Market Day is a big day in my weekly schedule. It only happens once a week which means if you miss it, you’re out of luck for fresh fruits and veggies until market day rolls around again. So, on market day I never fail to grab my market bag and walk forty-five minutes to the next village over to guhaha (go shopping).
As a tangent, let me tell you about the walk. The road is always busy with women and children because they’re going to the market too. So, I know I’ll be seen by many people and also run into people I know. Bearing that in mind, I try to make myself approachable and as normal as possible (which isn’t very much.) So, I choose between wearing sunglasses and listening to my iPod when I go. Most Rwandans don’t have either, of course, and in the US I would use both so I compromise by picking one. If I wear sunglasses I can’t bring my iPod and vice versa.
Anyway, I walk to the market. Most bigger towns in Rwanda have permanent markets: open air structures with tin roofs, with cement tables organized in a grid underneath. Each table has a small cupboard built in underneath where sellers can put their produce, personal belongings and, sometimes, sleeping toddlers and babies. On market day each seller (“market mamas”) brings her produce, arrays it on the cement table and spends the day selling.
The market can be very busy. Sellers and customers fill the aisles between the tables and extra produce like cabbage and potatoes sit in unruly piles on the ground. It’s also loud. Sellers are calling out to passing customers, advertising what they have. Customers and sellers are also bargaining, sometimes loudly and contentiously. And, because everyone kind of knows everyone in the village, people are also just standing in the aisles talking to each other. Add to that the noises made by chickens being carried around upside in seller’s hands, bleating goats tied up near the butcher’s stall and noisy children yelling, laughing and crying as they thread in and out of the crowd playing and you can imagine the cacophony which accompanies market day.
Pretty much, almost every market mama sells the same thing — tomatoes, cabbages, onions, Rwandan eggplants and green bananas. Some sellers also have green bell peppers, avocados, pineapple, passionfruit, etc. What I do is to take a lap around the market first, scoping out each seller’s goods and deciding who to buy stuff from.
Once I’ve chosen a seller I go and ask the price. Usually, especially now that they’re used to me, they give me the right price. If they don’t, I bargain until they relent on the umuzungu price. Now that the sellers I usually buy from know me, they often throw in a bonus tomato, onion or whatever after I’ve paid.
After shopping, I eat lunch at the one and only restaurant in town. They have a “prix fixe” menu: they always serve the Rwandan mixed plate — beans, rice, french fries, boiled green bananas and cassava greens. It costs 300 francs (50 cents). They know me now so they’ve stopped trying to inflate the price, which I appreciate. I always bring a book and, usually, one of the other restaurant patrons takes it upon themselves that reading while eating is not good and “bad culture” in Rwanda.
Finally, I end market day by riding a bike taxi back home. Bike taxis are just bicycles with padded seats suspended above the back wheel. Young men work as the drivers, bringing people around town for set prices. The ride I take is basically all down hill so they just coast but if you ask them to take you somewhere uphill they’ll probably make you walk up the hills and then they’ll pedal on the flats.
Market day ends with me sitting on the bike taxi seat, bag full of produce over my shoulder, waving to children who yell my name and wave as I head back home. Market day is a good day.