Central Market

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

It's good to experience the vibrancy of the central market and the action going on there. I have an idea it is no longer there, so this might be a bit historical too.

Central Market

 

When you go to a new place, if you are lucky, someone will show you around, otherwise you have to make your own way. We were lucky, Mo and Jo showed us around Arusha and while there was a wide choice of shops, they showed us where they went, sort of as a recommendation, and it’s always sensible to take advice. They always bought their vegetables at the central market, and we found that if you asked, it was possible to buy just about anything there. We too went there mainly for our vegetables, but it’s always a busy place and confusing for first-timers, on the other hand it’s vibrant and colourful. One of my first lessons there was about language, which I hadn’t quite grasped yet, but that didn’t matter because Jo was doing the talking.

We always parked at the main entrance on Azimio Street where there were boys who waited to pick up work, any work that would pay a few shillings. There was any number of reasons for them not to be at school; some came from outlying areas because their parents were unable to feed them, others just wanted to earn a living in the hope that one day they might become a stall owner. It can be a bit daunting when you arrive there, boys descend on you like a swarm of bees offering to sell you a supermarket bag, offering to pack your purchases, carry them for you or any combination. It was far better for these lads to be working rather than robbing or begging, but on the other hand, we didn’t want to be tagged as having people working for you, doing stuff you could easily do yourself and paying them a pittance. And having four, five or six young fellows vying for the job is a put off. We didn’t mind parting with a few shillings, but we’d much rather do our shopping on our own.

There’s a very good reason for shopping without those helpful lads. Women carry a handbag and their money in a purse, and when it comes to paying, many eyes focus on what’s in the purse. As for myself, I had small, useful amounts scattered around my pockets… and a few thousand shillings tucked down my sock. Anyway… back to my lesson. Jo told one of the boys who was her ‘regular’ that she didn’t need him this time and when he groaned about not being able to eat that night, so she reluctantly told him. ‘Ok, watch the gari.’ She used the Swahili word for car. Sometimes it wasn’t a bad idea to have someone guard your vehicle, and in those days 100 shillings was the going rate. When we arrived back, the boy had a bucket of water and a rag and had just finished cleaning the vehicle. The going rate for cleaning a car was 500 shillings, which he reasonably enough asked for. He claimed she had said, ‘Ok, osha gari.’ Which certainly translates to, ‘Ok, wash the car.’ The two phrases do sound very similar. So the lesson? Say what you mean and don’t mix languages in the same sentence. (Which I still do!)

There was a stink of rotting vegetables and fruit outside the market because in those early days, there was no dedicated rubbish collection, so a few animals and lots of flies picked at whatever they could find. For me there was a small benefit because it was my source of avocado seed for my nursery. Inside there were boardwalk alleys and the vegetable displays were at an easy level to inspect the produce. The displays sloped upwards, and sometimes the stallholder sat at the top, but mostly he sat in the middle, which was better. There were always the ubiquitous sets of scales. The produce was really good quality and the cost was fair. A few stalls sold a good range of produce, while others had perhaps only one item, like peanuts or watermelons to sell. We tended to go to the same guy who had a good assortment and if he didn’t have what we wanted, he’d soon get it for us.

Beyond the vegetable stalls and around a corner were the spice stalls, neat piles of orange, red, yellow and various shades of brown spices, all nicely displayed. We never bought spices from there, so I don’t know the detail other than remembering those strong smells and how carefully the piles were manicured. The path led past several butchery stalls, from whence the smell of fresh, raw meat and offal came. For some unknown reason we were encouraged not buy meat from there, but later I found their produce was perfectly good and clean… and it had been officially inspected. Onwards past the butchers were new items made from glass, plastic or tin/enamel. Things like jugs, plates, tea pots, candle holders, mugs – if you looked it would be there.

There was an outside section to the market where bulk sacks of rice, beans and maize were presented. These are staples in Tanzania and women buying household food would smell, feel and carefully inspect before they would buy. People had their favourite place where the produce was grown and they would barter… every shilling meant a lot to both the buyer and the seller. The other way from the butchers was where basketry, rope and wooden items were sold. Sisal was grown locally and rope was made from it. The smell is clean and fresh. People use all the crafted items in everyday life and you could buy hand-hewn broom or axe handles that you could be sure wouldn’t break easily.

There was a sizable area where dried fish from Lake Victoria was displayed. The smell was rather pervasive and I can’t say I sampled any of it. The larger fish may have been cut into strips and tied into a half knot and the smaller fish, dagaa, much like what is sold in the UK as whitebait are sold in bulk. Dagaa is sometimes added to the staple ugali, maize meal, for added protein. Out again in the open is where containers are sold, all of them pre-used, from 200 litre steel drums that contained Vaseline, to 5 litre plastic containers that had held sunflower oil. Close by are some cages where chooks are sold, although, they don’t always need cages… the chooks have their legs tied so they can’t go anywhere, and they’re a sorry sight. They are the only live animals at the market.

Outside the market there are small shops with doors open towards the street and carpark where commodities are sold that may be more expensive. Bolts of cloth, flash clothing or sewing fundis, tailors. I will always remember the vibrancy of the place, the smells and the noise. You just have to mention what you want and someone will turn up. From time to time I needed to hire a 4, 6, 8 tonne truck, and if you want to experience full-on lobbying, just ask for a truck! Negotiating with ten people at once, men who are taller than you and really, really want your money, is a challenge. My wife would see me immersed in a huddle and wondered if she’d ever see me again!

I prefer life to be at a more sedate pace and found that the small, village markets offered the same produce of slightly less quality, and there was always time for a yarn. Buying there assisted the small communities we were living in. The people we were most comfortable with… and you couldn’t hire a truck.

 

 


Submitted: January 20, 2021

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