The Moment Begins Now.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Market This

To enter the market in Nyamirambo, you need to steel yourself. You will be heckled from all corners, harassed to purchase unnecessary trinkets, ripped off on the things you will buy and stared at by everyone. If you get nervous in crowds, are adverse to random shouts in your direction or simply don’t believe that vegetables are necessary for six months, it’s best to steer clear.

My New Wallet
The market is 3 blocks away from our home and is the fourth biggest of its kind in Kigali. The outer-market, a narrow steep red path that leads down into the main square is lined with unofficial sellers; hawking fruits and vegetables from the baskets lying delicately at their weathered bare-feet. Young men weld noisily at a metal door, blue and white-hot sparks catapulting and arching semi-circles in the sky like fireworks, trying to fashion a replacement part for an upturned Moto in the driveway. Blood-stained apron donning butchers emerge grimly from their darkened caverns, squinting into the bright African sun, announcing their latest conquest, while the local MTN guys attempt to convince passerby’s they need to make a phone call. By the time you cross through the threshold of iron gates that marks the start of the market, hopping the terribly placed three foot ditch, you are already spent.

However, this is where it begins. The innocent square design disguises the inner-workings and maze-like configuration of the venue. With more entrances and exits than Medusa has arms, one wrong turn can land you in one of the darkest alleys, where the light of day has yet to grace.

Today, I braved the market and felt as uncomfortable as a Gazelle at a Lion’s party. After three mentally-preparing revolutions of the perimeter, I gave myself a pep-talk and headed in. Young men scrub heaped mountains of shoes donated from Europe and North America, transforming them into the new-looking relics they once were (an incredible display of recycling) while other stalls specialize in baby clothes, dish cloths, antique radios and sewing machines. After ten minutes wandering through the maze, I was stopped abruptly by the goods at the table in front of me.

I no longer pay with money, just a smile.
Hanging above me on two hangers were two Edmonton Oilers jerseys, one a Special Edition Breast-Cancer Pink Jersey. I fingered the mesh material and quickly put it to my nose without hesitation, searching… hoping… wishing for that reminder of home in the form of sweet, rank hockey sweat. Instead, it had the faint aroma of avocado. I searched for the appropriate merchant, and asked if I could take a picture.

“O ya,” she responded. In Kinyarwandan, this means a definite “No.” I appraised the old lady for a second with pleading eyes, dressed in a traditional, beautiful yellow and sky-blue African dress and headpiece.

“Okay,” I responded in plain English, “We finished last in the league, I understand. I’m embarrassed too. It was a terrible, terrible season. Next season, though, we will be better. Don't lose faith... So what do you say… Please, just one photo?”

“O ya,” she repeated, shaking her head at my indecipherable monologue. She must be a bandwagon fan.

To be fair, the women in the market have never tried to overcharge me. In fact, it seems like such an undercharge. Once, when I had forgotten a hundred francs at a table, mere pennies, the seller rose from her chair and followed me, tapping my shoulder and placing it delicately in my palm with an incredibly gentle motion. They run an honest business, at an honest price, regardless of where you come from. My respect for them is boundless; toiling day in and day out cramped into wooden stilt structures competing with dozens of others for their livelihood. I purchased an avocado, papaya, bushel of bananas and host of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, garlic, green peppers and green beans) for 1500 RWF ($2.60 CDN) and ambled away from the overpowering smell of the fruit section.

I wandered an alley-way of stalls, no longer reserved in my actions as I began bonding with the merchants, inspecting their wares and making friends. I wouldn’t be taken for a fool with the prices, but I wouldn’t low-ball them. In that, we created an environment of friendship and respect. I left the market, thirty minutes later, with a few new epic purchases, a result of a merchant and I digging through his treasure trove of goods, while laughing about the randomness and absurdity of some of the items (what do you mean that nail clipper has a flashlight?).

As I walked away, I realized that like most things that are worth their due, you have to make yourself vulnerable and submit to the Nyamirambo market before you can begin to understand it.

Oh, will you look at the time? Gotta run.

1 comment:

  1. Please tell me you bought that Barack Obama watch. Is it quarter till his smile?