Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Last week I was talking to my friend and work counterpart, Lamin. He visited the U.S. a year or two ago and he was telling me that he had been really impressed by the big, fancy shopping mall he saw while there. I said I sometimes missed them, but that someone had once pointed out to me that when a culture builds shopping malls that are nicer and larger than most of their mosques or churches, it was a sign that they worshipped money and material things above all else. "So, that's why I have mixed feelings about shopping malls when I'm in the U.S.," I concluded. Lamin said, "Hmmm, true...but they are nice anyway!" I had to agree. Especially when compared to the market in Serekunda.

Yesterday my host sister Mamie and I set out from Bwiam for a day of shopping in Serekunda, visiting family and, for me, going to the bank and grocery store in Fajara. It only took us about 2 hours to get to Serekunda's market area, which was rapidly becoming hot and crowded. My mission was to buy a certain type of fancy fabric that is needed for various post-Ramadan celebration outfits. I needed some for myself and Kawsu and I wanted Mamie to help me pick some out. I had about D850 with me, which is normal Gambian life is a pretty large amount of money. So, we went to one shop and they wanted D700 for the fabric we needed. They would not come down, so we left. I was beginning to realize that the two of us shopping together was NOT such a brilliant idea, because rather than Mamie being able to help me bargain, sales people were more apt to assume I was clueless because it looked like I'd brought her there because I couldn't handle bargaining on my own...and it goes without saying they usually assume any toubob has tons of money with them and should spend three times what something is really worth.

We continued walking down the narrow street and a guy in one shop began to call us over. I was practicing my well-honed ignoring skills, but Mamie actually walked over to him. He asked what we were looking for and she told him. Then he got out his phone and called someone, then tried to lure us into his shop, telling me I should sit down with them. I stood on the sidewalk and politely half-ignored him while Mamie talked on my phone with her boyfriend back in Bwiam for a few minutes. Then a woman walked by with some fabric she was selling and we bought what I needed from her for D600, which was maybe not the best price, but doable. Then out of nowhere another woman shows up, telling us that the shopkeeper had called her and that we had to buy something from her because she came all the way over there. She showed us the contents of a large plastic bag, which contained some strange lotions, a kind of fabric that was NOT what we were looking for and one tiny pair of women's shoes. Then the shopkeeper said I should at least pay her for cab fare and I said, "You want me to give you 7 Dalasi?" and laughed at them. Then he said I should pay him for the phone credit he used to call her. I told him I had never asked him to call her and she wasn't even selling what we said we needed...Then he proceeded to tell me that if I came to Africa from America I should bring dollars and that I was stupid to go shopping without enough money.

I should have mentioned that I was fasting, which makes me very crabby. So I somewhat lost my cool and told him (in short) that I don't live or work in America right now so I have Dalasi NOT Dollars, that he was stupid to think all Americans are rich, that I had the money to buy what I needed only and that I was going. I spent the next few hours pretending be deaf and somewhat blind as people grabbed me, demanded things from me and tried to give me (and Mamie) really bad prices for anything and everything. I actually think going to that market alone or with Kawsu is BETTER. Now I know...

In contrast, life in Bwiam is nicer! Here is some evidence:

Rain coming in - a view from behind out compound

Sunset at the tributary that's about a 15-minute bike ride away

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