cover camel products. The EU won't even acknowledge that camels have products.

'But we're getting there,' says Nancy, and I believe her. She's not the sort of person to start out unless she intends getting there.

I ask her about Mauritania.

Life is hard for most people here - 'Everybody makes do with very little' - but she points to rapid change. Forty years ago there was not one mile of tarred road in the entire country. Now there is water and electricity supply to most homes in the city. It is a tolerant country; women do not have to cover their faces or accept polygamy. If a man wants a new wife he must divorce the old one first. This makes divorced women much sought after in Mauritania. They do not have any ties and they generally will have benefited from a divorce settlement. She feels quite comfortable as a female entrepreneur in a country that has women in the cabinet, law, medicine and even in the army. 'People,' she says with a touch of a smile, 'are very nice to women.'
Nouakchott, Mauritania 
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Fabrics for sale in Nouakchott market. Bold colours and patterns are one of the great delights of the southern Sahara.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 30
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Nouakchott
  • Book page no: 101

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