The Kiffa Trip - Days 7 & 8
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continued )

Nouakchott

Tobaski day starts off with a family get-together for prayers. Around 9.30 am the animal
sacrifice is made and the rest of the day is spent in preparing, cooking and eating enormous meals amongst  family and friends. Perhaps it is not the case in Mauritania, where meat is the principle food, but in The Gambia and Senegal ... many days of recovering, with upset stomachs from an abnormal excess of meat protein, are often spent thereafter.

The other large and sprawling market is a maze of stalls and alleyways, full of mainly second-hand construction materials, electrical goods, hardware, vegetables, meat and fish and general household supplies. A long time and many false trails through these crowded streets, was spent in following directions to find the bead dealers, especially the Hausa ones. Many members of the Hausa tribe from Nigeria seem to specialise in bead dealing and can be found all over West Africa. They usually speak many languages fluently and are a reliable source to seek out ... if there are any interesting beads around, they will have them. Eventually we found them ... only a few ... sitting behind large market stalls covered with a variety of beads.

Many modern ones and a few interesting old ones were found on closer inspection.
Some dealers were related to other Hausa dealer-friends of mine and long series of introductions and good nattered "catching-up-on-news" were engaged in.

Old Mauritanian "amber" is a beautiful and sort-after commodity, they did have some lovely old "amber" beads but their prices were very high. I bought a few ... including some small, end-capped, lovely examples of Mauritanian silver-craft ... but refused many as too expensive, after calculating the probable last price from the first ! This is the inevitable result that the influx of tourists and people with more money than sense have on accessible large cities.

I have been told that Mali is a prime example of this, where African dealers purchase beads which were found in Mali, from outside the country ... then take them back to Mali to sell to rich tourists and foreign dealers at a vast profit.

Expressing my interest in old Kiffa beads brought the earnest conviction ( with a "sparkle" in their eyes )  that every other Venetian bead in their collection had been made in Kiffa long before their great great grandmothers had been born.  This is not deceit, but normal African bartering with strangers ... the gullible do not last long, anywhere in Africa !!
Lots of laughter, the usual bartering games and a very enjoyable few hours were spent with those friendly and bead-wise traders.

Time was passing by too quickly ... our original itinerary had been to reach Rosso, on the Mauritanian / Senegalese border, by nightfall. Having spent longer than anticipated in the markets .. it was after 4.00 pm and we had a long way to go. We thanked our hosts for the night for their kindness and bid a we'll meet again-type farewell to our friend and guide from Kiffa. He was worth his weight in gold for all the things he had shown and explained to us ..
and  was somewhat exhausted after a three days of answering a barrage of questions.

We did not envy him his two day return trip through the desert.

Deciding to treat ourselves to a faster and more comfortable ride to Rosso .. we splashed out a small fortune ( by local standards ) and hired our own Mercedes taxi for the trip. It is easy to forget what a real car is like, after a few days of bush travel. This car actually had all its upholstery, comfortable seats without the springs sticking through, window-winder handles with windows that closed. No cracks in the windscreen, fully working lights, active suspension, a quiet engine with an intact exhaust system and even a radio. Sheer heaven !

Our driver told us that he would just have to pop round and tell his boss where he was going ... "5 minutes only, I promise"... and we sped off into the back streets. The boss man was eventually traced, only to inform our driver that the car did not have the necessary papers for travelling that far out of town. "Oh bother," we said ... or words to that effect, as darkness started to fall.

However with true African resourcefulness our driver rushed us off to the nearest taxi garage .. parked out of sight around the corner and went off in search of a friend to whom he would privately offer this "prize trip of the day". Considerable subterfuge was employed in driving us to a secret location, hidden behind a block of houses, followed at an innocently discrete distance by his friend. A quick change of cars was carried out .. well out of sight of any competitors who had been top of the list for the next good job. We must have looked like illegal immigrants sneaking around in the shadows ... a look that must have remained with us even when we reached Rosso.

Thank goodness this replacement Mercedes was every bit as good as the other one. A stop for fuel, bread, fruit, biscuits and some delicious canned Melon juice for snacks en route and we sailed majestically out of Nouakchott in sumptuous comfort ... exerting great control to resist the temptation to regally wave out of the windows, in the style of visiting royalty !

Passing hundreds of camels herded together on the outskirts of the town and apart from a few stops for our papers to be checked, the 4 hour journey to Rosso was uneventful and comfortable on the good road which follows the coastline southwards. Arriving in the 9.30 pm darkness at Rosso ferry terminal, with no real plans as to where we  would stay for the night, we found out that the last ferry had sailed at 8.00 pm and the next would be at 8.30 am the following morning.

Our saviour here was in the shape of a tall, slim young man in a white shirt, European suit and baseball cap ... smiling from ear to ear, speaking excellent English and proudly wearing a BBC ( British Broadcasting Company ) badge in his lapel.

Ignoring many calls and waved arms as being unimportant gestures of failure from other local guides, we pleaded for shelter for the night. This Mr Fix-it jumped into our taxi and directed the driver to a nearby hotel, got us a room in 2 minutes flat ( at a very reasonable rate ), promised to arrive at the hotel at 8.00 am the next morning to take us back to the ferry and then promptly disappeared ... rather like Lewes Carroll's Cheshire Cat ... almost leaving his smile behind !

Just about to enter our room we noticed a rapidly nearing vehicle with lights ablaze and two agitated, grim-faced Gendarmes aboard. Skidding to a halt in a cloud of dust, leaping out and heading directly towards us ... it rapidly dawned that the waving hands and shouts that we had ignored belonged to these two. A boring night on duty must have suddenly changed into the possibility of two "international terrorists" at the very least, fleeing into the night from their "passports please" shouts. Fame and promotion would inevitably follow for their apprehension of these dangerous miscreants !

Our ignorance was explained, papers were checked and it was smiles and welcomes all round.

Our Mauritanian-older-style hotel room was enormous, with beds sufficient for six people, air-conditioning and a large bathroom with shower, clothes-washing tap and two toilets.
My travelling companion was suitably impressed with the "second toilet" and commented on the thoughtfulness of the Mauritanians to have designed a special appliance just to wash your feet in. There is a very special look Africans get when having something European, different and outside their previous knowledge, explained to them .. a mixture of incredulity and disbelief. This look was much in evidence as I explained the purpose and workings of a Bidet.

I still don't think I was totally believed !!

A knock on the door and a young boy brought us a present of the first of three glasses of attaya, the West African local tea. Drunk throughout the region, it is usually made from imported Chinese Green Tea leaves .. known locally as Gunpowder. An incredibly strong mix of tea and equal parts of sugar are brewed with a little water in a tiny blue metal tea pot over a flame, for around half an hour ... occasionally being poured into one of two small glass tumblers and repeatedly poured from a great height from one tumbler into the other and back again.

Only a small amount of this scaldingly hot drink is served to each person in turn, who is expected to drink it quickly ( a slurping action is required here to avoid burnt lips and the occasional tea leaf ) before passing the glass back to the tea-maker to rinse and refill for the next person. In houses, in the bush and by the side of the road, attaya is drunk everywhere. These actions are always repeated three times, over a period of up to an hour and a half, accompanied by endless conversations, whilst drinking the first, second and third cups.

 A little more water is added after each round of drinking, each successive glass is weaker than the previous one with the first cup usually being strong enough to stand your hair on end. 

The making of this West African favourite local drink is always carried out in an unchanging, ritualistic way on the same lines as the famous Japanese Tea-making ceremony.
Attaya is an acquired taste, which I love.

Suitably replete, washed and very tired .. we retired for the night.

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