Today we visited a traditional marketplace in Kigali. This was the part of the trip that I was simultaneously the most excited and the most nervous for. I’d heard amazing stories of how beautiful all of the handcrafted items were, how delicious all the street food was, and the general bustle of activity - but also nightmare stories of being ripped off, having items stolen, or worse.
As we drove to the market, Francoise, our guide, informed us that fixed prices weren’t really a thing in the market. Instead, we would be bartering and going back and forth on prices. Since the majority of us would stand out in the market like sore thumbs (particularly me, with my pasty skin, thick hair, and gangly structure), we were told that we’d be charged triple the market value of any all goods (though they would still seem reasonable to us). Being a nervous and shy traveler, I expected to get all my $100 scammed off me within five minutes.
We entered the marketplace - some (or really just me) more tentative than others. Though the market didn’t cover a large area of ground, it was LOUD! We walked single file to the back of the market, and I use the term ‘walk’ lightly - we were edging, tiptoeing, and ducking around piles of tomatoes, fish, people, goats - anything and everything imaginable was there. We walked through the grocery/food section first. While i would never have purchased or eaten anything there (it looked pretty dodgy), the smell was AMAZING. The fruits and vegetables were huge (avocados three times the size of my fist, tomatoes almost as big as my head), oozing with ripeness. There were salted fish and other goodies being cooked right next to the produce. As much as I would have liked to, I didn’t have time to linger. Francoise quickly led us to the handcraft section of the market. I only barely had time to snap a few blurry photographs, but they in no way can capture the amount activity that was EVERYWHERE. One of our group members, Amanda, had a video camera to capture the action. I was incredibly jealous - it seemed much more effective to capture the feeling of the market.
We finally arrived in the craft section, settling in a row of fabric stalls. I barely had time to glance around once before I was pulled aside by two brothers who offered to show me around the market (and their personal stalls, of course). They had a very good grip on English (this was obviously not their first time dealing with native English speakers), and were much friendlier than I had anticipated. I thought they’d be pushy, but we stood around and chatted for a bit. Eric, one of the shopkeepers (and a newfound friend) proclaimed he was a famous designer and an Instagram celebrity - we exchanged accounts and followed each other (which, naturally, led to several purchases at his shop).
There were sellers around every corner, with all sorts of small goods and trinkets. My first purchase (outside Eric’s shop) was a headband that the shopkeeper insisted went beautifully with my skin (500f extra for fashion advice), and I then lost track of the materials I purchased. I was nervous about haggling prices at first, but it went much easier than I expected (I settled for WAY more than I should have, and the shopkeepers laughing at me probably meant I was getting ripped off), but what struck, me was how kind and down-to-earth everyone was about the purchases. I expected rude sellers (or worse, pickpockets), but everyone was more than happy to talk the price down (and then back up, and back up, and up again). A handshake and exchange of business cards/phone numbers/social media/selfie was requisite at every booth. My money ran out after about 15 minutes, but luckily I have a bit more to exchange - I definitely want to return near the end of our trip!!
I am traveling to Rwanda with the intent of a sponge - I want to absorb as many unique experiences as I possibly can, and bring them back to share with my culture. I am a multifaceted artist, and Rwanda is a treasure trove of valuable experiences to draw inspiration from. As a visual artist, I look forward to seeing unique handmade art, and letting it inspire an artistic vision. As a musician, I look forward to hearing vastly different than what I’m used to, and letting that inspire music from my soul. And as a teacher, I’m looking to see teaching methods different than what I have known. I want to bring these gifts back and share them with my culture.