There is a market in every community here. It might be small or large, but there is always a place where the community convenes to buy and sell. Anything from vegetables to sewing thread can be found. When the market is small and out in a village, the goods are fewer and less varied. Of course, here in Lilongwe you can find almost anything you might need or want there.
Venders display their goods underneath small rectangular shacks and on top of tables or hanging from the ceiling within. The path in between the venders is wide in some places and narrow in others. There are two main markets that I usually frequent: the gigantic free market and the central market. The free market tends to have good produce. I can always tell which time in the plant’s season it is by it’s size and shape in the market. Now, the asparagus has not matured quite yet, as it is small and thin. Unfortunately, the free market tends to charge azungu prices, which are slightly higher. The central market has set prices and also has a zitenge section, with a beautiful array of fabric.
Depending on the day, and whom I happen to accompany to the market usually determines my experience to a certain degree.
In my first few visits, I was overwhelmed by the selling. But since, I have learned what exactly to expect, as well as be strong when I say no. Here it’s not “no thank you” but a simple and firm “no” and show no interest whatsoever. I have also learned how to say don’t touch me in Chechewa, which can be useful and takes people by surprise when they hear this mzungu say it. Once, while being swarmed by salesmen surrounding my basket and me, one of the guys had his hand with a pineapple almost placed into my basket. I was a bit distraught at the experience and decided if anyone ever just put food into my basket without any agreement to buy it, I would smile and say “zikoma kwambiri, mphatso!” thank you very much, a gift! It hasn’t ever happened since then, which is good.
Learning how to barter is a skill I am also learning. Of course, in the Little Italy Farmer’s Market that I would frequent at home, there were set prices. Not here. If someone is trying to charge 500 Malawian Kwacha for a bunch of bananas, I know they are trying to rip me off. Then I go just below the more reasonable price (which I now know), and they usually meet me close to the right price. Furthermore, it has been good to get to know some of the venders, who now give a “prize” when I return time and again. Sometimes, the market comes to area 12. I have come to know the guys who sell bananas and pineapples in front of the small convenience store down the street. Recently, one of them arrived at Manse #2 with Abambo carrying a large basket of avocados. This was quite exciting. He did give me a prize of one more avocado, which made my day.