Saturday, March 17, 2007

Malava Market

Vendors line up along the roadside at the Malava Market

Every Friday is Market Day in Malava. It all begins just after the sun comes up. Many people come from miles around to sell fruits, vegetables, clothes, shoes, hardware, and more. The vendors will sometimes walk many kilometers in the darkness of the early morning from the surrounding villages to make their journey to Malava. They all want to be ready when the village wakes up. No daylight is wasted.

The market begins around 6AM along the roadside just north of the main intersection in my village. Some of the vendors have simple stands made from any available pieces of wood, but others will simply lay a blanket on the ground to display what they are selling.

Fruits and vegetables are always very popular on market day. Some fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, mangoes, tomatoes, and onions can be available any day of the week, but the selection is always better on market day. Then there are some foods that are only available on market day like dried fish, fresh garlic, or roasted groundnuts.

Secondhand clothes for sale at the market

Clothes and shoes are also sold on market day. Shirts or pants can be seen neatly displayed on the ground or on hangers, but mostly they are found in a large heap that requires the buyer to dig and sort. There is usually a man shouting the prices over a blaring loudspeaker that can be heard from anywhere in the village center. He speaks so loud and fast the he reminds me of an auctioneer. Most of the clothes are sold secondhand. One element of irony that one vendor made me aware of is that most of the used clothes are donated to Kenya from the United States, and now I have come from the United States to buy them back from Kenya. I think, if I ever buy any used clothes, I may just try to donate them back to Kenya before I leave. Or, to save on shipping, I just may ask someone back home to donate any clothes I might need this year to Africa and then I’ll just pick them up at the market.

My new tire sandals

There are a few styles of dress shoes and sandals available, it only takes finding the right size. I have recently bought a pair of the only custom fit sandals available in Malava. They are made out of pieces of old tires. The vendor cut the straps to fit the size of my feet and used nails to secure them to the soles. He then cut each sole with a very sharp knife to the exact size of each foot. They are a perfect fit. My pair were made out of Firestone car tires, for 50 “bob” (50 shillings), but some nicer pairs are made out of Goodyear tractor tires and can run almost 500 “bob” (500 shillings). So far I have already had a few complements on my sandals and one villager says that I look like a white member of the Maasai tribe.

One item that is surprisingly very popular for dress shoes is Kiwi brand shoe polish. Walking on the dusty roads in Malava, it’s hard to believe that anyone would even attempt to maintain the shine on their shoes. It seems hopeless to me, but then again the dusty road is probably the reason why it is so popular.

At the market, there are no price tags on anything. Whether you are buying an imitation Sony radio, tiny minnow-sized fish called omena, or a Bob Marley t-shirt, the price is always negotiable. At first, before I got used to bargaining for everything, it was a very confusing. I didn’t know how much to pay for anything. I had no idea how to tell what anything was worth. Many times after buying something I would find that I paid almost double what the item was worth. In doing so, sometimes it has made bargaining more difficult for me because I have already shown some vendors that I can afford to overpay. But worst of all, has been the pain and humiliation of facing the laughter of my friends and co-workers when I told them how much I spent.

Ryan, my roommate, is bargaining with a vendor.

Bargaining is everywhere in Malava, and probably most of Kenya, with few exceptions. Although sometimes I wonder how much bargaining the locals really do. All of the locals already know the lowest price to pay for anything and are unwilling to pay more, but tourists or missionaries aren’t always so sharp. Many times foreigners will pay what is called the “mzungu price.” This simply means the higher (sometimes a lot higher) price. It comes from the perception that a white person can afford to pay more for an item and therefore will be charged more for just about anything.

This is why it has become increasingly important for me to develop very good bargaining skills.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim, this is Shitseswa, Timothy of Malava - Kenya. Just stumbled on your blog while doing a search on "Malava" to establish how much of it is on the net!

True, putting price tags on commodities for sale denies the parties, "sales person/customer" the social aspect of communing with one another. Markets would be extremely dull without the enlivened exchanges between the buyer and the saler.

Markets are social gatherings where people come to talk to someone about something.

The saler must provide a talking (bargaining) price through talking, then eventually a selling price.

Those tyre sandles, popularly known as "Akala", originated from Akala Market in Gem - Siaya District of Luo Nyanza. I still have a pair which I bought in 1982 @ 3/= bob. I only replace the top straps. The soles can last for a lifetime.

These are some of the survival tactics people in this part of the world use to overcome pecuniary embarassments associated with hard economic conditions. $2 a day incomes are hard to come by. So one looks for some items which can last long to let them make a saving over time to afford other essential items as paying fees for a child in school or buying medicine for malaria or other ailments.

What you see in Malava is replicated everywhere in Kenya. Burgaining is the order of the day. But you will always give out money depending on what you consider to be your income/expenditure ratio compared to the person trying to survive through selling those commodities.

The donation of used clothes from US is not made to those who come to the markets to sell! Probably it is made to those who solicit for it back in the US. Then it is dispatched on dispatch-cost recovery basis. Once in Kenya it becomes saleble commodity at affordable prices.

Hope you enjoyed the forest and the warmth of the people.