A Market day south of the Sahara
Going to the supermarket for my weekly shopping, I hurry along shelves with a shopping list in my hands. Piece by piece, I pile up in the shopping cart. Besides, the silent ads stare at me, and make me take decisions that I might regret later. Finished shopping, I still feel I have forgotten something. Something is missing maybe the joy of having done a good job.
On my way home from the supermarket, I remember the market when I lived South the Sahara.
Up by seven, by eight we will be off to the main market. I gaze out of my window from the top floor of my house. The air is clean after a heavy rain at night. Heavy gray clouds cover the sky. A thin veil of mist emerges from the soil. Water drops bubble down from thick, dark green leaves of the giant mango trees. Tree-trunks glow silvery behind the protruding mushroom-shaped parasite leaves. Moss blotches show their bright green on barks. Grass shot up from the wet ground, as if it had forgotten that the scorching sun is hiding behind the clouds. When the day starts like this, it promises to become a good day.
My two watch-nights open the heavy metal protectors of the front doors. Shrill squeaks break the silence of the morning. My guardians, Dom and Jo, who lived with me since we had moved into the house ten years ago, look up to my window. They flatten their colorful ankle-length gowns, and arrange their picturesquely embroidered caps. Next, they return their weapons; arrows made from bamboo cane, poisoned tip downside back into the quivers.
"Good morning, Ma’. A good night makes a good day.”
"Indeed a fine day, today is market day.”
Dom and Jo walk to the garage, a tin roof on four steel supports that serve as rain and sun shelter. Jo places the garden tube on top of the car roof and watches how the splashing water changes the color of the car from dusty reddish brown into ice blue. Dom opens the hood and tinkers on the engine. Now, my turn comes. I stroll in a snail's pace through the garden, pick up hibiscus flowers that the rain had crushed at night, chase chickens out of the vegetable beds. Jo and Dom smile as I enter the car. I sit down on the driver's seat, and wait for a few seconds before I cautiously turn the ignition key, and press the clutch and kick the accelerator pedal as if I want to push it into the ground. The engine howls and everybody shouts at once: "Great God, no pushing today!” The noisy car exercise has awoken the neighbors. Few minutes later like an echo, the same noise fills the air. Obi, my niece arrives with a stack of baskets on her head. She wrapped curvy figure into a wrap-around skirt in vine red with blue-white pattern and a red blouse on top. Her dark brown eyes smile warmly in her dark brown face. She nestles a crumpled piece of paper from the neckline of her blouse, looks at it and wrinkles her forehead, shakes her head and groans:
"For all this? How much will we spend?”
“As usual, same amount," I say and laugh, but I rather would shake my head too.
“For God’s sake, how now?
"Come on, we always make it!”
The main market place is at the boundary of our little town. The majority of market customers go there to buy large quantities of fresh supplies for resale at bus stations, roadsides, or the little town markets. I take off work, half a day each week, to drive to the main market to fill up my food store. Most of my friends do the same.
Women from the surrounding villages and traders from the remotest parts of the country sell their agricultural products as well as imported consumer goods: green vegetable, red chili pepper, bananas, oranges, and pineapples spread out on mats, heaped up in baskets or stacked on the market ground. They cover half the market place. Yam and Cassava routs are piled up to gigantic hills; dried fish, beans, and grains are offered in large bowls; tooth paste, candles, combs, hangers, shoe lace, canned milk, soap are sold in market stalls, or are cart all over the market to catch customers.
We enjoy the ride in the fresh morning air. As we get nearer to the market, traffic gets thick and thicker: Trucks, delivery vans, busses, wheelbarrows, and bicycles noisily force their way. In between, passers-by try to step around puddles that are scattered all over the street; balancing bags, tools, jugs, baskets, buckets and pots on their heads.
Now all traffic regulations are suspended. Paying attention is the first commandment. Blowing horns for ones safety, parking at the wrong side of the road, and changing the line frequently are imperative. Adapting to unlimited slow speed requires much patience because everybody takes the liberty on any random place at the roadside or in the middle of the street to welcome relatives and acquaintances to pass on the latest news and mouth to mouth broadcasting.
A good day
I don't worry about of the hurly-burly. We safely reach the market. Two market women allow us to squeeze our car in between their sheds. Moreover, they are ready to watch the car for a couple of coins. The market looks like a sodden field; puddles spread all over the place. We carefully move on the slippery red earth, passing through the lorry park, heads lifted up to hold direction until we reach the sales area.
Obi goes into the lorry park to buy oranges from a truck. I wait besides. She looks for a partner who is willing to share a bag of oranges with her. Together they haggle for the price. They splay all fruits on the floor, count, and assort them by size and quality. The whole procedure takes almost half an hour until Obi yells: “Wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow.” Five boys race from all directions, and drop their badly damaged dirty barrows in front of her. Obi approaches the boy with the cleanest cart, shuffles a coin into his hand, and says: "Pack this bag and follow me."
"Are you crazy? Not, for this price? Your Madam owns a car! You are a miser! Look, I soon need a new wheelbarrow.” Obi shouts: “I don't pay no penny more.” She grabs the coin from the boy’s hand and screams again: “Wheelbarrow here, wheelbarrow here!” The boy snarls, snatches the orange bag, throws it into the wheelbarrow, and puts his hand in front of Obi’s nose "No, no pay later. Run!”
"Attention, out of my way, attention,“ the other boys shout, and speed down the sloping path and trying to balance the over loaded wheelbarrow on the slippery ground.
We quickly escape from the narrow market lane into a vegetable shed and bow down under the roof, ten inches lower than me.
"A woman giggles: ”Heh, heh white woman. What do you look for?" This is the wrong place for the rich."
"What do you mean? Rich! Austerity hits everybody,” I counter.
"She is right, right is she, austerity strikes everybody,” a storekeeper adds.
“Buy salt, mine is pure salt, clean, not mixed. No miracle tins! See yourself.”
The shop keeper pushes two tins in my hands, and I carefully inspect for dents, holes, slits, double bottoms before I buy.
"See tomatoes here, sweetest,” a woman repeats.
"Buy my okra, fresh, take this knife, and test it yourself.”
So we go on buying, for almost for two hours surrounded by the market’s noises, and smells, amongst chickens, and living goats, roasted peanuts, smoked fish, fresh meat, oil tins, and kerosene jerry cans.
Finally, we have packed the car with the foodstuff for one week. We smile, munch roasted groundnuts, and leech the juice of freshly peeled oranges.
We are happy. We feel rich, a good day, and a happy week to come.