Yesterday I took my first trip to the central market. There are grocery stores that sell canned goods and other non-perishables. But those stores rarely sell many fresh fruits and vegetables. There really aren’t many vegetables available in the market beyond onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, manioc (the tuber that we make tapioca from in the west), manioc greens, and something they call spinach (I am not sure that’s what it is). Usually white potatoes and carrots are also available for a price as well as some very tiny celery that can be used for flavoring dishes. It is much too puny and limp to dip into a jar of Skippy but it gives the flavor of celery and that’s enough for me. The central market has been displaced for over a year now as the government is reconstructing it. It’s as if they have transplanted the heart out of the center of the town. Where the market should be there’s only a tall fence and the promise that something nice is being built inside. Nobody seems to know when it will reopen but everyone is sure that there will be some serious dickering and dealing over the available stalls. Many merchants are fine with their displacement. The market is quite spread out and I doubt many are paying rent on their selling location. People there were very friendly and welcoming. As usual I was a true oddity there. White?! Male?! Large?! I wouldn’t be surprised if a few are still talking to one another saying, “Hey, do you remember when that big white guy came through here and did some shopping? What was that all about?” I hope that I can get back often enough so that I become less of an odd occurrence.
Just about everything at the market appears to be held together with bailing wire or twine. There are low hanging tarps over the aisles in many spots so I had to stoop as I walked through. The flies are definitely there. Sugar is the only necessity that I don’t expect I’ll ever buy at the market because the flies are just in sweet heaven on those heaping mounds of unprocessed sugar. So far I haven’t seen any processed white sugar. We have the stuff that’s halfway between white and brown. Even though the flies are on just about everything else, we wash, peel, and cook most everything and that helps reduce the risk of food borne illness.
There were only a couple of dodgy moments at the market. I heard someone behind me trying to get my attention and I turned around almost right into a live chicken that was being dangled for me to examine. I politely declined since I wasn’t in the market for any animals, live or dead. I also saw some interesting meat on a table and asked what it was. It was some kind of antelope. Bush meat is a major delicacy here and a serious environmental concern. Believe it or not the US Customs frequently confiscates crates of jungle animals for human consumption being smuggled into the USA and headed to the dinner tables of African immigrants.
Staples like sugar, beans, rice, flour and peanuts are sold by the scoop and I buy them in good conscience. Tonight I made some coconut curry with the potatoes, onions and carrots that I bought at the market yesterday. I thought maybe I’d make some rice since we have some in the cupboard. But when I asked John about it he told me that I’d have to toss it in the air to get the dust off of it, wash it well and then pick out the rocks and other foreign objects. Even still we often crunch down on rocks in the rice. Gentle rice chewing is advised. I decided we’d make couscous with the curry instead. It’s quicker and we only had to pick the bugs out. Thank goodness there aren’t usually any rocks in pasta.
Curtis’ new friend Morro came over and ate with us tonight. Morro is about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. It was fun cooking the food that I bought at the market with Curtis and then sharing it with a new friend. As I write the two of them have gone to meet up with someone who is acquainted with Curtis’ sister’s Congolese friends. Here connections like that between people are valued, no matter how shoestring they are. Knowing and being known; it’s very important in a place where people are often more concerned about being connected rather than becoming entirely independent or self-sufficient.
Hopefully sometime soon I’ll be able to start a garden of my own in the office parcel. I don’t yet know what can be grown in this soil. I’ll have to ask folks around here and consult the internet on some of the lesser known items. I’ll be most excited if I can grow beets or broccoli. Who knows, maybe someday my vegetables will be sold in the market or at least cooked up and shared with friends around the table.