Aaaand now Oblidi Oblida is stuck in my head.... (Yeah, three Beatle references in a row…they’re the greatest band ever, what can I say? [Not to be mistaken with my favorite band ever, obviously, Hanson…just to clarify in case there was any doubt as to my allegiance.])
So, this is just a precursor to a possible future blog (I say “possible” because I have yet to determine whether a future blog will be warranted), as it is about the local market in Debre Zeyit—I still have not been to the BIG Marketo in Addis (and it is BIG—allegedly the second-biggest market in all of Africa), although I intend to pay a visit this Saturday. Nonetheless, the market in DZ is an experience that I wish to share.
The local market is admittedly much like the images of African markets which are portrayed in National Geographic, travel shows, and Hollywood movies—it is a noisy, crowded, bustling, maze of colorful makeshift stalls, tables, and tarps strewn about and covered in goods of nearly every kind imaginable, separated by narrow, dusty paths full of people bartering, shop owners wheeling carts full of produce, and the occasional goats and chickens sleeping under the shade of tables or sneaking an afternoon snack on inadequately guarded grains—and it is all beautiful. There is some semblance of order in this chaotic scene: the market is divided into several sections: produce, pottery, baskets, spices, fabrics/tailors, pre-made clothes, pre-made knick-knacks, small café stalls, etc.—however that’s where the order ends, at least by my account.
My favorite part of the market is the fabric portion. This is one of the “nicer” parts, in terms of the quality of the stalls—while the stalls throughout the rest of the market are rather haphazardly constructed of discarded plastic and metal scraps, the fabric section consists of twenty or so cement stalls, each full of dozens of varieties of breathtakingly beautiful traditional fabric. Traditional fabric is extraordinarily striking in my opinion—it is a white muslin with extremely ornate, colorful (sometimes sparkly) patterned edges, usually between 2-6 inches, ranging from brilliant purples, to reds, golds, blues, and greens—nearly every color of edging imaginable is available. The fabric is not sold by the yard, but is arranged by the type of item for which it is to be used—for instance there is a certain amount of fabric needed to make a dress, and a different amount of fabric needed for a scarf, blanket, etc. (it is not pre-cut in the shape that will be sewed, however—that is for the tailor to do). Each stall is adorned with hangers with sample finished-products—ornate dresses, shirts, and blankets—none of which can actually be purchased, but all of the supplies necessary to complete these creations are available within the stall. Instead, after purchasing a fabric, one can proceed to the area directly adjacent to the fabric section, which contains a sea of tailors—almost all male—amidst a flurry of fabric flowing through their old-fashioned non-electric Singer-style sewing machines, and have your project made there. It’s a rather frantic scene, but incredibly beautiful, and dangerous for me, because I want to buy everything there!
Another favorite area of mine is the area with the spices and grains. Stall after stall with gigantic bags overflowing with a selection of ground spices far greater than you can imagine, heaps of crystal white unground salt, bright red spicy dried peppers—which at times fill the air with such potency that one can hardly breathe without coughing, nor see without the blur of watering eyes—and more varieties of grains than I even knew existed. It is truly a feast for the senses, with more smells and vibrant colors than can be captured by words or photos.
The produce section is similar—a patchwork of colors. Piles upon piles of brown and red potatoes, purple shallots, green cabbage, yellow carrots, red tomatoes, lush, leafy greens, fresh herbs of every variety imaginable—all stacked nearly as tall as I am, usually with young children perched on a stool nearby, clamoring to make a sale.
As you navigate your way through the alleys of the market, the various temperaments of the salesmen is incredibly apparent—some overzealous younsters shouting at each customer, trying to generate business, others are older and barely seem to manage to stay awake, almost failing to notice potential customers. Of course haggling is commonplace, but more challenging than that is attempting to purchase non-industrial quantities of items—it seems that most people who frequent the market are serving large families (farenji’s typically frequent the small, slightly more westernized markets on the main street, not the actual marketplace), so when my friend and I were simply trying to purchase enough for a few meals, we had an incredibly difficult time trying to explain that we did not want to buy 3 dozen potatoes.
Standing amidst the vibrant hum of the marketplace is definitely one of the instances which produces what my former Bots PCV’s referred to as a TIA (This Is Africa) moment—slightly surreal and entirely mesmerizing—and makes me once again profoundly grateful for this experience.