Sunday, June 29, 2014

What I learned at the Arusha market

I learned one very important thing during Sunday’s exploits: I should NEVER, EVER go to market alone. My mother and I are quite alike. We both are very compassionate and sympathetic to others, especially others who do not have all the blessings we do. It can be quite tempting to want to give to others, but when you are in the Arusha market, that can be a very dangerous thing.

An ua (flower) near the Community Church we attended on Sunday
When you combine that compassionate spirit with a lack of knowledge about how to barter, you could easily find yourself in some financial trouble. Fortunately, I had some market shopping veterans with me, and was able to get about 90 percent of my gifts in about an hour and a half.

The market is lined with store after store after store. It was a little overwhelming, taking it all in. The people there will greet you and try to get you in your store. That was the first difficult thing. I tried to keep my eyes to the ground and pretend I did not hear them when that happened. In the United States, that behavior would be considered rude, but here, it is the only way to keep from getting pulled into their store. 

When you finally arrive at a store with things you do wish to purchase, the bartering process is very difficult, especially for me. The vendors will price it higher because you are white, so you need to barter for a lower price. For example, yesterday Trish Helland wanted to purcahse 6 or 7 tiny animal statues. They originally priced them all at 275,000 shillings, but by the end she got them down to 85,000 shillings. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the conversion rate, that is a difference of almost $120!

Ryan Mayfield gives David Deo a high view...and elicits a rare smile
So when I entered the market, I knew I was going to be shopping for not just myself, but my mother, father, brother, sister, niece, nephew, grandparents and boyfriend. Some things, like the T-shirt I bought my father, were easy to price. The cost of a T-shirt in the United States is approximately $15. I think I paid 23,000 shillings for it, which is about $15 and quite fair. 

But then there were other things. Statues, bowls (carved and painted), jewelry, kangas, dresses, hand-carved spoons, sandals and more. And I had no idea what any of it was worth. 

So for example, at one store I was admiring a couple carved bowls. When I inquired about the cost, I was told 35,000 shillings for each bowl, or approximately $22 each. In the U.S. I would think that would be fair, and frankly, would expect to pay $40 or $50 each for these bowls. But Karen Klemp was with me and said no, that is way too high. She tried to get the two bowls, along with this chief staff (28,000 shilling price) I was admiring, for 60,000 pesos. I was not sure if the man was offended by the offer or not, but he said that is way too low. He countered with 75,000 shillings, and Karen said that is still not good enough. She then started to walk away (with me in tow just like a duckling trailing after its mother) and he called after us. After a little more bartering (and Karen pointing to her watch and saying we are running out of time), she got the two bowls, chief staff and a pair of earrings for 70,000 shillings.

If I was by myself, I would have wound up paying a lot more. Definitely not the 98,000 shillings, but probably like 80,000 or 85,000 shillings. When Karen was bartering, I felt bad, like we were trying to rob him of a decent cost, or possibly even that he was taking a loss on the items. 

Dressed in my Sunday best for church
I did do a little bit of bartering for a kanga and scarf. The kanga was apparently made from a thicker and more durable cloth, which was more expensive than the other kangas I have. The material is reflected in the cost: 30,000 shillings versus 8,000 at the Maasai market. He originally said he would give it to me at 25,000 shillings, and I thought about it and countered 18,000. Eventually we settled at 23,000 for the kanga and another 12,000 for this beautiful scarf. I am sure my Mama Karen would have argued him down and probably gotten a cheaper total, but I still walked out of there feeling like I got a bargain and he got a good deal.

My spoils from the day included four bowls, one kanga, a scarf, four statues, a T-shirt, a wooden spoon and fork and three bracelets. Altogether it cost me approximately 250,000 shillings, or about $156. Not bad considering the number of people I was shopping for!

I am not done shopping yet. I plan to give Jane some money ot purchase more scarves for me at the Maasai market on Wednesday, and I have my heart set on finding a statue of mother and baby for my own mother. Karen told me that there is a vendor where we are going on a safari that should have them. I really hope so, since that will be my last chance at shopping.

There is a possibility that a private Tanzanite dealer will stop by the house later. While I may or may not buy something, at the very least I would like to be tempted. (: If the price is right, I may come home with a pretty piece for myself. Tanzania is the place to get it, if you really want it. Purchasing Tanzanite in the United States has a very high markup. Expect to pay hundreds if not thousands for your piece. But again, the price must be right. 

David and Dennis Deo overjoyed with their new soccer ball
Unfortunately, I do not have any photos from the market as taking a camera or even yoru phone is not recommended. We were told only take what you need, which for me was myself and my money belt, hidden beneath my clothes. 

However, we did have another piece of fun upon our return. Amy Martin brought a real soccer ball for our host family’s children, Dennis (3) and David (5) to play with. They were in heaven. The soccer ball they were playing with was nothing more than a big wad of paper. While it worked for their purpose, the shy boys lit up and flashed a rare smile when they saw the gift. It is so amazing, how a simple gift can bring someone so much joy.

Tomorrow we are visiting a clinic, where we will hand out the first Newborn Care Kits. After that, it is on to Mt. Kilimanjaro! 

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