This post ended up being longer than I intended (“Shocking! But you’re so succinct!”), so I am breaking it up into a couple parts. Stay tuned for the rest of the post next week!
One of the things people often ask us when we are back in the States is where we buy our food. How we shop in Jos is definitely different than how we shopped in the U.S. Though I sometimes had a tendency – especially before kids! – to stop at several stores to get the best prices, “several stops” has taken on a new meaning here. There is not really such a thing as “one stop shopping.”
We shop for our fruits and vegetables in an open air market, which used to take me about 3-4 hours and a LOT of energy. Some of this is because things were so new and unfamiliar – I wasn’t sure how to barter, for example, or what a fair price was (Am I getting way overcharged because I am white? (Yes, usually.) Am I offering a fair price or too low?) and so would take much longer to do it, and I would also wander around the market exploring various alleys and aisles just to become more familiar with it. I also didn’t want to offend anyone, so whenever anyone would call out, “My customer! My customer! Come!” or “Baturiya!” (the feminine word for “bature,” which is the word blanketly used for white people, though I think it actually originated in reference to Europeans), I would stop and chat or come see whatever it is they wanted me to see. It took me a long time and a lot of trips to the market to realize I wasn’t being culturally offensive if I didn’t stop and chat with every single vendor who called out to me (which was a lot – and I also finally learned that calling out is just one of the ways people work in the market.
What probably consumed most of the time, though, was that I often went shopping with Judah, who was strapped to my front in a baby carrier, as I had not yet learned to back a baby without him or her falling halfway down after three steps. This phenomena itself resulted in a lot of pointing, staring and even flat out laughing. Nigerians, of course, carry their babies on their backs, so I was laughingly told that my baby was backing ME because he was in the front. (Amusingly, once I had Jovelle, I was more comfortable with backing and would carry her on my back in the market – but would get stopped just as often, only people would say, “You are white but you are carrying a baby like us!”) I think half of my “shopping” time was spent telling people his name, how old he was, where we were from, well, it would be hard to hold him because he’s strapped in (a trick I quickly learned to avoid him being grabbed by 20 different strangers), and “No, he’s not cold.” (Nigerians in Plateau State, at least, have a tendency to dress their babies very warmly, no matter the outside temperature. I remember one encounter when it was quite hot outside, and a woman began yelling at me saying my baby was too cold. I finally said, “His father comes from a place where it snows much of the year, so the baby is used to cold weather.” She was so satisfied with that answer that it became my standard reply when people would scold that my baby was cold – which was often.)
These days I have gotten to where I can finish shopping for fruits and vegetables – which includes navigating the traffic downtown, finding a parking spot, walking to the market and making my purchases – in about an hour or two. It can still be a tiring endeavor, but I can at least usually cook dinner after shopping! Before I would be so tired from shopping in the hot sun for hours, and usually not drinking enough, that I would collapse when I got home. Yup, that was usually a cereal-for-dinner night.
If I have the kids with me, it still takes longer, as many people still call out, reach for the children, try to hold them, and want to greet them. (Poor kids. How shocked they’ll be when we return to the States and they discover that – grandparents excluded – they’re not such a novelty there.) Shopkeepers yell as we walk past, “My customer, my customer! Come, I have some things to show you for the children. Come look at these beautiful shoes I have perfect for your little boy!” (Never mind that it could just be Jovelle dressed all in pink – she doesn’t have her ears pierced, so the assumption is that she is a boy.) – only now I just walk past and perhaps smile an acknowledgement or say “Not today” (which is basically a polite way of saying, “No.”).
On the plus side, though, when the children come with me, we leave with a lot more dashes than when I am by myself, and they often walk away with a handful of free tomatoes, carrots and oranges that they stroll proudly through the market with while I keep telling them that no, they cannot eat them yet as we have to take them home to wash them.
So what happens when we shop at the main market? Here’s a little snapshot of a typical shopping day.
9:15 am – Think I should leave the house to get to town before traffic. Rationalize, though, that most of the shops aren’t open this early so there’s no point in leaving.
9:30 am – Leave the house. Forget sunglasses, water and hand sanitizer so go back inside several times to retrieve forgotten items.
9:50 am – Finally leave the house. Greet the guard at the gate.
10:00 am – Get stuck in traffic and kick myself for forgetting – every time! – how bad traffic gets. Try to avoid eye contact with any police, military or the VIO (Vehicle Inspection Office) while driving past, naively thinking this will deter them from pulling me over to check my car papers, license or in general harass me. (And of course if that ploy has not worked, I have never slyly taken a snack back from a toddler in the car to elicit tears, since many of the police don’t like to hear babies cry and thus let you go.)
10:20 am – Find a parking space. When we first pull into a parking space, we will be surrounded by two different parties. The first to approach will be someone who works for the city collecting money for our parking fee (no parking meters here). It used to cost 20 naira to park in town (about 12 cents), and that was only sporadically enforced. Several months ago, though, they suddenly changed the prices – literally I went to town one week and didn’t pay to park, and the next week there were people in yellow vests patrolling the streets and waiting like vultures for a car to pull up. The cost is now 100 naira – which, though minimal compared to parking in San Francisco or New York is still quite a jump in price! Often the people collecting the money for parking don’t have change (more on that another day), so they will either run around and try to collect it from others or tell you to pay when you finish your shopping.
The second group of “greeters” when you pull up is a group of 3-8 boys, typically between the ages of 5 and 12, carrying bowls and begging for money or food. This one is really hard for me, and other missionaries have said they have a hard time with this as well. In general begging is very much a part of the culture here, especially because of the M*slim component of giving alms. It’s particularly hard, though, when your car is surrounded by a group of children. One of the most difficult parts of this for me is that many of the young boys are sent out by a m*sque to collect money. Often the boys are either orphans or come from families who cannot afford to educate or sometimes even feed their children. The parents send the boys to a teacher at a m*sque, where the child is provided with teaching and a place to sleep. The children are then sent out to beg, and any money they collect is expected to be given back to the teacher at the m*sque. It’s hard to know how to respond to this: Occasionally if I have bananas or something, I will offer those (I actually thought they’d be mad the first time I offered food instead of money, and I was rather unsure about it, but they were quite excited.), but usually I just smile and greet them.
10:25 am – Stop at Onigbende’s, a two story shop that we say is the closest thing to Wal-Mart there is in Jos. Here you can buy dry foods – pasta, canned food, milk powder and even (usually expensive) imported goods. They have a couple freezers with butter, chicken hot dogs and occasionally some other cold items as well, and they also sell a hodge podge of household items – everything from lighters to dishes to electronics. You often pay a bit more than you would at other shops, but you don’t have to go to several different places. On my way to the market, I often stop here first to get dry goods – mainly so I can get change (Are you noticing a recurring theme? I’ll comment more on that another time, but vendors in the market often do not have change, which makes shopping a very frustrating experience.) – and also because they sometimes have imported goods on sale. I have gotten boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, for example, for 500 naira (about $3) – because I’d never pay the $15 that they usually go for! – and Pringles for $1.25.
So – that’s just a little snapshot of the beginning of our days at the market – I will post the rest another day, lest you drift off. Stay tuned!