Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Attention: Toubab gets a great deal


Lovely travel companions to Goree Island.


A view from the ile de Madelaine, a nature reserve off the coast of Dakar.

In Dakar en route to Mali after a root canal, I visited the market with two other Mali PCVs, Amy and Liza. Here’s a story from our visit.

And so we plunge into the frenzy that is the market in Dakar. Tight dark denim jeans stretched on mannequin legs, cheap baubles and jewelry tacked onto cardboard displays propped up on rickety card tables. There are vendors setting up shop and dusting off their random assortment of goods with a rag or feather duster, as if one more cleaning could keep off the constant kicking up of dust and sand from the cars whizzing past. Minibuses deftly navigate the narrow alleys, brushing dangerously close to women selling little plastic bags filled with peanuts and the garibous with their old tomato paste cans used for collecting food or money slung over their shoulder. Calls of “good price here” rain down on us from the shops and we get swept into the fabric corner where bags and fabric samples hang from every open space. A man who introduces himself as Aboudou Faye says he’d be happy to give us a tour of the factory where bags and outfits are being churned out on foot pedal sewing machines. We weave through the rows of sewing machines and see all the wholesale shop has to offer. I pick up a bag and Aboudou swoops in on my admiring gaze, “I give you good price when tour is done.” We follow him upstairs where his Malian “brother” is sitting among shelves of mud cloth bags and batik wall hangings. The bags and outfits are being feverishly sewn as though an army of toubabs (foreigners) are going to rush into Dakar demanding boubous and over-the-shoulder bags with red, yellow and green motifs and rasta men beating drums in a dizzying pattern. This seems unlikely so I’m curious for whom all these bags are being so quickly sewn, it is the off-season after all.

So jumping photos are way more fun than you'd think...
Aboudou says there is one more shop we must see, it’s just across the street. We head over, carefully dodging mid-day traffic and the other shoppers milling in and out of the endless boutiques. The shops in the area across the street have more jewelry and mud cloth bags than rasta fabric and elephant bags. I find a bag I like and pick it up. We’re at the end of our tour so I sit down with Aboudou to discuss a price. When I ask how much he says “23,000 CFA” (roughly $46). I hear myself cough in surprise – you can get a personalized mud cloth wall hanging for 7,500 CFA in San; this bag shouldn’t be more than 3,000 CFA, or so I’m convinced. I tell him I’m reconsidering his sanity giving me a price like that and I get up, ready to go. He laughs and says “Ah, my sister, that’s how it is in Senegal. Bargaining is a game. I give you a high price, you offer yours and we meet in the middle.” Bargaining is nothing new but it’s also a time consuming process not made for the weak of resolve (my bargaining skills pale in comparison to some of my friends here). Today I’ve decided to stick to my guns – I’m a casual shopper and while I do love the bag, I’m also willing to walk away and that’s what gives me an edge in Aboudou’s game. After going back and forth a few times I repeat to Aboudou my price is 3,000 CFA; I’m not budging. I thank him sincerely for his time and walk to meet my friends Amy and Liza (proud owner of a new print shoulder bag) who are waiting outside. I get as far as the women selling wood statues and bead necklaces and Aboudou follows me from the store and says, “ok my sister, 4,000 CFA.” When I say 3,000 is my offer, he says, “My sister, I came down from 23,000 CFA to 4,000, at least you can meet me at 3,500?” What incredible marketing! Aboudou is right, it is pretty incredible to see the price of something change from $46 to $8 in a matter of 15 minutes. I agree he has come a long way and since I really do like the bag, I hand over my money and we slap hands and he flashes a big smile. I turn around to find Liza and Amy and when I look back, Aboudou has reabsorbed into the frenzy of the market. I hear him call out “My sister, follow me, I give you nice price.” Another toubab is about to get a great deal.

3 comments:

Laura said...

senegalese lessons in economics!!

sp said...

what a great jumping photo! impressive!

Ashley said...

way to stick to your guns...do you think you learned that from a certian someone???? now we just have to get you use your great bargining skills in Mali!!! Tissue shopping ROUND 2!!!
ash

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