Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bizarre Bazaars

I like shopping in an open air market with goats. 

Sure, we have a spanking new ocean front shopping mall, Sea Plaza.  The fact the name is written in English should give you a hint as to its target market.  While the United States may still be mired in recession, good old fashioned American consumerism is alive and well here in Dakar!

Sea Plaza has any number of shops you would find in a typical shopping mall.  It's anchored by the largest grocery chain, named Casino.  When I first came here, I thought, "What a concept! Gambling and grocery shopping!  Just put your merchandise on Black or Red and you get free groceries or pay double!" but no such luck.

Prices are typical shopping mall prices.  While the names of the stores might be a little different (there's a Samsung store, not a Best Buy; a Reebok store, not a Foot Locker, etc.), you could confuse this for a high-end mall in any major metropolitan area. 

But, you can't go shopping with a real, live goat at Sea Plaza.  So, whenever possible, I like to go to the bazaars.  There are several different marketplaces and I'll try to explain them to the novice shopper.

In downtown Dakar, vendors approach your car window and try to sell you goods.  If you need anything (and I mean anything!), you just drive into downtown at approximately one MPH, roll down your windows and wait for the vendors - who will appear as if a magic shopping mall descended upon your vehicle.  Certain things are expected for sale in this environment: sunglasses, cell phones, watches... and I'm pretty sure none of this stuff is stolen because the vendors wear giant sandwich boards with all the merchandise plainly offered for sale as compared with similar downtown markets New York City where all this fine stuff would be hidden under someone's jacket.

But, it's the other "not so normal" items that I'm constantly wondering about.  One guy was walking amongst the cars with a single ironing board for sale.  I'm not sure if he has a whole supply of ironing boards and he is known locally as "Crazy Larry: King of the Ironing Boards" or if this was his last piece of inventory and he will graduate to some better merchandise - such as selling a mop and bucket set.  Although, if he chooses the latter, Crazy Larry will be up against some stiff competition because "Mohammed the Mop Guy" was actually carrying several mop and bucket sets on his shoulder as he weaved through traffic.  This is capitalism at its finest.

There is a street in Dakar that - for at least a mile - has only furniture for sale.  There is no smarmy sales associate named Rita with an overabundance of perfume to "assist" you in the decision making process, just a continous row of locally made furniture.  Often, you will see a furniture maker cutting pieces on the sidewalk and crafting a new item while you are wandering amongst his offerings.  The smell of fresh cut wood smells good in any country.  Although I can't speak to the durability, I can tell you they spend an enormous amount of time carving figures and designs into headboards on beds and seem to care about their finished product.

If the downtown market does not suit you - because you have no vehicle, for example - then you may take one of the ubiquitous taxis to another open air market.  EVERYTHING is negotiated in Dakar, especially the taxi fares.  While this might seem a bit disconcerting to a foreign traveler, it's really quite amusing after you figure the average taxi driver has just spent five minutes negotiating with you over 1,000 CFAs, or about $2 in U.S. currency.  That's $2 for the entire ride.

By taxi, it's easy to access any number of other outdoor market places.  Some vendors have permanent shops at these markets whereas others set up shop by sitting on a carpet on the sidewalk.  These bazaars are fairly easy to describe, so rather than take time here I will recommend that you just rent any action-adventure movie that features a chase scene through a bustling market.  You know, the one where the good guy gets chased by twenty six bad guys and knocks over a vegetable stand, barely avoids getting run down by a motor scooter hurtling down a narrow alley, jumps onto an awning and... you get the picture.

What you don't get is the smell.  Dust and dirt have a particular aroma, and most of the market streets here are filled with dust and dirt.  People have distinct body odors and these are intensely magnified in the crowded markets.  I could smell the fish market from a block away, but nothing could prepare me for seeing an entire city block filled with fish vendors, customers and thousands of pounds of fresh fish being hacked to pieces.  One thing missing?  There was not a refridgerator in sight and - because of the heat - displaying fish on ice is not practical either.  The place was swarming.  Not just with people, but with flies.  Remind me not to try the sushi here... 

The meat stalls have an aroma all their own.  Most of these street butcheries actually look quite clean and it appears the flies favor fish over red meat.  That said, most of the locals prefer their meat cooked well done and I'm not sure I'll be ordering a rare burger any time soon over here.

And that brings me back to the goats.  Goats are everywhere around Dakar.  You can find a goat tied up to a post or a rock or something on just about every corner in the city.  I believe the local currency here is "goat" as in, "How much is that nifty African mask?" "Two goats and a bottle of water." 

It's not like you can ride a goat, so I've surmised that people keep goats as pets just like we might keep a dog.  Of course, you can also milk a pet goat whereas the family dog might take offense if a similar manuever was attempted.  But, there's probably a reason this country doesn't have a McDonald's yet and it's because "Goat McNuggets" sound like you might be eating a particular part of the anatomy...


  1. Nothing like a get-away travelogue with Sunday morning brunch...though I'm glad mine doesn't consist of fish, or meat, or...goat. :)

  2. Goats are fascinating creatures. As you well know, they are not terribly abundant in New England, but every so often you run into some.

    I actually had the great good fun to live through a goat cliche. MY WIFE and I were cruising through Maine one Sunday, and we came upon a small bunch of goats in the road. We slowed, so as not to hit any, and then - after MY WIFE ascertained that they were not going to attack her - we got out of the car and petted one of them. While we were doing so, one of its goaty brethren ATE a bumper sticker off of our car. It was a Harry Browne bumper sticker, by the way. I'm not sure if that meant the goat liked Harry or if he was a Democrat.