Market Day

Last Wednesday, Pia and I joined Ruth and Conso at the market to buy food for the upcoming week at Daraja. We drove up to a vivacious market with stands upon stands vending colorful produce; even the energy of the market had a bright, lively feel. It reminded me of the San Rafael market an unexpected amount, though it could not be in a more different setting. Shanties with rusted old bikes lined the chickenwire fences marking the borders of the market. A step outside, and we saw images like a little girl playing with an eerie-looking ginger doll who lacked all four limbs, women sitting on pails by piles of charcoal for sale, and burning piles of trash in front of the shacks of the Nanyuki slums. Inside, however, we walked down aisles of rickety wooden stalls topped with plastic tarps, all boasting delicious Kenyan fruits and vegetables that could not have been grown to be so beautiful in a less equatorial region. All of this appeared under the beautiful African sky, pure turquiose dotted with puffy white thundercloads that seemed to stretch on forever.

With four women, we quickly finished the work that Ruth usually completes alone. We selected the unmarred peppers, tomatoes, and carrots, chose the garlic with the largest cloves, and picked the biggest onions. We filled crates and sacks with hundreds of kilos of produce. It made me wish I could keep my own kitchen, just to be able to shop for copious amounts of delicious food each week. After we finished the business, Ruth and Conso took us around the market and the streets nearby, including the mitumba (second-hand) market. I snapped pictures everywhere we went, making some Kenyan vendors snap at me in Swahili to pay them for it (mzungu = $$). With Ruth and Conso nearby, however, Pia and I could do much more without being hassled. They permitted me to take pictures wherever we went, especially when we bought from vendors, and, I think, scared off the hasslers even when we walked through the most impoverished areas. We walked down a row of shops, stopped to see where we buy the twelve grains that constitute our morning porridge, and continued on to the mitumba market.

So… If you have ever wondered where your goodwill or other giveaway clothing goes, here is your answer. It gets packaged into huge bundles, shipped, and then sold to someone who will make a small amount of money off it here. As far as we could see, tables upon tables were piled high with motley mixes of items of clothing. Vendors marched around their tables yelling, “50 Shillings! 50 Shillings!” as if we were at an auction. Conso, Ruth, Pia and I stopped at a pile of scarves heaped on a tarp on the muddy, pothole-ridden ground. We draped them around our necks and looked for the colors that the other women wanted, looking like crazy scarf women as we made our choices. Pia and I each bought one for Conso and RUth, as thank-yous for taking us to the market, and I got a navy blue headscarf too.

We returned to the market, walked through once more, and then sipped bright purple juice boxes of black currant juice against the backdrop of a garishly painted yellow, turquoise, and flamingo pink store adjacent to the market. Looking at the bright chaos of the market, with three wonderful women next to me all with new headscarves, I really could feel that I was in Africa. We headed home for delicious Veggie Pilau (a rice dish) made with the vegetables we had bought that day.

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