I recently found myself working in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Generally, when I’m at work I don’t get any spare time to explore but one Saturday Morning I slipped away to the local fisherman’s port for a couple of hours to explore the sights (and many smells) of this vibrant hive of activity.
The port is only about 10 minutes’ drive from the center of Nouakchott. Once there I immediately made my way to the coast. The beach was crowded with countless rows of traditional wooden fishing boats as far as I could see. A small armada was moored not far out waiting for their next fishing mission, while scores of other boats weaved their way in and out of the port looking for space on the already crowded beach.
Once I had a moment to adjust to my surroundings the next thing that struck me was the intensity of what was going on around me. Fishing boats were arduously pulled up onto the beach by hand and quickly offloaded to the waiting carts powered by humble donkeys dutifully moving up and down the beach as directed. Fish were packed into trucks, cars and every other sort of vehicle you could imagine, some heading off for export, some for waiting families and others to the processing plants in the city.
I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman called “Boita”. He was friendly and welcoming and spoke incredible English (Along with 4 other languages I might add). He told me about how quickly the fishing industry had developed and how only 50 years earlier there was nothing to be found on this now thriving beach. He explained how the young fishermen would spend up to 4 nights out at sea fishing with nets and lines by hand. Sleeping in the bottom of their small wooden boats with very little protection from the relentless sun and heat. Indeed, the port was full of young men running to and from the beach. Some carrying outboard motors over their shoulders like they were nothing. Despite the grueling work I saw lots of smiles and was greeted warmly by most. After a while I left “Boita” and thanked him for his fishing stories before spending a little more time exploring the surrounding area.
The port is almost completely self-sufficient. Boats are built by hand from rough cuts of timber, hand painted by local artists in colorful traditional patterns and everything from anchor manufacture, engine maintenance and ice supply can be found within a short walk of each other.
It was obvious that some people did not want their photo taken. After all this is their workplace. Somewhere they work hard day and night for a very small reward and not a tourist attraction for my personal pleasure. Even in these few cases I was met with a warm smile and a simple gesture letting me know not to photograph them. Some of the younger men did approach me proudly posing for a few quick shots before getting back to work.
After a few hours the sun, dust and smell just started to get the better of me and I wrapped up my visit slowly walking back through the chaos towards my car. I was happy with the photos I managed to capture, and the experience did give me some perspective on how good I have things. I work hard yes but I am also well paid, always have a clean bed, roof over my head and I know that my family would be taken care of if anything ever happened to me. I can’t imagine turning up and working in such difficult conditions everyday and still doing it with a smile.
If you ever happen to find yourself in West Africa and more specifically Nouakchott, I would recommend a trip to the fisherman’s port. If you have a local friend or guide this would be even better. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my photos.
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