Paul and I did a little shopping at Shoprite yesterday. Shoprite is a grocery store and its 4 or 5 blocks from our hotel. It was really hot and muggy in the grocery store, and it smelled of the chambo that was likely laid out earlier that morning. I have found that the stores that sell fresh produce (Shoprite, 7-11, etc.) usually smell like fish. Not many of the stores have air conditioning, so it is a struggle to stay in a store for any length of time.
Today… The Markets! Last year, I recall blogging about mentally preparing for the markets. That's no exaggeration – the Markets are a test! I find the markets absolutely fascinating. We foreigners are at a huge disadvantage. First off, we have no idea what the cost of each item is. In Canada, we have an idea of what an item costs, and we are able to base our decision to purchase or pass on such item comparing the value we receive for it relative to the cost. In the markets, each item is priced according to what the buyer is willing to pay. Secondly, the sellers are very good at pricing. They add or subtract "value" to/from a transaction by throwing two or three other items into the transaction and change the price up accordingly. Today, I had finally got the seller down to a price I was ok with, when he took away a few of the items, added a few others, and re-priced it at a higher price. Disaster… I ended up panicking, falling for the new deal, and regretting it later… Finally, there is a group peer pressure associated with each transaction. Five or Six sellers are a part of each negotiation – one leads the negotiation, the others boo or cheer when a poor price or a good price is discussed. It's hilarious after the fact, but incredibly intimidating in the moment! It literally is played out like this:
Bobby: I'll give 1,000 Kwacha
Crowd: BOO!!!! Bad Price! No! Do not! No way! Boo! You crazy!
Seller: 2,000 Kwacha
Crowd: YAAAAH! OH YES! Great Price! Good Deal!
Paul and I hung out after our hour-long hazing session in the markets and laughed about some of the one-liners we had heard from the salesmen. The cost of the items we bought today is only a mere fraction of what we paid for them. The experience is worth the extra Kwacha we paid. The Blantyre markets are much less intimidating than the Lilongwe markets. We were told that many of the sellers in the markets were not Malawian; rather, they were from other African countries. Some of the sellers from the northern African countries are very aggressive, and follow you around, grab on to you and your bag and shout while you are there. The Malawians, however, ask if you are interested, and usually leave you alone if you say you are "just looking". In Blantyre, there were very few aggressive salesmen. They used the group peer pressure, similar to what we saw last year, but when told "just looking" about four or five times, they left us alone.
Paul did really well today. He found his price, stayed committed, and came out with some awesome deals! Me… well… I would score the transaction like this: The Markets: 1, Robert: 0. I thought I paid a fair price for the stuff I bought today, but I was humbled by the deals Paul was able to strike with his friends! Good job Paul! I plan on winning some more battles next week. I have my eye on a wooden xylophone – if I come home with it, you'll know I've won!
We start our four-day visit with the MBC SACCO tomorrow. I have had a really relaxing weekend and I'm feeling refreshed and ready to start work with the SACCO tomorrow.
PS: GO CANADA GO! We heard on the BBC News today that the Vancouver Olympics has been the most successful Olympics for the host country in the history of the winter Olympics! AWESOME! Hope we can bring home the gold in Hockey tomorrow!