Thursday, February 16, 2012

in the markets

Today's lack of pictures will balance yesterday's post, but I really wish I could have taken some.  It was market day here.  After a frustrating visit last week looking for fabrics, I knew I needed some local help to negotiate the negotiating.  Pape's wife, Asoou, was glad to join me, and we set out this afternoon to look for a few things.

First, we headed back to the same shop where I saw the simple woven fabric that I'd admired last week.  Most things here are very bright and colorful and much of the fabric comes from China, of course.  Sometimes that includes the objects made specifically for the tourist trade with their cliche 'African' images of animals and women carrying things on their heads.

It was a pleasure to watch Asoou work the men in the shops. We moved smoothly from shop to shop, always greeting people, chit chatting, moving on if the merchandise wasn't appropriate, and engaging in all the expected social part of the market before starting unhurried negotiations when something looked worth the time.  I quickly realized that instead of starting at half their starting price, I really need to go to a third or less.  And of course she knew what prices really should be.  So, for example, I got four fabrics for well under the initial asking price of just one of them at the first stall we visited.  

Ocaisionally, she challenged them on their 'toubab' pricing saying that 'teranga' (A strong Senegalese tradition of hospitality) required that guests get treated fairly in the marketplace.  Clearly, this was an extension of the concept entirely alien to their way of thinking.  One even went so far as to say she should let them overcharge me, and I actually agreed in a way.  A sort of sliding fee scale makes some sense and corrects some much larger economic injustices in small ways, but of course I want a deal as much as anyone.

One of the markets was a large, covered market with jewelry stalls around the perimeter and produce, spices, meat and fish in the center.  It felt ancient with narrow pathways between high stacks of baskets and shelves beneath a low, dark, dirty ceiling.  It made me want to do some food shopping and then cook dinner, but she laughed at the idea asking mockingly, "Do you know how to cook?"  I don't think she believed that I do.  Outside this market, we tucked into the Nigerian grill area, where pairs of men roast small beef brochettes over open charcoal grills.  They sell them plain or in sandwiches at about 10 for a dollar served w/ roasted onions, mustard, and seasoned corn meal.  I desperately wanted a picture of the dark, smokey scene, but didn't want to wreck the moment.  It was the kind of place I never would have found, or if I had stumbled upon it, I would have been hesitant to enter.

Now that my days here feel like they're drawing to a close, I felt surprised that I hadn't discovered these markets and curious about what else I've missed here.  My morning started this way as well as I ran up the lighthouse road, a route I've passed most mornings for a month, but somehow didn't consider running up until today.  The view across the north end of the peninsula was stunning on this clear day.  Suddenly, even six weeks feels like far too short a time to begin to see, much less understand this place.

1 comment:

  1. John, just letting you know I'm watching with great interest! The SPA world seems far away indeed, though we thought of you in discussions of 'change' today....channeling Wensman, as we put it. Take care, don't join the revolution just yet, and safe travels. see you soon! Mary