Adrienne Arsenault: A different kind of beach day, in Mauritania

Pursuing the story about the three young Canadians who became mixed up with an arm of al-Qaeda, Adrienne Arsenault spends an off-day at the beach in Mauritania, where the Sahara meets the Atlantic, and sees a whole different world. A reporter's notebook.

Reporter's notebook: Sun, sand, a harangue and a 'retrieved' BlackBerry

We knew we'd need to take a moment to just stop and soak it all in.

For just over a week now, producer Stephanie Jenzer, videographer Ed Middleton and I were in Mauritania on the trail of the Canadian high school students who came to the desert from London, Ont., and found trouble in the form of murder, death and, for one, jail.

Strangers — they and we — in a place where the people are gracious and the land hard.

It is virtually treeless now, and the sandy earth makes it hard to grow enough food to sustain the population.

Like many African nations rich in mineral resources, it is shocking to see how little of that wealth seems to reach the population. This is, after all, a country where nearly 17 per cent of its national income is based on economic aid.

We found it scorchingly hot and blindingly bright, and the story we were pursuing was equally as harsh, at times flat-out dangerous.

So we needed a moment to stop, to experience something different visually and emotionally.

We needed the fish market.

Where the Sahara meets the Atlantic

There are few places in Mauritania where enterprise and enthusiasm are more visible than Nouakchott beach, the shoreline arm of the capital city, teeming with life, human and otherwise.

We are TV types, of course, so we chose to stand on that Nouakchott fish market at magic hour, the moment when the still-hot sun starts its slide into the horizon.

The light is delicious. And fishermen seem equally fond of it, as in that moment men pulled in their long wooden pirogues heaving with fish.

The fish are so plentiful you can see the oversized sardines crowding in the surf. Kids, barely breaking a sweat, bend over and scoop them up with their hands.

Women cooked up fresh offerings by the surf and strong young boys hauled crates of fish from the boats right to the waiting trucks and cars and off to market.

We ridiculous outsiders stood slack-jawed at this cacophony of enterprise in front of us.

Easy targets maybe for the curious, and the criminal, unfortunately.

First the curious. Kids practically shoved by their parents to stand beside us so pictures could be taken of those of us who looked so out of place.

There were lots of tiny ones giggling. It's always a good day when you can hang out with kids.

Then, came the well-dressed man who marched smartly towards us in the sand. I thought for sure I was somehow about to get into trouble for something. It's usually a safe bet.

Turns out he just wanted to talk, about global politics and the economy.

Between the noise of the people and the waves and the need to watch for the occasional fish slurping out of a crate all around us, it was hard to keep up with the conversation.

But it eventually boiled down to a scathing indictment of several countries, Canada included, for appearing to help itself to Mauritania's wealth while, in his view, giving so little back.

"You can't even be bothered to have a real embassy here," he shouted over the din. "You only care about your mines here."

It was a half-hour, largely one-sided discussion that would have been equally (or perhaps more) at home at a university.

Then he was off with a hearty wave and a smile. His points made. Again and again.

A wayward BlackBerry

We decided to head out, too, sufficiently relaxed, maybe too relaxed.

Because just as we were within eyesight of the car, a swift-fingered soul lifted Stephanie's BlackBerry and bolted, melting into the crowd.

A pro, like so many pros all over the world. Phone gone, we declared, it happens. But Mauritania had another surprise in store for us.

We told our tale to one of our local friends who had already performed miracles for us.

With an outsized look of horror she grabbed her own phone and said "I will fix this."

But how do you fix something like that. It is not as if the guy will return the phone, we thought. "Don't worry, it's just a phone," we said.

But she insisted and made a stunning flurry of ever-louder calls to who knows whom.

Bottom line? She found Stephanie's phone!. She found a guy who knew a guy who had it.

A quick rendezvous in a market and voila. The sim card gone, good battery replaced for a junky one, basically useless to us but it was the phone.

"See!" she said. "We look after our guests in Mauritania"

Yes they do.