Kenya, January 26, 2003
Homemade charcoal is cheap in the Kisumu market
|Today is Market Day in Kisumu, where everyone from miles around heads to the Kisumu weekend market, Kenya's answer to Wal-Mart SuperCenters. It is also yet another chance to enjoy one of the best methods for short inter-city hops that I've experienced in my travels: Kenya's boda-boda.
Taking an authentic Chinese Flying Pigeon bicycle, the Kenyans move the seat up a few inches and then add a big padded seat over the back wheel, taking the Chinese method of riding the rear carry-rack to the next level. Moreover, this African level is amazingly grand, for you glide along at human speed, enjoying the view and cool breeze that only a bicycle can give.
Today for instance, as we headed to the Kisumu market, we were going slowly and quietly enough for me to hear what must've been Paul Simon's inspiration for his 'Diamonds on the bottom of her shoes' song coming from a street-side tent revival. You'd never catch that while in a car!
And for me, even getting lost while on a boda-boda is a pleasure, for the Kenyan kids who own and operate this most basic of taxis, love to chat in English about all the stickers, reflectors, flaps, and custom metal work that they lavish on their prized wheels.
Arriving on a particularly outlandish boda-boda, with a rear mudflap loudly proclaiming, 'It wasn't me', I entered the Market Day fray, which turned out to be very similar to many of the markets I've seen the world over. Farmers, in town with the week's ripe crop, sell everything from chickens, to corn, to plantains and shop for soap, shoes, and shirts from the city folk who transport it there from Nairobi.
Kisumu's market did have a few different twists to it, besides the all-black cast. Yep, I was the only mzungu (European) face in the crowd, which should be expected, but still surprises me sometimes.
These different twists included mini-markets for sesil rope, a fiber that originates from an agave-looking plant, charcoal, the self-made variety from wild bushes and small trees and used for cooking, batik cloth, introduced by the sizable Indian population, and handmade wood furniture which is all custom-built when you order it, for there's no IKEA in Kenya.
Commanding a hill of refuse in the center were the African equivalent of outlet stores, merchants, selling the best in new and used clothes, shoes, and handbags from the world over. Armed with megaphones, they called to one and all to peruse their massive piles of clothes for whatever was needed and even had a shoe dying factory painting everything black.
After walking a bit in the heat, I lounged in market-side bar, just a shack with a cooler, really, and watched the show. Its interesting to note, that unlike Asians, Africans do not squat to do low tasks, but always bend at the waist. I'm not sure which one is better, for the knees and lower back are both fragile, so I'll stick with sitting on a low stool.