Awakened at 5 am by the megaphone chant projected from the local mosque, I am aware of a sense of mild dread lingering at the edge of my consciousness. More fully awake, I remember that today is market day! The plan is to visit a local market with Matthews, our beloved language teacher, to apply our limited knowledge of Chichewa in negotiating with market vendors….really? I am wracking my overstimulated brain to recall even the most basic greetings and phrases.
Armed with 300 kwacha, roughly 60 cents, we are to ask the vendor the price of an item, disagree with the price asking them to lower it. We can then accept, or continue to bargain until we get the price we want. This is daunting, mostly because Matthews is going to hide and observe us and will not be ready at our side!
PHEW! Returned from the market having successfully purchased one avocado for 150 kwacha, about 30 cents. The vegetables are beautiful, plentiful, diverse; broccoli, zucchini, cabbage, lettuce, green beans, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers. Yet you have to ignore the bucket of filthy, murky water they wash the veggies in before displaying. Fruit is also plentiful; bananas, apples, strawberries, papaya, oranges and tangerines. Just missed mango season, darn it!
Generally the vendors are young men, friendly and talkative, swarming around you until they realize you can speak some Chichewa. They are eager to practice their English. Steadfast in their prices, some negotiate more than others, believing justifiably, that because we are white, we have more money. All were willing to engage and help us with our Chichewa.
We got our living, professional and settling in allowances yesterday and received our checkbooks. Still are unable to withdraw cash from the ATM until we get our cards, maybe 3 weeks from now. Malawi is a cash society. The largest bill is 1000, worth about $2. Carrying around a big wad of money is discouraged but really there is no other way to buy groceries, clothing or supplies for our house without toting around a fat pile of bills.
Purchased a pillow, sheets, towel, teapot, several kitchen items and some hangers for my home but am reluctant to go whole hog on bedding and such as we really are not sure of the bed sizes in the house. There are some limited items there but have no idea if queen is really queen, ¾ or even double size. So, will wait till we arrive in Mzuzu to get the rest of the items.
Today is a rather lazy day as we have no classes scheduled except for this morning’s language challenge so we have a chance to shop, read, relax.
Oh BTW bwanji bwanji is Chichewa for “how much, how much, what you say to the vendor when you are interested in something. Definitely proud of my sole avocado, will do for now!