In a certain part of town there is a second-hand market every Wednesday.
A field that is empty the other days of the week is covered with business people for an entire day in the middle of the week. It’s like an outdoor thrift store. But with no tables or shelves or racks.
Tarps are covering the ground, with various clothing and household items piled on top. In a haphazard way, some sticks/poles are holding up tarps to create some shade for the entrepreneurs and their shoppers. People walk around selling food or other small items.
I have needed to go to this market since I have arrived in town at the beginning of the month. But every Wednesday that I’ve been here, after work I’ve felt too tired to make the trip to that side of town. However, today I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer. I needed to go shopping.
A friend came with me, since she needed something too. So her husband dropped the two of us off, plus their 13 month-old baby while he did a couple of other things in town. It’s universal–most men try to avoid shopping with women, especially if it is clothes shopping. Today we were mainly looking for things like sheets and towels.
Upon entering the market, people immediately notice that a Mzungu (white person) has come, and are hoping for my business. Ignoring people’s pleas for me to buy things I have no interest in, we made our way to a couple of women sitting under a low-hanging tarp, with various household linens spread out all around them. We set the baby down to move around and play among the merchandise. My friend took off her sandals, stepped on some sheets, so she could stand in the shade since it was so hot. Soon she sat down as we looked through our options. Some people have piles of things that you sort through, while others have things folded and very neatly displayed, still others have clothes unfolded, but sorted in piles of similar items and sizes (t-shirts, shorts, jeans, etc.).
This first place we visited was very nicely arranged, and as I looked through the sheets, unfolded them to check sizes and for stains, I felt like I was making a giant mess of their organized products. As we were looking through things, a woman came to greet me. My friend seemed a little surprised that I knew someone that she did not recognize. The woman is a neighbor to ABIDE and her children attend JAM’s primary school. I’ve visited her home with ABIDE students before. Her husband is also the mechanic JAM usually uses. I kept looking through things while chatting with this lady. My friend and I found a few things that would work for us, did a little bargaining (it’s good if you can buy multiple things from one person because they tend to be more willing to lower prices for you), and paid. After shoving as much as we could inside a shopping bag I brought (yeah…trying to stay environmental friendly…and I am cheap and don’t want to buy plastic bags from the guys walking around selling them to the shoppers who forgot to bring a bag with them). We had more shopping to do…so we left the bag with the ladies, picked up the baby, and continued.
We walked between tarps on dusty little walk ways. In some parts of the market there is almost like a tiny creek, so going from one place to another can involve strategic steps on rocks. The place is usually packed with people, and people rarely bother to make sure they are not blocking the pathways. My friend saw another friend of ours across the way, so we worked our way over to where she was seated on the ground (while shopping) to chat for a minute. We kept walking around, making our way to piles of things on our list. We did more inspecting and bargaining. At one point I was looking at some things, and then was told a man was trying to get my attention from the other side of that particular tarp. When I saw him and greeted him with a big smile, I knew that I knew him from somewhere…but five hours later, I still can’t quite place him.
We had found most of the things on our list when one of the ladies from the first spot walked by with a sack of something on her head. We asked her to carry our purchases back to her place so we could continue shopping with empty hands. She happily took the items, and we continued looking for the last few items.
Again we found ourselves setting the baby down to play with a family while we looked at their merchandise. They were talking with my friend in the local language, asking her if the baby was mine. A teenage boy sitting there kept saying Old Navy when he saw me…apparently that is what he connects to Americans. I have learned enough words–or really can often read body language and context clues–that make people think I speak the language. Well, at least at first. As this family tried to figure me out, they also offered the baby some juice and a little food. My friend thanked them for their generosity after we bargained a bit and got them to reduce the prices a little. Again we picked up the baby, and walked away.
When we finished everything, we went back to our first stop. We called my friend’s husband to let him know we had finished shopping and he could pick us up any time. Meanwhile, we took our sandals off and left them next to the tarp, stepped on the sheets and things they were selling, sat down on a pile that was under the shade of the tarp above while we chatted and waited. As we waited a couple of girls who go to JAM’s high school walked by, so they came to chat with us and play with the baby a bit before doing their shopping. Eventually we got a call that our ride had arrived. We gathered up all the purchases, put our shoes on, gathered the baby, thanked the women, and made our way out of the market. On the way out some boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers tried to ask me if I needed them to take me home and were disappointed when I kept walking, saying I had someone taking me home.
Maybe some day I will take a camera to the market with me so you can see it…but I don’t know if I can handle feeling like a tourist taking pictures. We will have to wait and see…