I love open air markets, and even ones that are not so open air. The main streets surrounding the central market here are full of shops and people selling old clothes, new clothes, kitchen-ware and electronics, all within easy view of the passing taxis and congested traffic.
However, going into the market itself means getting out of the taxi and descending into the labyrinth. Off of the main streets, there are a dozen narrow, twisting alley-ways covered with makeshift plastic roofing that leaks when it rains. These pedestrian only channels feed into the mass of shops: hairdressers, fabric stores, tailors, vegetable stands, plastics, knickknacks, and who knows what else! I have yet to make an extensive exploration of each section (although I do want to); I’m usually just happy to come in the same place I did last time and to find my way out.
Although it sounds intense, it is actually much more manageable than most markets in Cameroon. The vendors are respectful, and although they will call out to you to convince you to come into their shop, I have never felt unsafe.
The entrance my friends and I took involves a ramp sloping sharply downwards and passing by a set of old concrete stairs where women selling vegetables sit with their goods under the staircase. I wanted to get a picture, but the entrance is congested and people here are very sensitive about having their picture taken. Alas for the photo journal, but I think you get the idea.
The best part of the market for me is the fabrics. Although some Westerners may view African fabrics as a visual assault with the vibrant colors and busy patterns, I absolutely love them and enjoy picking out the perfect fabric for my next idea or project.
Here it is common to have fixed prices per meter (sans white-man inflation): 1000 francs (about 2 US dollars) for the cheap quality fabric, 2000 francs for the better stuff. Negotiation can happen, but it’s rare to find people who will deviate from those prices unless you’re buying a lot at once.
I was wanting a variety of fabrics to cover throw pillows on my couch. Although nothing is sewn yet, I like the combination of the various fabrics and finding cohesion through the very lack of it, a pattern in a chaotic jumble (life metaphor, anyone?).
All in all, the market is a great lesson in adventure shopping, and seeing all the colors and patterns always brightens up my day.