Africa In Photos Madagascar The Nomadic Life

Photos From Inside an African Market

Malagasy girl eating riceI hate to say it, but I’ve gotten used to the Antsirabe market’s smell. It’s a weird combination of muck and old produce, rice being cooked, and charcoal. The meat section has a totally different stench. Even after two years, I scrunch my face and try not to breathe it in as a walk quickly past. Once past the meat and surrounded by piles and piles of vegetables, (the women, because the overwhelming majority of people selling goods in the market are women), shout out the names of vegetables they think I want. “Citron! Citron!” one woman carrying a basket of limes calls out “Les tomates, madam, les tomates!” another says from her perch on a table covered in various vegetables, holding one up for me to see. It catches me off guard on the rare occasion they ask in Malagasy, and I wonder “if I were a tourist, would I have even noticed?”

The place is dark and dingy. Although it has no walls, the stalls of various vendors lined up at the entrance to the covered market and sectioned off with sheets of plastic, make it seem as if they do. The whole place is ensconced with a brick-tiled roof. I’m pretty sure several birds and bats have made homes in the rafters. The floor is no better. I keep my eyes to the ground to make sure I don’t step on a chicken, a small child playing with a cardboard box, or any other mysterious, liquidy substances.

On the other side of the produce market, sit rows of tiled lunch counters. Behind each one, people tend to giant metal pots over charcoal flames, cooking rice and loaka — the thing that accompanies the rice, (pork, beans, cow tongue) — coffee, or frying different sorts of bread in hot oil. Off in the far corner, I notice all of the street kids have gathered at one of these counters, being fed rice and chicken by the owners.

“Hey look, they’re doing their dishes when they finish,” one of my friends notices.

“I guess that’s a fair trade for free food, right?” I reply.

In that moment, I’m still finishing up my own plate of rice, beans, and cucumber salad when one of the older kids ambles up to beg for money, still munching on a chicken bone.

“Sorry kid,” I say, “but you can have the rest of my rice.”

“Sure,” he replies, and dumps the rice into a plastic bag. (This is one thing I love about Madagascar, how little is wasted. If I can’t finish my food, which I rarely can when it’s rice, there’s always someone else who’ll eat it — even if it’s just the cat that hangs around the hotely)

We finish and leave the dark, weird-smelling, half-open market and step out into the street. I’m startled by the sunshine, but also on some level how normal sitting in a dingy market eating rice has become.

Chickens and Bananas

ChickensBasket SellerStreet kid eating chicken boneWashing ShoesBag vendorPhotos: (all were taken near Antsenakely, Antsirabe)

(1) Small child eating rice (it would have been cuter if she hadn’t made that weird face just as my friend Amy snapped the photo!) (2) Women selling chicken, bananas, and brooms (3) Chickens… duh (4) Woman selling woven rafia baskets and hats that are common in Madagascar (5) The street kid I gave my rice to… he’s making a funny face because he was in the middle of eating a chicken bone, but I think the photo is kind of hilarious (so did he) (6) Shoe vendors washing their shoes just outside Antsirabe’s small market (7) Tangerines, bananas, and bags

Africa Madagascar The Nomadic Life

Shopping for Second-hand Clothing in Madagascar’s Markets

“This,” I thought as I tugged at the bright, tacky-but-could-be-cool fabric from a tangled pile of frip (used clothes), “is clearly where fat clothes come to die.” Giggling since the piece that had caught my attention turned out to be a pair of shorts double the width of my waist – an “XXL” still on their faded value village price tag – and tossed it back into the pile.

From the other side of the low, makeshift table and plastic awning, the vendor registered my interest in her small mountain of goods and began unearthing more gaudy-fat shorts and placing them in front of me. “This one is good… une mille,” she said in a Malagasy-French hybrid typical in bigger cities. “Ngeza be! It’s huge!” I responded, holding the shorts to myself.

Ngeza be!” she repeated quietly while chuckling to herself, apparently more amused at a foreigner speaking Malagasy than the actual meaning of the words.

I smiled, made some small talk, and continued to sift. While sorting through various frip that are as much a staple of a Malagasy market as the rows of women with woven baskets full of rice, bananas, or hog-tied chickens, I feel like a treasure-hunter or archaeologist. Most specifically, examining the hodge-podge of fashion tossed out by trend obsessed Americans, French, Koreans, and who knows who else reminds me of the garbage archaeologist of Arizona – digging up information on the modern American’s lifestyle habits by taking note of what they put out on the curb each week.

Hidden in the depths of those street-side piles of cotton, polyester, and spandex, are the sequined, child-sized princess dresses and Halloween witch costumes worn briefly by American kindergarteners before hopping from attic box to thrift store to cargo freight bound for Madagascar. Relics of phases – fat phases, neon-spandex clad aerobic phases, pregnant phases, Hot-Topic inspired Goth phases – and the items simply too-awful-even-for-Value-Village get their last shot at a new owner in the open-air markets of third-world Africa. And while a few seriously amazing pieces are always buried among stretched maternity pants and flashback-to-the-80s-vests, sometimes I wonder if only vahazas (foreigners) can see how weird this stuff is. Or weirder, the 4-year-old-boys with snot running down their faces wearing the polyester princess dress, the ubiquitous Santa cap in the chilly highland Julys, or the grandmotherly old women wearing chuck-high-tops or bondage pants, completely oblivious to the social symbol they hold on the other side of the world. I’m still waiting to find something tossed from my own transient wardrobe among the lot.

A brilliant turquoise catches my eye. I tug on it and out emerges a cheap, vintage-inspired cotton dress with black trim. “How much?” I ask. “One thousand Ariary,” she demands. I begin to haggle, but she cuts me off “prix fixe,” she says. I can’t help but feel I’m being lied to, ripped off, but like the dress too much to care. So I hand over a crisp, purple 1000 Ariary bill – the equivalent of 50 cents – nod my thanks and continue along the dusty market.