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The last time I had been to Kenya was with my late cousin Dan. Together, we were free spirits; two notable wanderers who enjoyed making a living out of photo journalism. Unfortunately, for Dan, we had barely made it out of Nairobi when he fell sick from malaria. We had to cut our tour short and drive him back to Nairobi hospital where he sadly passed away. After six months of mourning, I finally found the strength to get back to this bustling East African Economy. This time around, I found myself in Kisumu, a small town west of the capital city Nairobi. Secretly, I had been missing the African experience, the smells of food, noisy street vendors, children staring, and Matatus engaged in a never-ending race (Yamano, 2011). Below is my market place experience in Kisumu.
Today, January 23rd 2011, is market day in Kisumu, where everyone finds their way to Kenya’s version of Wal-Mart. The sky is cloudless and blue, sunny, and undoubtedly a perfect day for sunscreen. All energized, braving all possible restraints, I leave my hotel room and head out. On this day, I am invited to experience the country’s most common method of inter-estate transporter: the Kenyan Boda-Boda. Boda-Boda is primarily the normal bicycle adjusted to accommodate a padded seat over the rare wheel. While some individuals care for comfrt, others care for style, others for survival. For the young Boda-Boda cyclists, a few Kenyan shillings will gracefully glide you along on human power, at the same time giving you time to enjoy splendid views and the warm African air (Yamano, 2011). As ride towards the market, I am quick to hear Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” hit coming from a roadside shoe market stall. You would never catch that in America!
Our journey ends as I am sucked into a market day craze, which to my astonishment turns out to share a similarity with most markets I have ever been to. This appears as a vast area with both temporary and permanent structures: new and old, clean and dirty (Bishop, 2010). For instance, farmers selling everything from fresh farm produce, to chicken, to eggs, to corn, fish, and bananas (plantains). The shops display new arrivals from the capital Nairobi: soap, clothes, and all sorts of electronics, spare tires, and bicycles. Despite the all-African skin cast, it takes me a considerate amount of time to notice that I am the only white, which, although expected, surprises me.
Other notable market commodities include mini vendors for sisal ropes for restraining animals, charcoal used for cooking, and hand-made wood furniture, which is tailor-made on order. Kenyan open-air merchants take charrge of new and used clothes, shoes, belts, and bands imported from all over the world. Aided by public address systems, for all to come and make a purchase of world-renowned super brand names such as Calvin Klein (Bishop, 2010). Buyers respond accordingly, bargaining for prices lower that what the sellers offer. With the sun high above, the simmering heat becomes unbearable further disallowing me to sample the fish and meat market way beyond.
I decide to lounge in a tepid market bar and enjoy a cold Coca-Cola as I watch the rest of the show. Interestingly enough, unlike Indians who squat when doing ground level tasks, Africans bend at the waist! A brisk breeze blows by carrying with it smells of dried fish. This seems to remind me that Kisumu is a lakeside city. Tilapia is more common and favorite within the region. The bar attendant, exceptionally friendly and speaks excellent English, advises me to be wary of conmen and pickpockets (Yamano, 2011). I thank him and even offer to tip, which he declines and says, “Hakuna Matata” (No worries). At this point, I have nothing else on my day’s itinerary, and still two hours before the market closes. As the odds would have it, I run into a group of British tourists who offer me a ride to the hotel. By now, I am somewhat exhausted and yet, only for a care have to be in the room.