Kiffa in the south of Mauritania is famous for its colourful glass beads, the so-called Kiffa beads. The ancient Kiffa beads can be traced back for almost 1000 years.
The "kiffa" process of making beads involved the crushing of glass and mixing it with human saliva for making the core. The core was decorated with crushed glass, painted with a twig in a complex, kaleidoscopic pattern of colors and shapes. Then the beads were fired over hot coals. The loss rate was high. So the old masters, mostly elderly women, made only a few beads a day.
This wonderful form of art almost disappeared about 30 years ago, but efforts are being made to bring back interest in their production. The newer beads, however, lack the beauty and precision of the vintage ones.
Many collectors consider kiffa to be the zenith of the bead-makers art. It is not easy to find the older beads. In and around the market of Kiffa anyway the new ones are made and sold.
In summer 2004 I bought some older Kiffa beads at home, not knowing that I should visit Kiffa myself within a few months.
Everywhere in Mauritania you find these tiny shops. They are not more than a few square meters. You can buy here some biscuits, soap and sometimes some drinks.
At this shop just opposite our auberge in Tiddjikja two women were making small baskets. They liked to sell some, but I was not a good customer and didn't buy, but promised to tell my fellow-travellers about this baskets.
In Atar and other towns are a lot of epiceries, where you can buy food and drinks. In the epiceries the goods were highly piled up. Sometimes it was a problem, when we needed something from the bottom.
To fill up our supplies we had to visit often several shops to collect enough water, softdrinks, biscuits and crackers for the next desert days. Mostly we tried to find also some fresh bread and fruits.
In all towns and villages in Mauritania you can find several shops '' telephone public'' like this one in Chinquetti. I didn't try to make an international call here, but they told me it's possible at most shops.
I didn't see any internetcafés in the deserttowns except in Atar. When we came there at the opening time of 6 pm all computers were in use, mostly by young Mauritanians. So we had to wait for one hour.
The leatherwork in Mauritania is very colourfully decorated. In Chinquetti I found a streetstall with many beautiful leather objects, but also at the campsite in Nouadhibou a vendor came in the morning to offer the traditonal leather cushions, every next day for a lower price.
What to buy: Boxes and bags in all kind of sizes and forms, from camelbags to small handbags and purses. Look also for the traditional pipes in a special leather container and the traditional cushions.
Chinquetti, the Unesco World Heritage Site, is one of the most visited deserttowns in Mauritania. In the sandy street near the old mosque, where most tourists will come to, are some streetstalls with local crafts. It was the only place in Mauritania where I saw this.
What to buy: Colourful scarves, decorated leathergoods like pipes, decorated wooden tent sticks, small archaeological objects of stone and all kind of jewelry, even new Kiffa beads.
Avenue de Nouadhibou 2e carrefour, BP 3176, Nouakchott, BP 3176, Mauritania
Good for: Business
Cite de la Concorde (sebkha), Nouakchott, Mauritania
Good for: Couples
10 Rue Mamadou Konate, Nouakchott, 5219, Mauritania
Good for: Business