Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Je m'appelle Fatou...

Today Parker and Addison were in school for a long day - so  Manning and I decided it was a good opportunity  to make a trek into Sandaga market.  I've mentioned this market before - it's not what I call inviting at all - you have to think about putting your armor on before you go there. That would be the mental wherewithal to bargain - and no backpack, no map, only the money needed to buy what you plan to be your set buying price and a phone that poses as a camera to try and take a few pictures. The market is harsh, dirty, hyperactive and noisy - it is a sea of stalls, stores, huts, and shacks selling everything and anything - from African art, drums, clothes to electrical plugs and doorknobs. While this is far from a city that promotes  or has the mindset to think or take action on reuse and recycle - we did happen to catch one section of the market where some wood planks were being sold and we realized they were actually wood pallets that had been disassembled. Nice!  Here's a few shots as we worked our way into the market. It seemed like somehow we passed through a section of wholesale food distributors and there is no shortage of onions.

Back to the mission at hand. We weave our way through the streets and paths and start to sense we might be in the right section of the market and we pop into one open stall of which there are many. I look at what is known as wax dye fabrics - those tend to have bold, big and bright designs - and others may be  simple and subtle yet equally as impressive. Click here for additional history on African wax prints.  The owner was very nice - was clear to share with us that the fabrics came from Ghana - and he was sure to emphasize they were not from China.  As it turned out he basically sold  his fabric lengths of 10 meters or longer and I had been told by "le tailleur" that I only needed 2 meters.  The owner was very nice and was willing to take us to another spot in the market. As you've read in blogs past - I always get a little queasy now when anyone, even the owner  says "let me show you another spot".  Like, where are you taking me now in this labyrinth (and will you ask me for money for taking me there)?

clandestine snapshot of one street with fabric vendors outside

 Well thankfully he turned out to be honest about taking us to a place that would sell me the same material in smaller pieces. My guess is - we were being taken to a "retail" stall that buys from him "wholesale".  That would be good business!

So I start the process of sifting through the particular wax prints that this vendor had. A woman friend of theirs was sitting down and she acted as the holder of the prints I picked out. The owner of this stall and somehow another friend of his started to help with the selection process. Every Senegalese merchant always seems to have "a friend" to help. Or someone comes along and just "becomes the friend." In this case the owner spoke French and his "friend" spoke both French with some command of English.  I had to explain to them that after picking out around 5 fabrics I felt I needed to pair it down to two because I had to be sure the tailleur could make this dress before buying more.

At this point - I put my mental boxing gloves on and I say to myself "LET THE BARGAINING BEGIN!"  So I of course asked "C'est combien?" and I receive a quote of 42,000 CFA for the 4 meters which is slightly over 4 yards. This is laughable as that translates to about $85.  By the way there is at least one requirement  when coming down to Sandaga - you had better know your numbers in French or don't step into the ring! Then I give him my number 4,000 CFA. He laughs.  He jabs, I jab - we're boxing now.  He repeats the 42,000 CFA and I continue with 4,000. Finally he drops the price to 1/2 - which is usually anticipated.  I keep saying 4,000 CFA.  Manning is standing there the whole time watching and listening.  Then I say '"Allons-y" and we start to turn our backs to walk away.  Then they insist I come back - he goes down to 10,000 CFA and I'm still sticking with 4,000 CFA.  I think we attempt to depart again, then he goes down to 6,000 CFA. We volley back and forth and finally I say 5,000 CFA.  (at this point they have put the fabric into a bag for us...)  A little more volleying and I think Manning wants to have this round over so he throws in another 500 CFA.  Okay 5,500 CFA - SOLD.  So I pull out the 5,000 CFA in my pocket realizing I don't have the 500 CFA so Manning pulls out another 1,000 and the guy takes it. Yet I have to remind him - you still owe us 500 CFA.  Which he has to get from someone else. You really can't loose track of what is owed to you especially when it comes to the coins. It's odd here how sometimes they are kind of lost in the calculation. After the money was reconciled - I think the English speaking guy asked me if I was a  professor of math - and I said "no, not really" however I was honestly thinking to myself - with a computer science degree, an MBA and an award received in 7th grade by my math teacher Mr Pittman - I guess I do have the aptitude ;+}

Along the way the owner jokingly says to Manning in French - is your wife  Senegalese? - meaning I think that I showed my capacity to bargain and I'm not sure what came over me but I think they asked me my name (and instead of saying my old standby "Eelarie - comme le meme prenom de la femme de President Clinton") I said - "Je m'appelle Fatou" - they all started laughing and I earned my stripes. You see  *many* Senegalese woman are named Fatou!


  1. Love it........I don't think you're coming back any time soon. It seems like you belong there, more than me. You know I did not get the youza until last week end when I was talking to another senegalese friend. You look soooo..... the picture.
    Until the next post, have a wonderful time Fatou!!!!!
    Did u get the picture I sent you?

  2. Thanks for the post, it made me laugh. You've certainly learned the art of bargaining. Name your price and stick to it. Keep the posts coming..

  3. Thanks Karen - It's beyond bargaining - can you imagine - it must be done for "everything" here except grocery stores, restaurants and boulangeries. And maybe any place where you actually walk through a physical door. Let me tell you though there is a high percentage of where one goes that a door does not exist:+} - prices fluctuate by the hour, by who you are, by the mood of the person and a ton of other factors. It would be wrong to call it a strange culture - clearly different and the norm here!

  4. Penda- I may look happy because I 'scored' on the material. I'm sure I could have worked just a tiny bit harder if I started at 3,000 CFA but that became inconsequential at the end. I was surely exhausted after getting back to the apartment. I think I only have energy for one negotiation per day. While I have plans to keep on it here - I have a return ticket back to Berkeley ;+}

  5. You were right. I really did enjoy it.
    Beautiful material!