Saturday, October 17, 2015

Market(able) Integration

For weeks, I’ve mentioned visiting the Glazoue market each Wednesday, but I haven’t yet written about what I buy, what it looks like and what’s available.  As most of you are probably aware, there is no grocery store here in Adourekoman.  In fact, there are only a handful of boutiques where I can buy macaroni, cans of tomato paste (with or without mackerel chunks), soap, matches, phone credit and an assortment of various cheap bottles of liquor (or box sangria which isn’t half bad.)  During the day, or at dusk now that school has started, young girls walk around selling tomatoes, pimante (the Beninese spicy pepper), okra and pre-cooked soja (fried soy cubes).  Occasionally, I can buy cow cheese from a Peuhl woman (although I can always find a child to go buy it for me as they know the village much better than I do.)  While it seems like there may be many options here, I look forward each Wednesday to the large market in Glazoue, both to load up on produce and have a little escape from village life.

Glazoue is located 17 km from Adourekoman, at the intersection of the terre rouge and the paved goudrone (main rain).  The market each Wednesday is supposedly the third largest in Benin, attracting both venders and buyers from all over West Africa.  Each week, I leave village in the morning by zem, or moto- the only form of transportation out of my village, and head down the dirt road, stopping in Kabole, the first village on the main road, to charge some of my electronics.  A previous volunteer was placed in Glazoue, so we have a relationship with one of the restaurant owners who guards our belongings while we peruse the market.  For me, her electricity is crucial and as long as the power isn’t out, I get to juice up my computer, which is very exciting!

You can tell it’s market day the minute you turn onto the goudrone at Kabole.  Taxis zip past you carrying dozens of passengers inside and piled high with goods to bring to market.  Other cars line the road, waiting to bring shoppers to their next destination.  Every time I walk by, I’m hassled by drivers going to Cotonou or Parakou, because why would a young American like me live out here?!

Once you pass the taxi stand and groups of zem drivers, you enter upon the bulk goods section of the market.  Here, women have mats overflowing with corn, beans, or peanuts.  When I tried to buy 100 CFA of peanuts one day, they just laughed at me.  These ladies sell them by the cement sack, starting at 4000 CFA each.  You’re probably wondering, what’s a CFA?!  Well, simply, it’s the currency here, and in a majority of West Africa.  Currently, the exchange rate is about 600 CFA to the dollar, but it’s constantly changing.  I make the math easier for myself and think of it as 500 CFA = 1 USD.  That way I’m always getting a good deal.

Past the bulk dried goods are the bread ladies.  This section is dangerous, because the bread is so good!  You can buy both baguettes (pain sale) or sweet bread loaves (pain sucre).  One baguette costs 125 CFA and a sweet bread can range from 150-300 CFA depending on the size.  A loaf of sweet bread that is packaged similar to how we buy it in the US is about 300 CFA, but you can always barter when you buy more than one.  I’ve recently discovered that the sweet bread is sold in a mini bagel size fro 25 CFA and, while it’s no Lox Stock and Bagel, it’s really good (especially for breakfast sandwiches)!

As you turn the corner from the bread stands, veering off the paved road and through a narrow alley, you enter the main part of the market.  To the left is the woman who sells eggs, priced at 1250 CFA for 15 eggs, or half a case.  The more you buy, the cheaper they are, but there’s no way I can use eggs that quickly despite the fact that they don’t need to be refrigerated.  Beside the egg shop is a stall where I can buy oil (vegetable, 1200 CFA per bottle), mustard (700 CFA for a jar), toilet paper (250 CFA per roll), popcorn (700 CFA for a bag) and bleach (1200 per bottle), which is essential in the preparation of fresh fruits and vegetables.  

After this, the landmarks seem to disappear in the chaos that is the marketplace.  There are hundreds of stalls, women selling piles of onions, tomatoes, oranges, heaping bowls of spices of varying colors and rows upon rows of its (fabric).  If you aren’t careful, you’ll either step on a live duck, tied up and immobile, a small child, or get hit by a cart that’s racing between the rows, shuttling boxes of produce and other goods.  

Towards the back of the market are the women who sell the plastics (though, I bet growing up they weren’t told they should go into plastics…). Here you can find laundry baskets, plates, cups, bowls, cheaply made tupperware containers and other assorted imports.  Behind these vendors is the dead yovo section, or where salvation army donations come to die.  If you want a World Series t-shirt from 2002, you could probably find it here.

On the opposite side of the market if the butcher section.  While I have yet to venture into these stalls, you can smell them from a couple rows away.  Through the windows I’ve seen huge carcasses of beef and other animals, being butchered for sale.  Apparently I should be able to buy a roasted chicken for 2000 CFA, but I have yet to try that.

In addition to the fabrics, plastics and produce at the the market, there is also the vodun section where one can buy animal skulls, wooden carvings and other sorts of fetish (voodoo fetish) paraphernalia.   I rarely see anyone hanging around these stalls, but I don’t know if that has any sort of significance.

The final major section of the market is the electronics.  Want a charger for a 2008 Nokia cell phone, they got it.  Want a fan (I wish I had electricity sometimes!)? Want a radio, flashlight or fake Chinese iPhone?  It’s all there.

So, what do I usually buy?  Well, I’m really lucky in that I am often fed both lunch and dinner in village.  Daniel expects me to eat with him every day and even when I go home at meal times and cook for myself, a child shows up at my door with a plate of food.  His wife is a fantastic cook and these meals usually consist of rice or macaroni with a tomato sauce and either cheese, soda or fish.  As much as I want to eat more on my own, these communal meals are some of the only times we have to talk, plan activities or just share about our days.  I am going to make an effort however, to start eating more on my own and taking charge of my pasta/rice/pate/igname intake.

With that in mind, I bought a lot of fruits and veggies today:

2 pineapples (100 CFA each)
6 oranges (100 CFA)
200 CFA worth of small onions
200 CFA worth of tomatoes
100 CFA worth of sweet potatoes (this was the first time I’ve seen these!!)
100 CFA worth of lemons
1000 CFA worth of beans, probably about 2 kilos (I give these to Daniel’s wife and she makes amazing bean dishes for us!!)
2 heads of cabbage (300 CFA each)
1 yogurt (300 CFA each as a snack— no refrigeration in village)

This is no Saturday Farmer’s Market and certainly not your big box store. It’s overwhelming and chaotic.  But the people, smells and constant bartering in dozens of different languages, remind me that this is the real Benin. 

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